Hold Back the River – James Bay

James Bay“Hold Back the River” became a huge international hit soon after its release in late 2014. Universal themes of nostalgia, regret, and lost innocence are conveyed in conversational yet evocative language. The chorus melody is memorable and has a folksy authenticity that adds to the singer’s credibility.

There are many simple songwriting techniques here that you can use in songs of your own: a family of related images, words that have emotional associations, varied phrase lengths in the melody, and an easy trick for catching the listener’s attention with your chorus. Let’s take a look at how these work together to create a hit song.


• Use images to intensify emotion.

• Create contrast between sections with phrase lengths.

• Add an octave to lift the energy.

Read the lyrics here: Hold Back the River – James Bay

Buy it now or listen on your preferred music site (Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, etc.)

Watch on YouTube.

Recorded by James Bay
Writers: James Bay & Iain Archer

GENRE/STYLE  (What is a genre?)
I’m going with Folk/Rock on this one. The lyric palette features images of nature and rural life. The melody is fairly straight ahead, closer to the Indie Folk style of “Gone Gone Gone” by Phillip Phillips than to the quirky, unpredictable melodies of Alt Pop or Alt Rock, where it is sometimes classified. The track relies on acoustic guitar-style melody lines and strumming (although played on electric guitar), there’s not a whiff of synthesizer or electro anywhere around. The drums are live (and great). Folk/Rock has made a very successful comeback after being out of fashion for the last few decades.

This structure looks complicated but sounds cohesive and natural when you listen to the track. The verse melody functions as both an instrumental and vocal hook. The bridge reappears at the end of the song as a tag, after which we hear the hook one more time. Every melody is used and reused. There are, in fact, only three different melodies: 1) verse and hook, 2) chorus, and 3) bridge. Continue reading

Sound of Madness – Shinedown

ShinedownLet’s say you’re a hard rockin’ band out there working the club circuit. You’d like to get a record deal but can’t seem to interest a label. Your fans love you. You put on a killer live show and tour like crazy, so why won’t the the music industry sign you up?

You may have everything going for you except one thing — you need at least one or two songs that sound like they could get radio airplay either on the big commercial radio stations or on major college radio stations. Record labels know that getting radio airplay is the key to rapid career growth; it will be a key part of their marketing campaign for any group or artist.

So, what’s the difference between a good song that energizes fans at a live performance and a song that can get radio airplay? Let’s take a look at Shinedown’s hit “Sound of Madness,” a powerhouse of a rock song with huge radio appeal, a strong lyric theme, and an unusual but very memorable, contemporary melody.

Recorded by Shinedown
Written by Brent Smith, Dave Bassett
Read the lyrics here.

This song opens with three verses. The first one acts as a kind of intro. It’s sung an octave lower than the rest of the verses and sets up the situation in the song. After the intro, there are double verses before the first and second choruses. Here’s the structure:

VERSE 1 (intro) / VERSE 2 / VERSE 3 / CHORUS

In genres like Pop and Country, Verse 3 and 5 would be pre-choruses. The Rock genre goes for a more straight ahead style that leans more on repetition to make its point.

The double verses in this song give the singer a chance to say what he wants to say. The lyrics are vivid, filled with powerful language and images. Continue reading

These Days – Foo Fighters

I was looking through the songs I’ve analyzed over the last couple years and realized I’d never done a song by Foo Fighters. Their huge presence at the Grammy Awards in 2012 and win for Best Rock Album meant that I am long overdue. I’ve been a fan for a long time so it’s about time!

Recorded by Foo Fighters
Writer: David Grohl

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

The genre is Mainstream Rock. There’s a lot of melody and an intimate, thoughtful approach in the verses but the solid, rockin’ chorus landed this song at the top of the Rock charts.

The song structure is:


The song opens with a double verse. The verses each consist of two long lyric lines broken up into short phrases. A pre-chorus (“But it’s all right…”) provides some release and begins the build up to the huge vocal leap at the top of the chorus (“Easy for you to say…”).

The overall structure is typical for a hit song up until the bridge. Grohl uses a double pre-chorus as the bridge before going into a final verse and chorus. Notice that he doesn’t return to the pre-chorus again, using just a half verse before roaring into the final chorus of the song. Continue reading