Thursday 20 June 2024

Ticket 76: The School Hymn Intro

Because all pop songs are modular - built from discrete sections like verses, choruses and bridges - it’s possible to create an intro from the end of a section which naturally proceeds your first section. For song starting with a chorus, the end of the pre-chorus can make a short and effective intro.

As used in Let It Be, Michelle and Merry Xmas Everybody (Slade).

One Minute Theory Lesson

In more traditional Anglican (Episcopalian) churches it’s standard practice for the organist to play the last few bars of a hymn’s verse (as most hymns are in AAA structure) as an introduction for the congregation. This practice carried over into other instances of community singing, like school assemblies and pub singalongs. Though somewhat overused this approach became commonplace because it was so effective, and the Beatles had no qualms about utilising it.

Beatles Application

Let It Be may be the closest thing to a secular hymn the Beatles ever wrote, so Paul was certainly justified in crafting an instrumental intro from the end of the verse as any organist worth his salt would. Unlike many hymns, Let It Be has a completely independent chorus but the last four bars of verse and chorus are practically identical [0:00, 0:32, 0:45].

Misery ends each verse with a refrain (“the world is treating me bad - misery”) which the Beatles sing in free time as an intro [0:02, 0:17] and they mine another end of verse on Another Girl [0:00, 0:21]. George’s songs got similar treatment twice in quick succession with intros being built from the verse-end guitar riffs of 1965’s If I Needed Someone [0:00, 0:19] and 1966’s I Want To Tell You [0:00, 0:32]. On the latter the band stretch the material, fading in on guitar then adding piano, drums and, finally, tambourine. The methodology is obvious when the band are harvesting instrumental hooks as they did here and in Michelle [0:00, 0:45] and In My Life [0:00, 0:46], but it’s easy to miss when they use such a tiny portion from the bridge of Hold Me Tight [0:00, 1:08] and You Won’t See Me’s chorus sounds very different shorn of vocals [0:00, 0:36]. This approach reaches it’s zenith with the intro of I Want to Hold Your Hand, which sounding like a specially written fanfare, when it is merely a vocal-less fragment of the bridge [0:00, 1:03].

Featured Guest Song: Wouldn't It Be Nice

The Beach Boys’ Wouldn't It Be Nice features one of the most intriguing intros in the history of pop. Two electric guitars one playing arpeggios, the second a counter melody both parts unremarkable save for being played very high up the neck. But after only three bars in the key of A major they immediately pivot, via a C major 6 chord, into the verse in the key of F major (0:06).

A | Bm7 | A | C6 | F [1]

Opening a pop song running under two and a half minutes with such a sudden and violent change of tonality seems inexplicable but for the whim of genius or madness. But a closer listen reveals these guitar parts are taken from the end of the bridge (1:22). The bridge introduces a fresh perspective via a key change into D major, a new groove and different instrumentation. It ends with F#m7 | Bm7 | F#m7 before using a suspiciously familiar C6 to pivot back to the key of F. The high guitar parts are right there, arpeggiating the upper part of the F#m7 chord - A C# E - but omitting the root which is handled by the bass and other instruments. In fact they’re playing right from the start of the bridge (1:23) over the Dmaj7 and Gmaj7 chords. So, from the vantage point of the bridge, we realise the intro was actually in D major all along. We assumed it was in A major because of the limited information provided by the A and Bm7 chords. Furthermore, the ‘A major’ is not just part of the F#m7 but the top of the Dmaj9 (D F# A C# E) that opens the section, just as the ‘Bm7’ is the top of Gmaj9 (G B D F# A).[2] The major key of A and D differ by just one note - G# in the former, G natural in the latter. The intro has neither. So when we hear the notes that centres around an A major triad our brains assume that’s the key. It’s a splendid bit of misdirection.

Reader Application

  • The first section of your song will almost certainly be the verse or the chorus. Go through your song and check which sections lead back to the first section (verses and choruses usually lead back to the verse. Pre-choruses, choruses and bridges usually lead back to the chorus, and if your song doesn’t have a pre-chorus the verse should too).
  • Choose a section that naturally leads into your first section.
  • Experiment with different lengths for your intro. Start with just the last two bars of the section, then four bars, then six or eight.
  • Try the intro with and without vocals.
  • If there’s a distinctive instrumental component or hook in the section consider using just that.

Extended Playlist

End of verse and/or chorus (with vocals)

1969 Let It Be - The Beatles [0:00, 0:32, 0:45]

End of verse (with vocals)

1963 Misery - The Beatles [0:02, 0:17]

1965 Another Girl - The Beatles [0:00, 0:21]

End of verse (without vocals)

1965 If I Needed Someone - The Beatles [0:00, 0:19]

1966 I Want To Tell You - The Beatles [0:00, 0:32]

1985 Between The Wars – Billy Bragg [0:00, 0:40]

End of chorus (with vocals)

1969 Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday - Stevie Wonder [0:00, 0:28]

End of chorus (without vocals)

1965 You Won’t See Me - The Beatles [0:00, 0:36]

1965 In My Life - The Beatles [0:00, 0:46]

1973 Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade [0:00, 0:49]

1993 Truganini - Midnight Oil [0:07, 2:02]

End of bridge (with vocals)

1963 Hold Me Tight - The Beatles [0:00, 1:08]

End of bridge (without vocals)

1963 Ask Me Why - The Beatles [0:00, 1:11]

1964 I Want to Hold Your Hand - The Beatles [0:00, 1:03]

1965 Michelle - The Beatles [0:00, 0:45]

1966 Wouldn't It Be Nice - The Beach Boys [0:00, 1:22]

1983 Let’s Dance - David Bowie [0:00, 1:21 single, 1:38 LP]

Further Study

Ticket 2: Put Your Song On A Diet

Ticket 4: Recycle Your Os

Ticket 53: Write A 'Jazz-Style Intro' Verse

Ticket 61: Introduce Your Song's Most Unique Feature Early

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[1] The aggregation of both guitar parts suggest an overall progression of A F#m | Bm D | A F#m | C6 | F .

[2] On the bonus track Wouldn’t It Be Nice - Instrumental Stereo Mix on the Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Edition you can clearly hear both guitar parts playing over the Dmaj7 and Gmaj7 starting at 1:23 as well as a bum note at 1:27 uncorrected (though barely audible) in the final mix.

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