Song Openings
September 22, 2009 6:35 PM   Subscribe

What is the term for an introduction to a song that is completely different in melody than then the rest of the song itself?

A friend of mine was listening to Patti Page's " I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine" and noticed this at the beginning of the song. She is convinced that there is a musical term for this. Any takers?
posted by goalyeehah to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As far as I know, it's just called the intro.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:45 PM on September 22, 2009

Yes, just 'intro', as far as I know. Perhaps your friend is thinking of 'coda' which is another term for 'outro'.
posted by axiom at 6:58 PM on September 22, 2009

I agree that there's no special term for it other than intro.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:07 PM on September 22, 2009

posted by goalyeehah at 7:10 PM on September 22, 2009

That would be a prelude. But in popular music, more commonly just called the intro.
posted by zennie at 7:11 PM on September 22, 2009

I think you're talking about the verse -- kind of like how in "Over the Rainbow" the verse is often left out (it was left out of the movie). Speaking of which, there's an excellent discussion of this song by Rob Kapilow here
This is the opening verse of "Over the Rainbow"

When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around,
Heaven opens a magic lane
When all the clouds darken up the skyway,
There's a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your window pane
To a place behind the sun,
Just a step beyond the rain

The verse is also talked about in this Wikipedia article too --

Most of the songs in the Great American Songbook are written in "verse-chorus form". The verse is a musical introduction that typically has a free musical structure, speech-like rhythms and rubato delivery.

Is that what you're talking about? I am not familiar with the song you've mentioned. But I've always loved those sometimes forgotten opening verses.
posted by nnk at 7:17 PM on September 22, 2009

actually I do now at least the chorus of that song . . . just not the version you're talking about!
posted by nnk at 7:19 PM on September 22, 2009

That would be a prelude. But in popular music, more commonly just called the intro.

That depends. The prelude serves as an introductory gesture to a piece with several movements, but an individual movement that begins with material that doesn't reappear later is still said to have an introduction.

So yeah, introduction is just about the fanciest word you'll find for that in any context.
posted by invitapriore at 7:35 PM on September 22, 2009

The technical term is indeed "verse", although these days the word generally means something different. Tons of show tunes and standards start with an intro like this before repeating what is effectively a chorus multiple times.

Some early Beatles songs use this technique - the best one I can think of off the top of my head is 'If I Fell".

Wikipedia has a good short history: The terms "verse" and "chorus" arose out of musical theatre going back to the early part of the twentieth century. Originally, and this definition is still used by many in music theatre or those whose repertoire is derived largely from theatre and standards ( older jazz musicians, whose repertoire is largely derived from American Standards from the theatre, use the earlier definition of the terms), the verse was the vocal introduction and the chorus is the refrain, the familiar body of the song we identify as the song. You can find old piano/vocal music which still use these terms accordingly -- where the refrain, i.e., the chorus, is the song that we are all familiar with. For example, we often hear Tony Bennett sing the verse ( a vocal introduction in rubato tempo ) to the song, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco". The song is the chorus. Sometimes the music will use the term "refrain", in lieu of the term "chorus". In the late sixties, the terms changed in pop music probably the result of young musicians misundertanding old sheet music they had seen when they were children taking lessons. In later years musicians, learning about songwriting, probably pulled the terms from memory to denote the various parts of a song, which is to say, making assumptions about their meaning ( and it is primarily because the assumptions are logical ). So the meaning of these terms have evolved. It is also notable that most songwriters in pop and rock music are unaware of the terms' original meaning.
posted by dfan at 8:19 PM on September 22, 2009

I can't speak to the historical usage of the terms verse and chorus, but I do know how they're used now, and I think it's pretty clear that both of the wikipedia articles cited here are to be taken with a grain of salt, filled as they are with unsourced speculation. Incidentally, musicologist and Beatles-aficionado Alan W. Pollack had this to say about the beginning of "If I Fell:"
Quite unusually for Lennon and McCartney, we find here an old fashioned kind of intro in the style of, say, Gerswhin or Porter. It's fully developed as a section unto itself with material not heard in the remainder of the song, and set-off from what follows by a different texture in the instrumental backing track
He still labels this section as an intro, with the next section getting labeled as the verse.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:00 PM on September 22, 2009

Verse is probably the most accurate term in this context. "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine" is a popular song that comes out of the Tin Pan Alley and musical theatre traditions. For this type of music, the opening of the song, which was often sung without a steady beat or rhythm that differed from the rest of the song, was called the verse. The hummable tune that followed it was called the chorus (as noted above). When songs from musicals were sung out of context (as popular songs in their own right), performers often dropped the verse which often referred to a specific dramatic situation. Also, since they were often performed rubato, they were undanceable. Elvis Presley drops the verse in his rendition of "I Don't Care." Verses often harmonically contrast with chorus, sometimes being in a different key or mode (or sometimes just emphasizing different harmonic progressions).

The Beatles were well acquainted with Tin Pan Alley and musical theatre (recording songs like Ain't She Sweet and Till There Was You) and certainly would have been familiar with the verse-chorus form. Pollack's reference to the beginning of "If I Feel" correctly uses the term "intro" for the verse-like beginning. By the time of Rock and Roll, it was more common to write songs in alternating patterns that came to be called verse and chorus (or refrain). The verse has different words over the same music, while the chorus has both the same words and music. It is a shift of terminology. In the genre of Rock and Roll, it is probably more appropriate to call it an introduction, even if it calls to mind the "verses" of old popular songs.
posted by imposster at 9:44 PM on September 22, 2009

Here's an article on the development of verse-chorus song form and the musical conventions associated with it.
posted by imposster at 9:56 PM on September 22, 2009

If I fell

Are you guys sure you don't mean 'Do you Want To Know A Secret' ?
posted by artdrectr at 1:08 AM on September 23, 2009

Are you guys sure you don't mean 'Do you Want To Know A Secret' ?

Yes, we are. The "verse"/"intro" is everything up to "just holding hands".

"Do You Want To Know A Secret" does sort of have one too, although it's only two lines long.

"Honey Pie" is another good example that I thought of after my first response. Of course that song is a deliberate throwback.
posted by dfan at 7:01 AM on September 23, 2009

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