Listening for form in popular music
Listening for form in popular music

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Listening for form in popular music

12 Endings

Table 9 captures an important aspect of the structure of pop songs that are based on verse–chorus alternation. They often start out straightforwardly, but get more complicated at around the halfway mark. For example, as mentioned earlier, the first instrumental interlude in ‘Be My Baby’ is based on the verse but is only half a verse in length.

Table 9 Structure of ‘Be My Baby’ (Table 8 repeated)

Track time Section
00:00 Instrumental introduction (includes vamp based on opening of verse)
00:07 Verse 1
00:35 Chorus
00:52 Verse 2
01:20 Chorus
01:36 Instrumental interlude (based on first half of verse)
01:50 Chorus
02:06 Short instrumental break (based on very beginning of introduction)
02:10 Chorus (heard twice with fadeout on second time)

As this suggests, the orderly alternation of verses and choruses in the first half of a pop song can often go out of the window in the second half. Repetitions of earlier sections may be varied or abbreviated, verses from earlier in the song may be recycled, and material from completely different sections may be combined.

Consider what happens in the second half of ‘Suspicious Minds’ (Table 10). After the bridge, the first verse of the song returns (rather than a new verse being introduced). This is followed by the chorus, and then two more statements of the first verse. All of this departs from the careful layering of new and repeated material at the opening of the song. At the same time, a new musical process occurs across the elements at the end of the song. The music gradually increases in intensity: we hear more of the backing singer’s high falsetto vocal parts, the tambourine and trumpet parts become more prominent, and the drum part gets louder and more elaborate. All of this builds to a kind of explosive release at the end of the song, which you can hear by listening to ‘Suspicious Minds’ again.

Table 10 Structure of ‘Suspicious Minds’ by Fine Young Cannibals

Track time Section
00:00 Introductory vamp
00:12 Verse 1 (‘We’re caught ...’)
00:42 Chorus (‘We can't go on ...’)
00:59 Verse 2 (‘Should an old friend ...’)
01:29 Chorus (‘We can’t go on ...’)
01:45 Bridge (‘Oh, let our love survive ...’)
02:09 Verse 1 (‘We’re caught ...’)
02:37 Chorus (‘We can’t go on ...’)
02:54 Verse 1 (‘We’re caught ...’)
03:24 Verse 1 (‘We’re caught ...’)
03:53 Coda

Table 10 introduces a final technical term, coda (Latin for ‘tail’), which musicians use to designate several kinds of musical endings. The word describes concluding material that is distinct from (or appended to) other sections of the song. In ‘Suspicious Minds’, the coda is the very brief span of music that follows the final verse, namely the ‘Ooh, baby, baby, yeah!’ that brings the song to a close. Most codas are longer than this, however. The term outro (a neologism playfully paralleling ‘intro’) is often used instead of ‘coda’ when discussing pop music.

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