The biggest song in the country right now is “Call Me Maybe.” It is the fun, pop summer song of 2012, written and performed by Carly Rae Jepsen. It is #1 on the Hot 100 chart right now. I first started hearing it when I was in Nashville a couple months ago. It started to explode across the airwaves and dance clubs everywhere. It is one of those songs that is infectious and gets stuck in your head. Earworms, as some call them. I have been listening to it and analyzing it and finding some cool things in the songwriting structure that make it work. So I wanted to give some of my observations on qualities that you and I can use in writing our next ‘hit.’
One of the big things that sticks in your head when you hear this song is the melody. The melody is very catchy and uses one of the most powerful and essential concepts when songs become hits and that is contrast. Each song section, Verse, PreChorus, Chorus and Bridge all have contrasting melodic motifs happening. There is also some cool music theory happening as well.
Melodic Contrast: The verses – - The verses have a nearly static melodic contour that is nearly static. The verse hovers around the B note, which in this song is the 3rd degree of the G major scale. This is a trick that many songwriters use in the verse, and that is to not use the tonic note much in the verse. The tonic note is the G and it is not used much if at all in the verses. They save the tonic note for when the chorus comes around. Also these verses use rather quick fast notes, which makes it sound much more conversational. This is also a very useful and common trait of hit songs. When the prechorus comes around the melody bumps up and starts on the D note above the B in the verse, and the melodic contour contrasts to the verse because it becomes a descending contour and the phrases go down until the last line of the prechorus that builds up to the chorus. Also the notes are just a bit longer than the verse, which creates more contrast. Again this section only briefly hits the G note or the tonic. What not going to the tonic does is build up some tension, because our ears want to ‘go home’ or go to tonic, and it doesn’t happen until we get to the chorus. When the chorus comes in the notes get shorter and more rhythmic again, which contrasts to the prechorus. The melodic contour now becomes more zig zag by going down, coming up and the resolving to the tonic. It brings us home and releases all of the tension that was building in the verses and prechorus. It feels good and satisfies some of our subconscious expectations. The melody of the entire song is mostly G major pentatonic, which as I have mentioned in other posts is one of the most powerful and easy scales to use. When the song gets to the bridge it stays in the pentatonic scale, and still does a zig zag by going down and coming back up to the G, but the melody is different than the chorus and verse, and also just as catchy as the chorus, in fact at the end of the song, they repeat the bridge as if it is a chorus variation. Neat stuff happening in the melody of this song.
Lyrical Contrast and Structure: Just because it is simple doesn’t mean stupid – - The lyrics of this song actually follow many of the concepts that I have mentioned on this blog in the past. One of the big things that I noticed and loved was that the song verses do a great job of being decriptive and set up the Who, When, and Where. The 1st verse is very visual. Usually songs should be visual and have concrete details in the 1st verse, then go to more emotional and ‘big picture’ in the chorus. This song talks about a wishing well/fountain, it sets the scene that the singer is throwing wishes at night. Words like kisses, pennies, dimes, etc really are visual words that paint a picture in our heads. Then when you get to the prechorus it talks more about the night and talks about wind, ripped jeans, skin, etc. Again more visual pictures, concrete images. Then when you get to the chorus, the emotional WHY of the song is exposed. It is still visual because we know the singer is giving her number to someone she just met, but it is not quite as visual and basically wraps up the song…..I might be crazy, but here is my phone number….call me….maybe? In the second verse it explains kind of what happens next. The singer is falling is love, but the other person is taking time in actually calling back. One thing that is cool and is becoming a common trend in music now is the repeated chorus. The chorus repeats itself, so it gets stuck in our heads even more. Some contrast to keep it interesting is added by doubling the vocal track and adding additional drum rhythms and a synthy guitar-type part. This is an effective way to use repitition and still keep energy going. Also the last few lines are not the same as the first time around. Same melody, but different lyrics. The next part of the lyrics that is cool in this song is the rhyme scheme. Rhyme is very important in songs, it gives us sign posts and tells us where to start and stop. It also is a way to create contrast in the lyrics and change things up so they do not get boring. Here are the rhyme schemes that I think are happening in this song:
Verse: AAABCCCB 8 line section.
Prechorus: AAAX 4 line section (contrasts to the 8 in the verse)
Chorus: XAXAXAXA 8 lines that repeat twice – same number of lines as the verse but different rhyme scheme. (again contrast)
Bridge: XAAAXAAA 8 line section, but this rhyme scheme is almost like the opposite of the scheme in the verse, which creates lots of contrast.
2 of the most powerful tools you have when writing lyrics is the rhyme scheme and number of lines. Both can be used to create contrast and prosody, so your song stays interesting and tells the correct story.
As you know writing songs is a mix of art and craft……know how and inspiration. These have been just a few observations that I have made while listening to and studying, ‘Call Me Maybe.’ Let me know if you have any observations of your own, or if you have any questions on the ideas I talked about. ~~ Chad