When you listen to the Stranglers’ song Golden Brown, pay close attention to the word brown. Do you notice anything unusual?
Hugh Cornwell luxuriates in the diphthong of brown. He bends the word to suit the lush atmosphere of his song. He stretches the word to create unity between the two lines of music. Think how Golden Brown would change if Hugh chose to sing brown as a short, clipped word. Here‘s the sheet music, so you can see how the song works.
Now listen to the same word, brown, in the Rolling Stones song Brown Sugar. It’s the same word, but does it sound the same? Is brown longer or shorter when Mick sings it?
Singers make all kinds of subtle decisions when they sing in English. It’s good to be aware of them if you want to cover their song. If Hugh had chosen to sing the word brown just like Mick, would it have suited the mood and the music of Golden Brown? If Mick had sung brown long and luxuriously, like Hugh, would it have suited the blues rhythm of Brown Sugar?
Just because you know how a word is usually pronounced in English, don’t assume that ‘standard’ pronunciation English is always appropriate in a song. It isn’t. Use your ears wisely. English is a wonderfully flexible language. It stretches and bends to suit the music and the meaning of a song. You need to bend and stretch with it.
© Sing Better English, 2014