Monday, January 20, 2014

Billy Joel - "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (1977)

This song is based on a five-part construction that repeats twice, the second time with the first part removed. The parts play cleverly with perceptions of verse and chorus function to end up navigating a unique path.

After the intro, the vocal starts in with four lines of text over eight bars, the obvious sense of things being that we are in the verse. The fifth line starts as though the verse is continuing or the second verse is beginning, but diverts itself with an unexpected echo of the last syllable.

Working hard can give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack

The next line - "You oughta know by now" - appears to be the beginning of the chorus, but it cuts off afterward and we're back in the verse. This time, however, the verse ends after only four bars and now the real chorus begins.

Oh, it seems such a waste of time
If that's what it's all about
If that's movin' up than I'm
Movin' out

As I say, the whole thing strikes me as a singular structure where the original diversion to the chorus is subverted and brought back to the verse only briefly in order to wind itself up a little more as a springboard into the chorus, the function of which is clearly to wind down.

The whole thing starts again at 1:11 in the song, repeating the exact order of events, and again at 2:07, beginning this time at the divergent line with the echoing syllable at the end. Apart from some vamping on the last words, these represent the sum total of lyrical events in the song (a #17 hit on the U.S. Billboard chart).

Friday, January 10, 2014

ABBA - "If It Wasn't for the Nights" (1979)

This is a song where the composers could have left the chorus as a single refrain line that happens at the end of the verse. It's a super dynamic line and would have sounded nice even if they'd just left it alone. Abba, instead, repeat the line with new rhyming words, giving them a chance to keep clinging to the chorus' precipice.

That's even nicer, but they don't even leave it there. Line three comes in next like another repetition, but then diverges, necessitating another line that rhymes with it and concludes the phrase. Harmonically, they're now set up for the return once again of the refrain line, heard now with a third set of rhyming words. This, in turn, allows them a consequent phrase, for which they finally repeat the original refrain.

All of this plays beautifully into the premise of disco as a music that relies on repetition, a forty-five second long chorus flourishing where some songwriters might not have had much of one at all.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Everly Brothers - "Man with Money" (1965)

Here's another one. Chorus as verse.

It starts right off the bat. First eight bars, there is really no question that we are in the chorus. The second eight bars (starting at 0:16 in the video) are clearly part of the same section of the song, but sound less like a chorus in that they don't sound like words that are going to repeat. So, call the whole sixteen bar section half chorus and half verse.

Nevertheless, the chorus half functions as verse too because the second time through, the words are different. Actually, they're only half different, so it's chorus-like when they're the same and verse-like when they're different.

What do you do with a song like this at this point? You could have a bridge. We're at 0:56 at this point in the video.

The 36 second part that unfolds here is no bridge. Could I call it a wrench? It throws a wrench into the proceedings, both as a musical composition and as a narrative. Navigating key changes and irregular measure groupings, the Everlys (the song was co-written by both brothers) nevertheless paste a beautiful, symmetrical eight lines of poetry over the top, landing somehow on the dominant chord of the home key at the end so they can nail that chorus, or that verse, once again afterwards.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Everly Brothers - "When Will I Be Loved" (1960)

I'll refer back to my post on the Beatles' "P.S. I Love You" from June of last year for some previous consideration of songs that blur distinctions between verse and chorus. While I had argued that the Beatles song might be considered to be all chorus, and that's clearly not the case with this song, "When Will I Be Loved" perhaps comes close and as such might be considered to be of a similar type. (A type that doesn't happen every day.)

To me, this case seems a little clearer. This song starts with the chorus, which is eight bars long. It then repeats the chorus with new words. That, in a nutshell is the trick; it's treating the chorus like a verse. When the chorus appears for the third time, it has new words yet again. That said, it's never treated otherwise like anything other than a chorus. The parts in between lead in to it absolutely and when you hear it for the fourth time, it just repeats the words.

The question is, what is that part in the middle ("When I meet a new girl" etc.)? It certainly sounds to me like a bridge that's repeated once. I can't see anyone calling it the verse.

So, we have here a song with four choruses, two bridges, and no verses.