Dear Mr Croce ….

Many thanks for your submitted song, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”.

We feel the song has great promise musically, but we would like to see further work done on its characters and dramatic arc.

The setting is well established at the outset, and the character of Leroy is effectively drawn. However, many of his personal details are extraneous to what follows. You state that Leroy “stan’ about six foot four”, but his height doesn’t factor into the ensuing action. Is it possible that, in the conflict that follows, Leroy’s height might become pertinent? Perhaps there could be some amusing comedy involving a ceiling fan?

Similarly, Leroy is a gambler, and he likes his fancy clothes, and he likes to wave his diamond ring in front of everybody’s nose, but none of these is developed later. Perhaps Leroy’s later conflict with the “jealous man” might be over gambling and fashion, in addition to Doris, the girl who looked nice? This would considerably raise the dramatic stakes in what follows.

In much the same way, Leroy’s cars are mentioned, but not used again. Might there be a thrilling chase scene involving the custom Continental and the El Dorado? And could Leroy actually use the .32 gun in his pocket for fun, and the razor in his shoe? It seems odd that he is so heavily armed, but never uses his weapons in the song’s climactic fight.

This brings us to our greatest concern: Leroy, for all that he is badder than old King Kong, and meaner than a junkyard dog, is not the victor in this fight. The listener knows a great deal about him, including his basic desires, but we know nothing of the “jealous man”, who proves to be even badder and meaner than Leroy. Is the song, in fact, about the wrong person? Leroy demonstrates an appealing vulnerability by losing, and we wonder if he could be re-written as “Good, Good Leroy Brown”? Perhaps he was looking to rescue Doris, the girl who looked nice, because she was a prostitute who married her pimp, and he knew and loved her when they were younger? If the two characters had this kind of backstory, we could feel more invested in the fight, and Leroy’s eventual fate could spring from a powerful conflict with his image of himself.

Meanwhile, the “bad” character, the “jealous man”, needs more detail, so we can see him. Who is he, and what is his name? What does he want? What is his inner motivation, in contrast to his simple external desire to maintain status by holding on to his wife? Is there also something vulnerable about him, to offset the rage he feels when another men merely casts his eyes upon Doris?

Your details and imagery are excellent, and we’d like to see them retained. But, in order for you to enjoy the commercial hit that your talents warrant, we feel that more attention must be paid to these characters, and in particular their inner lives.

Regards, etc.

 

Feeling the Feels

Last New Years’ Eve, the family visited a local community event, where a fairly adept wind ensemble played many nice tunes, including “I See the Light”, from Tangled. I have complained about the impossible blandness of this song in the past.

Then it occurred to me that, with a little effort, one might craft a Disney lovers’ ballad so generic, so bereft of identifying features, that it might thenceforth serve as a suitable ballad in every Disney film yet to be made.

So here it is. You’re welcome, songwriters.

What’s that? You’d like a piano/vocal chart, complete with boy/girl harmonies? Oh, alright.

Some Standard Excuses for Not Rhyming Properly … And Why We All Still Should (Pt 2)

For background (and a TL;DR summary), see the previous post.

Now, I didn’t go looking for the following songs; I kept my ears open, and they found me. I listened for effective rhymes away from the world of show tunes, and I tried very, very honestly to find a better part of each song that didn’t rhyme properly.

Standard Excuse No.1 – The Unschooled and Ephemeral Nature of Teen Pop

(Note: rhymes are red, off-rhymes are blue)

Here’s how ‘My Boyfriend’s Back‘ (Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer) begins its first refrain:

My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)
You see him comin’, better cut out on the double
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)

Three things to notice, this early in the song. One, that the “hey lah-day-lah” response puts extra pressure on each rhyme, because the listener has more time to hear it coming. Two, that the most telling word, in terms of the singer’s character is a non-rhymer, “cut”. That “cut out on the double” rings true to me. Three, that each rhyming line ends with a two-syllable rhyme (I won’t use the term “feminine rhyme”, even though it’s tempting here), and that this two-syllable rhyme challenge is dropped almost immediately, to the song’s detriment:

You been spreading lies that I was untrue
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)
So look out now ’cause he’s comin’ after you
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)

This obliges the singer to sing “untrue-oo”, and “you-oo”, and there are no compensating additions, in terms of fresh ideas or subject matter, to make up for this loss of craft in the rhyme department. It’s just a weak follow-up to the first refrain.

Hey, he knows what you been tryin
And he knows that you been lyin

The two-syllable rhyme returns in the bridge, but it’s not ideal, since both words (tryin’ and lyin’) are, as W K Wimsatt would have pointed out, the same parts of speech, and so not as effective when paired. Sondheim would add that words with the same spelling aren’t as surprising. Yeah, I just made reference to Wimsatt and Sondheim in a blog post about ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’.

He’s been gone for such a long time
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)
Now he’s back and things’ll be fine
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)

Really disappointing. The words don’t rhyme (in fact, they’re a clichéd non-rhyme), the syllables again have to be stretched to fit the notes, and nothing new is said. Happily, better times are ahead.

You’re gonna be sorry you were ever born
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)
Cause he’s kinda big and he’s awful strong
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)

These are still non-rhyming words, and they’re still lazy one-syllable non-rhymes, but “kinda” and “awful” are perfectly in character.

Hey, he knows I wasn’t cheatin
Now you’re gonna get a beatin

That’s more like it! Wimsatt would approve, because a verb rhyming with a verbal noun is better than two verbs. And the rhyming words are in character, too.

What made you think he’d believe all your lies?
(Wahooo, wahooo)
You’re a big man now but he’ll cut you down to size
Wahooo, wait and see

A second bridge! This is actually where the single syllable rhymes belong.

My boyfriend’s back, he’s gonna save my reputation
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)
If I were you, I’d take a permanent vacation
(Hey lah-day-lah, my boyfriend’s back)

That’s it. That’s how good the whole song should be. There they are, two-syllable rhymes, perfectly in character and the syntax is spot on. This is, unsurprisingly, the last couplet: the song closes with ad-libbing over the refrain.

Standard Excuse No.2 – Folksy Insouciance (aka Being Authentic, Staying Real etc.)

This is ‘For the Ages‘, from Paul Kelly’s 2012 album Spring and Fall. The song is credited to Paul Kelly and Dan Kelly.

Darling, you’re one for the ages
I’m glad you live here in mine
Your face and figure belong
To centuries been and gone
Those Renaissance and Roman times

Wise, this, because if you’re gonna not rhyme, you should be a not-rhymer right from the beginning. Notice there are two single-syllable off-rhymes set up here, between the second and last line of each stanza, and between the third and fourth line.

Darling, you’re one for the ages
Long may you live in my rhyme
The years will cut us down,
But they won’t keep us in the groun
Out of the grave we’ll climb.

But wait, now these are true rhymes, since “ground” loses its terminal letter (and rhyme is mentioned explicitly, so it’s probably just as well). Notice, though, that the idea is trite, and a little bit gross?

Oh, darling you’re one for the ages
You’ll never go out of style
You walked into the ball
Dressed by St Vincent de Paul
With that shy, serious smile

This is superb. This is a marvellous example of rhyme leading the mind in fresh directions (a paraphrase of Goethe, I think, but I can’t find a source). The “shy, serious smile” is shopworn, yes, but rhyming “ball” with “St Vincent de Paul” is gorgeous. It scans beautifully, it’s surprising (you won’t find it at rhymezone), and it’s effortlessly in character (unlike, say, “forestall” or “Nepal”).

After a guitar instrumental, this:

Darling you’re one for the ages
Your beauty suits ev’ry clime
There’s a mystery deep within
And in the light upon your skin
I could study for all time

True rhymes all the way, but it’s weak for four reasons. One, nobody says “clime” when they mean “climate”. Two, this rhyme has already been used, but as “climb”. Three, the “mystery deep within” and “light upon your skin” is hackneyed – and no, I don’t care how many listeners swoon at it (having already mentioned face, figure, and smile, the song is now perilously close to a shopping list). Last of all, the syntax means I can’t make sense of it: could you study in the light upon the skin, as if it’s a sort of lamp? Or is there a mystery in the skin-light, and you could study that mystery?

Even though it doesn’t end well, I love this song for demonstrating, so neatly, that not all off-rhymes are bad (the opening verse works well), and that not all true rhymes are good (the last verse is the song’s weakest). But when everything is done just right (tone, prosody, syntax and a perfect rhyme), the song has its finest moment.

Standard Excuse No.3 – Rock Swagger

Now, when it comes to rock, I’ll admit it: we should rhyme sparingly, and rhyme carefully. If rhyme tends to indicate presence of mind, or forethought, or intelligent analysis, then a song encouraging abandon, gettin’ loud, or gettin’ wild, has little use for it.

For example, in a song about boredom, frustration and alienation, Jagger and Richards demonstrate the value of repetition:

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

Count the rhymes – none. But notice, also, no off-rhymes? And look at that beautiful variation in vowel sounds (vowel-boredom can be a real trap when you’re adopting repetition): short a, short e, long o, short i, long i. I don’t think Mick and Keef said “Man, we better, like, vary the vowels if we’re gonna, like, eschew traditional rhyme in this fashion.” I think they opted for what sounded good, and maybe for what felt good to sing. And they were right.

When I’m drivin’ in my car
And a man comes on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey, hey, hey
That’s what I say

And so the rest of the song goes. There are some rhymes (their position moves about in different verses, but they’re true rhymes), and there are off-rhymes, but there’s more repetition than anything else.

Incidentally, my favourite line in the song has always featured one of its few rhymes:

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no girlie action

Except that’s not the line. I’ve been wrong for forty years, because the line is

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no girl reaction

At the risk of presumption, I think the first version is better – and I wonder, how many other people think it’s “girlie action”?

We have all heard the opening of ‘Sweet Home Alabama‘ (Ed King, Gary Rossington,Ronnie Van Zant) far too many times, and so we have all forgotten how good it is. Pretend this was written for Assassins, by Sondheim:

Big wheels keep on turnin’
Carryin’ me home to see my kin
Singin’ songs about the southland,
I miss Alabamy once agin, and I think it’s a sin

Look at how beautifully a truck or a bus is implied, while character is created (‘kin’, ‘agin’ and ‘Alabamy’ are terrific), and even religion gets a nod. It’s superb, and all the rhymes are perfect. I think it’s the best part of the song, but I’ll admit that many listeners probably prefer: 

In Birmingham they love the governor
(Boo, boo, boo)
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth

This has only one off-rhyme, but the song has started to weaken at this point, because the verses have begun using the same “oo” rhyming sound as in the chorus:

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord I’m comin’ home to you

Vowel-boredom! It’s a shame, and it continues into the next verse about the Swampers of Muscle Shoals. I’m happy if people think the Watergate verse is the best, but I’d like to see a rehabilitation of the opening lines’ reputation, because they’re enviably good.

One more rock song which, like Paul and Dan Kelly’s “For The Ages”, demonstrates the virtues and pitfalls of rhyme:

Back In Black
(Angus Young/Malcolm Young/Brian Johnson)

Back in black
I hit the sack
I been too long I’m glad to be back

It’s a pity that “back’ is repeated, but still, there aren’t many rock classics with an inner rhyme in the title, and on a good, hard “ack” sound to boot. I have never understood “hit the sack”, though, because to me it means going to bed, and that’s not very rock. Maybe it’s “hit the sac”?

Yes I am
Let loose
from the noose
That’s kept me hanging about

Best lines in the song. It’s a perfect rhyme, on a fresh vowel sound, it’s in character, and it makes a pun about hanging.

I keep looking at the sky cause it’s gettin’ me high
Forget the hearse cause I’ll never die
I got nine lives, cat’s eyes
Using every one of them and runnin’ wild

Some say it’s “abusing”, not “using”, but that’s not important: how many cat’s eyes do you have? How impressive is using or abusing all of them?

After the refrain, which is largely made up of the title, this:

Back in the back of a
Cadillac
Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack

I don’t mind the repetition of “back” so much here, but it’s used in two different senses, and it’s an inner identity, rather than an end rhyme. “Cadillac” is excellent, and those bullets are a great image, but power packs? Not so much. That sounds like a prepared nerd to me: “It’s alright, everyone, I function as a power pack!”

Yes I am in a bang
With the gang
They gotta catch me if they want me to hang

A new rhyming sound, which is good, but this image was used up earlier, in the much better “oose” rhyme.

Cause I’m back on the track and I’m beatin’ the flack
Nobody’s gonna get me on another rap
So look at me now I’m just makin’ my play
Don’t try to push your luck just get out of my way

You can see the Young brothers and Johnson trying to stick to the “ack” rhymes here, but they know they’ve used several of the good ones, and in any case they know some variety is in order. I think “rap” is a particularly weak off-rhyme, and the clue to what they should have done is right there, in that little word, “luck”. By changing the vowel, while keeping the consonant, they could have mentioned a neck (which you can stick out), and “stick” rhymes with kick, or trick, while neck rhymes with deck (which you can hit, or deal), and if you duck those earlier bullets then duck rhymes with … luck.

Standard Excuse No.4 – The Iconoclastic Nature of Hip Hop and Rap

I don’t listen to a lot of hip hop or rap, and I freely admit I don’t know a great deal about either. I’m middle-aged, so I think Chuck D and Busta Rhymes are really talented, and I can’t understand the fuss over Eminem or Kanye West. But here’s what I hear rappers doing all the time: matching lazy rhymes with lazy ideas. And the better ones also do the converse.

This is the refrain from “Chum” by Earl Sweatshirt (credited writers are Sweatshirt, Taiwo Hassan, Kehinde Hassan, and Hugo), which I heard on NPR’s All Songs Considered - see, I told you I was middle-aged:

Something sinister to it,
pendulum swinging slow, A degenerate movin
through the city with criminals, stealth
Welcome to enemy turf,
harder than immigrants’ work
“Golf” is stitched into my shirt

This last line might seem arcane, but it’s a reference to Sweatshirt’s hip hop collective Odd Future, and its meaning would be clear to his fans. That aside, notice that this opening image is presented in slightly overworked terms, is a little pretentious (to be fair, the performer was only 18 when this released), is made mostly of weak off-rhymes, and is one of the most well-worn in literature: the sensitive poet, alone, an outsider.

It’s probably been twelve years since my father left,
left me fatherless

Personally, I imagine this is devastating, but in literary terms, the absent father is a faithful standby. The lyric improves when the ideas turn to specific details of self-loathing and rebellion, and “fatherless”, which was a clumsy off-rhyme with “left”, rhymes with what comes next [Warning: the N-word is coming]

… left me fatherless
And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jes
When honestly I miss this nigga, like when I was six
And every time I got the chance to say it I would swallow it
Sixteen, I’m hollow, intolerant, skip shots
Storm that whole bottle, I’ll show you a role model

I realise that poring over every rhyme like this in a rap, and deciding whether it’s true or off, is a bit like listening to Steve Reich for the chord changes. Most rap fans would prefer to let the words flow at speed, but look at how the song gets better as the imagery and observations become more specific and original. That inner rhyme of “hollow” and “intolerant” is good stuff and, since bottle is pronounced “boddle”, its rhyme with “role model” is, I think, excellent. If it’s a rap cliché, I stand corrected, but it’s new to me.

Momma often was offering peace offerin‘s
Think, wheeze, cough, scoffin’ and he’s off again
Searching for a big brother, Tyler was that
And plus he liked how I rap,
The blinded mice in the trap:
Too black for the white kids, and too white for the blacks
From honor roll to crackin’ locks up off them bicycle racks

And there they all are again: specific image, tone, implied character, natural syntax, perfect rhyme, best lines in the song.

But as I said, I don’t know enough rap or hip hop. If anyone can show me an artist who does everything I suggest with true rhymes, but still produces their best work with off-rhymes, I’d be wiser than I am now. At this point, though, I feel perfectly confident saying:

If you get everything right – prosody, tone, syntax, and agreement in sound – a perfect rhyme will always be better than an off-rhyme, no matter what genre you’re writing in.

Some Standard Excuses for Not Rhyming Properly … And Why We All Still Should (Pt 1)

This Maclean’s article came out last May, and I nearly wrote about the matter right away, in a high-handed manner. But I decided to try being thoughtful instead, and I’ve been trying ever since.

First, here’s the TL;DR version …

There’s more to a perfect rhyme than merely getting the sounds to agree. Perfect rhymes didn’t become the norm in musical theatre until around the 1940s, and they didn’t hold sway for very long. Perfect rhymes are still worth pursuing, though, in every genre of songwriting. I can back this up with examples.

To address two assumptions in Jaime Weinman’s first paragraph of that article – and these assumptions are made pretty much everywhere, so I by no means lay them at Weinman’s feet:

1. “the last refuge of perfect rhyme”

There are many elements to a perfect rhyme, especially in theatre, and agreement in sound is only one of them. There are also prosody and scansion to consider (songwriters tend to use these terms interchangeably, but what I mean is singable syllables, naturally stressed), syntax (words in the right order should be), and tone (you can’t whip out just any old word, simply because it rhymes). Different songwriters and different eras have valued these elements differently. Early in the last century, for example, this sort of thing was pretty common:

He: In every foreign country I have met my fate.
I’ve met her so much, I am tired.
She: Can you remain quite neutral and to me relate,
Which you most admired?

That’s part of ‘Some Sort of Somebody‘ from Very Good Eddie (1915), music by Jerome Kern, lyric by Elsie Janis. Notice the phrase “to me relate”, which I bet no-one has ever said, ever. It’s there to set up the rhyme. Before the First World War (and, indeed, until well after the Second), rhyme often trumped natural syntax in this way.

While I’m using tunes by Kern, ‘How’d You Like to Spoon With Me?‘ was the equivalent of a pop hit in 1905, and interpolated into The Earl and the Girl for that show’s Broadway run. Behold:

I don’t know why I am so very shy,
I always was demure,
I never knew what silly lovers do,
No flirting I’d endure; [syntax]

How’d you like to spoon with me?
How’d you like to spoon with me?
Sit beneath an oak tree large and shady,
Call me little tootsy wootsy baby

“Shady” and “baby” don’t rhyme; here the jazzy-slang attraction of “tootsy wootsy baby” has upstaged rhyme, and this process still goes on today, especially in pop. Entire songs are built upon it.

Here are two more examples, with music by Kern – although you can do this with many composers of the teens, twenties and thirties – from Roberta. By 1933 Kern had worked with better lyricists, and better lyrics were starting to be the fashionable thing. But in Otto Harbach’s lyric for ‘Yesterdays’, there’s this:

Yesterdays,
Yesterdays,
Days I knew as happy sweet
Sequestered days [toneprosody]

Then gay youth was mine,
Truth was mine,
Joyous free in flame and life
Then sooth was mine [tone, prosody]

Roberta also offers, in ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’:

So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed …
[prosody, tone and syntax!
This is a category 5 rhymestorm]

The examples could go on, because there are many music theatre lyrics prior to, say, those for Oklahoma!, that demonstrate rhyming without much regard for syntax, or rhyming without regard for a character’s vocabulary. And there are some that don’t rhyme at all, because they’re too busy being slangy. The best lyricists of the ’40s and ’50s (Berlin, Loesser, Porter, Hammerstein) demonstrated that it’s possible to rhyme deftly without sacrificing character or syntax – and the greats often invented slang. By the late 1960s, though, the various elements had shifted in importance to the point where syntax and character started to matter more than rhyme (look at my favourite song in Hair, ‘Frank Mills’). And that’s what I think we’re hearing in many theatre lyricists’ work today: rhyme dropped in favour of something considered more important, like making a character “authentic” or “relatable”.

So, musical theatre isn’t really the last refuge of perfect rhyme. There’s a corner of musical theatre where perfect rhyme sits, hoping to be offered a drink; just as there are corners of country music, cabaret, comedy, and political satire, where perfect rhymes wait shyly while other more brazen considerations get all the attention.

Which leads me to the second assumption in Weinman’s opening paragraph:

2. “… poetry, which hasn’t had strict rhyming rules since Emily Dickinson”

This is true, but only because poetry didn’t have strict rhyming rules before Dickinson, either. Some forms have developed traditional rhyme schemes, yes, and poets often change or subvert or vary these schemes, for their own reasons. This means there’s now a standard argument, usually heard in defence of the techniques of modernism, which non-rhyming songwriters have learned to use: “I’m attempting something shocking, and new, so why would I soothe the listener with the familiar?”

My problem with this argument is that it’s almost never true of the non-rhyming song. Far from attempting something shocking, the non-rhyming songwriter is usually succumbing to cliche, and trotting out ideas heard in dozens of other songs. Furthermore, every time I hear false/slant/near/off- rhymes defended as “modern” or “acceptable these days”, I cannot help but note that:

Rhyme Has Never Been Denounced By A Songwriter Who’s Really Good At It

At this point, music theatre types tend to produce a list of off-rhymes in some writer’s work and leave it there, as if to say “Really, what can we do? Why can’t the people hear?”

I think that’s dogmatic, and snobby. But what if I could look at some standard excuses for not rhyming properly, and at some successful popular songs where those excuses are in evidence? And what if I could then demonstrate that the best parts of those songs are still the parts with proper rhymes?

Coming Soon, In Part Two …

On Palindromes, On Artwiculate


@spikelynch has written (gracefully, as usual) of his palindrome creation process on artwiculate. I’ll try to explain mine, as per @attentive‘s request – not because my approach is any better (or much different), but because I had a different experience with a different word.

Yesterday’s artwiculate word was “citadel”, and I wouldn’t normally bother doing a palindrome with “citadel”, because it seems a bit … I don’t know, dull? I attempted it anyway, on-and-off throughout the morning. By lunchtime there was this:

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How I Produce a Series of Unsatisfactory Artwiculate Palindromes

I begin, obviously, by writing the artwiculate word of the day backwards, and playing with whatever turns up:

20130602-094415.jpg

Now, while there are plenty of words that end in “led”, I know that “tic” will be a challenge. Not a lot of words that start with “tic”. So I’ve reminded myself of one alternative, “led at ic”, and I might come back to that. For now, though, I play with “led a tic”:

20130602-094429.jpg

I love “tictac” because I’ve never seen it in a palindrome, and it seems anachronistic next to “citadel”. That makes me smile, but I don’t know what to do with “cat citadel”. There are other possibilities here, but I don’t see them until later.

Now I start thinking about where the hinge of the palindrome might go. Palindrome purists are very serious about their hinges. For example, this:

Stinker reknits.

with one word simply the reverse of the other, produces that double “r” in the middle. This:

Reknit, stinker.

with the palindrome hinging on the letter “s”, is considered superior.

Bearing that in mind, I start looking for words ending in “led” that might provide a good hinge.

20130602-094444.jpg

OK, so I admit I googled here, because there are just too many words ending in “led”. And this showed up:

20130602-094456.jpg

Look at that hinge! And now I’m interested, because a citadel is something you can actually assail, and the word is nicely archaic too. If I use the word “tic”, as in nervous tic, I can stop here.

“Citadel I assailed? A tic.”

But that’s pretty weak.

20130602-094511.jpg

“Tickler” is nice (oh, how I wish I could have worked “elk” and “tickler” in there somehow). “Ticklish” is good, too, although I have no idea what a silk citadel might on the way back. Undaunted, I carry on in this vein, trying a ticklish spot, a ticklish prospect, and so on.

20130602-131822.jpg

Frustrated, I remember “led at ic” and see what words starting with “ic” I can use. Obviously, there’s ice, icy …

20130602-131837.jpg

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This has yielded two possibilities, but they’re grammatically weak, even for palindromes:

Pace, citadel I assailed at icecap.

No citadel I assailed at icon.

I miss “tictac”, and I wish I could make “cat citadel” work. Then I remember (and this is a blunder I make all the time with palindromes) that it doesn’t have to be “cat”. A word ending in “cat” will do. Scat, muscat, or …

20130602-133256.jpg

Regretfully, I give up on “magnificat”, but I refuse to give up on “tictac”. So, instead of “cat”, I consider “c at”:

20130602-091034.jpg

“Stoic” and “antic” are also lovely and old-sounding, but not much use in reverse. I suppose that last effort could be a diary entry after a siege, by some typically laconic Caesar, and complete with an anachronism:

Panic, at citadel I assailed. A tictac. I nap.

But now I’m weary, and I find it less than marvellous, so I don’t tweet it.

It’s worth noting, though, that an unavoidable letter grouping (in this case, “t i c”) will always dominate the finished palindrome. Likewise, some choices I’ve made (“tictac”, and “assailed”) will affect everything else to come. With different, better choices, others might make better palindromes. I never tried, for example:

led at, I c

Bawled at, I crumple …

Drawled at, I castigate …

Tag! It’s a citadel, Ward …

Listening to the Australian Top 40, 1990-2009 (Artists A-C)

My current job (producer at a radio station) allows me access to a music library that is – as the title of this post might suggest – pretty darn comprehensive. It’s a mighty batch of mp3 files, arranged according to the first name of each artist. I’ve been listening to the songs in the car, in order, with the following strict rules:

1. If the song is familiar – that is, if I think I’ve heard it in the last couple of years – I skip it. Even if I like it.

2. Any unfamiliar song has until the end of its first chorus. That’s it. If a song doesn’t grab me by then, I move on.

3. If the kids are in the car, they get to vote on whether a song lives or dies.

4. If the kids are in the car, an exception is made to the first rule. But the third rule is still ruthlessly enforced.

The point to this exercise is to discover worthy songs I have missed or gems I have forgotten, within the limits of Top 40 success.

Some observations and discoveries, artists A-C:

Number of Songs Played In Full

About one in ten, I reckon.

Surprised I Quite Liked It

I’m not a fan of young women singing “baby, take control of me” songs; even when they’re wrapped in empowerment cliches, they’re still icky.

But I liked the guitar sample, and the production on the backing vocals. So that’s what I listened to.

Liked It More Than Everyone Else Seems To

This didn’t get a great response (“sucks” – Rolling Stone), but I don’t think Jack White’s song is the problem. Male/female duets are always tricky, because there’s usually only one or two keys that will work for both vocalists, and the solution is almost always a high vocal for the guy, with low-mid notes for the female. She’ll spend most of the song sounding comparatively dull, then get to wail later on (as is the case here). Meanwhile, whenever the male and female sing together, it’s hard for both singers to pitch identically. Hence the deliberately ragged vocals on the chorus in this recording, with a meticulously arranged and produced backing. That’s what disappointed Bond theme purists, I reckon, rather than the song itself.

You know what would have worked, for a song like this? Drop it a couple of keys, and have Michael Buble sing it.

You know what would have worked even better? Slow it down, and have Leonard Cohen speak/sing it. Rolling Stone would have loved that.

Bon Jovi

Have had a lot of hits. I am no fan of the band, because in 1987 I liked The Beatles and everyone – everyone – at my school was playing the album Slippery When Wet. But I have to give it to Bon Jovi: a lot of hits. And a surprisingly wide range of rhythmic feels and production styles over the course of their career. Their singles do not simply boil down to rocker-rocker-power ballad-rocker-power ballad.

Creed

There is no excuse for them. Just awful.

Color Me Badd

In their own way, as bad as Creed.

Annie Lennox

No More “I Love You’s”, from 1995, is a cover! I had no idea. Here is the original, from 1986, by The Lover Speaks:

I notice that the arrangement of the Lennox cover (which I’ve always liked) comes almost entirely from the original. Also the two versions are barely a semitone apart (cover – E flat major; original – a very sharp D major). Lennox sings the same melody, with some octave shifting to accomodate the fact that she’s female.

So here’s my theory: The Lover Speaks played support for The Eurythmics, and Lennox used to hear this song, sang along with it backstage (hence the octave shifting), and thought to herself “I’ll record that some day”.

But there’s more: the Lennox cover is (like much of her stuff) arch and mannered; surrounded in her music video by ballerina men with fantastic cheekbones, she delivers the chorus in a pose. Shorn of any irony, however, consider the first lines of this song’s chorus:

No more “I love you’s”
The language is leaving me.

That is a devastating sentiment, in twelve beautifully singable syllables.

npr major songs etc

Hi. If my blog turned up because you used the above search term, sorry. Pure coincidence based on its title, and a recent internet fad.

I think you want this:

http://www.npr.org/2013/03/08/173832177/can-you-make-sad-songs-sound-happy-and-vice-versa

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