“Just before our love got lost you said
I am as constant as a northern star
And I said, constantly in the darkness?
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”
A Case Of You – Joni Mitchell
It’s the most played song on my iPod: it had to come out at some point or another. Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You is the epitome of songwriting at its best. The beautiful, ambiguous emblem of ‘A Case Of You’, the pure value-per-line of the lyrics, and a performance of arresting sincerity. It’s cracking. At some point I’ll talk about the long-uncredited awesomeness of this song, but for now I want to use it as an example of a classic Folk Structure.
What I mean by a Structure is what people refer to as the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus formula by which pop songs are (in the vast majority) constructed. It’s the formula by which the song repeats certain melodies and chord sequences.
Each genre has a formula that it swears by. The Folk Structure, instead of Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus, goes for Superverse-Superverse-Superverse. Each ‘Superverse’ may contain several different chord patterns and melodies within it, but really follows the same structure and often ends on an emblem; e.g. “I could drink a case of you”.
I’m not expecting any 50’s housewife reactions here, but the distinction is important because it allows the songwriter more lyricism and freedom. This repetition of melody allows you to rigidly structure your lyrics as if they were a poem, and really simplifies the songwriting process.
The Folk Structure also allows for a more natural build-up of instruments, adding them in slowly in each verse. The Pop Structure, by having to quickly ramp it up for each chorus, often forces you to slam everything in at once.
Plus, the three repetitions gives you a beautiful structural arc upon which to build your story. Remember your Year 9 teacher drumming ‘Beginning, Middle, and End?’ into you? She/He wasn’t lying. Three repetitions is just long enough for you to build up a Setting/Conflict/Resolution-type scenario without waffling.
So give it a go. It’s actually a fair whack easier than having to produce separate arrangements for Verses, Choruses, and Middle 8’s. Just make one little progression and repeat it three times. No wonder all those catheter-wielding octogenarian Folkies still cling to it.