How to Change a Chorus Without Changing a Chorus
August 20, 2009 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Is there a name for the use of one chorus to mean entirely different things based on the context of the verse the chorus follows? Can you name further examples?

Examples come most readily to my mind from Country Music, but this is likely the case in multiple genres.

For instance, in Tim McGraw's "Don't Take the Girl," the chorus doesn't change through the song. But in the context of the first verse, the chorus means "Don't Take the Girl Fishing." In the context of the second verse, the chorus means, "Don't Take the Girl, Mr. Criminal." In the context of the final verse, the chorus means, "Don't Take the Girl to Heaven."

"How can I help you say goodbye?" Does the same thing--the same chorus transitions meaning when the daughter is sad about moving and when the daughter is sad that the mother is dying. There's another song about a man whose "life is over" when he finds out he is going to be a father. The chorus stays the same, but the meaning changes when later his "life is over" because he's watching he daughter leave.

Is there a name for this effect? Can you think of further examples, especially from other genres?
posted by jefficator to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There's a listing on TV Tropes for Dual-Meaning Chorus with about a million examples.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:50 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Smoking Popes song I Was Right does this.

The chorus is "And I always thought that I would die / If you ever told me goodbye / But it wasn't until tonight / Tonight, I found out I was right." The first verse is all about how devastated he was after the breakup, but the second verse is about how he moved on and became a stronger person, so that the old version of himself that couldn't live without her is dead.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:59 AM on August 20, 2009

I think the reason that it seems to appear most often in country music is that country seems to be the genre where you're more likely to sing about your entire life. This makes it easier to write one chorus that applies in several situations (as a boy, as a teen, as a young parent, as an elderly parent, etc). Country also includes more religious themes than some other genres, which allows it to play off the father/son, God the father/Jesus the son metaphor.
(As one more example which ignores my explanation, Sarabeth by Rascal Flatts takes one chorus and adds more meaning to the final iteration of it. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to wipe the dust out of my eyes.)
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2009

The refrain in Dylan's Shelter from the Storm does this-- every time he says '"Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm,' she seems to have entirely different intentions, ranging from polite to sinister to seductive.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:08 AM on August 20, 2009

Sometimes it's called a catch (derived from a musical form that's filled with them), but that's usually only when the result is funny. (Fair Phyllis, for example.)
posted by sleepingcbw at 10:20 AM on August 20, 2009

dammit specialagentwebb. don't we have a policy against linking to tvtropes on weekdays?
posted by 256 at 10:54 AM on August 20, 2009

And to actually contribute to the conversation, the Dark Reprise page linked from the Dual-Meaning Chorus one, includes several quite good examples from the stage musical genre.
posted by 256 at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2009

Jim Stafford had a hit in the '70s with 'My Girl Bill' (YouTube link), ostensibly about a gay relationship - until the last verse, when it's revealed that the singer is talking to Bill about his girlfriend. 'See, she's my girl, Bill.'

Ah, that ever-important comma...
posted by DandyRandy at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2009

The Dandy Warhol's song "I like you" So Bohemian.
posted by effluvia at 1:09 PM on August 20, 2009

I Hate My Life by Youth Brigade

The seemingly straightforward (if kind of generic) punk rock sentiment of the chorus:

I hate my life
I hate my li-ife
I hate my life
I hate my LI-IFE!

... is shown to be ironic by the end of the song.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:34 AM on August 21, 2009

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