Singing a falsetto note may make you feel silly, but it can sound great John Lennon and Paul McCartney introduced the world to a dual falsetto note when they sang the ‘wooo’ sound at the end of the verse on their first UK No.1 single, ‘From Me to You’. The sound was novel enough to keep the single at No.1 for six weeks and the Beatles went on to use such strategic falsetto notes for the rest of their career. For a singer with a limited range, the falsetto note, a method that lets male singers hit notes much higher than their normal range, can give a single word an extra emotional heft. John Lennon used it on the downbeat verses to ‘Help’, where he adds drama on the last few notes, where he twice sings the word ‘please’ falsetto. Consider also the way he sings falsetto the word ‘be’ in the chorus of ‘Revolution’, the final word ‘my’ at the end of ‘In My Life’ and perhaps his most famous falsetto note where he addresses the listener with the word ‘you’ at the start of the verse after the second chorus of ‘Imagine’. Falsetto can be powerfully used for backing vocals as a contrast to lead vocals sung in a normal register. A good example is John’s answering vocals to Paul’s dry narration of the tale of a 16-year old runaway girl on ‘She’s Leaving Home’, the group falsetto on the chorus to ‘Paperback Writer’ and the way John and George sing ‘Frère Jacques' on the verse after the second chorus on the same song.
Show the world you are happy through vocal sounds, not just words Making sounds with your voice is a quick and effective way of communicating a happy emotion. It can have a greater impact than simply singing ‘I am so happy’. Hear the way John and Paul sing ‘wooo’ after the word ‘glad’ on ‘She Loves You’, the way John sings the blissful ‘ooww’ before the words ‘I need your love’ on ‘Eight Days a Week’ and ‘umummmmm’ after the chorus on ‘I Feel Fine’, the ‘na-na-na, nana-na-na’ coda to ‘Hey Jude’ and when George slips “do-n-do-do” in the middle of the chorus on ‘Here Comes the Sun’.
Silly, nonsensical + mischievous lyrics are all quick and easy to write The Beatles wrote silly lyrics that made them laugh. They wrote mischevious lyrics with double meanings. They also wrote nonsense verse. Why would you do this? For starters, humour can be a way of releasing tension while working and so it will make the laborious process of songwriting less painful. Joke songs by the Beatles include ‘I’m Down’, the B-side to ‘Help’, which lampoons the A-side of the single when it states: ‘I’m feeling upside down’ which is physically where the track was in relation to the A-side on a record turntable. ‘Back in the USSR’ lampoons a dopey government campaign song entitled ‘I’m Backing Britain’. Mischievous songs from the Beatles tended in to hide sexual innuendo. On one verse of ‘Day Tripper’ Paul sings of a ‘big teaser’, on the next verse he subtly sings this as ‘prick teaser’ to fool the censors/radio stations. ‘Please Please Me’ is one of the few songs about sexual satisfaction (in its hidden meaning) to make it to the top of the charts. They wrote nonsense verse such as ‘I am the Walrus’ to deliberately confuse those who would seek to interpret them. It must have made a welcome break from trying to write words with a deeper meaning. If you create sheer, mischievous joy in your lyrics then there is a likely chance it will transfer to your melodies.
Parody a famous singer (it will be fun!) Is there a song or a style of music that strikes you as a little ridiculous? Could you bring yourself to make a parody of that style long enough to create a whole song around it? Paul McCartney would do this by regularly starting songs as humorous parodies of others artists.
‘Michelle’ was initially an imaginary French tune that Paul wrote to sound impressive at student parties.
‘She’s a Woman’, ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ are all exaggerated pastiches of heavy rock.
Paul imagined the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry as Russian born singers on ‘Back in the USSR’.
The chord progression and the lyrical idea for ‘You Won’t See Me’ are lifted from the Four Tops’ ‘The Same Old Song’. As such, it is a parody of a parody, as the in-house songwriting team at Motown had already recycled the chord progression and tempo from ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ for ‘The Same Old Song’. They did this to gently mock how the love in the earlier song had turned sour.
Imagine you are a famous singer and then create a tune you are likely to sing Try imagining that you are a famous singer, someone you admire. What sort of melody would they create? How would they phrase words and sentences? This was how Paul McCartney created ‘Lady Madonna’ (Fats Domino), ‘Here There & Everywhere’ (Marianne Faithful). Paul even created the idea of the Sgt.Pepper's album around an imaginary band.
Use your friends’ silly expressions as song titles It is a long-established songwriter’s trick to turn a popular verbal expression into a song title. As such Paul McCartney was inspired by his chauffeur’s remark that he was so busy he was working ‘eight days a week’. The Beatles also had an ear for the absurd and they enjoyed the malapropisms uttered by their drummer Ringo. It was Ringo who uttered the phrase ‘that was a hard day’s…night’ after a long day in the film studio for the group extended into the early hours and who said ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ instead of the popular expression ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’.
Try to write a one or a two-chord song Too many rock groups suffer a musical snobbery that stops them making their tunes simple. The Beatles thought this way too, until the pressure on them to churn out stunning melodies and brilliant chord progressions became too much. The release of the ten chord ‘Yesterday’ in the summer of 1965 was something of a turning point, as for a while it became more appealing to the group to rebel against the expectation of such songs rather than cater for it. In this spirit they goaded each other to write one-chord songs – the possibility occurred after listening to a piece of Indian Sitar music that only used a single chord. Only John truly delivered with ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, although ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ all come close with long single chord stretches. With less harmonic interest, each is rooted in a complex or heightened rhythm. Paul, in his biography, recalled how he ‘vamped’ a melody around a single E minor chord to create ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Their excitement at breaking this musical taboo encouraged bold lyrics; the first three ‘single chord’ songs openly refer to death, suggesting a single static chord resonated with morbid thoughts. Once this rebellion was out of their system, they returned refreshed to conventional chord patterns and tunes on Sgt. Pepper’s. Not every one chord experiment worked so well, arguably (and its all a matter of taste) ‘Dr Robert’ and ‘I Want To Tell You’ are not the Beatles finest efforts
Scream A really good scream is a hard thing to emit in a recording studio or on stage, but the Beatles put hours of practice in learning how. This came in handy when they were a club band performing covers of rock’n’roll songs, particularly those of Little Richard whose screams punctuated his biggest hits. If well-emitted and believable, a scream can add an electric charge to a song and delivers the edginess that people have come to expect from rock’n’roll. Notable screams on the Beatles’ recordings are the ones before the guitar solos on ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, mid-song on ‘Slow Down’, at the intros to ‘Money’ and ‘Revolution’ and at the end of ‘Hey Jude’. Sometimes the backing vocals delivered the screams – consider the way John and Paul's screams encouraged Ringo’s lead vocal on ‘Boys’ from their debut album or the rising crescendo of backing vocals on songs like ‘Day Tripper’.
The psychedelic song structure Got any song fragments lying around that you never finished? Why not turn them into a psychedelic song? In 1967, the advent of psychedelia encouraged artists to distort, magnify and enhance the natural sound of instruments, vocals and come up with bizarre and wonderful song structures. In this spirit, the Beatles took delight in matching lyrical and musical fragments with no logical link. ‘A Day in the Life’, ‘I Am the Walrus’, ‘Baby You’re a Rich Man’, ‘Hey Bulldog’, ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’, the Medley on Abbey Road were all pieced together in this way. The process was a fun break from the more traditional songwriting the public had come to expect of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and their enthusiasm transferred itself into clever arrangements with a variety of time signatures and some of their best studio performances.
Go crazy in the recording studio for three minutes Some songs benefit from being sung and performed as if the whole band has temporarily gone mad. Once in a while this is the injection of life a song needs in the studio. Within the boundaries of a three-minute song, the approach could be summed up as controlled madness. The Beatles had learnt the practice after being goaded by local club owners to perform this way in Hamburg before they became recording artists. It was typified by playing as fast as possible and by screaming and shouting. Recordings where the Beatles let themselves go wild include ‘Helter Skelter’, ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Twist and Shout’, ‘Slow Down’ and ‘Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?’. Once they even recorded in a large cupboard in Abbey Road studios to gain the manic performance of ‘Yer Blues’ from the White Album.
“Whatever is too silly to be spoken is sung.” Voltaire (French philosopher).