When you sing in English, small words offer big opportunities. They can stretch and dance in song. Give them room; pay them attention. Be ready for Russian doll words: tiny words that appear then reappear, nestled inside bigger, emotion-carrying words. Listen to tiny ‘in‘, working alone and within:
Sheffield songwriter Richard Hawley is known for his pared back lyrics, vivid in their simplicity. If you’re writing a song, Richard’s work is the perfect reminder that plain English words, used well, have great emotional power.
Listen out for the tiny word go in Which Way Do I Go? Its vowel sound ripples through the song, popping up in knowing, shadow, won’t and, of course, low:
What should you do as a singer covering Which Way Do I Go? (or any other song with Russian Doll words). Don’t overemphasise or overplay the sound echoes, but notice them as you prepare to sing the song. They’re part of the internal music of the words. Richard Hawley chose them for a reason. You need to feel the reason too. You need to sing his song as if you’d chosen the words yourself.
Why did Richard choose Which way do I go, instead of Which way should I go? They’re subtly different questions. You need to understand the difference, and to understand Richard’s choice, if you want to inhabit his song.
When you sing a cover (especially if English isn’t your native language): Start with the small words when you sing. They are gifts to you. Never ignore them. Never take them for granted. All sounds carry meaning in song. The smallest words are building blocks for emotion. Never waste them.
By the way, Richard shares his Sheffield heritage with the Arctic Monkeys:
And with Jarvis Cocker: