Happy songs can be a real challenge to write. It’s so much easier to sound serious, deep, and interesting when you’re writing sad songs! Yup, everyone sounds cooler when they’re singing about a broken heart. So how do you write an upbeat, feel-good song that doesn’t end up sounding shallow and predictable? Let’s take a look at a great one and see if we can find out.
Written & Recorded by Jason Mraz
Writer: Jason Mraz
Lyrics are available on the internet.
Shortcut numbers refer to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.”
GENRE – Adult Contemporary
Jason Mraz’s No. 1 AC hit, “I’m Yours,” is a great example of an upbeat, happy song that still manages to convey depth in the lyrics and unexpected twists in the melody, keeping listeners involved from beginning to end. Not only was it a radio hit that’s still being played, it’s also been used in six different TV series.
The song has an interesting structure:
VERSE / SHORT CHORUS
VERSE / FULL CHORUS
BRIDGE / VERSE / CHORUS
The final chorus is a duet with the background singers singing the chorus melody and Mraz repeating a verse. The chorus always begins with the line “I won’t hesitate no more, no more” and ends with the title in the payoff line, “I’m yours.” The first time we hear the chorus, he sings just the opening line and payoff line, dishing up the key lines from the chorus as a kind of appetizer. (Shortcuts #25, #50, and #119)
Mraz does a neat trick with this melody. The note range in the verse and chorus is essentially the same. And in both verse and chorus the melody has a lot of small jumps – leaping over 2 or 3 notes on its way up or down the scale. So much ‘same-ness’ between verse and chorus could be the kiss of death. Listeners crave contrast in the melody – it grabs attention and helps to give them a clear road map through the song. (Oh, we’re in THAT section!) Jason Mraz uses a strong shift in the RHYTHM OF THE MELODY to provide that contrast. This is a great example of a technique you might want to try. To find out how he does it…
Count along with the underlying rhythm of the song throughout the verse and chorus. (Count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 for each bar.) Notice how in the verses, Mraz uses two notes (and two word syllables) on almost every beat. When you get to the chorus, it changes! AHA!!! CONTRAST! In the chorus there’s only one note (and one syllable) per beat! “I – won’t – hes – i – tate – no – more, etc. There’s no mistaking the verse for the chorus. They’re very different in their melodic rhythm patterns. Try playing with this unusual technique in a song of your own! (Shortcuts #22, #74, #88, and #94)
The catchy melody is really the star of the show in this song while Mraz has fun with the words. The busy, playful lyric creates a sense of whimsy and surprise, using nonsense words and baby-talk like “bestest” and “scootch.”
The first verse is solid and well developed. It’s obviously boy-meets-love and there’s plenty of fun. (“I tried to be chill but you’re so hot that I melted.”) The second verse opens up the theme to include the whole world. Here the singer is doing just what lovers do – imagining the entire world feels like they do.
Developing your lyric along broad, general lines like this can be risky. Listeners may wonder what happened to the personal love story that was introduced in the first verse? But Mraz saves it by using a rich store of language with surprising and unexpected undertones. A line like “It’s our God-forsaken right to be loved” bounces right along with the happy melody while introducing the phrase “God-forsaken” with it’s dark associations. (Reminds me of some of Randy Newman’s lyrics!) The end of that line and an earlier line both reference the Beatles “All You Need Is Love” with all the associations listeners have with that song! He’s having so much fun that we do, too!
The reggae beat on guitar and keys mixed with a Modern Pop drum track and tons of compression on the vocal give the track a contemporary flavor while retaining the fun and familiarity of classic reggae. A good mix of loose and tight in the musical performances gives the whole track an authentic, party-time feel. This is tough to do so be careful if you’re going to try something like this. Get the best players you can or rehearse your band hard, then relax for the actual recording session.
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.