Play It Again – Luke Bryan

There are always a whole lotta party-all-night, feel-good songs on the Country music charts, especially in the summer. It’s a theme with tons of appeal for Country listeners.

The songwriting on all these hits is solid, of course, but, after a while you might start to notice a certain same-ness to the lyrics. They all seem to have pickup trucks, beer, and girls in shorts. So, wouldn’t it be cool if you could  write a hit song with this commercially appealing theme and set yourself a little apart from the crowd? Let’s take a look at a  Country hit that does exactly that.

“Play It Again,” the summer 2014 hit song recorded by Luke Bryan, has the required tailgate and girl in shorts but the song brings this girl to life in a way that’s vivid and believable. You get a real sense of both the singer’s character and the girl’s. The song plays out like a series of scenes, fun to watch and easy to get caught up in.

Take a listen to the song on YouTube. I chose a video with lyrics rather than images so you can run your own mental movie while you listen. Notice how the song paints pictures for you.

Artist: Luke Bryan
Writers: Dallas Davidson & Ashley Gorley
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”).


The genre is Contemporary Country. (What is a genre?)

The song structure is…
BRIDGE / CHORUS Continue reading

I’m Yours – Jason Mraz

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:

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. 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

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.

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

These Days – Foo Fighters

I was looking through the songs I’ve analyzed over the last couple years and realized I’d never done a song by Foo Fighters. Their huge presence at the Grammy Awards in 2012 and win for Best Rock Album meant that I am long overdue. I’ve been a fan for a long time so it’s about time!

Recorded by Foo Fighters
Writer: David Grohl

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”).

The genre is Mainstream Rock. There’s a lot of melody and an intimate, thoughtful approach in the verses but the solid, rockin’ chorus landed this song at the top of the Rock charts.

The song structure is:


The song opens with a double verse. The verses each consist of two long lyric lines broken up into short phrases. A pre-chorus (“But it’s all right…”) provides some release and begins the build up to the huge vocal leap at the top of the chorus (“Easy for you to say…”).

The overall structure is typical for a hit song up until the bridge. Grohl uses a double pre-chorus as the bridge before going into a final verse and chorus. Notice that he doesn’t return to the pre-chorus again, using just a half verse before roaring into the final chorus of the song. Continue reading

Hands Tied – Toni Braxton

This is a great example of a current Urban AC (Adult Contemporary) song. Toni Braxton needed something to put her back on the charts – something with a current sound after her mega-hits of the 1990s. This song has a melody with loads of rhythmic interest and a fresh approach to the lyric theme. Take a listen and then we’ll discover what made this song so appealing to today’s listeners.

Recorded by Toni Braxton
Writers: Heather Bright, Warren Felder, and Harvey Mason, Jr.

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

Here’s a perfect example of the VERSE / CHORUS / VERSE / CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS hit song structure! The repetitive verse builds rapidly to a HUGE chorus with tons of catchy hooks and a wonderful payoff line at the end that keeps going and going and going… only to fall immediately into the start of the second verse.

Try this trick in a song of your own: extend the last line (the payoff line) with repetition or by stretching out the words until it leads right into the next section.  Continue reading