Monday, July 18, 2011


Last entry, we discussed the songwriting method that uses a stock phrase or cliche as its basis. This entry, we see another popular tool in the songwriter's toolbox in use.

I call this idea "Making a List." The idea is to take what is basically a one-line idea and expand upon it by listing many examples. Take some great Temptations songs. Start with the idea "I can do many things that most would consider impossible, such as making a ship sail on dry land, but the truly impossible thing is winning your love" and you get "Can't Get Next to You." Start with "You are as good at something as the very thing that was made for that purpose, such as being as bright as a candle," and you get "The Way You Do The Things You Do."

The list this time is "Nobody does these things for me... except you." And like many list songs, each line starts with the same word, in this case, "Who."

Much of the imagery of the list is anatomical: "bone," "flesh," "eyes," "skin," "hands," "heart," and "blood." This choice relates to the sensuality and sexuality of the relationship-- "Who feels my flesh"-- as are other images from the natural world: "Who plows the earth," "When I am rising like a flood."

The other images are domestic: "bed," "door," "mirror." As Billy Joel put it, "You're My Home."

But the relationship is much more that sexual and goes beyond the bedroom. There is an emotional intimacy as well, one that shares a "secret" and a "dream," and even fears; "Who saw... the scream?"

There is a sense of support. She helps the speaker with his tasks ("Who took my two hands and made them four?"), and does things for him he cannot do for himself ("Who makes the bed that can’t be made?). She even helps him do things that are necessary but painful ("Who breaks the skin," and "Who is my blade?") like showing him his true self ("Who is my mirror?").

Lastly, she gives the encouragement to go out the "door" into the world and a "reason" for doing so.

The only problem? She's the only one who can provide these things for him. The answer to "who" is not just "you." It's "nobody but you."

Does he have no friends, no family, no colleagues? It seems not; he has "nobody in this whole wide world" but her.

Well, what is he supposed to do when she is not there? He believes she "feels his flesh" when he is gone, but he feels a black hole in his life when she is gone. The poor fellow seems not to be even able to shave himself without her, since she is his "mirror" and "blade."

There is a beauty in the intensity with which he needs her, but a sadness and weakness also in such dependency.

Coming back to Motown, we recall the song "Reach Out, I'll Be There," in which The Four Tops list all the situations in which the speaker will support the woman he is speaking to (the sentences start with "If").

And there is a difference, is there not, between "I love you for all the ways you support me" and "I love you and so I support you in all ways."

Next Song: Jonah

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