Over the past few months I’ve been watching, rather religiously, Brentalfloss’ Lyrics 101 series. Although, I haven’t taken part in the assignments directly, I’ve been using these amazing videos to enhance my own writing skills.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an embed for the first in the series. I’d recommend them to anyone, even if you’re not interested in writing lyrics they can give you a valuable insight into the world of song writing.
Side note: be sure to check out his “With lyrics” series, as he’s a really talented musician/song writer
Based on these videos, I’ve been able to recognise the AABA structure in ~80% of the songs I listen to on a regular basis. I think this is a great thing, because I’m able to start thinking about why certain words where chosen for certain rhyme, and how story telling works as an art form. Being an amateur writer, this is enormously helpful.
Let Them Talk
For those who didn’t know, Hugh Laurie (AKA Dr. House, AKA M’colleague to Mr. Stephen Fry, AKA The Prince Regent, AKA Bertram Wilberforce “Bertie” Wooster) has recently recorded a blues album. This is amazing news, not only am I a fan of Hugh’s output as an actor, but I’m a massive fan of the Blues as a genre of music.
My Mind, You Don’t Know It
When I fired up my PC yesterday and loaded iTunes, I was confronted with a message telling me that my pre-order was ready for downloading. Naturally, I clicked “OK”. Part of me wished there was a “F*ck YEAH!” button, alas there wasn’t. About 25 seconds later, the entire 3 track single had been downloaded.
I clocked the download at, around, 8Mbits per second; which is mighty quick – pretty much my maximum download speed, too. Thank you Apple for providing exceptional servers.
After I’d downloaded them, then stripped them of the DRM (I wont tell you how, but there’s a hidden feature that does it for you. At least there is on the Windows version, I’m not sure about the Mac version), and saved the album art (I’ve been stung by the “damaged iTunes library” bug too many times) I plugged my outer ear headphones in and started it playing.
My god, this man knows how to write a good blues song.
And that was just after the first track.
For Free? Really?
After listening to the tracks, I went to the website (clickable here). It turns out that there’s a fourth track available for free download (you’ve just gotta give the server your email address to get the download link. Otherwise the web spiders would get a hold of it, and his PR team wouldn’t know how many people had downloaded it); which I did. After a few seconds I received an email from the team, with a link to a zip file. I downloaded that, un-zipped and listened to a DRM free, mp3 file – Warner Bros. got it right, for once.
Oh, hell yeah!
This one’s a little more jazzy. I can’t say for certain which type of jazz, as I’m not a massive jazz aficionado (I’m into the big band era stuff, and Miles Davis, though). It’s a little more laid back, and sounds really good. It sounds like Hugh recorded the piano and vocals at the same time, too – which is not the norm for music these days – aside from a few notable exceptions, of course.
Structure, It’s What You Need
All of that happened yesterday. Today, on the way home, I was listening to the single again. One of the songs on there (which is “quite ballsy,” as my brother puts it) is about how the Bible shouldn’t be taken as literally as some people do. Listening to it, I realised that not only does the song have an AABA structure, but the verses do, too. I’ll show ya:
The following quote contains copyrighted material. It is used under Fair Use. No copyright infringement is implied by using the following quote. The lyrics remain copyright of Warner Bros. Publishing / Hugh Laurie, 2011.
Methuselah lived 900 years / Methuselah lived 900 years / But who calls that livin’ / When no gal will give in / To a man who’s 900 years?
Did you spot it?
I’ll go through it line then.
Methuselah lived 900 years
An A line – setting up you’re idea, storyline or characters. In this instance, Hugh is telling us about the oldest character in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Tanakh to Jewish people, or The Old Testament in Christian terms).
Methuselah lived 900 years
The second line a second A line – telling the same story, typically in a different way. All that Hugh is doing is telling us about Methuselah in the same way, again. But this is standard fare for Blues, use the first line again rather than write a different first line.
But who calls that livin’ / When no gal will give in,
A pair of lines representing the B, also known as an A’ – giving up a small respite from the original story or idea, but feeding into the final A. Hugh is giving us a rest from the opening two A lines, and asking us a question about Methuselah: What kind of life did Methuselah have? Why would he have wanted to live for 900 years? Can you imagine living for 900 years?
To a man who’s 900 years,
Yet a third A – telling us the same story or idea but in yet a different way. Hugh brings us back to his original statement, both re-enforcing the story of Methuselah (He was 900 years, don’t you know? … Well, technically, he got to 969 years. Can you imagine that?) and posing his question again. He uses the idea of how boring it must have gotten for Methuselah, being 900 years old, having seen the world, no doubt his body would be in terrible shape as we’re only designed to last a maximum of 80-100 years, and imagining that he would be denied sex on account of his age and the condition of his body (sex being something that some people see as defining their entire existence).
Whoa! Hold On A Second
OK, so I’m not a scholar of music – in fact, I never took a single music lesson in my life, and we didn’t even have a music teacher at my high school. I’m just extrapolating from these lyrics and the information that’s available out there (on The Internet and in books on lyric composition) with my own knowledge and experience, and mixing that with my interpretation of the lyrics.
Also it should be noted that, during the B section of the song, Hugh notes:
Again, the following quote contains copyrighted material. It is used under Fair Use. No copyright infringement is implied by using the following quote. The lyrics remain copyright of Warner Bros. Publishing / Hugh Laurie, 2011.
I take’s that gospel / Whenever it’s poss’ble / But always with a grain of salt.
Which is, basically, Hugh saying that he’s a believer, but some parts shouldn’t be taken literally; which makes sense to me.
I’d like to hear what you guys think about this. Give me some feedback. Does my opinion of these lyrics follow with yours? Let me know what you think.