Repetition in Music

Repetition in modern is one of the most under-rated yet effective songwriting devices.  I’m referring to a chord progression or a chorus that repeats constantly for a bigger emotional pull than a song would have otherwise.  Early R.E.M. songs would often repeat the final chorus twice (sometimes three) for added special effect.

So here are so my favorite of said repetition, in no particular order.

The Beatles – I Want You (She’s So Heavy)  – This song is full of repetition.  It contains only 14 words, six of which are in the title.  What makes it interesting is the way on which Lennon sings the lyrics.  He croons, he yells, he moans all to represent the way that he feels towards Yoko.  Rarely has so much been said with so much.  As if that wasn’t enough, the famous arpeggiated guitar chord continues constantly with synthesizers and white noise for about 3 minutes leaving the listener hypnotized, and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable.  It doesn’t end until it suddenly stops, due to Lennon’s insistence they cut the tape for added effect.

The New Pornographers – The Bleeding Heart Show. The song starts out as a ballad, but exploded into a chant of “hey la hey la hey hey la” for about two minutes over which Neko Case gives perhaps her best vocal performance singing, “We have arrived – too late for the bleeding heart show.”  Personally, as great as this song is live, they should have kept the momentum going for another few minutes.

The Clash – Lost in the Supermarket. Although it sounds like a Mick Jones song with its heartfelt lyrics and mellon-collie feel, Joe Strummer actually wrote the song with Jones in mind.  “I’m all lost in the supermarket, I can no longer shop happily.  I can in here for the special offer, a guaranteed personality,” Jones sings sweetly in the chorus.  After the short guitar solo, the music softens with Jones repeating the chorus several times before Topper Headon kicks the beat back up as Strummer sings the chorus gruffly in the background as Jones admits, “I’m all lost.”  One of the best tracks from one of the best albums ever.

Van Morrison – Madame George. The music doesn’t really repeat, but this contains song of Morrison’s most famous lyrical and vocal repetitions.  And this is saying something for a man who is already known for emphasizing lyrical phrases.  If you were ever to put an Impressionist painting to music, it would be something like Madame George. It’s slow jazzy feel pulls you in and takes you along.  The last 4 minutes of the song contain Morrison repeating “the loves  to love, the loves to love, the loves to love,” several times.  After that, he sings “say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye to Madame George” like only Morrison can.  Whether or not Madame George is a drag queen or not, by the end of the song you feel like you’ve known him/her your whole life and you’re saying goodbye with Van Morrison.

Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer. Possibly Paul Simon’s greatest composition and an enduring favorite.  The verses contain some of Simon’s best lyrics about the narrator’s struggle to overcome poverty and his loneliness to make it in New York City.  This alone would make it a great song, but the repeated chorus of “lie la lie” makes it memorable and powerful.  Simon has stated about the song: “It’s not a failure of songwriting, because people like that and they put enough meaning into it, and the rest of the song has enough power and emotion, I guess, to make it go, so it’s all right. But for me, every time I sing that part… [softly], I’m a little embarrassed.”  Don’t be embarrassed, Paul for writing one of the best songs ever.

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