For up-&-coming songwriters, it’s a great idea to check out what veteran songwriters are doing these days. Their years of experience and musical know-how make practically every song they write a songwriter’s workshop. Master songwriter Robert Lamm, one of the founding members of Chicago, has co-written (with Phil Galdston) a really great song, “More Will Be Revealed“. You’ll find it on their latest studio album, ‘”Now”: Chicago XXXVI.’
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The elements of “More Will Be Revealed” that are really worth examining are: melodic structure, lyrics, harmonic design, and musical arrangement. And no matter what genre you call your own, the compositional techniques employed in this tune can be applied to practically any musical style.
First, let’s take a look at the formal design:
- Intro: 0’00”
- Verse 1: 0’41”
- Chorus: 1’19”
- Verse 2: 1’53”
- Chorus: 2’31”
- Bridge (Vocal): 3’15”
- Bridge (Instrumental): 3’39”
- Chorus: 3’58”
- Coda: 4’36”
It’s a standard verse-chorus-bridge design with extra time on the intro (really interesting rhythmic layering with some intriguing sax and brass writing), and a double-length bridge that features a 3-part-vocal and guitar solo.
Melodies will capture a listener if they feature contrast, contour, and a climactic moment. The verse melody displays the kind of contrast that’s common in pop/rock genres: a downward moving motif to start, contrasted with an upward moving answer:
As you’d expect, melodies move up through the verse to connect to the generally higher range of the chorus; a higher voice entices listeners because emotion is more easily heard. The climactic moment happens right at the end of the chorus melody. There’s more to say about melody in this tune, but requires us to look closer at the lyric.
Melody and lyric act as exceptional partners throughout the entire song. The very first word “So” is a curious way to begin, but not unlike Paul McCartney’s choice of “And” in “And I Love Her.” In McCartney’s case, he said that by starting with the word “And,” the listener was “up to speed” right away.
By starting with “So”, not only is the listener up to speed, but there’s also a sense of emotional exhaustion in that word, an almost “are we still talking about this” feeling that gets transmitted right away. With that one word “So”, we get a complete picture of the emotional situation that would normally take an entire verse to explain.
The lyrics reveal a complicated relationship between two individuals: “she” wants and needs things to get moving, while “he’s” still filled with doubt and feeling a bit pressured. The compelling moment in their relationship happens at the end of verse 2, when her mood finally becomes more conciliatory: “There are lives and miles between us/ And a sacrifice or two…” He finally feels free to say what he really feels: “Right now I just want you.” So as is so common in great lyrics, subtlety speaks volumes.
In the pop/rock genres, you’ll often find that verses use complex, “fragile” progressions that wander a bit, sometimes not feeling settled in any particular key. At the arrival of the chorus, chords tighten up and the key becomes clear, serving as a perfect vehicle for the opening up of emotions.
In this song, you get a verse that feels like E minor, but using mainly chords from C major: unable to commit:
Em D F Am C | Em D Am Fmaj9
The Am and F chords are reversed in the second half of the verse, making a stronger connection to C major, the key of the chorus:
C(add9) Am Dm G11 (repeat) Fmaj9
The chords of the chorus are, as you expect, tonally strong, clearly pointing to C as the tonic chord. It’s a beautiful contrast to the verse, and partners well with melody and lyric. With the chorus chords, you hear and feel the singer’s disposition changing from confusion to a happier “just give me a chance” attitude.
What makes the song’s arrangement so interesting is, in part, the decision to highlight the background syncopations before settling in to the song’s main groove. So we hear the mainly dotted-8th keyboard, which gives a “false” impression of the tempo:
Then added to that, finger clicks on the offbeat, sounding a bit like someone trying to find the beat. It’s perfect. You get two competing elements, and (not to read too much into this, but) it’s not hard to imagine two people trying to get together, but struggling to find common ground.
That unsettled feeling continues with the sharper edges of the open fifths (both in the keyboard and the guitar’s power chords). The chorus arrangement becomes much warmer, with fuller triads and a more settled groove. It’s really nicely done.
LESSONS FOR SONGWRITERS
I’ve always believed that the best new songwriters emerging today are the ones who spend a good deal of time studying great songs from every era and many genres. But there’s more than that: songwriters who’ve been around for decades who are still writing (Lamm, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, etc.) are still showing us today that writing great music isn’t an accident of sounds. There is always a reason why good music is good, and the best newcomers are the ones who take the time to study and analyze great music.
From “More Will Be Revealed”, you can learn the following:
- Great music is a partnership of elements. No one song component stands on its own. Lyrics need a great melody, melodies need great chords, songs need to be designed well, etc. When done well, great songs are better than the sum of their parts.
- Great melodies usually exhibit a strong sense of contour, purposeful design, and a climactic moment. Most songs will have several climactic moments, with the most important one occurring in the chorus.
- Lyrics need to progress as much as chords do. Verse lyrics need to set up situations, describe circumstances and ask questions. Choruses need to reveal the emotions that get generated by those situations, and pull the audience along in that wave of emotion.
- Verse chords can wander, but chorus chords need to tighten up. As the story gets described, it’s good to allow chords to move in ambiguous ways, portraying the complexities of the storyline. But the chorus works best if the chords become less ambiguous, and point more strongly to one chord as the tonic.
The entire album, ‘”Now”: Chicago XXXVI,’ is available for sale on Chicago’s website. I believe that it’s one of the strongest albums they’ve put out in years. They are veteran musicians that play and write with incredibly imaginative prowess. It’s so great to hear something of this kind of quality still being produced by this legendary band.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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