Writing for Vaudeville (B)
by Brett Page

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Public Domain Books

Chapter XXII - The Elements of a Successful Lyric

One question about song-writing is often asked but will never be settled: Which is more important, the music or the words? Among the publishers with whom I have discussed this question is Louis Bernstein, of Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. He summed up what all the other publishers and song-writers I have known have said:

“A great melody may carry a poor lyric to success, and a great lyric may carry a poor melody; but for a song to become widely popular you must have both a great melody and a great lyric.”

This is but another way of stating the fact noted in the preceding chapter, that the words and music of a popular song-hit are indivisible. And yet Mr. Bernstein gives an authoritative reply to the question with which this chapter opens.

Charles K. Harris put it in another way. Referring particularly to the ballad–and to the particular style of ballad that has made him famous–he said:

“The way to the whistling lips is always through the heart. Reach the heart through your lyrics, and the lips will whistle the emotion via the melody. When the heart has not been touched by the lyric, the lips will prove rebellious. They may, indeed, whistle the melody once, even twice, but it takes more than that to make a song truly popular. A catchy tune is not sufficient in itself. It goes far, it is true, but it will not go the entire distance of popularity, or even two-thirds of the distance, unless it is accompanied by a catchy lyric.”

You may read into this a leaning toward the lyric, if you like. And it might be better if you did, for you would then realize that your part of a popular song must be as “great” as you can make it. But whatever may be your opinion, it does not alter the fact that both Mr. Harris and Mr. Bernstein have pointed out–catchy words are needed as much as catchy melody. And permit me to say very humbly that personally I have no leaning toward the musical one of the twins: my reason for discussing first the musical elements, is that a lyric writer often is called on to fit words to music, and because an understanding of the musical elements forms a fine foundation for an easy, and therefore a quick, dissection of the popular song–that is all.


In its original meaning, a lyric is verse designed to be sung to the accompaniment of music. Nowadays lyrical poetry is verse in which the poet’s personal emotions are strongly shown. Popular song-lyrics especially are not only designed to be sung, but are verses that show a great deal of emotion–any kind of emotion. But remember this point: Whatever and how great soever may be the emotion striving for expression, the words designed to convey it do not become lyrics until the emotion is shown, and shown in a sort of verse which we shall presently examine. If you convey emotion, your words may be worth thousands of dollars. If you fail to convey it, they will be only a sad joke.

As illustrations of this vital point, and to serve as examples for the examination of the elements of the popular lyric, read the words of the following famous songs; and while you are reading them you will see vividly how music completes the lyric. Stripped of its music, a popular song-lyric is often about as attractive as an ancient actress after she has taken off all the make-up that in the setting of the stage made her look like a girl. Words with music become magically one, the moving expression of the emotion of their day.


All the popular song lyrics quoted in this volume are copyright property and are used by special permission of the publishers, in each instance personally granted to the author of this book. Many of the lyrics have never before been printed without their music. Warning:–Republication in any form by anyone whosoever will meet with civil and criminal prosecution by the publishers under the copyright law.


Words and Music by IRVING BERLIN

Oh, ma honey, oh, ma honey,
Better hurry and let’s meander,
Ain’t you goin’, ain’t you goin,’
To the leader man, ragged meter man,
Oh, ma honey, oh, ma honey,
Let me take you to Alexander’s grand stand, brass
Ain’t you comin’ along?


Come on and hear, come on and hear
Alexander’s ragtime band,
Come on and hear, come on and hear,
It’s the best band in the land,
They can play a bugle call like you never heard
So natural that you want to go to war;
That’s just the bestest band what am, honey lamb,
Come on along, come on along,
Let me take you by the hand,
Up to the man, up to the man, who’s the leader of
  the band,
And if you care to hear the Swanee River played in
Come on and hear, come on and hear Alexander’s
ragtime Band.

Oh, ma honey, oh, ma honey,
There’s a fiddle with notes that screeches,
Like a chicken, like a chicken,
And the clarinet is a colored pet,
Come and listen, come and listen,
To a classical band what’s peaches, come now,
Better hurry along.



On a mountain in Virginia stands a lonesome pine,
Just below is the cabin home, of a little girl of mine,
Her name is June,
And very very soon,
She’ll belong to me,
For I know she’s waiting there for me,
’Neath that old pine tree.


In the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia,
On the trail of the lonesome pine,
In the pale moonshine our hearts entwine,
Where she carved her name and I carved mine,
Oh, June, like the mountains I’m blue,
Like the pine, I am lonesome for you,
In the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia,
On the trail of the lonesome pine.
I can hear the tinkling water-fall far among the hills,
Bluebirds sing each so merrily, to his mate rapture
They seem to say, Your June is lonesome too.
Longing fills her eyes,
She is waiting for you patiently,
Where the pine tree sighs.



Just a glance in your eyes, my bonnie Kate,
  Then over the sea go I,
While the sea-gulls circle around the ship,
  And the billowy waves roll high.
And over the sea and away, my Kate,
  Afar to the distant West;
But ever and ever a thought I’ll have,
  For the lassie who loves me best.


When the bell in the lighthouse rings ding, dong,
When it clangs with its warning loud and long,
  Then a sailor will think of his sweetheart so true,
  And long for the day he’ll come back to you;
And his love will be told in the bell’s brave song
When the bell in the lighthouse rings ding, dong,
  Ding!  Dong!  Ding!  Dong!
When the bell in the lighthouse rings
  Ding!  Dong!  Ding!  Dong!

For a day is to come, my bonnie Kate,
  When joy in our hearts shall reign
And we’ll laugh to think of the dangers past,
  When you rest in my arms again.
For back to your heart I will sail, my Kate,
  With love that is staunch and true;
In storm or in calm there’s a star of hope,
  That’s always to shine for you.



Everyone talk-a how they make-a da love
Call-a da sweet name like-a da dove,
It makes me sick when they start in to speak-a
Bout the moon way up above.
What’s-a da use to have-a big-a da moon?
What’s the use to call-a da dove
If he no like-a she, and she no like-a he,
The moon can’t make them love.  But,


Sweet Italian love,
Nice Italian love,

You don’t need the moon-a-light your love to tell her,
In da house or on da roof or in da cellar,
Dat’s Italian love,
Sweet Italian love;
When you kiss-a your pet,
And it’s-a like-a spagette,
Dat’s Italian love.

Ev’ryone say they like da moon-a da light,
There’s one-a man up in da moon all-a right,
But he no tell-a that some other nice feller
Was-a kiss your gal last night.
Maybe you give your gal da wedding-a ring,
Maybe you marry, like-a me
Maybe you love your wife, maybe for all your life,
But dat’s only maybe.  But,


Sweet Italian love,
Nice Italian love,
When you squeeze your gal and she no say, “Please
When you got dat twenty kids what call you “Papa!"
Dat’s Italian love,
Sweet Italian love;
When you kiss one-a time,
And it’s-a feel like-a mine,
Dat’s Italian love!



Once I got stuck on a sweet little German,
  And oh what a German was she,
The best what was walking, well, what’s the use talking,
  Was just made to order for me.
So lovely and witty; more yet, she was pretty,
  You don’t know until you have tried.
She had such a figure, it couldn’t be bigger,
  And there was some one yet beside.


Oh how that German could love,
  With a feeling that came from the heart,
She called me her honey, her angel, her money,
  She pushed every word out so smart.
She spoke like a speaker, and oh what a speech,
  Like no other speaker could speak;
Ach my, what a German when she kissed her Herman,
  It stayed on my cheek for a week.

This girl I could squeeze, and it never would hurt,
  For that lady knew how to squeeze;
Her loving was killing, more yet, she was willing,
  You never would have to say please.
I just couldn’t stop her, for dinner and supper,
  Some dishes and hugs was the food;
When she wasn’t nice it was more better twice;
  When she’s bad she was better than good.

Sometimes we’d love for a week at a time,
  And it only would seem like a day;
How well I remember, one night in December,
  I felt like the middle of May.
I’ll bet all I’m worth, that when she came on earth,
  All the angels went out on parade;
No other one turned up, I think that they burned up
  The pattern from which she was made.


Words and Music by CHARLES K. HARRIS

You sit at home and calmly read your paper,
  Which tells of thousands fighting day by day,
Of homeless babes and girls who’ve lost their sweet-hearts,
  But to your mind it all seems far away.


When it strikes home, gone is the laughter,
  When it strikes home your heart’s forlorn,
When it strikes home the tears fall faster,
  For those dear ones who’ve passed and gone.
And when you hear of brave boys dying,
  You may not care, they’re not your own;
But just suppose you lost your loved ones,
  That is the time when it strikes home.
Out on the street, a newsboy crying “Extra,"
  Another ship has gone down, they say;
’Tis then you kiss your wife and little daughter,
  Give heartfelt thanks that they are safe today.



The night time, the night time is calling me,
  It’s dream-time, sweet dream-time, for you and me.
I’m longing, I’m longing to close my eyes,
  For there a sweet vision lies.


My little dream girl,
You pretty dream girl,
Sometimes I seem, girl, to own your heart.
Each night you haunt me,
By day you taunt me,
I want you, I want you, I need you so.
Don’t let me waken,
Learn I’m mistaken,
Find my faith shaken, in you, sweetheart.
I’d sigh for,
I’d cry for, sweet dreams forever,
My little dream girl, good-night.

While shadows are creeping through darkest night,
  In dream-land, sweet dream-land, there’s your love-light.
It’s beaming, it’s gleaming, and all for me,
  Your vision I long to see.


Music by SOL. P. LEVY

Oh, those happy days, when first we met, before you
  said good-bye,
You soon forgot, I can’t forget, no matter how I try,
Those happy hours like incense burn,
  They’re all that’s left for me,
You took my heart and in return
  You gave a memory.

Oh, memories, dear memories, of days I can’t forget,
Dear memories, sweet memories, my eyes with tears grow wet,
  For like a rose that loves the sun,
  And left to die when day is done,
  I gave my all, the heart you won,
Sweetheart, I can’t forget.

In all my dreams I dream of you, your arms enfold
  me, dear.
Your tender voice makes dreams seem true, your
  lips to mine are near.
But when I turn your kiss to take,
  You turn away from me,
In bitter sadness I awake,
  Awake to memory.

Oh, memories, dear memories, a face I can’t forget,
Oh, memories, sweet memories, a voice that haunts me yet,
  For like a rose that loves the sun,
  And left to die when day is done,
  I gave my all, the heart you won,
Sweetheart, I can’t forget.



On the old farm-house veranda
There sat Silas and Miranda,
  Thinking of the days gone by.
Said he “Dearie, don’t be weary,
You were always bright and cheery,
  But a tear, dear, dims your eye."
Said she, “They’re tears of gladness,
Silas, they’re not tears of sadness,
  It is fifty years today since we were wed."
Then the old man’s dim eyes brightened,
And his stern old heart it lightened,
  As he turned to her and said:


“Put on your old grey bonnet with the blue ribbons
on it,
While I hitch old Dobbin to the shay,
And through the fields of clover, we’ll drive up to Dover,
  On our Golden Wedding Day.”

It was in the same old bonnet,
With the same blue ribbon on it,
  In the old shay by his side,
That he drove her up to Dover,
Thro’ the same old fields of clover,
  To become his happy bride.
The birds were sweetly singing
And the same old bells were ringing,
  As they passed the quaint old church where they were wed.
And that night when stars were gleaming,
The old couple lay a-dreaming,
  Dreaming of the words he said:



There was a fire burning in my heart,
  Burning for years and for years,
Your love and kisses gave that flame a start,
  I put it out with my tears;
You don’t remember, I can’t forget,
That old affection lives with me yet,
I keep on longing, to my regret,
I know I can’t forget.


There’s a little spark of love still burning,
  And yearning down in my heart for you,
There’s a longing there for your returning,
  I want you, I do!
So come, come, to my heart again,
Come, come, set that love aflame,
For there’s a little spark of love still burning,
And yearning for you.

I left you laughing when I said good-bye,
  Laughing, but nobody knew
How much relief I found when I could cry,
  I cried my heart out for you;
I’ve loved you more than you ever know,
Though years have passed I’ve wanted you so,
Bring back the old love, let new love grow,
Come back and whisper low:


The roses each one, met with the sun,
  Sweetheart, when I met you.
The sunshine had fled, the roses were dead,
  Sweetheart, when I lost you.


I lost the sunshine and roses,
I lost the heavens of blue,

  I lost the beautiful rainbow,
I lost the morning dew;
  I lost the angel who gave me
Summer the whole winter through,
  I lost the gladness that turned into sadness,
When I lost you.

The birds ceased their song, right turned to wrong,
  Sweetheart, when I lost you.
A day turned to years, the world seem’d in tears,
  Sweetheart, when I lost you.


Having read these eleven lyrics of varying emotions, note the rather obvious fact that

1. Most Popular Songs Have Two Verses and One Chorus

I am not now speaking of the “production song,” which may have a dozen verses, and as many different catch-lines in the chorus to stamp the one chorus as many different choruses, but only of the popular song. And furthermore, while two different choruses are sometimes used in popular songs, the common practice is to use but one chorus.

Now let us see the reason for a peculiarity that must have struck you in reading these lyrics.

2. A Regular Metre is Rare

Metre is the arrangement of emphatic and unemphatic syllables in verse on a measured plan, and is attained by the use of short syllables of speech varied in different rotations by long syllables. The metrical character of English poetry depends upon the recurrence of similarly accented syllables at short and more or less regular intervals. Let us take this as the definition of what I mean by metre in the few sentences in which I shall use the word.

Among recognized poets there has always been a rather strict adherence to regularity of form. Indeed, at times in the history of literature, poetry, to be considered poetry, had to confine itself to an absolutely rigid form. In such periods it has been as though the poet were presented with a box, whose depth and breadth and height could not be altered, and were then ordered to fill it full of beautiful thoughts expressed in beautiful words, and to fill it exactly, or be punished by having his work considered bad.

In ages past this rigidity of rule used to apply to the song-poet also, although the minstrel has always been permitted more latitude than other poets. To-day, however, the poet of the popular song may write in any measure his fancy dictates, and he may make his metre as regular or as irregular as he wishes. He may do anything he wants, in a song. Certainly, his language need not be either exact or “literary.” Practically all that is demanded is that his lyrics convey emotion. The song-poet’s license permits a world of metrical and literary sinning. I am not either apologizing for or praising this condition–I am simply stating a proved fact.

3. Irregularity of Metre May Even Be a Virtue

Even without “scanning” the lyrics of the eleven songs you have just read their irregularity of metre is plain. It is so plain that some of the irregularities rise up and smite your ears. This is why some popular songs seem so “impossible” without their music. And the reason why they seem so pleasing with their music is that the music takes the place of regularity with delightful satisfaction. The very irregularity is what often gives the composer his opportunity to contribute melodious punches, for the words of a popular song are a series of catchy phrases. In some cases irregularity in a song may be the crowning virtue that spells success.

4. Regularity and Precision of Rhymes Are Not Necessary

There is no need to point to specific examples of the lack of regularity in the recurrence of rhymes in most of the lyric specimens here printed, or in other famous songs. Nor is there any necessity to instance the obvious lack of precise rhyming. Neither of these poetic qualities has ever been a virtue of the average popular song-poet.

So far as the vital necessities of the popular song go, rhymes may occur regularly or irregularly, with fine effect in either instance, and the rhymes may be precise or not. To rhyme moon with June is not unforgivable. The success of a popular song depends on entirely different bases. Nevertheless, a finely turned bit of rhyming harmony may strike the ear and stand out from its fellows like a lovely symphony of fancy. If you have given any attention to this point of rhyming you can recall many instances of just what I mean.

5. Strive for Regular and Precise Rhyming–If Fitting

If you can be regular and if you can be precise in the use of rhymes in your song-poem, be regular and be precise. Don’t be irregular and slovenly just because others have been and succeeded. You will not succeed if you build your lyrics on the faults and not on the virtues of others. The song-poem that gleams like a flawless gem will have a wider and more lasting success–all other things being equal.

On the other hand, it is absolutely fatal to strive for regularity and precision, and thereby lose expression. If you have to choose, choose irregularity and faulty rhymes. This is an important bit of advice, for a song-poem is not criticized for its regularity and precision–it is either taken to heart and loved in spite of its defects, or is forgotten as valueless. As Winifred Black wrote of her child, “I love her not for her virtues, but oh, for the endearing little faults that make her what she is.”

6. Hints On Lyric Measures

Reference to the lyrics already instanced will show you that they are written in various measures. And while it is foreign to my purpose to discuss such purely technical points of poetry, [1] permit me to direct your attention to a few points of song measure.

[1] The Art of Versification, by J. Berg Esenwein and Mary Eleanor Roberts–one of the volumes in “The Writer’s Library"–covers this subject with a thoroughness it would be useless for me to attempt. Therefore if you wish to take this subject up more in detail, I refer you to this excellent book.

An individual poetic measure is attained by the use of metre in a certain distinct way. Because the normal combinations of the emphatic and the unemphatic syllables of the English language are but five, there are only five different poetic measures. Let us now see how an investigation of the bafflingly unexact measures of our examples will yield–even though their irregular natures will not permit of precise poetic instances–the few helpful hints we require.

(a) The first measure–called by students of poetry the trochaic measure–is founded on the use of a long or emphatic syllable followed by a short or unemphatic syllable, It has a light, tripping movement, therefore it is peculiarly fitted for the expression of lively subjects. One of our examples shows this rather clearly:

      ’           ’         ’         ’            ’
    There’s a  | little | spark of | love still | burning

Yet this is not a measure that is commonly found in the popular song. Other combinations seem to fit popular song needs quite as well, if not better.

(b) The second measure–called the iambic measure–is the reverse of the first. That is, the short or unemphatic syllable precedes the long or emphatic syllable. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band “ uses this measure at the beginning of the chorus.

             ’         ’          ’         ’
        Come on | and hear | come on | and hear

The first verse of Mr. Harris’s song shows this measure even more clearly:

        ’        ’          ’         ’           ’
   You sit | at home | and calm | ly read | your pa | per

This second measure, being less sustained in syllabic force, is more easily kept up than the first measure. It is therefore in common use.

(c) The third measure–called the dactylic measure–is formed of a combination of three syllables. Its characteristic is an emphatic syllable followed by two unemphatic syllables, as:

                   ’             ’
             The | old oak en | buck et

                   ’             ’
             The | iron bound | buck et

(d) The fourth measure–called by the frighteningly long name of amphibrachic measure–is formed by a short or unemphatic syllable followed by a long or emphatic syllable, which is followed again by another short or unemphatic syllable.

            ’                ’              ’
         I won der  | who’s kiss ing | her now

(e) The fifth measure–called anapestic measure–is made up of two short or unemphatic followed by a long or emphatic syllable.

            ’             ’                   ’
  When the bell | in the light | house rings ding | dong

All these three-syllabic measures have a quicker movement than the two-syllabic, owing to the greater number of unaccented, unemphatic syllables. They lend themselves to a rushing impetuosity of expression which is the notable characteristic of the popular song. But they are not always regular, even in high-grade poetry. Therefore in the popular song we may look for, and certainly be sure to find, all sorts of variations from the regular forms here given. Indeed, regularity, as has been clearly pointed out, is the exception and not the rule; for few single lines, and, in a still more marked degree, almost no songs, adhere to one measure throughout. Precisely as “apt alliteration’s artful aid” may be used or not used as may suit his purpose best, so the song-writer makes regularity of measure subservient to the effect he desires.

However, I give these examples not with a view to the encouragement of either regularity or irregularity. My purpose is to show you what combinations are possible, and to say, as the jockey whispers in the eager ear of the racehorse he has held back so long, “Go to it!” Break every rule you want to–only break a record. As Mr. Berlin said, “I’ve broken every rule of versification and of music, and the result has often been an original twist. In popular songs a comparative ignorance of music is an advantage. Further, since my vocabulary is somewhat limited through lack of education, it follows that my lyrics are simple.”

This is only Berlin’s modest way of saying that not one in ten successful song-writers know anything about the art of music, and that very few are well enough educated to err on the side of involved language and write other than simple lyrics. He drew the application as to himself alone, although his native genius makes it less true of him than of many another less gifted. The big point of this observation lies in his emphasis on the fact that

7. Simple Lyrics and Simple Music Are Necessary

Perhaps in Mr. Berlin’s statement rests the explanation of the curious fact that nearly all the successful popular song-writers are men who had few educational advantages in youth. Most of them are self-made men who owe their knowledge of English and the art of writing to their own efforts. Conversely, it may also explain why many well-educated persons strive for success in song-writing in vain. They seem to find it difficult to acquire the chief lyric virtue–simplicity.

Not only must the words of a popular song be “easy,” but the idea of the lyric must be simple. You cannot express a complex idea in the popular song-form, which is made up of phrases that sometimes seem short and abrupt. And, even if you could overcome this technical difficulty, you would not find an audience that could grasp your complex idea. Remember that a majority of the purchasers of popular songs buy them at the five- and ten-cent store. To sell songs to this audience, you must make your music easy to sing, your words easy to say and your idea simple and plain.

8. Rhythm the Secret of Successful Songs

Being barred from other than the simplest of ways, by his own limitations, his introducers and his market, the song-writer has to depend upon a purely inherent quality in his song for appeal. This appeal is complex in its way, being composed of the lure of music, rhyme and emotion, but when analyzed all the parts are found to have one element in common. This element to which all parts contribute is rhythm.

Now by rhythm I do not mean rhyme, nor metre, nor regularity. It has nothing necessarily to do with poetic measures nor with precision of rhymes. Let me attempt to convey what I mean by saying that the rhythm of a song is, as Irving Berlin said, the swing. To the swing of a song everything in it contributes. Perhaps it will be clearer when I say that rhythm is compounded of the exactness with which the words clothe the idea and with which the music clothes the words, and the fineness with which both words and music fit the emotion. Rhythm is singleness of effect. Yet rhythm is more–it is singleness of effect plus a sort of hypnotic fascination.

And here we must rest as nearly content as we can, for the final effect of any work of art does not admit of dissection. I have shown you some of the elements which contribute to making a popular song popular, and in the next chapter we shall see still others which are best discussed in the direct application of the writing, but even the most careful exposition must halt at the heart of the mystery of art. The soul of a song defies analysis.

9. Where the “Punch” in the Lyric is Placed

Just as it is necessary for a popular song to have a punch somewhere in its music, so it must come somewhere in its lyric. Just what a lyrical punch is may be seen in the chorus of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.”

       In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
         On the trail of the lonesome pine,
       In the pale moonshine our hearts entwine,
         Where she carved her name and I carved mine,
       Oh, June, like the mountains I’m blue,
         Like the pine, I am lonesome for you!
       In the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia,
         On the trail of the lonesome pine.

The underlined words are plainly the punch lines of this famous song–the most attractive lines of the whole lyric. Note where they are placed–in the chorus, and next to the last lines. Read the chorus of “My Little Dream Girl” and you will find a similar example of punch lines:

       I’d sigh for,
       I’d cry for, sweet dreams forever,
       My little dream girl, good night.

These, also, are placed next to the last lines of the chorus.

The punch lines of “When it Strikes Home,” are found in

       And when you hear of brave boys dying,
         You may not care, they’re not your own,
       But just suppose you lost your loved one
         That is the time when it strikes home.

Here the punch is placed at the very end of the chorus.

Now test every song on your piano by this laboratory method. You will find that while there may be punch lines at the end of the verses there are nearly always punch lines at the end of the chorus. There must be a reason for this similarity in all these popular songs. And the reason is this: The emphatic parts of a sentence are the beginning and end. The emphatic part of a paragraph is the end. If you have a number of paragraphs, the last must be the most emphatic. This is a common rule of composition founded on the law of attention–we remember best what is said last. The same thing is true of songs. And song-writers are compelled by vaudeville performers to put a punch near the end of their choruses because the performer must reap applause. Thus commerce keeps the song-writer true to the laws of good art. Therefore remember:

The most attractive lines of a popular song must be the last lines, or next to the last lines, of the chorus.

This holds true whether the song is a “sob” ballad or a humorous number. And–strictly adhering to this rule–put a punch, if you can, at the end of each verse. But whether you put a punch at the end of a verse or not, always put a punch close to the end of your chorus.

10. Contrast an Element of the “Punch”

One of the easiest ways of securing the vitally necessary punch lies in contrast. Particularly is this true in humorous songs–it is the quick twist that wins the laughter. But in all songs contrast may form a large part of the punch element.

The ways of securing a contrast are too many to permit of discussion here, but I name a few:

You may get contrast by switching the application as Harris did in:

     You may not care, they’re not your own,
     But just suppose you lost your loved one.

Or you may get contrast by changing your metre and using a contrasting measure. While you may do this in the middle of the chorus, it is nearly always done throughout the chorus. I mean that the measure of the chorus is usually different from the measure used in the verse.

And of course when you change the measure of your lyric, the movement of the music changes too. It is in the resulting contrasting melody that lies much of the charm of the popular song.

But, whatever means you use, be sure you have a contrast somewhere in your lyric–a contrast either of subject matter, poetic measure or musical sounds.

11. Love the Greatest Single Element

If you will review all the great song successes of this year and of all the years that are past, you will come to the conclusion that without love there could be no popular song. Of course there have been songs that have not had the element of love concealed anywhere in their lyrics, but they are the exceptions.

If your song is not founded on love, it is well to add this element, for when you remember that the song’s reason for being is emotion, and that the most moving emotion in the world is love, it would seem to be a grave mistake to write any song that did not offer this easy bid for favor. If you have not love in your lyrics make haste to remedy the defect.

The ballad is perhaps the one form by which the greatest number of successful song-writers have climbed to fame. It is also one of the easiest types to write. It should seem worth while, then, for the newcomer to make a ballad one of his earliest bids for fame.

12. The Title

The title of a song is the advertising line, and therefore it must be the most attractive in your song. It is the whole song summed up in one line. It may be a single word or a half-dozen words. It is not the punch line always. It is often the very first line of the chorus, but it is usually the last line.

There is little need for constructive thought in choosing a title. All that is necessary is to select the best advertising line already written. You have only to take the most prominent line and write it at the top of your lyrics. Study the titles of the songs in this chapter and you will see how easy it is to select your title after you have written your song.

To sum up: a great lyric is as necessary to the success of a popular song as a great melody, but not more necessary. A lyric is a verse that conveys a great deal of emotion. Most popular songs have two verses and one chorus. A regular metre is rare; irregularity may even be a virtue. The regular occurrence of rhymes and precise rhymes are not necessary–but it is better to strive after regularity and precision. There are five lyrical measures common to all poetry, but you may break every rule if you only break a record. Rhythm–the swing–is the secret of successful songs. Every lyric must have one or more punch lines–which may occur at the end of each verse, but must be found in the last lines of the chorus. Contrast–either of idea, poetic measure or music–is one sure way of securing the punch. Love is the greatest single element that makes for success in a song idea. The one-word standard of popular-song writing is simplicity–music easy to sing, words easy to say, the idea simple and plain.


Chapter XX - Putting Together the One-Act Musical Comedy With Hints on Making the Burlesque Tab  •  Chapter XXI - The Musical Elements of the Popular Song  •  Chapter XXII - The Elements of a Successful Lyric  •  Chapter XXIII - Writing the Popular Song  •  Chapter XXIV - Manuscripts and Markets  •  Chapter XXV - How a Vaudeville Act is Booked  •  Appendix - Nine Famous Vaudeville Acts Complete  •  Glossary