Listening to the remarkable Adele sing the other night on Palladia, I believe. I loved the sound of her voice and the spirit that just emanates from her as she sings. And as she only sings her own songs, and I am a songwriter/producer/artist/comedian/record executive/janitor, I began to notice some things about her songs I want to talk about.
As she has a beautiful voice, she loves using it as much as we love hearing it. But as a songwriter you must be cognizant of how much information a person can process. She left no breathing spaces in her songs, as each melodic line just spilled into the next one.
As I listened, I realized that I wanted a little space between the lines of the songs, just some little breather before the next line started.
Now I agree that one can use no space as a device in writing, but I found it uncomfortable by the end of the song. Not to take anything away from Adele, of whom I am an ardent admirer.
I just believe that one can always strive to write the perfect song and one of the things a perfect song requires is space.
As an example, my old friend John Hartford wrote a song called “Gentle On My Mind”
The verses were a waterfall of tumbling words and phrases, to wit the first line of the song is:
“It’s knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk…”
After which there are two full bars of instrumental before the second line. “That tends to make me leave my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed behind your couch” (and yes, I always was uncomfortable with that second line, but that’s another story).
If we had hadn’t had that breather, we could not have accommodated that song. Look at “Honky Tonk Woman” by the Stones…
“I met a gin soaked bar room queen in memphis” then two bars of melody before the next line. That kind of space leaves us time to consider the lyrics and for them to have the impact that we want.
I think it was my pal, Cliff Eberhardt that first got me thinking about space after I played him a new song called “Suicide Blonde”. It’s a waltz and one line just spills into the next, because that is what the melody did as I was writing it.
He suggested I leave a little space between lines, but I didn’t know how I could do that without bringing down the momentum of the melody. Then I realized that by having just one more bar of 3/4 at the end of each line, I could give it the breath it needed and also maintain my melodic momentum.
A good melody pulls you along and has both a rhythm and an arc that promises it’s going somewhere and then when it gets there you have a satisfying payoff for the listener (and the composer).
Take a look at your melodies and lyrics and see if they wouldn’t benefit from creating some space for the listener to digest and appreciate your, ahem, genius.