Monday, 20 March 2017

Golden Ticket 4: Plant A Chorus; Grow An Intro

The beginning is the most important part of the work.

- Plato

Many songs begin by cycling through the verse chords till it's time for the vocals. This wastes valuable time that could be spent acquainting the listener with the main themes.

Instead of starting with minor elements start with the hooks – the chorus refrain, a riff, or a fill that stands out. Create a unique section that puts the hooks front and centre, so that when the listener hears the chorus for the first time it already seem familiar. This approach can work well for codas (outros) and instrumental sections too.

Skippable Theory

This concept is the heart of classical composition. Pop songs are modular – each section (verse, chorus) having little in common with the others - but classical music throughout most eras relies on the development of melodic themes that grow and evolve through the piece. For example, a vast amount of Beethoven's 5th Symphony (running over 30 minutes) could be said to derive from the first four notes.

Beatles Application

The Beatles exposure to this concept undoubtedly came through George Martin (a graduate of The Guildhall School of Music and Drama) who, as a producer, helped to arrange their early hits.

Four songs perfectly encapsulate this idea.

She Loves You has two hooks that appear in the title line of the chorus, 'She loves you' and 'yeah yeah yeah'. The intro is essentially the same as the chorus but replaces the swing line* ('with a love like that') with another title line (and throws in an extra 'yeah' for good measure).

Can’t Buy Me Love follows a similar pattern (though drawing it's source material from the bridge) – the title/swing/title/swing pattern of the bridge becomes title/title/title in the intro, and the underlying chord progression is altered to make this work.

Help! has a more complex development. Though the chorus is title/swing/title/title, each title line is different and the one-word title is partially obscured by the number of words in each line ('Help me if you can I'm feeling down'). The intro throws the hook into sharper relief by creating new lines that isolate the title ('Help! … I need somebody'). They also halve the length of the chord progression (two bars per chord instead of four) and, again, change the structure to title/title/title (with an extra 'Help!').

The chorus of I'm A Loser has title/swing/title/swing. The intro removes the second swing line but keeps the chords. So lyrically/melodically the intro cuts bars 3-4 of the chorus but harmonically (i.e. chords) cuts bars 5-6.

More Beatles Applications

The Beatles use of development isn't limited to mining the chorus for intro ideas.

The harmonica intro on Please Please Me is a mutated version of the verse melody. The outros of All My Loving and From Me To You contain 'reimagined' material from the main hooks and the coda of Here Comes The Sun restates a pattern from the bridge (1:29 and 2:58).

The verse melody of Piggies supplies the theme developed in the intro, solo and outro and similarly the connecting links in Blackbird (0:23, 1:42) are derived from the guitar parts in the verse and chorus.

In the pre chorus of She Loves You they reuse the title while George plays a chordal version of the 'yeah' hook as a fill (0:29) and create an entirely new outro section by using the 'yeah' hook three times over an altered version of the pre chorus chords (2:06).

Guest Artist – Passenger

You can hear this approach on the intro of Let Her Go by Passenger. An altered version of the chorus melody is played by piano, glockenspiel and acoustic guitar over a different chord sequence. When the chorus enters (0:26) the instruments revert to playing part of the chorus melody.

Suggested Application

  • Examine your chorus for the hook lines (usually centred around the title). Strip away the rest of the vocal line and try to create a new section that throws the hook into sharper relief. Especially look at replacing swing lines with title lines.
  • Look for instrumental hooks scattered throughout the song and experiment with ways of repeating them more often. If you can identify more than one try recombining them into a single section (as The Monkees do in the intro of I'm A Believer).
  • Play a simplified, instrumental version of the vocal melody hook.

*swing line – Any line of a chorus that does not contain the hook/title

Further Reading

Ticket 9: Create new parts from melodic or chordal fragments
Ticket 53: Write a 'jazz-style' intro verse
Ticket 61: Introduce your song's most unusual element as soon as possible
Shane Adams: Writing A Killer Chorus

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  1. I'll put a selection of my greatest hits on the bench this weekend and take the backs off; see what's *really* in there.

  2. Baby, I Love Your Way (Big Mountain, Tom Lord-Alge) is a perfect non-Beatles example of the preview chorus bit. The intro is title/title while the chorus is title/swing/swing.