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Modern Songwriting’s Freedom From Traditional ‘Continuity’

Recently a friend of mine directed me to a song by The Neighbourhood – ‘Daddy Issues’ (below). Though it’s pretty conventional musically (the lyrics are more edgy), it does have an interesting feature or two.

This song does something – and does it well – that I hear more and more in songs these days – that is, the melody of the second Verse is significantly different than that of the first Verse (though not unrelated).

In traditional songwriting, it’s a given that the melodies of every Verse of a song will be exactly the same or very similar. This was true for most of the 20th century, until Rap and Hip Hop broke open many of the traditional structures in the ‘90s and beyond (Rap did this by freeing up rhythm and rhyming, which then affected melodies).

Now it’s become more and more common for Verses to expand and contract. Pre-Choruses and Choruses are still holding firm in the repetition department – as is true in ‘Daddy Issues’, which also maintains a traditional Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus overall structure.

Even though the song’s Verse melodies feel consistent, they’re actually dramatically different from each other. The melody in the first Verse is simple. The rhythm is offbeats; and only two notes are used (‘C’ and ‘D’… though check out how nice that ‘C’ sounds against the Bb chord in bars 3 & 4 and 7 & 8 of the Verse).

The second Verse becomes a lot more active, in the first half almost almost doubling up rhythmically. It also goes from that two-note first Verse melody to one that ranges from that ‘D’ all the way down to a low Bb (but smoothly sung) – a span of an octave and a major 3rd.

This kind of thing is something we’re hearing more of… and that we’ll be hearing a lot more of. Just as how in contemporary mainstream movies your average viewer can handle things like multiple flashbacks and changing points of view to a degree that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago, so in songwriting listeners are now much more able to allow the writers and artists considerable freedom from conventional ‘continuity’ (…as long as there’s Chorus they can grab onto) and not get lost.

Many songwriters in various genres have have been moving in this direction for years now. Several generations of listeners have gotten used to it, to the point where we often don’t even notice that the dots aren’t being connected for us the way they were in the songs of the two previous ‘golden ages of American songwriting’ (early-mid 20th century – the ‘Great American Songbook’ – and 1960s-80s – the so-called ‘Rock Era’).

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