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Beyond the chorus

7 Nov 12 | Re: Song structure surprises | Link-U-Post

Madness were the quintessential English pop group of the 1980s, right? And what’s pop music about? Big, catchy choruses, right? Then it may surprise you when you realise, like I’ve just done, that Madness’s relationship with the chorus is rather skittish.

If you listen to their first album (and you should – in fact, there’s a case to be made for never stopping listening to it) then you’ll get from start to finish without hearing a single chorus anywhere. Move on to the second and they do start to appear here and there, but they still don’t follow the Timelords’ golden rule about making the song title the chorus’s first line; as often as not the titles are oblique and allusive, and the choruses aren’t the memorable bit of the song.

Let’s run down the first fourteen Madness singles (which I’m happy to say I don’t have to look up):

  1. The Prince – No chorus. Title only appears at the very end of the song.
  2. One Step Beyond – Instrumental so no chorus. Title is yelled throughout the song though.
  3. My Girl – No chorus.
  4. Night Boat To Cairo – No chorus and only the one verse.
  5. Baggy Trousers – A chorus! But the title isn’t in it – it’s buried in the depths of verse 3, and then muttered over the coda.
  6. Embarrassment – No chorus. Title not in evidence until the very last word (so the second title-as-punchline).
  7. Return of the Los Palmas 7 – Absurdly short instrumental. Cannot conceive of how this got into the top ten, even in the 80s.
  8. Grey Day – Does have a chorus, but not a very good one. Title is nowhere.
  9. Shut Up – Does have a chorus of sorts, but title is nowhere.
  10. It Must Be Love – Finally a chorus with the title in it. They didn’t write this one, though.
  11. Cardiac Arrest – Yes chorus, but title is only alluded to cryptically via a crossword clue in the second verse.
  12. House Of Fun – Yes chorus, yes with title in, yes they wrote it.
  13. Driving In My Car – No chorus. Check if you don’t believe me.
  14. Our House – Yes chorus, yes title in it.

So. It takes no fewer than twelve singles (three albums plus) to get to an original song with a big chorus with the title in. It’s probably not a coincidence that that single was also the one that got to number one. And no coincidence that Our House, the other box-ticker on the list, was their biggest international hit. And no coincidence either that It Must Be Love is probably their other best-known song. Once again, it’s proved that the Timelords do know what they’re talking about.

Posted by JOHNNY THE HORSE at 18:40

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