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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Pop: rhymes and scansion

Responding to my last post about a Manic Street Preachers political song, Plutarch asks – ostensibly - whether “rabbit” may rhyme with “fascist” but also touches on pop lyrics in general. It’s a matter I’ve already wrestled with as I’ve attempted to disinter pop’s nature.

First, I haven’t yet tried to distinguish between pop and rock. I don’t intend to do so here other than offer a single comment: pop tends to favour lyrics (narratives, reflections, confessions, etc) whereas rock tends to use words and/or phrases as sounds, often driving out meaning through repetition and electronic distortion. The problem is that the pop/rock division is not clear-cut.

Thus MSP make an emotional point about a serious subject (The Spanish civil war) and go for lyrics. Gradually the accompaniment increases in volume, a legitimate strategy to heighten emotions. Eventually music drowns out the words. Surely they’re meant to be heard. Or are you supposed to know them from scratch? Since the song also seeks to achieve political conversion I think they are intended to be heard.

But how about “rabbit” and fascist”? To which Plutarch might have added “Should pop lines scan?” My interim answer is that good rhymes and good scansion are unnecessary. Pop singers are adept at overcoming terrible rhymes and seriously unbalanced lines. It’s part of the genre. However… and the juxtaposition seems almost to have been planned…

For the same post I listened to The Wanted’s All Time Low. Here the excellent scansion makes the line ends crack like a whip. And there’s even a play on words later on. It seems like an old old story. If your message is heartfelt you needn’t polish the structure. Sophistication is thought to be betrayal. Rubbish, alas. Guernica is a professional painting; it’s also heartfelt.


  1. The way Rock lyrics rhyme is indeed a good subject for investigation. I think it is because they seem to be written as ballads yet rely on assonance and vaguely similar vowel sounds in place of rhyme that they somehow jar, if read as poetry. However, Rock n Roll lyrics are quite another matter. Chuck Berry's lyrics are composed as he said "mathematically," and are, I think, very good examples of modern light verse.
    Lieber and Stoller also crafted their lyics in an impressive manner, and other Rock n Rollers such as Carl Perkins relied on their words as well as their music. In Blue Suede shoes the sharp rhyming somehow adds to the dangerous and spicy concept:

    you can do anything that you want to do/you can burn my house, steal my car/ drink my liquor from an old fruit jar/ but don't you, don't step on my blue suede shoes.

    while this may be familiar to everyone over the age of 40, it still sounds as fresh to me as the day it was recorded.

  2. Lucas: Even I'm familiar with the verse you cite though I hadn't reflected - until now - on its conciseness.

    The fact is I haven't paid attention to pop/rock over the last four or five decades although certain songs have managed to get through. What irritated me was the unwillingness of articulate people - who claimed they were enthusiasts and knew the genre - to use their articulacy in its service. It's probably too late for me to develop a synoptic view and my ultimate comparisons (ie, with posh music) are in any case irrelevant.

    But there seems no reason why I shouldn't treat present-day popular music as a series of laboratory specimens: describing what I hear and trying to fit them into a gradually evolving non-emotional value system. This at least is a re-application of the two factors at the heart of my so-called profession: curiosity and an ability to spread a little learning thinly over quite a wide area.

    If you chose to do Tone Deaf it's clear it would start from a quite different point of view and that makes your contributions doubly welcome.

  3. Occasional speeder18 February 2012 at 15:56

    My father, The Wanted and Manic Street Preachers..., If the fact these 3 entities have been brought together shows that all is good in the world.

  4. OS: I suppose being an entity
    is the first step towards being a human being so I can take heart at this mystical observation of yours.