John Mellencamp

Verse Lyrics, Chorus Lyrics, and the Concept of Time

You likely know that verse lyrics tend to describe people, places and situations, and is the part of your song that tells the story. Sometimes it’s a literal story, and sometimes it’s just images that get placed together, helping to set up the chorus and the deeper emotions that happen there.

Chorus lyrics don’t have that same responsibility of adding to the story line. Chorus lyrics have a different duty: to help the listener feel emotions. Those emotions you want your fans to feel will be deeper and more meaningful if the verse has done its job of laying down a worthwhile story.

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There’s one other important characteristic of lyrics that you’ll notice when you compare verse and chorus lyrics, and it’s this: verse lyrics can often be seen in terms of time — a sequence of events or statements that might be placeable on a timeline. Chorus lyrics tend to exist outside of time.

Lennon & McCartney’s “Penny Lane” is a good example of what I’m talking about. The verse describes of a series of images that you could imagine as being part of someone’s day: visiting a barber who’s showing photographs. Then you see the banker, the children, the fireman… These are like little vignettes — scenes from someone’s day.

But the chorus exists as a comment, something outside of time:

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back…

And most songs show that important verse-chorus difference. It’s why the verse for “Hurts So Good” (John Mellencamp, George Green) sounds like scenes that could be taken out of someone’s diary:

When I was a young boy,
Said put away those young boy ways
Now that I’m getting’ older, so much older
I long for those young boy days

And the chorus exists out of time:

Hurt so good
Come on baby make it hurt so good
Sometimes love don’t feel like it should
You make it, hurt so good

A listener’s instinct to want to hear that difference between verse and chorus is strong though they may not even be aware of it. As a songwriter, your best songs are going to be the ones where the chorus steps out of the timeline and makes commentary on what the verse has been describing.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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