Keeping It S.I.M.P.L.E (part I)

George Harrison Boiled It Down Right!

S is for Structure


George Harrison wrote his songs by himself. He didn't have a John or Paul to lean on that much. Towards the end of The Beatles, he actually quit the band and spent some time at Eric Clapton's house, where he wrote a song: Here Comes The Sun.


My opinion is he had to be better than both of those guys to be productive. It took him a long time until The Beatles nearly broke up, where he created 4 songs on Abby Road. All the more remarkable. George surrounded himself with incredible talent, and over time became "Something".


I don't want to cloud the issue with sordid details of George's life or how he was treated. Instead, let's focus on what George, the artist, could do. He had it right, and he left some DNA on how an average person could write a strong song. Not that George was average. He was not. He did more at the age of 28 than most of us do in a lifetime.


Still, he was held back. He said as much. Even still, in that suffering, some of the best Beatles songs ever written came out.

George Harrison

Like George, I got a slow start. In my teenage years, I wasn't surrounded by extremely talented people. And to make matters worse, I lived very far away from a large city where the music was actually going down, Philadelphia. Things were so spread out, I attended a regional high school. Getting to take drum lessons was a hike. I thank my parents for helping me with drums, but it was difficult putting anything together. And little did I know, I needed to drive miles to get my drums anywhere. And I didn't get a license until I was 18. By then, I was headed to the Army.


Before I started writing songs, I read a lot of books and paid a lot of money learning the ins and outs. Some advice was better than others. Putting all that stuff into practice, of course, was an art in itself. It still is. Especially, since I had no one to work with, and didn't have a lot of time to write. Plus, plunking things down on a guitar with no real lessons made me pretty much learn the instrument with no one around. Still, I figured things out by reading those books and eventually, playing gigs.


So, managing to squeak out a 4th place victory in music theory at Eastern Oklahoma University against a bunch of college kids who actually had class proved to me one thing: education isn't everything. I was still a junior in high school. And the only difference was even without practicing my drums every day, I applied my lessons. And I wanted to know more. I kept reading. I kept learning.


Focusing on what good songwriting was then, should be the same. No matter how educated you are, you still need practice.


You should hear some of the things I did when I first started. I was really horrible. Check out this little ditty from my last album. But with more applied knowledge, things started to "Come Together." Beatles pun. Sorry. Here's a link to the finished product.


So, I when developed a method called "S.I.M.P.L.E.", I found boiling it all down into a few steps gave me structure. A song's structure gives your music story a temporal point of view. Do you want to tell a story that moves through time, like "The Cat's In The Cradle", or do you want to look at the past, like "Maybe Its Time" in a Star Is Born?


S is for structure.


Recapitulaing: we play two games at once. They are:

  1. lay down a solid sonic foundation

  2. arranging the foundation builds a temporal point of view

You can leave some room for playing around later. What I want to do, though, is consider things up front before you record. Before you tap the infinite memory from your computer, go ahead and practice your song a while. Write it down on paper. Not saying there's anything wrong with Billie Eilish's approach. Her brother pretty much produces her best songs, while she focuses elsewhere.


What I am saying is I'm old school. And that is a niche with plenty of room.


As I said, I'm assuming from the start you don't have a partner. This is what George Harrison had to do in The Beatles. Which is why, in my limited estimation of the man, he was twice the writer and musician as John Lennon and Paul McCartney combined. And after The Beatles split up, he continued to forge new ground.


The old school music method is pretty simple:

  1. hear your music in your head first

  2. sound good before you record

We shall start with S. S means structure. Let's dive in deep.


Let's Start: Structure

There are 4-5 song forms that work for rock music. Giving credit where it's due, let's just say the Beatles figured that out. So, there's no need to think about it. Let's pick a good Beatles tune and structure it from their examples.


Ready? Let's try "Here Comes The Sun", by George Harrison. Here is a link. Listen for yourself.


This song starts with an intro verse (all music). But then, the vocals start on the chorus. The words are simple and conversational. There are no three and four syllable words. The song is boiled down English, but still makes sense on many levels. Repetition and seemingly elegant simplicity make it memorable. It is simple and complex, tension and release working in harmony together.


The structure is A, B, C. In other words, there are three separate musical passages. But it's A, B,C's STRUCTURE tells the story. This song structure is known in most rock songs today for freezing you in time. Its used for "here and now" type songs, which most pop songs are.


George structures A, B, C, like this: (intro)BABABCAB(outro). The introduction is half a verse, and the outro is half a bridge. I put the lyrics following the table, below. See for yourself:

Section

Musical Passages

Intro

A (half a verse)

Chorus

B (the first vocal you hear is chorus)

Verse

A (Little Darlin')

Chorus

B - Here Comes The Sun

Verse

A (Little Darlin')

Chorus

B - Here Comes The Sun

Bridge

C : Sun, Sun, Sun, Here It Comes

Verse

A (Little Darlin")

Chorus

B - Here Comes The Sun

Outro

C - Sun, Sun, Sun, Here It Comes


Here Comes The Sun (Lyrics)

(Introduction)

Here comes the Sun, doo-doo-doo-doo Here comes the Sun and I say It's all right


Little darling It's been a long cold lonely winter Little darling It feels like years since it's been here


Here comes the Sun, doo-doo-doo-doo Here comes the Sun and I say It's all right


Little darling The smiles returning to the faces Little darling It seems like years since it's been here


Here comes the Sun Here comes the Sun and I say It's all right


Sun, Sun, Sun, here it comes Sun, Sun, Sun, here it comes Sun, Sun, Sun, here it comes Sun, Sun, Sun, here it comes Sun, Sun, Sun, here it comes


Little darling I feel that ice is slowly melting Little darling It seems like years since it's been clear


Here comes the Sun (doo, doo, doo) Here comes the Sun and I say It's all right


Here comes the Sun (doo, doo, doo) Here comes the Sun It's all right It's all right


(Outro)


So George started with an A,B,C type song, and then rearranged the letters to make the song interesting. The song's structure moves you along, but at the same time freezes you in time. And before you know it, it's over. Let me explain.


The chorus, Passage B, is what the song's supposed to be about. It's the summary. "Here comes the sun, and it feels awesome. Everything's going to be alright." The weather, of course, is metaphor. But can also be taken at face value. Either way, the lyric works.


Passage A, verses, gives some details. The verse has an inside hook, and repeats "Little Darlin'", which means there's a conversation going on. This structure does two things:


1. It keeps the song in the present time, so present tense is used all through

2. Uses repetition to keep it catchy


This is a Blues trick, where repetition is used to solid effect, keeping everything on topic. It anchors the story in the here and now. At its heart, this is a story song. So, George is telling a story to his little darlin' that everything will be alright, and times are looking good.


Passage C, is the bridge. It gives lyrical and musical contrast. In most songwriting, the bridge is used to tell a contrasting story, or give you more insight. Here it isn't. The bridge is used to emphasize the chorus, and build up the musical tension to release you back down to the verse.


George could've put a guitar solo in there, but he didn't. He simply wrote, "Sun, sun, sun. Here it comes."


Toward the bridge's end, it ascends the scale a bit, building some tension, and then releases back to the verse. Very nicely done using high notes on the guitar neck. But, we'll cover instrumentation and mood in the next parts coming next week.


Listen again, here. Here is a link.


In the meantime, remember a song's structure is the foundation of solid music production. There has to be a beginning, a middle, and an end to any song. But how you structure it must make sense. And if you want to take some short cuts, just rely on The Beatles.


Again, next time is instruments and mood. We'll get on to production (placement, equalization, panning and all) in the next few weeks.


Love and Rockets,

Russ

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