The Ghostly D of Plan B

Watch Plan B sing “She Said.” He chose to include the actual phrase ‘she said’ 17 times in his song. The repetition is pure percussion. But his voice weaves a story around that repetition. Sometimes he lands on the of said hard, sometimes softly. And you, the listener, read him through the subtle messages contained within that choice. Just as the jury, and his girlfriend read him.

Why doesn’t he sing said exactly the same each time? Who is he trying to convince when he sings it: the jury, his girlfriend or himself? Watch his target change as the song goes on:

If English isn’t your first language, start here: Think about the first letters of the words that come after ‘said‘ – I, what, boy, stop. Which one makes him pronounce the d clearly? The BBC have a useful radio programme on pronouncing consonants before vowels here.

Those are the rules. But Plan B isn’t teaching English, he’s expressing himself in English. He takes the fact that ‘she said I‘ will always have a strong, percussive, before the vowel and uses it to punctuate his song. and said become the beat.

Plan B plays with the strength of that d. Listen to how strongly he pronounces it the first time, 0.31 seconds in – as he moves his hands in exasperation to convince the jury that he’d been tricked by the ‘other woman’. The first ‘she said’ is filled with ‘she tricked me by saying she loved me and, like a fool, I believed her’. There’s a lot riding on that d. It’s an old story that stretches all the way back to Eve.

The following sounds, in contrast, are scaled back, conversational. We all know how manipulative women can be, don’t we?” The repetition gives the words strength and the musical beat under every said reinforces it. Persuasive? He hopes so.

Plan B reminds us that the sound is significant by landing hard on the ed of: On the day that I got arrested/I’m innocent I contested/She just feels rejected/Had her heart broken by someone she’s obsessed with. Whenever a sound is emphasised, it reminds us, the audience, that it’s important and tells us to listen out for it, wherever it appears.

Plan B builds up the of said again (around 1.48) as passion builds and as his fate is sealed by his actions. His girlfriend’s crying tears in the gallery and he’s pleading for her understanding. What’s a red-blooded man to do when a woman says she loves him? It’s all the nightclub woman’s fault.

The of said diminishes as Plan B’s hopes diminish. The jury don’t look like they’re buying it’. He gives said a fairly strong ending at around 2.53, as a last chance to convince the jury that he’s been wronged, but, as hope fades, his she said fades into resignation, rather than a sense of entrapment.

The hard, sharp k consonants of lock me up, throw away the key crash their way into the song. It’s all over.

None of this is as obvious as it sounds. You see details when you look for them, but the effect of sound on the human heart is a subtle art. It’s unlikely that Plan B consciously planned it, but it’s certain that he recognised when it worked.

There’s a truth to the experience too, although, when he wrote the song, he didn’t have the loyal girlfriend to put up in the court gallery (ready to rhyme with that song by the Zutons, Valerie). As Plan B put it in this 2011 interview with the Guardian:

 “I don’t wanna find the right woman yet, ‘cos I’ll probably f**k it up. So I’d rather go with girls that only want me for my money or some ulterior motive, ‘cos they’re a lot easier not to phone back.”

If you’re singing in English, especially if English isn’t your mother tongue, always think of ghost letters, the consonants that mark the end of words, as another tool in your singing toolkit.

Ghosting end-consonants and then pronouncing them clearly is a subtly powerful emotional communicator in song. Think of Diana Ross here, Rosemary Clooney here, the Four Tops here, the Easybeats here, Gregory Porter here.

You can’t play with a sound if you don’t know it exists. It’s hard to hear the sounds when you learn English songs by ear. Always, always, always get a reliable lyric sheet.

Reliable – from the songwriter themself, by downloading original lyrics with the song, reading cd notes, or buying the sheet music. Read it while you listen to the song and mark the end-word consonants you hadn’t noticed. Then decide how to play with them in your cover version.

When you learn a song, do the Plan B test:

  • check that you’re ending your words cleanly. Shape your mouth to form the consonant, whether you sound it out or not.
  • check that you always pronounce the final consonant clearly whenever the next word starts with a vowel.
  • draw attention to final consonants by pronouncing them, whenever it helps the meaning of your song to do so. Think of Diana Ross. Repetition is a powerful tool – but only when it’s shaded with meaning.

Repetition = opportunity when you sing. Always.

If you repeat words exactly the same each time, like a dictionary robot, you’ll kill your song stone dead. Shade repeated end-of-word consonants and you shade the emotional message of the song. Try it.

Record yourself and listen back. Experiment. Over-pronounce the word-end consonant and then scale back into subtlety once you’ve got yourself into the habit. Play with the sounds.

Enjoy yourself.

And remember, Plan B’s sound pattern is just one possibility. When women sing his song, they tend to put more emphasis on love than she said. Watch Jessica Steele fill love with love and watch how said disappears into the background. No wonder all the coaches turned around for her: 

© Sing Better English, 2014


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