Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Rhyming used to seem like such a simple business. You wrote your line, looked for a word that rhymed perfectly with the last word of the line, came up with a line that ended with that word and hey presto – a rhyming couplet. Here’s one – “I think that you’ve been very brave, I’ll take your secret to the grave.” Previously I would have been less happy with an imperfect rhyme, like; “I think that you’ve been very brave, They’ll live to see much better days.” This isn’t far off as rhymes go but until recently I would be thinking that I could get a closer rhyme and that closer equalled better.
Books that helped
I’ve been reading about rhyming and to my surprise (after all these years) I find that rhymes can be used in sophisticated ways to enhance our songs. The best books on this that I have come across so far are “Writing Better Lyrics” by Pat Pattison and “Popular Lyric Writing” by Andrea Stolpe. There is another one by Pat Pattison called “Songwriting: Essential Guide to Rhyming” that I’m going to check out shortly.
Great song – shame about the rhymes
I have looked at printed lyrics for a lot of successful songs and often thought that the rhymes weren’t very good. It seemed that the lyricists hadn’t tried very hard to find better ones, but now it seems that this was intentional. Perfect rhymes can sound amateurish (that’s me) and provide unwanted closure to the lines that rhyme. Imperfect rhymes can be used to enhance the feeling behind the lyrics by keeping the momentum of the lyric going and not making the lines sound settled, stable and final.
Going back to LeAnn in the title, how about the lines, “I know a girl, she’s called LeAnn, She drove me home in her yellow van”? The perfect rhyme here makes it sound like that’s the end of the story. Using an imperfect rhyme; ” I know a girl, she’s called LeAnn, She drove me home in her yellow car”, takes away the closure and makes it sound like it isn’t finished at all. The listener wants to know what happens next and that’s the feeling we want to create here.
Moody one, ain’tcha?
In addition, imperfect rhymes can reflect the state of mind of characters in the songs. For example, if your wife has just left you and you’re confused, drinking too much and having trouble sleeping then you probably wouldn’t be expressing your feelings in perfectly rhymed couplets. Imperfect rhymes can also be used to show that what the character is saying is not how they are feeling by introducing a kind of dissonance and feeling of unease in the listener, despite the apparently upbeat words being sung.
Sing it back
These new ideas (new to me, anyway) are really inspiring. I’m going back over my own lyrics and working on lines that have always made me cringe. I can see now that the reason I felt so uncomfortable about these lines was that they employed perfect rhymes, and that the rhyme had lead to the line rather than the other way round. I also realise that just reading the lyrics while working on them isn’t enough. The lines can look okay in terms of rhyme, but when sung, well that’s when the cringing starts. Singing them for other people can be useful too. I remember singing a song I had written where I had rhymed “me” with “tea” (I’ll spare you the rest) and everyone burst out laughing. “Imbiciles”, I thought – that rhymes perfectly. Well, those rhymes and the terrible lines they inspired have been changed now, and so have many others.