There’s a story about
the Beatles and their producer George Martin from early in their career,
at the start of their long line of hit songs and before they had
totally mastered their craft. They were getting ready to record what
would become “She Loves You,” and as usual, Lennon and McCartney brought
the song in and played it for Martin to see if he had any changes. And
he suggested a simple one – instead of starting with the verse, start
with the chorus.
Take a listen to the
track above and it’s easy to hear why Martin thought this – the chorus
grabs you right away, it’s super catchy, and the song is short enough
that it doesn’t get tiresome. By contrast, try starting the track at the
0:10 mark with the verse. Not bad, but it doesn’t smack you across the
face in the same way.
Ever find yourself walking
down the street when you suddenly realize that a song idea is forming
in your head? Maybe it’s a chorus hook or a verse melody, even a
keyboard line for a song you’ve already started to record. Once it’s
become solidified enough in your head, do the smart thing and record it
It’s easy to say to
yourself that you’ll remember it later, or even that you’ll record it
once you get home, but the truth is, you probably won’t. Or more
irritatingly, you’ll kind of remember it, but know that something just
isn’t quite right.
Sometimes the right approach for the bass part of a song is to not have any bass at all. As the following examples demonstrate, delaying the entry of the bass or dropping it out for one section of a song can make the instrument’s impact much more pronounced than maintaining a constant bass presence. Let’s look at some variations of this approach.
First up is the Rolling Stones 1973 classic “Star Star” (AKA Starfucker). The band makes it through a full-verse before the bass comes in (33 seconds into the song), and it adds a nice subtle lift to the song as well as keeping the verse from getting repetitive. Note that this late entry differs from an introductory passage with just one or two instruments. In SF, the full band, including drums, is playing for the first verse except for the bass. The Stones use this approach in “Honky Tonk Women” as well, except that the bass enters in the chorus.
One of the most common tricks in song arrangement is to have a quiet or calm verse and a big or raucous chorus. Harder to pull off, but worth exploring, is instead repeating a chorus twice using the same kind of contrast.
Take Reptilia by The Strokes as an example. Right after Julian sings “You’re in a strange part of our town,” the band drops out except for a single guitar playing through one repetition of the chorus, joined for a second repetition by bass and just the kick drum, building up the tension. When the full band comes back in the song really explodes.