Sometimes you might want to emphasise the word ‘be’. Here’s a famous instance:
To be or not to be that is the question
Nice work from Shakespeare there, letting the iambs do their job of emphasising the important words.
Imagine, by way of contrast, this line, set to music:
I want to be free.
Imagine, as a songwriter, which syllables you might emphasise in this line, through your choices of pitch and rhythm.
I want to be free.
I WANT to be free.
I want to be FREE.
These are all good possibilities. This next one is, I think, not – if you do this, you’ve written what I call a Chandler song:
I want to BE free.
Rules of the Chandler Song Game
1. Modern pop songs don’t count. Scansion is not amongst their chief concerns.
2. If, as in the Shakespeare example, the emphasis is intentional, Chandler-status will not be granted.
As an example of Rule 2, witness this doggerel at the end of With One Look, from Sunset Boulevard:
This time I’m staying
I’m staying for good,
I’ll be back where I was born to BE
With one look, I’ll be me
Although that’s awful, it’s intentional, and the song is not a Chandler song.
(Sidebar: ‘WITH one look’? Not ‘with ONE look’, or ‘with one LOOK‘? Why emphasise the preposition, Don Black? Or is it Amy Powers?)
Also, this, from Tim Rice, gets a reluctant pass …
I want to BE a part of B A, Buenos Aires, Big Apple
… because Eva is using emphasis to make a pun.
(Sidebar: why is Eva making a pun?)
3. Other verb forms will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Also from Evita, there’s the perfect infinitive form:
You let down your people, Evita,
You were supposed to have BEEN immortal
It’s Chandleresque, but it’s not enough for a Chandler song. (Don’t worry, Tim Rice will have his moment later.)
Some Chandler Songs, In No Particular Order
Your cares and troubles are gone
There’ll BE no more from now on
– Jack Yellen, Happy Days Are Here Again, from the film Chasing Rainbows.
Sometimes I wish I could BE more like you
– Michael Korie and Amy Power, Two Worlds, from Doctor Zhivago.
It shall BE completely criminal for a man to break a date
– the generally impeccable Sheldon Harnick, Marie’s Law, from Fiorello!.
It’ll BE so quiet, that who’ll come by it
But a seaside wedding could BE devised.
– the generally impeccable Stephen Sondheim, By the Sea, from Sweeney Todd.
Just stay alive, that would BE enough (six times!)
Let this moment BE the first chapter
– Lin-Manuel Miranda, That Would Be Enough, from Hamilton.
OK, I fibbed about the order, because here, as promised, is my choice for grand champion. It wins because it’s a question:
Did you know your messy death would BE a record-breaker?
– Tim Rice, Superstar, from Jesus Christ Superstar.