Classic – MKTO

mkto“Retro-Blend” is definitely the phrase du jour. Today’s Pop charts are sounding more and more like the music charts of long ago, from the Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” to Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven.”

Retro-influenced songs like these evoke the best of yesterday blended with today’s melody, lyric, and production techniques.

Two of the latest hits to pay their respects to the oldies are Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and MKTO’s “Classic.” If you can remember dancing to Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5, then you’ve got a big head start on this style. But the commercial magic is in the blend of old and new. Today’s listeners want it ALL. So let’s a take a look at a Pop hit that delivers the best of yesterday and today. It’s “CLASSIC”!

Recorded by MKTO
Writers: Evan Bogart, Andrew Goldstein, Emanuel Kiriakou, Lindy Robbins

Read the lyrics here.

The Shortcut numbers below refer to chapters in my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”).

GENRE
The genre is retro-blend Pop. This track is obviously paying its respects to the Jackson 5’s  “I Want You Back.” The tempo is very close and the feel of the groove is similar. There are little sections of the melody that suggest the Jackson 5 original and touches in the arrangement, especially the rhythm electric guitar.

This is a perfect example of a song you’ll find a little further down on the Pop charts. That’s why it’s important not to stop with the top five or ten songs. Keep digging for those gems – the ones that make you say “I wish I’d written that!” These are the songs you want to learn from.

STRUCTURE
The song structure is…
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS

The pre-chorus starts with the line “I want to thrill you like Michael.” The section builds anticipation and energy going into the chorus which is just what a pre-chorus should do. Continue reading

If I Were a Boy – Beyoncé

BeyonceThis beautiful hit ballad has a compelling title and a simple but very effective melody trick you’ll definitely want to try in a song of your own.

While record labels tend to shy away from ballads when it comes to releasing and marketing the big lead single from an album, in this case the label released “If I Were a Boy” as a co-lead single right along with the smash R&B/Pop Dance track “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” Both songs climbed to the Top 5 on the Pop charts and have continued to be listener favorites.

So, how does a slow, thoughtful ballad compete with one of those monster uptempo dance tracks? Watch the song video then read on to find out.


Writers: Toby Gad / Britney Carlson (BC Jean)
Recorded by Beyoncé

Shortcut numbers refer to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.”

GENRE/STYLE What is a genre?
This is a power ballad in the Pop/R&B style. Power ballads generally start out with an intimate, personal sound and build to a big, anthemic ending. The tempo can range from slow to medium but should never feel rushed. The BPM (Beats per Minute) is usually – though not always – 100 or below. Continue reading

You Belong With Me – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift says she got the inspiration for this song when she overheard a male friend arguing with his girlfriend over the phone. You’ll see how this idea even ended up in the video. :-) Just goes to show that songwriting themes are all around you. Keep your ears open!

I promise you’ll learn new songwriting techniques from this huge Country/Pop hit that you’ll be putting to use in your own songs for months and years to come. The lyric details and melodic twists are exciting, fun, and an essential part of today’s hit songs in all genres.


Recorded by Taylor Swift
Writers: Liz Rose & Taylor Swift
Lyrics are available online.
The “Shortcut” numbers refer to specific chapters in my book Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.

GENRE (What is a genre?)
This song is a perfect example of the Pop/Country Crossover style that works for both  Country and AC (Adult Contemporary) radio. It reached the #1 spot on both music charts. Why? Well, it has a  melody that features the fun twists you would currently hear in a chart-topping Pop song by an artist like Kelly Clarkson and all the lyric detail you would hear in a Country hit. Read the Melody and Lyric sections below to find out how to use these tools in songs of your own. Continue reading

Grenade – Bruno Mars

Here’s a Pop/R&B gem with an irresistibly hummable melody and a raw, emotionally over-the-top lyric. It’s also a very interesting blend of styles: a contemporary, driving melody with classic R&B elements in the chorus.

Recorded by Bruno Mars
Writers: Wyatt / Levine / Lawrence / Mars / Kelly / Brown
Lyrics are available on the Internet.
Shortcut # refers to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” available at Amazon.com.

GENRE – R&B/Pop (What is a genre?)
The song is a great blend of retro and modern styles. The Motown influence is unmistakable in the chord progression, melody, and and production. Take a listen to the refrain of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” (“…there’s some sad things known to man…”) to hear the warm, rising chords and melodic style used at the end of Bruno Mars’s chorus. But the unusual transitions between sections, the addition of a pre-chorus, and a complex, full-blown chorus clearly give the song a modern sound. Continue reading

Study the Hits – Songs by Adele

Songs by AdeleAdele had three back-to-back #1 hits on the AC radio charts – “Rolling In the Deep” “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain”) Her powerful, expressive voice is a huge part of her success but her vivid, emotion-driven songs provide her with the perfect vehicle and it’s the combination that makes it happen. Adele has also been embraced by the Film & TV market, too. You can find a partial list of TV shows that have used her songs at TuneFind.com. It’s a long list!

I’m going to do something a little different in this “Study the Hits” post. I want to take a look at all three songs. They share similar lyric and melody writing techniques, yet they all sound quite different. I’m sure you’re familiar with these songs but I’ve included the videos to refer to as you read. Or… just watch and enjoy! 🙂

Set Fire to The Rain – Adele
Written by Adele and Fraser T Smith

Rolling In the Deep – Adele
Written by Adele and Paul Epworth

Someone Like You – Adele
Written by Adele and Dan Wilson

Lyrics are available on the Internet.
Shortcut numbers refer to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”). Both are available at Amazon.com.

GENRE (What is a genre?)
Adele’s songs appear on the Adult Contemporary (AC) and Hot Adult Contemporary (Hot AC) radio airplay charts. Her melodic writing style, emotional lyrics, and strong vocals appeal to a wide demographic, from teens to 50-somethings, which makes her perfect for the AC radio format. Although she’s considered a singer-songwriter she has co-writers on all three songs.

STRUCTURE
Each of these three songs sounds quite different, but all feature the same commercial song structure:

VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS

Adele will often start the chorus right at the one-minute mark, which is just the right spot for a radio single. That’s about how long listeners are willing to wait for it. To keep listeners with her through the verse and pre-chorus, she fills the lyric with emotional details that draw them into the situation. Continue reading