Bruce Springsteen

Allowing a Chorus to Grab Attention When the Verse Uses the Same Melody

A few articles back I gave some advice on what to consider when you’re trying to write a good chorus hook (“Creating Effective Song Hooks“). But what do you do when your verse and chorus use the same or very similar melody? How can a chorus hook do its job if the verse is using the same tune? Won’t the verse essentially upstage the chorus?

Hooks and RiffsThe success of your song’s hook will determine the success of your entire song. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ shows you, using examples from pop music history, how to write great ones.

The best way to deal with this issue is to listen to a great song that uses the same tune for the verse and the chorus, and examine the ways in which the chorus stands out from the verse. A great classic example of this sort of song is Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart“. There are differences between the verse and chorus, but the basic shape is the same.

Without a doubt, the chorus provides the necessary peak of excitement over the verse, but how does it do it? There are two main factors that give the chorus what’s needed:

  1. A great lyrical hook.
  2. Subtle instrumentation and production choices.

The Lyrical Hook

When composing a good chorus hook, it’s easy to overlook the importance of a lyric that similarly grabs attention. A lyrical hook needs to sound great when it’s repeated, and it needs to be fun to sing.

In “Hungry Heart”, the verse lyrics do what any good verse lyrics should do: it describes circumstances and tells a story:

Verse 1:

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back

Verse 2:

I met her in a Kingstown bar
We fell in love. I knew it had to end

By contrast, the chorus describes the emotions that the verses create:

Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody’s got a hungry heart

The great thing about that lyric is that the phrase “hungry heart” is very evocative, creating images in the mind of the listener even in the absence of a story! “Hungry heart” is a fun line to sing.

That chorus lyric, even on its own, draws attention to itself almost without the need of the verse to set the scene. If he had wanted, Springsteen could have started the song with the chorus.

Instrumental/Backing Vocal Choices

Listen to the song several times, and you’ll notice:

  1. shorter notes in the sax for verse 1, followed by longer notes to fill in the sound for the chorus.
  2. entrance of high range piano figures at the chorus.
  3. long note backing vocals to fill in the sound of verse 2.
  4. backing vocals switch to rhythmic unison with lead vocal for second chorus, adding rhythmic energy.

The instrumental choices are standard in pop music: if you want more musical energy, build the instrumentation, and focus on the rhythm.

There’s one other thing to consider when writing a song that uses the same melody for verse and chorus: the melody needs to be one that would ultimately work well for chorus. In other words, you may have a great verse melody, but it may not be enough to grab attention for a chorus.

If you’re writing a song that uses the same (or almost the same) melody for the verse and chorus, you need to actively think about what you can do to make the chorus stand in the spotlight without sharing that attention with the verse.

Sometimes that means generating the necessary energy for your chorus, but it might also mean finding ways to scale back the energy and momentum of the verse by reducing instrumentation and backing vocals, and allowing a build as you enter the chorus.

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