Thursday, December 25

The tyranny of rhyme

It's amazing to me how I have to contort things to make them fit a rhyme scheme. Writing a pop song is like trying to load a Toyota Tercel with the un-boxed contents of a two bedroom apartment. There's only one right answer, and sometimes you're still left with a floor lamp sticking out of the trunk.

Today, I've been wrestling with the chorus to a new song. This isn't the exact form, but I've simplified it to make an example.

The scene is simple: a guy sees the girl he was going to give a surprise Christmas gift kissing another, unknown man. Not complex. I had an image in my head of her wearing a bright red wool coat - something that would jump out of a black and white train station scene like a Frank Miller color treatment. I've established the setting through the verses, so all I need to convey is the kiss, the shock and I'd like to get that jacket in there. Sounds feasible, but it's easier said than done.

The rhyme scheme is:


Also simple. The ends of the first two lines (couplet) have to rhyme, as do the ends of the second two lines. And there need to be five syllables per line.

Here are four variants, starting with my first attempt.


Your jacket jet black
His hands on your back
You’re turning towards me
I panic and flee


Your jacket bright red
I turned and I fled
I saw him reach out
Your lips met his mouth


Your jacket bright red
I saw and I fled
Your hands on his hips
While he kissed your lips


It’s burned in my head
your jacket bright red
and how could I miss
your lips locked to his?

As you can see, the first variant lost the color of the jacket due to rhyme. Few words rhyme with red, though I managed to figure out a way to use "head" for that purpose by the time I got to variant 4. And very, very little rhymes with "jacket." :) Racket. Whack it. Basket. Yay.

The other criteria are that the first and last line should be strong - you want to leave a powerful image lingering as you transition back into the verse. And you want the first line of the chorus to catch the listener's attention. Variant 4 is the best given those requirements.

I'm still poking at it, but you get the idea. Sometimes I never quite get to the point where I'm fully satisfied, but I usually do. Right now, there's only one set of verse lines in all the new songs that I'm completely unhappy with. But that's another story.

- Jesse Kates / the Sexy Accident > listen on iTunes