Imagine this: you have quadruplets. It’s the night before their 9th birthday. You’re wrapping their identical presents, identically. You won’t let them accuse you of ribbon-length favouritism this year.
Your wrapping’s finished. You say, out loud, with relief: All wrapped up the same. You tip the sound of same forward onto the m, and close your mouth firmly. You finish the word quickly and neatly. Same, in your mouth, at this moment, communicates certainty. A job well done.
Your quadruplets get up early and set about examining the birthday parcels. This year they’ve decided they want to be treated as individuals. Discovering 4 identical parcels in a homogenous heap, they begin to wail inconsolably: All wrapped up the same.
How does the word same sound in the mouth of a distraught quad? They scoop a space out of the central diphthong and pour their disappointment into it. Stretching same into sa-a-ame. The m softens and loses its certainty as the word billows and blows with misery. Same word, different message.
Julian Cope uses same to power the chorus of his song Reward. Without certainty, without disappointment, but resonating with enigma. The video’s a rare chance to see how we used to do carpooling in the UK:
Reward’s powerful brass intro makes us sit up and pay attention. If Reward were a Shakespeare play, that fanfare would warn us that the king is just about to sweep onto the stage.
The first line of the song: Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news is intriguingly unexpected. The strong ss, tt and cks make the words easy to hear. Julian enunciates clearly, and most British people know the expression Bless my cotton socks. But few of us would guess where he’s planning to take us from that beginning.
The next line, something about kings with their buttons all assumed, draws us in even further because now we don’t understand. Julian’s moved ahead of us, just out of sight. But the insistent drum beat and Julian’s charisma persuade us that, whatever he’s saying, it’s important. We get the message that we should pay attention.
One line of clarity, one line of obscurity. We’re interested, but we’re lost. We listen even more closely to the next line, trying to get ourselves back in tune with the meaning of the song. Julian has primed us to notice him filling same with an unusual, elastic resonance at the end of the line. He repeats the line, and we hear same coming round quickly again, as stretchy as before. Unusual sounds, repeated exactly, signify ‘pay attention’.
Same sounds important, so we load it with all possible meaning, just in case we need it later in the song. Listening to a song for the first time is like playing a video game for the first time – you collect everything along the way, in the hope it will come in useful later.
Same is an important part of the build-up to the word reward. It would be hard to load the word reward with meaning all at once, without preparing the ground first. Singing same as Julian does is part of that careful preparation. Unconscious but powerful.
If English isn’t your first language, remember: if you shorten the word same in Reward, or try to rein it in, back to its standard dictionary form, you kill the power of the song. And all the powerful trumpets in the world won’t bring it back to life again.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – any English word with a diphthong is a gift to a singer. The smallest word can carry the heaviest meaning if you use its diphthong wisely. Think of Whitney Houston weaving wonders with I here.
If you’re singing in English, especially if English isn’t your first language, remember to search out the diphthongs in lyrics. Like nuggets of gold in river sand, they’ll reward your efforts.
By the way, Julian’s still investing English with resonance by stretching words to his purpose. Watch him speak about Neolithic Silbury Hill and the Avebury stones here and you’ll understand why he was able to make you pay attention to the simple word same:
© Sing Better English, 2015