Category Archives: Diphthongs

What the Stranglers did to their Diphthongs

R.I.P. Dave Greenfield. Keyboardist, songwriter and singer.

When you listen to the Stranglers’ song Golden Brown, pay close attention to the way Hugh Conwell sings the word brown:

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Don’t Fear the Reaper

When you invite Death into a love song, how do you keep your audience sensing eternity, not endings? You build a regular, reassuring heartbeat of guitar and drums, with a hint of melancholy in the A minor scale.  You use words with warm, round ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘y’ and ‘b’ sounds. No guillotine cuts of ‘k’, ‘tt‘ or ‘ss’. No heavy, dead thuds of ‘d’ or ‘ug’. Light words, sung lightly, layered with the lalala of summertime. Death becomes a fact, not a fear; a natural part of life and love:

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Fire – Five Ways

English words are like onions, when you sing. Chop them, roast them whole, caramelise them, scatter them as crunchy red raw rings on a salad. They never stop being onions, but you’re in charge of the flavour and the texture they provide.

Fire is a classic onion. We all know what fire is. It’s the singer’s job to make us feel what fire ‘is’ in their song.

Arthur Brown sings a powerful, all-encompassing fire. The fire of myth. Wicker Man, Hell-fire, Prometheus. Fire as pure element. Fi-ya:

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Beware of the Beautiful Stranger

‘Stranger’ is one of the most powerful words in English. We humans learned to survive by treating the unknown with caution. A tiny part of our ancient brain twitches still whenever we hear the word stranger. Our defences go up. We pay close, wary attention.

When stranger is paired with beautiful, we’re in the shape-shifting land of myth and fairy-tale; the pull and push of dangerous attraction. We’d like to beware, but the problem is how?

William Maw Egley - "The Lady of Shallott."
William Maw Egley – “The Lady of Shallott.”

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Windshield wipers, splishin’, splashin’

If I told you that 16th century English aristocrats created their own posher version of a French girl’s name, what kind of invention would you expect? Frideswide? Lettice? Josian?  Wrong.

It’s a name that gives nothing away. At first glance, it’s plain. So plain that it’s become a byword for anonymity in the US. But it’s a name that camouflages a wealth of possibilities for songwriters – it’s easy to rhyme, its diphthong expands, it’s easy to sing.

Any guesses?  Here’s a cryptic Italian clue:

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