A good story has long been one of the hallmarks of a great Country song and today’s Country hits are stuffed full of vivid characters and details. But sometimes, in all the clever word-smithing, we forget that every great story has emotion at its heart. The best songs are driven by the singer’s feelings.
Here’s a Country hit that packs a huge emotional punch, Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck.” Listen to the song, then read about it and learn how it draws listeners in and keeps them involved. You’ll also find out how you can use some of those same songwriting techniques in songs of your own.
Recorded by Lee Brice
Writers: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, and Jimmy Yeary
You can read the lyric here.
The Shortcut numbers below refer to specific chapters in my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”).
GENRE/STYLE: Contemporary Country. Both lyric and melody have a current style that’s very Country-radio-friendly.
SONG STRUCTURE: The song structure is…
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS
The chorus begins with the title line: “I drive your truck…” creating a powerful emotional release and memorable hook.
Pre-chorus #1 starts with the line “This thing burns gas like crazy…” Pre-chorus #2 starts with the line “And Mama asked me…” The melody descends in the pre-chorus, unlike the rising motion of many pre-chorus melodies, providing a moment of thoughtful quiet before slamming into the chorus with a big jump up in pitch. It’s a great set-up for the powerful chorus in this song.
The short but effective bridge begins with the line: “I’ve cussed, I’ve prayed…”
The verse and chorus sections are both fairly long and complex so the song doesn’t need a long bridge or a repeated chorus at the end to add length. It’s already clocking in at a hefty 3:45. (For more on this song structure, see “Hits” Shortcut #26)
These songwriters used plenty of solid song craft to make this lyric effective. Here are a few of the techniques they used.
USE DETAILS TO MAKE IT REAL
The first thing that struck me about this lyric is the amount of physical detail. The writers paint a vivid picture of what the singer sees as he’s sitting behind the steering wheel, starting with eighty-nine cents in the ash tray. (“Hits” Shortcut #57 & #58.)
LEAD THE LISTENER TO THE CHORUS
The detailed image of the truck interior puts the listener right inside the cab with the singer. We’re drawn into the scene that’s being painted and we naturally want to know what’s going to happen and why. The line leading into the chorus tells us: “People got their ways of coping / Oh, and I’ve got mine.”
WRITE AN EMOTION-FILLED CHORUS
This chorus is a great example of a lyric that focuses on the singer’s emotions. “I find a field, I tear it up / Till all the pain’s a cloud of dust” Got it! That’s the emotion that drives this song. Each verse tells us more about what’s going on and why the singer feels the way he does. This is vital in a song with a big repeated chorus like this one. Every time we hear the chorus it means more, has more emotional punch, and feels fresh. (“Hits” Shortcut #92)
USE A SONG PATH
Verse 1 brought us inside the truck. In Verse 2, we met the people – both the singer and the person he’s singing to. The bridge provides a moment of realization for the singer. He’s tried other ways to work out his grief (“I’ve cussed, I’ve prayed, I’ve said goodbye”) but it hasn’t worked. He realizes that driving the truck is the only way to handle it When we hear the chorus for the final time, we understand the inevitability of the singer’s choice and the depth of his feelings. Now THAT’S a song path!
For more read my blog entry Create a Song Path or check out “Hits” Shortcuts #50 to #54.)
MELODY / CHORDS
This is an outstanding Contemporary Country melody that builds in intensity from verse to chorus. Like many songs, the note range rises from the low verse to the higher chorus, increasing the energy. But it has another trick up its sleeve.
Listen to one of the verses and notice the space at the end of each line where the singer stops singing. There are pauses between each line. In the pre-chorus, the lines are a little longer, but the singer still takes a break between each one.
Once we hit the chorus, though, there are only a couple places where the singer stops for a breath. The first one is after “And I burn up…” The second is after “Yeah, sometimes…” just before the pay-off line, “I drive your truck.” The writers have eliminated the pauses at the ends of lines altogether. And the pauses that are left are in the MIDDLE of a lyric line, so listeners hang suspended just for a second, waiting for the rest of the thought. It’s a great melody technique that helps to give this song its contemporary sound! (“Hits” Shortcut #92.)
DO IT NOW!
This is a four-chord song. You’ll find the chords for this song here. It’s a familiar progression – no surprises. The way the melody relates to the chords is what keeps them interesting. Learn to play and sing this song to get the feel of the melody. This is essential if you’re thinking of writing for today’s country hit song market. Then try the techniques for building momentum in the melody and using phrase patterns I described above.
When writing lyrics, look for an emotional theme or situation and try describing it using authentic details in the verses. Then switch to an emotion-centered chorus lyric.
by Robin Frederick