Category Archives: Rock

Don’t Fear the Reaper

When you invite Death into your love song, how do you keep It on message? You build a regular, reassuring heartbeat of guitar and drums, with a hint of melancholy in the A minor scale.  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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Paul McCartney

If you’re a musician, a songwriter, or simply a lover of music, you’ll find Paul McCartney’s extended interview/Q&A on BBC Radio 4’s “Mastertapes” fascinating.

The longer, downloadable radio version is here.

The video version is edited, with about 10 minutes removed, so, if you like A Day in the Life, find 24:25 minutes into the radio interview. McCartney talks about the shared songwriting with Lennon, about John Cage’s influence on the sound and about George Martin persuading the orchestra to follow unusual musical instructions. Paul says one member of the orchestra walked out in disgust when he was asked to ‘clap on the end of Hey Jude‘.

There’s something for everyone! If you teach music to children,  Paul has suggestions for inspiring lessons here.

© Sing Better English, 2016


The Letter and the Aeroplane

“The only thing I ever told that young man to do was sing ‘aeroplane’ instead of ‘airplane’ on ‘The Letter’— I was just tryin’ to make it flow better.”

Dan Penn, producer.

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The Weeping Song

Weeping is an ancient English word. Its sound and shape are crafted to speak directly to the human heart. We feel it; we don’t think it:

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Take Me Out, in Love and Despair

If you want to feel your brain dancing, listen to Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out. The lyrics give you opposite meanings for the same phrase and your brain begins to swerve between them. It’s the closest most of us get to being Schrödinger’s cat.

As soon as you know that the phrasal verb Take Me Out is the title of Franz Ferdinand’s song, your brain starts shuffling through all the possible meanings. You wait patiently for the singer, Alex Kapranos, to provide a clue and a context for you to choose the right one.

Franz Ferdinand are known for their surreal lyrics, so Take Me Out could be an unloved library book‘s monologue, or a dustbin feeling restless on collection day. All meanings are possible until Alex Kapranos makes things clear.

Alex plays you, like a cat with a ball of wool. He starts his song with words of love: ‘So if you’re lonely/You know I’m here waiting for you.’ 

“Aah,” thinks your brain. This time, for this song, take me out must mean, as the Cambridge Dictionary has it: ‘invite me somewhere to do something that you’ve planned and will pay for‘ in the sense of ‘take me out on a romantic date.’ Forget library books, dustbins or bank loans. Focus on romance.

Just as you relax into the ‘right’ meaning, Alex throws you a surprise. He sings: ‘I’m just a cross hair‘ and you feel your brain turning somersaults. Suddenly, in a love song, take me out also means ‘kill me or destroy me,’ just as sniperstake out‘ enemy soldiers.

As the song continues, you feel yourself swerving between the possible meanings of take me out. Each time Alex sings the phrase – and there are 7 times – you make your choice between love and death. You choose and you understand. Most times you hold both meanings in your head at once. Love and destruction.

One question – as Alex sings, do you ever hear him shout? Watch his face:

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