Fallin’ For You – Colbie Caillat

There are so many influences from Fleetwood Mac’s golden hits of the mid-1970s that it’s impossible to listen to this song without being reminded of those timeless, unforgettable hits. It’s a perfect example of how to take a style that had enormous appeal in an earlier decade and give it a fresh twist that makes it seem new again.

“Fallin’ For You” recorded by Colbie Caillat
Writers: Colbie Caillat & Richard Nowels

Lyrics are available on the internet.
Shortcut # refers to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.”

The song structure is the current hit song go-to form…

The pre-chorus begins with “I am trying not to tell you…” The chorus begins on the line “I’ve been spending all my time…” The bridge melody uses plenty of contrast, making it easy to spot. It consists of just two lines, beginning with “Ooh, I just can’t take it…”

Listen to the song and notice where the sections begin and end. Pay special attention to the way each section is “announced” by the melody. It helps keep the song organized and lets listeners know where they are in the song.

In a Colbie Caillat song, the melodies are always catchy, memorable, and contemporary. Studying her melodies is a great way to get a feel for the current Pop/Singer-Songwriter genre.

This melody uses a simple technique that is characteristic of many songs in this style. There’s a lot of repetition in this melody. Many of the melodic phrases repeat three times within a single song section which can start to feel predictable very quickly, especially when the verses and choruses are repeated! So why is this melody catchy instead of boring and predictable? The answer is: Syncopation.  The phrases in the verse and chorus begin on weak beats, creating surprises for the listener.

Syncopation means emphasizing weak beats, surprising the listener. We usually expect phrases to begin on strong beats, like the first beat of a bar. But here, the emphasized notes and words occur in unexpected places. To see what I mean just count along with this song. Start counting when the drums begin playing, then count 1- 2- 3- 4 over and over. Do this until you feel comfortable, then add the word “and” in between each beat: “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.” When you’re comfortable doing that, start noticing where the vocal phrases begin. (For more on counting beats, see Shortcut #74)

  •  VERSE: All the phrases begin on the “and” AFTER Beat 1.
  •   PRE-CHORUS: The emphasized words all fall right ON Beat 1.
  •  CHORUS: The phrases start on and emphasize the “and” AFTER Beat 1.

This may seem like a small thing but emphasizing the “and” between beats can completely change the way a melody feels and sounds. Because “and” is a weak beat! TINY shift, BIG difference (Shortcut #89).

Syncopation is an enormously powerful tool that you’ll want to make sure you’re using to the max. It not only keeps a melody interesting, but if used right, it can give it a fresh, contemporary sound. And THAT’S why this song, despite it’s references to hits of the 70s, was so successful on today’s charts!

If you’ve got a song that has a dated-sounding melody, try adding more syncopation. Start singing the melodic phrases on the “and” between beats, then swing back to emphasizing the more obvious beats, as Colbie does in the pre-chorus.

A simple, conversational lyric is the perfect complement to a highly syncopated melody like this one. There’s a clear, easy to follow thematic idea (“I’m in love with you but afraid to tell you.”) and that’s a big plus because the lyric lines are broken up in unusual ways, making them difficult to understand sometimes.

For instance, the very first phrase of the song is “I don’t know but I think I may be” May be… what??? The lyric continues the thought on the second line BUT the melody finished the first line and started a new one. In other words, we heard two phrases in the melody while hearing one long phrase in the lyric.  This is a great way to create forward momentum for listeners. Woohoo!

Too often we allow lyrics and melody to march along in lock step – a lyric phrase starting with each melody phrase – creating a predictable feel. Try extending some of your lyric thoughts so they spill over and weave through the melody (Shortcut #65). Consider keeping your lyric ideas easy to follow and let the melody and phrasing add interest.

Production is where the Fleetwood Mac influence really comes shining through. The guitar riffs, drum sound, and overall arrangement are straight out of FM’s playbook, which should come as no surprise. This album was co-produced by Ken Caillat, Colbie’s dad, who was producer and engineer on Rumours, Tusk, and other great FM albums. The sound is pure gold while Colbie’s unique sense of melody and phrasing turn this track into a fresh, contemporary, irresistible hit!

Break out of the habit of starting a new melody phrase and new lyric thought together. Learn to sing and play along with this track to get a feel for the way melody and lyric phrases can be paired in surprising ways.  It’s one of the quickest ways to pick up this exciting, contemporary songwriting technique.

by Robin Frederick