Smile – Uncle Kracker

I really love the feel, the energy, and the emotion of this song. I guess a lot of other people do, too, because it’s a platinum-selling single that’s been at the top of both the Top 40 charts and the Country charts. It’s also a master class in how to express an abstract emotion in a concrete way that makes listeners, well… smile!

“Smile” recorded by Uncle Kracker
Writers: Jeremy Bose, Blair Daly, J Harding, Matthew Shafer

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

This song was a bit of a sleeper when it was first released in 2009  as an Adult Contemporary single, but came back with a roar in 2010 when it went to the top of the Country charts. It crossed over from Country and went back up the AC charts and this time it made it into the top ten!  Just goes to show: You can’t keep a good song down!

Here’s yet another excellent example of the VERSE / CHORUS / VERSE / CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS hit song structure – the basic, contemporary structure that drives so many of today’s hit singles. This song has a catchy, emotionally uplifting chorus, a peak moment in the bridge, and verses that lay out the situation.

Don’t shy away from this common structure in songs of your own because you’re worried that you’ll end up sounding like everyone else. There are a million ways to make it your own. In this song, Verse 2 is shorter than Verse 1, cutting out the repeated melody at the beginning of the verse. The second chorus leads right into a fun, Beatles-style bridge with no pauses at all. The bridge releases into a final chorus with a drop out in the production that adds plenty of attention-grabbing contrast. (Use the Layout Sheet for this song form in Shortcut #29.)

And speaking of contrast!!! How about that melody! The verse is in a low note range, building just a little toward the end, the releasing into the opening notes of the chorus with a big jump up in note range. It stays right there until he’s ready to let you come back down to earth on the payoff line “Oh, you make me smile.” A great roller-coaster ride of a melody.

The verse sounds pretty simple and straightforward but look at the variety of line lengths. It starts with a short line, then a longer line, and a third that keeps going and going. Then he fakes us out by starting the pattern over again but going somewhere else, somewhere that will lead the us right to the big, repetitive chorus melody!

The first chorus kicks in at :40 seconds – nice and early! There’s plenty of catchy, memorable repetition in the melody while the lyrics change rapidly over it. The melody emphasizes Beat 1 and Beat 3 creating a hypnotic, rocking feel that’s irresistible. This melody is well organized with a lot of easy-to-remember patterns in it. And that’s a good thing because it has a very complex, wordy lyric. If the melody were complicated, listeners would quickly get confused and lose interest. This is where repetition can be a useful ally.

The lyric starts with a simple statement: “You’re better than the rest” and the rest of the lyric sets out to prove it! It’s a cascade of wonderful images that make listeners feel what the singer feels in a refreshing way. Lines like “cooler than the flip-side of my pillow” involve the senses and say something universal in an original way (Shortcuts #59 and #60).

The list of things the singer does because he’s in love is fresh and funny: “You make me smile like the sun, fall outta bed” and “Spin like a record, crazy on a Sunday night.” It’s a wonderful way to take an abstract feeling and make it real and concrete, communicate it so listeners feel it, too. That’s exactly what good songs (and hit songs) do!

Learn to play and sing this song. Notice where the melodic phrases start in the verse and where the emphasized notes are in the chorus. Try writing an upbeat song that expresses a sense of fun, joy, and love as this one does.

by Robin Frederick