“I love you” is one of those phrases we measure precisely, down to the smallest change in breath and intention. Speaking it, singing it and hearing it. Especially the first time, and the last few times.
At least one important person in your life will have said “I love you”, without meaning it. A deep, protective human instinct awakes in your heart and warns you: “Beware“
If it wasn’t too recent and it isn’t too painful, think back. What alerted your heart to the lie? Did the word ‘love‘ sound too thin and hollow? Or was ‘I love you’ overstuffed with emotion? What detail in the sound tipped you off to a falseness in the words?You don’t have the words to answer that question precisely. You ‘know’ the answer, but not in language. Feeling bypasses the brain. You register the ‘untruth’ as a physical sensation. It offends you and it hurts you, in unequal measure.
When you’re singing the word ‘love’, remember that bitter feeling of betrayal. Sing ‘love’ unconvincingly and you give your audience a small dose of discontent. They will feel that something doesn’t quite ring true. Yes, the song will carry them on past that uncomfortable millisecond, but a ghost of it will remain in their hearts.
I wrote about ‘white chocolate love‘: the enthusiastic, neutral version of love you learn in English class, here. White chocolate love feels plain and unadorned. Enough for I love History, but not enough for I love you:
You can sing a white chocolate love if your songwriter has never been in love. Or if the word love appears in your song as a simple, abstract noun. Once love‘s directed at another person, once you’re singing “I love you/her/him” you need to add flavour and feeling. As you would in real life.
There has to be a difference between “I love Geography” and “I love you” (even when the you in question lives and breathes Geography).
If your songwriter is writing about straightforward, romantic, celebratory love you need graduate no further than milk chocolate (we’ll come to dark chocolate love another time). Rich and full-flavoured, tender love that your listeners can believe and enjoy. Love where the letters cuddle closer together, a warm, rounded sound:
How do you pour colour and flavour into your voice? By believing what you’re singing in the moment that you sing it. Belief will shape your breath and your mouth, lips and tongue. Your audience will believe you if you believe yourself.
If you’re going through the motions, you will cause your audience discomfort. They may not forgive you. They certainly won’t love you.
A milk chocolate love song? Remember the jolly, young, uncommitted, generalised white-chocolate Beatles song Love Me Do? As the Beatles grew up, their experience of romantic love grew up with them. And found its way into their songs.
Paul McCartney wrote And I Love Her in 1964, with long-term girlfriend Jane Asher in mind. It’s a milk chocolate song. Do you believe Paul when he sings I love her? What makes you believe him? Would Jane’s mum and dad believe him?
Once you believe what you’re singing, you can sound honourable in love, even with a man in high heels and a long sparkly coat trying his hardest to distract you. By the way, can you hear the Stephan Grapelli/Django Reinhardt “Quintette Du Hot Club” influences?
What do Noddy Holder and Paul McCartney share in their singing of the word love? Sincerity. Like Goldilock’s porridge, there’s neither too much nor too little seasoning. The love tastes just right.
There’s no formula for this. Think what makes you believe the word when it’s spoken to you, or when you speak it truly to a beloved. Put that thought in your head when you sing the word love and your thoughts will shape your breath, your lips, your tongue and your mouth. Love will come out true, and you will be believed. It’s as simple as that.
We humans are hypersensitive to the truth of important words and love is the most important word of all. Remember that when you sing it.
© Sing Better English, 2016