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Don’t Let The Listener Get Ahead Of Your Song

It’s not a good sign, to put it mildly, when I get the feeling that the listener can intuitively predict my next line before I sing it.

I may like the line; it may work for the song. But if the listener is not only keeping up with me but is actually ahead of me (I should be ahead of them), I’m in trouble.

This came up for me recently when I was writing a song with very traditional, Smokey Robinson/Motown roots. The chords are simple, the lyrics straightforward, and, if the song works, its familiarity will be part of its charm. But only if it’s not too familiar.

There’s nothing wrong with writing a ‘genre’ song – they can be very satisfying to write and to listen to – but unless I want it to sound exactly like it was written decades ago (which in this case I didn’t) it needs some kind of twist.

If the listener knows what’s around every turn, why bother writing a ‘new’ version?

So… my first Verse goes like this:

Like a flower
Rising to the sky
Like a tree
Over a century
As it grows so high

Which leads to the Title (‘I’m gonna Rise To Your Love’). I felt good about this Verse; it fit the song well.

This is what I had for the last (3rd) Verse:

(You know) You thrill me baby
With your quiet ways
Your style your smile
Your eyes
Have got me in a daze

(It’s not an exact match for Verse 1, which I think works. This is a style of song that doesn’t require that kind of perfect Verse-to-Verse fit, plus these days, like a lot of other writers, I tend to be more free about that sort of thing, letting the melody and lyric expand and contract from Verse to Verse as long as it feels right for the song and its style and doesn’t make the melody confusing.)

To me the problem, though, was that by the time I was singing, ‘Your style, your smile…’, I could feel the predictable ’Have got me in a daze’ coming from a mile away. Not good.

Since the last line, however cliched, said what I wanted to say, the first thing I tried was to extend the lines before it, adding more inner rhymes, so the words and melody would run more or less continuously into the last line… I’d be ’slipping it past you’… at least that was the plan.

So I fooled around with things like:

Your style your smile
Your eyes tantalize…

Even though I thought there was something to this direction, I still just couldn’t get around the fact that ’Got me in a daze’ was just too flat and obvious.

After kicking it around many different ways, I thought of changing the last line to, “Makin’ me cray-zy’. By adding another syllable after the rhyme, I could maintain an element of surprise (although being in a daze and feeling crazy are two different things, they both worked for me in the song).

So now (it’s still a work in progress) where I’m at with the last Verse is:

(You know) You thrill me baby
With your quiet ways
Your style your smile
Harmonize with your eyes
Tantalizin’
And makin’ me cra-zy

I may be able to improve this, but I’ve extended the 3rd and 4th lines in a way that I like, and the last line is a lot less predictable, while hopefully still keeping within the original spirit of the song.

Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts, additions, disagreements in the Comments section below:

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6 responses to “Don’t Let The Listener Get Ahead Of Your Song”

  • Rob Dimit

    In his song “Lost,” Steve Forbert sings:

    “Is she poison – man I just can’t tell
    I’m in heaven but….”

    We’re ready for him to finish the couplet with the obvious “hell.” Instead, we get this:

    “I’m in heaven but I don’t feel well.”

    That’s smart songwriting, IMHO.

  • steve notice

    In this type of standard love song it doesn’t matter that much. The lyrics are secondary to the music unless you’re going for something really clever or poignant. If the listener gets involved and drawn into the melody it might even be good to give a lyric they don’t have to think about. Better to use something that fits sonically and doesn’t take the listener’s mind off the music.

  • Chris Gansky

    Sorry, Tony. If I had a better line for “got me in a daze,” I’d use it in one of my songs. But since I’d still like to help, how would “quiet ways” thrill you or make you crazy? Might I suggest “wild ways”? Wild can be pronounced with two syllables (wi-uld) and it adds alliteration.

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