Why "Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum Works So Well

by Gary Ewer, author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” suite of songwriting e-books. Click here to read about those e-books.

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600px-Lady_Antebellum_2008This great new song by Lady Antebellum demonstrates so many things that make great songs work so well. From how the melodies are constructed, how the verse moves into the chorus, the choice of chords, how the vocal harmonies are constructed… this song has it all.

This tune is a perfect reminder that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to come up with a really great song. There’s nothing startlingly original about the songwriting process that resulted in this gem. And the more you listen, the more you know that you don’t want anything startling to happen. It’s beautifully emotional, and every aspect of the performance is clean as a whistle.

So here’s why this song works so well:

  1. It uses a very catchy motif (almost a hook), introduced by the piano at the beginning, consisting of a rising semitone, a descending fifth, then a descending semitone.
  2. This motif is mirrored in different ways in different parts of the song. For example, on the words “need you now” in the chorus, we get a beautiful downward leap in the melody. All through the song, the vocal lines feature a stepwise rising and a large descending interval that “pulls at the heart-strings.”
  3. The song is in E major, but the verse is comprised mainly of fragile progressions (as it should be) that avoid giving us a settled E major feeling. The strong progressions occur in the chorus. (Verse: A – C#m – A – C#m  A;   Chorus: E – G#m – A – E)
  4. The verse melody begins by dwelling in and around the note B. The pre-chorus melody moves up to E F# G, building melodic energy. The chorus moves up even more, up around G# B. So between the start of the verse and the chorus, the plateau notes keep moving higher.
  5. Verses are comprised mainly of unaccompanied voice; pre-chorus and choruses use mainly harmonized lines to thicken the texture and build energy.
  6. The verse lyric is typically narrative in style – tells a story. The chorus lyric is more emotional: the singer tells us what effect the story is having on her.

The other aspect of this song that really works well is that it is completely seamless. It moves from verse to prechorus to chorus back to verse with ease. Starting the verse melodies on the IV-chord each time is the cause of this. I also like that the bridge (starting with the instrumental break after the second chorus) uses even stronger progressions, and does a brilliant job of heightening the energy.

Whether you’re a country fan or not, this song shows first-rate song construction that everyone can learn from.

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