“It was my mate who convinced me to do it. He ran a car showroom, and he said, ‘I’ve got this group come from Australia, but the singer’s not very good. Can you do a demo for me?’ I said, ‘What do I get?’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t have any money. I’ll give you a set of carpets.’ That was 1969″
If you want to cover In a Broken Dream: it’s worth thinking about Rod’s choices. He places emphasis on words in a ‘non-standard’ way. The music leads him. As it should.
Watch out for:
- Every day – a smooth, open, easy beginning is crucial to the atmosphere of In a Broken Dream. Take your time. Plenty of time. Slide into the words. Give every day plenty of light, air and space. First words set the tone for a song.
- Don’t sing hevery day. Don’t sing every day.
- Rod sings ev’ry day. Why? He gives a generous stretch to the diphthong of ay. He links the final, elastic y of day onto the following I. Ev’ry day-yI.
- Why? Every day has a lot of work to do. Take it slow. Cherish the sound in your mouth. You have nothing to gain by rushing into the song. Take In a Broken Dream’s long, deep, intro/guitar solo as your guide. Maintain the song’s atmosphere in your voice. Otherwise you break the musical spell.
- Rod relaxes down into the flow of the song on the word time. The music leaves a clear gap for the human voice to slide into place: Every day I spend my … is introduced and accompanied by silence. The Hammond organ begins to play again as Rod swoops into the word time, welcoming his voice into the music.
- Give the word I its full, wide, double diphthong dimensions in this song. Don’t clip it short. I needs plenty of space if you want your audience to take your sadness seriously. You’re telling a story about yourself. About ‘I’. Make your audience pay attention to the I of your tale. Skip over that I and you’ll sound as if you’re cold and clinical about your own love life. Think about it.
- The importance of I is emphasised by the rhyme scheme of the first verse. My/time/wine/find/sign: they all echo the I diphthong. That’s no coincidence. Keep the vowel sounds in each word expansive and springy. Let them breathe.
- The super-close rhyming matters. Why? Because the simple rhymes establish a mesmerising, repetitive pattern. Diphthongs give the rhyming words extra dips and dimensions, but the pattern’s so easy to guess that the listener is lulled into thinking they can predict it. That’s a set-up. (We’ll come to the payoff in a minute).
- Make a pattern, break a pattern is a powerful tool in speech, songwriting and singing. Change, when it comes, jumps to the listener’s attention in a moment of surprise. Your audience pays extra attention, trying to ‘understand’ the new pattern and connect it to the old pattern.
- Hours/towers/flowers. The repetition’s decreasing, the diphthong has changed, but the rhymes are as close as ever. Make sure you sing the er sound in each word as a relaxed schwa. In fact, all the rhymes of In a Broken Dream are easy, open sounds. For contrast with the payoff.
- The payoff arrives in the chorus, with the brittle sound of broken. After far/scar and are, with their open-mouthed, relaxed rhymes, broken, with its sudden snap of a k, feels even more broken.
- Rod adds extra energy to broken by pronouncing it in an unusual way. He slightly rolls the r, which shortens the o vowel. Just enough to make you notice. His pronunciation of broken is emphatic and poetic.
It’s up to you to paint meaning into your words when you sing them. Words on the page are blank canvases. Scrabble counters in a row.
Rod Stewart sings one meaning into broken dream in his song. But think of Green Day‘s use of broken dream in their song Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Billie Joe Armstrong wants you to imagine a thick blanket of broken dreams. Enough to cover a boulevard. (There’s a vivid songwriter’s choice in boulevard. Why not avenue or promenade? Or interstate? All are roads, all have the necessary 3 syllables, but none has the pleasingly intriguing discordance of a boulevard and broken dreams).
Billie Joe links broken and dreams, rolling the words together. The plural ‘s’ isn’t strong enough on its own. Rod, on the other hand, wants you to feel the pain of just one dream, his dream, being broken. He separates broken and dream. It’s a subtle, but powerful choice.
For Rod, the action of breaking is where he wants sympathy from his audience. Rod sings one woman’s cruel, unexpected action and the pain it causes him. For Green Day, it’s the number of broken dreams that’s important. Billie Joe sings quantity and existential disappointment into broken dreams :
As I write all this, I’m aware that I’m making In a Broken Dream sound like a highly engineered work of English. Not a bit of it. David Bentley, the songwriter, remembers writing it quickly:
“That afternoon, while I was waiting for my girlfriend to turn up for after-work drinks, I tapped out some random feeling-sorry-myself lyrics and, in the evening I put some chords and a melody to the words”
Persuasive language comes naturally to us humans.
Your job, as a singer, is to polish the words until they make the music shine. As Mr Stewart says:
“I just dig deep with the melody and sing it the best way I can. That’s enough for me”
© Sing Better English, 2016