Songs with overlapping verses?
February 28, 2008 2:47 PM   Subscribe

What is the musical term for songs that feature overlapping or simultaneous verses? The only two examples that I can think of to illustrate what I'm talking about are "All for the Best" from Godspell and Irving Berlin's "You're in Love." Anyone ever come across a list of songs of this type, specifically songs from the world of musical theater?
posted by trivirgata to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Does Cat Stevens' "Father and Son" count?
posted by fish tick at 2:58 PM on February 28, 2008

Ohhh, like that awesome "Confrontation" song in Les Mis? That's counterpoint.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2008

"Prima Donna" from Phantom?

How about "Tonight" from West Side Story?
posted by eleyna at 3:03 PM on February 28, 2008

Is it called a canon?
posted by idiotfactory at 3:06 PM on February 28, 2008

Another example of this is "In Love" by Ben Folds and William Shatner. I'd like to find the lyrics Ben Folds is singing because some of his parts of the song get lost under Shatner's part.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:07 PM on February 28, 2008

One of the various types of fugue might be the droid you're looking for.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:09 PM on February 28, 2008

Moldy Peaches' "Steak for Chicken", sort of.
posted by glibhamdreck at 3:13 PM on February 28, 2008

I'm not sure if there is a term for this. It seems like you are not referring to a round, such as Frere Jacques. A canon (as someone suggested above) is a broader term that includes rounds, so that's not what you're looking for either. Right?
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:26 PM on February 28, 2008

Afterthought: It might be sort of like a fugal coda (see the "coda" entry). I'm basing this on the fact that Wikipedia applies this term to the end of the last movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony. But that might be a bit loftier than what you're looking for!

How about a "contrapuntal coda"? I just made up that term.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:35 PM on February 28, 2008

From the "Popular Music" section of Wikipedia's Counterpoint article:
Counterpoint is common in musical theatre, especially in songs that try to compare or contrast two or more characters' views. Stephen Sondheim, for example, is famous for extensive use of counterpoint. In his dark operetta Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, many songs are written using contrapuntal techniques, most notably 'Kiss Me Quartet'. Other musical theatre composers use it as well: in Les Miserables, for example, the song One Day More features almost the entire main cast singing contrapuntal vocals at the same time. Irving Berlin also wrote counterpoint in American popular music, including on "You're Just in Love" and "Play a Simple Melody". There are also examples of counterpoint in the shows The Music Man (Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little and Goodnight Ladies) and La Cage Aux Folles (Cocktail Counterpoint), which has 7 parts sung first separately then together.
posted by Iridic at 3:36 PM on February 28, 2008

And not from musical theater, but still notable: the final track of Local H's Here Comes the Zoo drops into a coda that layers the choruses of the previous nine songs on top of each other.
posted by Iridic at 3:44 PM on February 28, 2008

The barbershop/hen bit from "The Music Man"

"Baby it's cold Outside"
posted by sourwookie at 3:45 PM on February 28, 2008

This mix of Nickelback songs isn't musical theater, but it might be a funny example of what you're looking for.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:49 PM on February 28, 2008

Ooh, "La Resistance" from the South Park movie! Also, the song at the very end of the stage performance in Moulin Rouge, where they're tussling over the gun.

Also, it's not a musical, but my high school show choir director made the startling discovery that the choruses of Backstreet Boys' "Larger than Life" and NSync's "Space Cowboy" can be sung effectively at the same time.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 3:49 PM on February 28, 2008

It's called counterpoint.

You'll definitely find a lot of it in Disney musical movies, some of which obviously are also now Broadway musicals. In fact, I think I learned the term from reading the lyrics page in the cassette case of the music from Aladdin that I treasured as a child. (I am cool). See here for instance.
posted by lampoil at 3:58 PM on February 28, 2008

"For Good" from Wicked.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:11 PM on February 28, 2008

I'm pretty sure "Soon" from A Little Night Music does this. Possibly other songs from it as well.
posted by wsquared at 4:18 PM on February 28, 2008

Scarborough Fair, by Simon and Garfunkel

The original lyrics are traditional, but Simon wrote a second song (and new lyrics) called "Canticle" which is sung interleaved with the original. Is that the kind of thing you're talking about?
posted by Class Goat at 4:33 PM on February 28, 2008

Not a showtune, but one of the most elegant and creative uses of this technique is Pink Floyd's Wearing the Inside Out
posted by The Deej at 4:35 PM on February 28, 2008

nting counterpoint :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:57 PM on February 28, 2008

Not musical theater, but They Might Be Giants' Dinner Bell has some fun counterpoint going on
posted by pupdog at 5:00 PM on February 28, 2008

Another word to describe it is descant.
posted by barjo at 6:43 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was going to offer descant, also. I learned it from the liner notes to Warren Zevon's "Empty Handed Heart," which is one of the most beautiful examples of this sort of thing I know.
posted by pasici at 6:56 PM on February 28, 2008

I've heard the term Quodlibet used to mean several songs sung together at the same time (such as Row Row Row your Boat and Three Blind Mice, although I'm not sure those two actually work), and Wikipedia seems to agree with me.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:59 PM on February 28, 2008

Another vote for "Quodlibet." Tom Lehrer did a beautiful one with four overlapping tunes called "Selling Out." "All for the Best" is also one of my favorites.

Some songs do it just for a chorus or two--right now, I'm thinking the last verse of "Motherhood March" from Hello Dolly, the end of "How I Saved Roosevelt," from Assassins, and a couple things from Les Miserables--not just the confrontation song, but "One Day More" does this near the end also.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:09 PM on February 28, 2008

I know that one of the songs in the Candide operetta has this feature. I think it's "What's the Use?".
posted by Deathalicious at 7:43 PM on February 28, 2008

There's an example of this in "The Music Man". "Lida Rose" is sung by the quartet. Then Marian sings "Will I ever tell you". Then they perform simultaneously.
posted by Class Goat at 12:00 AM on February 29, 2008

I think there's some confusion here. To a classical musician, counterpoint means a specific harmony technique involving two "voices" moving against each other. To a musical-theatre person, I think counterpoint probably means the phenomenon you describe.

As for examples, Gilbert and Sullivan did it in almost every one of their operettas.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:00 AM on February 29, 2008

Oh, and "A Boy Like That" from West Side Story is also a good example.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:02 AM on February 29, 2008

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks so much to all of you for the great responses - this is exactly what I was thinking of.

As I looked through the examples that some of you mentioned, I started to realize how many shows/songs actually use counterpoint. There's some particularly nice moments in Titanic, for example. But I'm still having a hard time coming up with more instances like "All for the Best" that seem to be "explicit" counterpoint songs (hard to describe what I'm grasping for here, but those of you familiar with the song might understand: it seems like the whole number is bulit around a counterpoint "gimick").

For whatever reason, I'm a total sucker for this everytime I hear it. It has to be one of the greatest musical theater tricks out there, and given the list of composers who seem to be particularly enamored with its use - Sondheim, G&S, Steven Schwartz - it doesn't feel too much like a guilty pleasure.

I'll be sure to check out some of the examples offered from the other genres as well, it would be interesting to see if I have a similar reaction while listening to those.
posted by trivirgata at 6:46 AM on February 29, 2008

It all comes down to the fact that there are a lot of songs that use the same chord progression, with slightly different melodies over them. There are only twelve notes in western music, and with millions of songs, you are gonna get a lot of recycling.

More impressive to me are pop songs where seemingly diffrent parts of the same song are brought back together at the end and end up being cointerpoint to each other: XTC does this a lot, and it gets me every time: "Take this Town", "Earn Enough for Us" are two off the top of my head, where the intro guitar riff ends up working nicely over the chorus or verse melody in unexpected ways.
posted by jetsetsc at 3:28 PM on March 2, 2008

It's not descant, it's not quod libet, it's not counterpoint, and it's nothing new or unusual.

The term descant refers to a melody or line that soars above the rest of the music. A quod libet is a composition that includes quotes from other tunes of a similar theme. Neither of these terms have anything to do with lyrics.

Counterpoint is a contrasting juxtaposition of two melodies, and comes the closest to describing the idea of two lyrics being sung at once with different melodies, but again, counterpoint is an idea about the notes, not about two lyrics.

That all being said, I don't know the word for simultaneous lyrics either. Probably poly-something-or-other.

Here's a great example, with three lines at once: a Rice Krispies ad.
posted by setver at 4:09 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding setver -- a while back the term for this was bugging me and I cornered one of the musicology editors at JAMS; she couldn't think of the right term for it either, other than to say that it's probably Gilbert & Sullivan's fault that it's everywhere in musical theater and that it goes way, way back before them.

The earliest example (and one of the most beautiful) I've ever heard is at the end of an act of Les Indes Galantes by Rameau (starts about halfway into the clip).

I'm surprised that nobody so far has mentioned Rob Paravonian's Pachelbel Rant, which is exactly the same gag with a different chord progression -- like jetsetsc said, a lot of tunes use the same basic progressions.
posted by range at 6:28 PM on March 2, 2008

The Utopia song "Singring and the Glass Guitar" does this, where the four musicians sing different themes which all interweave together at the end.

But the first thing that came to mind was the South Park version of the Dreidel song.
posted by bink at 9:45 PM on March 2, 2008

Sufjan Stevens does this. A lot. An example would be "Dear Mr. Supercomputer". I love when people do this. Nickle Creek's "Out of the Woods" is a dreamy example. Also, Laura Veirs is a constant culprit ("Saltbreakers"). Also, Mates of State ("Goods") and Eisley ("Laughing City"). Wow, so there's some Indie examples.
posted by thebellafonte at 8:15 AM on March 3, 2008

The first and second melodies of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" sound very cool played together, but JS never did so, near as I can tell.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:05 PM on March 3, 2008

As hinted above -- "broadway counterpoint".

From the wikipedia entry on The Music Man:

'"Lida Rose" and "Will I Ever Tell You," sung first separately and then simultaneously, are among the rare examples of Broadway counterpoint – songs with separate lyrics and separate melodies that harmonize and are designed to be sung together.

Similarly, "Goodnight, My Someone" is the same tune, in waltz time, as the march-tempo "Seventy-six Trombones."

Consider also: The Guess Who, No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature.
posted by Herodios at 7:48 PM on March 3, 2008

Then there's this contrapuntal tale of one of Old Bach's many sons, a composer of some repute in his own right.

His patron, Prince Fred of Wein-am-Rhein commissioned a diverting piece of music to accompany his morning meal.

Young Bach's creative solution was to organize the orchestra into two teams, the strings on one side of the dining room and the winds on the other, each team having its own conductor, score and so forth -- and let them duke it out in stereo. He called it the Breakfast Antiphonies.
posted by Herodios at 8:07 PM on March 3, 2008

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