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.
This is perfect example of the VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS song form with a bridge after the second chorus.
• VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
• VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
• BRIDGE / CHORUS with a repeated last line and a button ending (no fade out).
TRANSITIONS: Ever have trouble finding a new way to get from your verse or pre-chorus to your chorus? It seems like we write the same transitional chords and melodies over and over. This song can give you some new techniques to try!
=> Transition 1: On the final line Verse 1, this song uses a very familiar retro chord progression and melody but adds a rhythmical twist — a pause followed by a very short phrase (“Why were they open?”…). It grabs attention and sets up the pre-chorus.
=> Transition 2: The end of the pre-chorus (“‘Cause what you don’t understand is…”), again uses a familiar chord turnaround and melody but creates a lot of forward momentum by jumping straight into the chorus with no hesitation or pause.
=> Transition 3: The final line of the chorus ends early. We expect him to finish the phrase “But you won’t do the same…” with the words “for me.” But he doesn’t go there. The line is left hanging, surprising listeners once again, before transitioning into the set-up for Verse 2.
These are easy tricks you can try in your own song transitions. (For more, read Shortcut #32.)
VERSE: The verse melody opens with a phrase that keeps going and going and going! (“Easy come, easy go… But you never give.”) Try singing that line yourself – it takes a lot of breath to get through it! This kind of line pulls listeners deep into the first verse while the lyric sets up the situation between the singer and “you.” It’s a great way to get your listener involved in your song before they even realize it.
The second half of the verse melody seems like it will just be a repeat of the first long line but it fakes us out at the end. A “fake out” — setting the listener up to expect one thing, then doing another — is a very useful tool in creating a fresh, contemporary Pop melody (Shortcut #94).
CHORUS: Notice how each chorus melody line starts in the middle of a bar so that the important word (the rhyming word, the vivid image) lands on the strongest beat of the bar, Beat 1 (“gre-NADE” “BLADE” “TRAIN”). There’s plenty of repetition here, too. The first four lines of the chorus are essentially the same with just a slight variation on lines 3 and 4.
Then, something unexpected happens, On line 5 (“I would go through all of this pain…”) the melody and chords shift from today’s repetitive chord style to a more classic R&B style. The progress stops being a repeat and the chords begin to follow the melody line. This is one of the big differences between the contemporary music style of Pop/R&B and the Classic style of the great Motown hits. For more on this, check out Shortcut #108.
This lyric is all about three extraordinary images and I’m sure you know what they are:
“I’d catch a grenade for ya”
“Throw my hand on a blade for ya”
“I’d jump in front of a train for ya”
These vivid, physical, over-the-top images are both a throwback to the Classic R&B style (“Ain’t no mountain high enough…”) and today’s extremely emotional Singer-Songwriter style. They certainly communicate the singer’s feelings in a way that listeners can understand and experience.
Some listeners have told me they find these images too graphic. This is a choice that’s up to you as a songwriter. Choose the images that you’re comfortable with. The technique itself (emotions expressed in vivid, physical terms) is one that you definitely want to explore (Shortcut #57 & #58).
STAND-ALONE CHORUS: The chorus lyric clearly sums up the heart and soul of the entire song. The singer would do anything but “you” won’t. The verses take us deeper into the singer’s thoughts and attitudes as he struggles to deal with his emotions but you don’t need them to understand the chorus.
This is the type of song that can work well with a film or TV scene. The situation is universal and the big chorus and button ending offer a peak emotional moment for the end of a scene, where most songs are used.
DO IT NOW!
Try reworking a song you’ve written using one or more of the transition techniques between sections listed above OR write a chorus that expresses a single emotion in vivid, physical images.
by Robin Frederick
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Reprints by permission.
This post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. In each book you’ll find over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.