October 11, 2009

Why Rhyme?

The wag in me wants to ask the question in a broader existential sense (such as how someone with bipolar disorder would ask "why get out of bed?"), but let's start small. More specifically, beyond the effect of "words that sound like other words," what tools do rhymes provide to a lyricist? A few for your consideration:
The sex you're trading up for what you hope is love
Is just another thing that he'll be careless of1
In the most basic sense, rhymes connect words and give them some kind of larger shape. The rhyme here makes a long thought feel whole. The connection between love and of, however, is essentially utilitarian.
Having her on my brain's like getting hit by a train
She's gonna kill me. Oh Celeste, oh Celeste.2
Here there's a little more meat in the connection. It illuminates something less familiar about the words being rhymed.
I'll pretend I'm jealous of all the fellas
And if that don't do then I'll try something new3
Smokey Robinson makes those connections with the sort of language you'd use in casual conversation. That's why he's a great poet.
On a ferris wheel looking out on Coney Island
There are more stars than there are prostitutes in Thailand4
You can't talk about rhymes in songwriting without mentioning funny lyrics. The rhyme sneaks up on you and snaps the joke into place.
I'd go to hell for yuh, even Philadelphia!5
Sometimes the joke's in the rhyme itself.
Although she's none the wiser, although we've barely met
I can recognize her from the treatment that I get6
Rhymes have a kind of gravitational pull that you can align with musical phrases.
Look at the day dressed in copper lamé and it's trying your glass slippers on
I sit in the dark and I listen to Mark asking where has that last firefly gone7
In this way, harmonious combinations of words can become their own kind of music, something interesting to chew on with the melody.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Hopefully, it points to some of the magic in words that can get you to pick up the pen every day.

1Aimee Mann, "You Do"
2Old 97's, "Timebomb"
3Smokey Robinson, "I'll Try Something New"
4Stephin Merritt, "Strange Powers"
5Lorenz Hart, "Any Old Place with You"
6Jon Brion & Aimee Mann, "I Believe She's Lying"
7Franklin Bruno, "In A Sourceless Light"

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