Saturday, October 3, 2015

ROCKTOBER: The Short Verse

If I pick on Tom Petty tonight, it is out of love, for I would just as soon listen to a Tom Petty song these days as pretty much anything else.  There's only one problem: Petty is much too dependent on the "short verse."

The term is mine.  I don't know if there is any official name for it.  But the short verse occurs when the first verse of a song is, say, 8 lines before it gets to the chorus, but then the second verse, and maybe even subsequent verses are only 4 lines long in order to get back to the chorus more quickly.

On his last CD, the very solid Hypnotic Eye, this trend is quite apparent.  On "American Dream, Plan B," for example, the first verse goes like this :

I’m gonna make my way through this world someday
I don’t care what nobody say
American dream, political scheme
I’m gonna find out for myself someday
But I’m half-lit, I can’t dance for shit
But I see what I want, I go after it
And my girl’s alright, treats me nice
Sayin’ nothin’ but a woman puts out that light

And that is the set-up to the song.  We meet the persona.  We learn his situation.  But when we get to the second verse, which is cut in half. 

Oh well, my baby no doubt dreams further out
Makin’ moves to get us someway someday
Well my honey don’t trip, shoots from the hip
Tell me everything gonna be 

The next verse is also shorter.  For me, it kills the organic nature of a song.  It makes the song feel like it is the very pop construction that it is.  Which isn't what I want to know.  I want to feel like I have immersed myself in the story of any song that I am listening to, and when my expectation of significant exposition is undercut, I am shocked out of the song.

Petty, of course, is not the only artist who does this.  It's pretty standard practice. But what it says to me is that the songwriter, or maybe even the arranger or producer, knows the song has a pretty catchy chorus and that rather than anything the song might actually have to say, it is more important to get back that chorus and to keep drilling it home into the listener's brain.

When, with apparently clueless lack of song awareness, head Herman Hermit Peter Noone announced in "Henry The Eighth," 'Second verse same as the first,' that was his admission that there was nothing  much to the song and even less than we had hoped for.  As if he said, we will just be filling minutes by repeating the same words all over again,

The short verse feels the same way to me.  It is kind of like a weak poem where, rather than enjoying the fact that there is an underlying structure to the poem, the structure itself becomes the issue, so much so that it overwhelms the words.  Cut the words short or don't even bother writing as many in order to get to that chorus.  That's the impact of the short verse.

Those of us who listen intently to songs that we really like don't want to have that experience cut short for whatever reason it is that drives the short verse--loss of inspiration, or simply the need to have a song fit the constraints of a certain length.  If a song has a story to tell, it should overflow word wise, if needed, or expand beyond four minutes, or at least not be slave to even a catchy chorus.

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