Hold Back the River – James Bay

James Bay“Hold Back the River” became a huge international hit soon after its release in late 2014. Universal themes of nostalgia, regret, and lost innocence are conveyed in conversational yet evocative language. The chorus melody is memorable and has a folksy authenticity that adds to the singer’s credibility.

There are many simple songwriting techniques here that you can use in songs of your own: a family of related images, words that have emotional associations, varied phrase lengths in the melody, and an easy trick for catching the listener’s attention with your chorus. Let’s take a look at how these work together to create a hit song.

TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY:

• Use images to intensify emotion.

• Create contrast between sections with phrase lengths.

• Add an octave to lift the energy.

Read the lyrics here: Hold Back the River – James Bay

Buy it now or listen on your preferred music site (Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, etc.)

Watch on YouTube.

Recorded by James Bay
Writers: James Bay & Iain Archer

GENRE/STYLE  (What is a genre?)
I’m going with Folk/Rock on this one. The lyric palette features images of nature and rural life. The melody is fairly straight ahead, closer to the Indie Folk style of “Gone Gone Gone” by Phillip Phillips than to the quirky, unpredictable melodies of Alt Pop or Alt Rock, where it is sometimes classified. The track relies on acoustic guitar-style melody lines and strumming (although played on electric guitar), there’s not a whiff of synthesizer or electro anywhere around. The drums are live (and great). Folk/Rock has made a very successful comeback after being out of fashion for the last few decades.

SONG STRUCTURE
This structure looks complicated but sounds cohesive and natural when you listen to the track. The verse melody functions as both an instrumental and vocal hook. The bridge reappears at the end of the song as a tag, after which we hear the hook one more time. Every melody is used and reused. There are, in fact, only three different melodies: 1) verse and hook, 2) chorus, and 3) bridge. Continue reading

Poison and Wine – Civil Wars

Singer-songwriter duo The Civil Wars won the 2012 Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance and another for Best Folk Album. Joy WIlliams and Paul White were working as solo singer-songwriters before teaming up to create a unique blend that lets each of them shine. This is a great example of collaboration! They obviously share a love for folk music and were able to find a way to pool their talents and make a whole that’s different from their work as solo artists.

The emotional, atmospheric quality of the tracks makes them perfect for film and television. And indeed, “Poison & Wine” has been featured Grey’s Anatomy, Vampire Diaries, The Client List, Pretty Little Liars, 90210, and more. So let’s take a look.

Recorded by Civil Wars
Writers: Joy Williams & John Paul White

Lyrics are available on the Internet.
Shortcut numbers refer to my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”). Both are available at Amazon.com.

GENRE/STYLE: Folk/Indie Folk
Just as the 1960’s Folk song genre evolved from and altered the sound of an earlier Folk music tradition, so today’s Indie Folk style has morphed the ’60s sound into something new, more moody, personal, and passionate. This song is a great example of the current Folk style. The Civil Wars’ sound is a mix of ’60s folk a la Ian & Sylvia with a contemporary Indie edge that pushes the emotional aspect.

STRUCTURE
The song has a traditional folk song structure – as simple and straightforward as a genuine folk song from long ago. It consists of a four-line verse with a repeated refrain line at the end – “Oh I don’t love you but I always will”. (See “Hit” Shortcut #23.) To give a refrain line like this plenty of impact, be sure that the line is emotionally compelling and intriguing. This gives the singer something to work with and draws listeners into the heart of the song. Continue reading