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February 3, 2018 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Find me songs where the singer explains the music's composition in the lyrics of the song

I love when a song describes itself as it's being played. When thrown into the rest of the lyrics they mention chord or time signature changes actually occuring as they happen.

A few examples off the top of my head:

Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah ("Goes like this: the fourth, the fifth...")
Allen Toussaint - I'll Take a Melody ("I'll take a simple C to G...")
Wilco - Shot in the Arm ("Followed me down the neck to D...")

I want more! Gimme!
posted by downtohisturtles to Media & Arts (61 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pop 101 by Marianas Trench has a bit of this as it dissects pop music tropes.
posted by figurant at 11:18 AM on February 3, 2018


Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" (a great song; here's Sarah Vaughan performing it): "how strange the change from major to minor."
posted by languagehat at 11:25 AM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


In Werewolf by Fiona Apple, she sings "nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key" as the chords in the song do in fact go from Em to Dm to Am.
posted by purpleclover at 11:27 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's not exactly what you're talking about, but I was listening to a recording of "Mama Dpn't Allow No Music Round Here" as I this question came onto my screen. "Mama don't allow no guitar playing round here. "I don't care what mama don't allow, gonna play my guitar anyhow," *guitar part plays* and so on through the instruments in the band.

The ones I thought of that truly fit the question ("Hallelujah" and "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye") have already been mentioned but I'll try to think of more.
posted by zorseshoes at 11:40 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Harry Chapin's Stranger with the Melodies has a song-within-a-song that does this ("Drop it down to old E minor, til the A chord rolls back home around to D").
posted by Catseye at 11:44 AM on February 3, 2018


As soon as I finished my comment, I thought of "Title of the Song" by Da Vinci's Notebook.
posted by zorseshoes at 11:44 AM on February 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


Does flipping and reversing it count?
posted by multics at 11:48 AM on February 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


Intergalactic: Beastie Boys known to let the beat... (hmm) drop
(from their own "The New Style," and sampled a lot)

One Note Samba: Nancy Wilson has the version I like
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:51 AM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


James Brown's references to "Take it to the bridge" in "Sex Machine"?
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:57 AM on February 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


"Take it to the bride" (And maybe chorus?) is also in the James Brown inspired SexyBack
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:11 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Third verse, same as the first - from "Prove My Love" by Violent Femmes.
posted by Petersondub at 12:11 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


German punkband Wizo Raum der Zeit, calling out the chords.

and maybe the timey-wimey framing of Pulp's Something Changed ?
posted by runincircles at 12:13 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Mountain Goats: You Were Cool
"This is a song with the same four chords I use most of the time
When I've got something on my mind
And I don't want to squander the moment
Trying to come up with a better way / to say what I want to say"

On preview: The Ramones "second verse, same as the first" from Judy Is a Punk
posted by Pink Frost at 12:17 PM on February 3, 2018


Tommy Dorsey's The Music Goes Down and Around
posted by Naanwhal at 12:19 PM on February 3, 2018


John Hartford, My Rag. He doesn't start talking about what he's doing until about halfway through.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 12:20 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


You might like this thread from a while back: Introduced Instruments.
posted by Leontine at 12:21 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" has a lyric that says: "There's no love song finer, but how strange
the change from major to minor," as the song (I suppose) goes from major to minor. Here's a version by Ella Fitzgerald.
posted by Leontine at 12:25 PM on February 3, 2018


In the musical Drowsy Chaperone, in the song "Show Off", Janet sings, "I don't wanna change keys no more!" ...on a key change.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:32 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Pavement's Father to a Sister of Thought starts with:

Rotten device, I'll say it twice
I'm too much, I'm too much comforted here


...wherein the first line of the lyrics describes the second, acknowledging that it isn't very good. So not a case of the lyrics talking about the music, but kind of in that vein.
posted by pipeski at 12:41 PM on February 3, 2018


Frank Black "Bullet" - "And if you don't like my melody / I'll sing it in a major key, I'll sing it very happily / Yeah, but if everybody is all aboard / Let's take it back to that minor chord"

And don't forget "Buffalo Stance" where Neneh introduces the percussion! (forgotten in that previous thread!)

But you can find a lot of other examples on the TV Tropes wiki (sorry!) for "Truck Driver's Gear Change" (including some already discussed)

But I think there are a lot more, especially if you count stuff like "a little bit softer now..."
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:44 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Third verse, same as the first - from "Prove My Love" by Violent Femmes.

The Ramones "second verse, same as the first" from Judy Is a Punk

see also Herman's Hermits, I'm Henry VIII, I Am

Possibly Joe Strummer's "sing, Michael, sing!" exhortation to Mick Jones at the beginning of Rudie Can't Fail?
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 12:45 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Sly and the Family Stone, Dance to the Music
Archie Bell & the Drells, Tighten Up
posted by cadge at 12:46 PM on February 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key ("There ain't nobody that can sing like me") -Woody Guthrie via Billy Bragg & Wilco
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 12:49 PM on February 3, 2018


Middle of the first verse of Cadillactica by Big K.R.I.T. — "Cadillac-lac-lac-lac, Cadillac-lac-lac-lac—too early for the hook"
posted by cyclopticgaze at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2018


More obliquely, Ana Ng by They Might Be Giants
As I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge
posted by Tabitha Someday at 12:54 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


NoFX Please Play This Song on the Radio:
We wrote this song, it's not too short, it's not too long
It's got back up voc's in just the right places
It's got a few oohs and ahhs
It takes a little pause
Just before the second chorus

posted by TwoStride at 12:56 PM on February 3, 2018


King Crimson: “Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With
posted by Cogito at 1:06 PM on February 3, 2018


Piano Man, Elton John
The Birth Of The Blues, Sammy Davis (I think)
posted by SemiSalt at 1:19 PM on February 3, 2018


Possibly Joe Strummer's "sing, Michael, sing!" exhortation to Mick Jones at the beginning of Rudie Can't Fail?

Lot of examples like this: Patti Smith shouting "Lenny" to cue in Lenny Kaye's verse in 'Rock n Roll N----r'. Black Francis with 'rock me Joe' to cue a solo from Joey Santiago in 'Monkey Gone to Heaven'.

Stone Roses: 'Don't Stop' "just the guitar, from the top"
posted by Pink Frost at 1:27 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


The intro to Those Magic Changes: C, C, C C, C, C A, A, A A Minor F, F, F, F F, F G, G, G G7
posted by nonane at 1:27 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Experiment Number 1 by John Cale has the chord changes with the lyrics, sounds like it's jammed out live.
posted by ovvl at 2:13 PM on February 3, 2018




This Is a Song by Mitch Friedman describes all the parts as they go by, ie: "This is a song, and this is a verse. There will be three; this one is first." This continues through chorus, bridge and all. It also introduces instruments and musical devices as they arrive.
posted by ROTFL at 2:27 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Where’s that confounded bridge? — The Crunge by Zeppelin

Duh nuh nuh nuh na nuh *BASS!* — White Lines by Grandmaster Flash

“Give praise my bretheren for what you are about to receive, On John Barleycorn, nicotine, and the temptations of the rock and roll chord E” — the Nails’ version of Let It All Hang Out.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:39 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Alice's Restaurant Massacree: "So we'll wait for it to come around on the guitar, here and
sing it when it does. Here it comes"

Josh Ritter, Right Moves: "and we're coming to the chorus now"

Does it count when one person in the song tells another not to do what they just did? Hamilton, Farmer's Refuted: "Don't modulate the key..." (I think there's more of this in Hamilton, too, but they're not coming to mind.)
posted by daisyace at 2:39 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


The Who, Getting in Tune:

I'm singing this note 'cause it fits in well
With the chords I'm playing

posted by bondcliff at 2:43 PM on February 3, 2018


"Time," by Pink Floyd: "The time is gone, the song is over / Thought I'd something more to say."

(had to delete The Crunge because Slarty beat me to it)

Surely there's a Magnetic Fields song out there that fits the bill? ("Acoustic Guitar" is a song sung to a guitar, but that doesn't really work here, I guess0
posted by baseballpajamas at 2:43 PM on February 3, 2018


There’s a Violent Femmes song and I forget which one where Gordan Gano sings “oh no, oh no, I forgot the words! Looks like we’re going to have to JAM!” And then they do.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:47 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Bit of a stretch, but the end of "Liar" by Built to Spill has the Lyric "You see, it seems minor to me," which is repeated several times, with "minor" always in the same minor chord. This came to mind because I always hear the lyric as "It's C / And C minor, to me."
posted by baseballpajamas at 2:52 PM on February 3, 2018


Hook by Blues Traveler is one of the most meta songs ever, being mostly about its own structure.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:59 PM on February 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


Shocked nobody’s yet mentioned Blues Travelers The Hook. (On edit window: jinx!)
posted by phoenixy at 3:01 PM on February 3, 2018


There is a word for this. The word is prosody. The example I always think of is “Stop In The Name Of Love”. Diana sings “stop” at the start of the chorus and the Supremes and the whole band rest for half a bar.
posted by chrchr at 4:10 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


"Rap God" and "Sing for the Moment," both by Eminem
posted by OnefortheLast at 4:28 PM on February 3, 2018


"The Song That Goes Like This," from Spamalot.

I laughed a lot at "I'll sing right in your face/While we both embrace./And then we'll change the keeee-EEEYYY!"
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:21 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ben Folds' One Down, written to fulfill his publishing deal and write 4.6 more songs. (That fraction is not a typo).

People tell me
Ben, just make up junk
And turn it in
But I never was alright with turning in
A bunch of shit
Don't like wasting time
On music that won't make you proud
But now I've found a reason
To sit right down and shit some out.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:33 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ultimate choir nerd version is the Heart of the Fugue:

First comes the subject, it sounds in the tonic key of F, Then comes the answer, it psounds in the dominant key of C, and then very soon repeats the pattern...
posted by heyforfour at 5:35 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


I’ll have to Say ’I Love You’ in a Song — Jim Croce

You’re So Vain (You Probably Think This Song is About You)

I think The Day The Music Died fits the bill.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:36 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh fuck, Your Song by Elton John

Also This is Not A Love Song by PiL
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:40 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Maybe a bit too on the nose, but the Ottawa folk group Finest Kind has a whole adapted song that I gather they made to illustrate how they construct harmonies.
posted by transient at 6:10 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Chase & Status, Music Club... "the complete guide on how to write a massive club banger"
posted by sizeable beetle at 6:11 PM on February 3, 2018


You need some One Four Five from the Cat Empire.
posted by pianissimo at 6:17 PM on February 3, 2018


This is Ben Folds making up the song as he goes along, while calling out chord changes and instruments: Rock This Bitch. There are many other variations!
posted by pianissimo at 6:42 PM on February 3, 2018


Do-Re-Mi!
posted by daisyace at 6:52 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh hey; I've been meaning to ask pretty much exactly this question for aaaaages but never got around to it.

Also This is Not A Love Song by PiL

Conversely the Pet Shop Boys' All Over The World, with its repeated refrain "this is a song / about boys and girls / you hear it / playing all over the world."

Narrating its own structure: I always liked how cheekily self-congratulatory this first verse of Robbie Williams' Strong is:
My breath smells of a thousand fags
And when I'm drunk I dance like me Dad
I've started to dress a bit like him

Early morning when I wake up
I look like KISS but without the make up
And that's a good line to take it to the bridge
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:27 PM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


In the latter half of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells Part One, the instrument names are introduced as part of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYmRA45BZmc
posted by tybstar at 4:52 AM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Morrissey sort of does this in “We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful.”
posted by 4ster at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2018


Fountains of Wayne Hotline by Robbie Fulks

"Well let's hit the bridge, I'll tell you what you do. No new chords introduced. Get a split bar of 4 in there, and push the one. and then we'll slather the holy hell out of the thing with a semi-ironic Beach Boys vocal pad. And then an asymmetrical back hand. There's your bridge."
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 5:38 PM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Keith Urban has his One Chord Song (on mobile, apologies if the video isn't great):
This is my one chord song
I can't go on too long
'Cause I've said all I've got to say
And you probably won't hear this anyway

Yeah, now here's the same thing you've heard 8 bars before
'Cause just like me I'm sure your bored with this chord
posted by yeahlikethat at 6:48 AM on February 7, 2018


Monotony, by Eddie From Ohio.

And oh thank goodness here comes the chorus
A varied melody
I would only welcome variation
If it just could break monotony

posted by bondcliff at 7:13 AM on February 7, 2018


Super late to the party, but I'm surprised no one mentioned Gleen Gould's excellent 'So you want to write a fugue?' Starting from section H:

> But never be clever for the sake of being clever
> for a canon in inversion is a dangerous diversion
> And a bit of augmentation is a serious temptation
> While a stretto diminution, is an obvious solution
> So never be clever for the sake of being clever
> for the sake of showing off
posted by andycyca at 7:39 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh, that reminds me I came across another to add: Ben Folds, F10-D-A.
posted by daisyace at 5:05 PM on May 20, 2018


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