Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fun with Meter (Part 1)

Back in the early '70s, a concerned music fan apparently wrote into Rolling Stone claiming that he'd done the math, and the world was about to run out of melodies. Seems the total combination of available notes, like drink flavors at a Sonic, was finite, and based on the number of original copyrights, was about to be reached. The end of original music.

Of course, that didn't happen; music is not just random, but subjective. As a musician, I know that a song sounds completely different to me if I just play it on a different piano -- not a different make, even, just a different piano. If you don't call attention to it, you can rehash anything, especially if you don't know you're doing it. This goes for all forms of art, which is why there's only x amount of plots a movie can have. It's the variations, and the context, that matter.

I don't remember, for example, who it was that first told me about the Emily Dickinson / Madonna connection: seems most of her poems have the same meter and rhyme structure, which means you can theoretically sing almost her entire oeuvre to the tune of :"Like A Virgin." Check it out:   

Because I could not stop for Death | I made it through the wilderness
He kindly stopped for me | Somehow I made it through
The carriage held but just ourselves | Didn't know how lost I was
And Immortality | Until I found you 

My friends and I once discovered that you could easily turn the Guns N' Roses' ballad "Sweet Child O' Mine" into the religious standard "Amazing Grace":

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound | She's got a smile that it seems to me 
That saved a wretch like me | Reminds me of childhood memories
I once was lost, but now I'm found | Where everything was as fresh as the bright blue
Was blind, but now I see | Sky...

As a New Orleans native, I myself was pleased to realize that the Big Tymers' geto-fabulous hit "Still Fly" works just fine with the lyrics from a certain legendarily stupid sitcom: 

Gator boots | Gilligan
With the pimped out Gucci suits | The Skipper, too
Ain’t got no job | The Millionaire
But I stay shive | And his wife
Can’t pay my rent | The Professor and
‘Cause all my money’s spent | Mary Ann
But that’s okay | They're all here
‘Cause I’m still fly | On Gilligan's Isle

Sometimes the similarities are intentional, too. '60s songwriter Jack Hildebrand was commissioned to write a "protest song" for the Monkees, so he stole the frame of another social commentary, the Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown":

She knows her mind all right, your Auntie Grizelda | You're the kind of person you meet at certain dismal dull affairs
She says she knows my kind, she might, maybe so | Center of a crowd, talking much too loud, running up and down the stairs
Oh yeah, she's raised you right, your Auntie Grizelda | well, it seems to me that you have seen too much in too few years
You only know the things she wants you to know | And though you've tried, you just can't hide, your eyes are edged with tears
You look just like her, you do | You better stop
I know by looking at you | And look around
That you've been listening to your Auntie Grizelda | Here it comes...

Finally, I was pleased to find a rare double ripoff that works just fine no matter which lyrics you sing to which song:
They're Pinky and the Brain | I'm singin' in the rain
They're Pinky and the Brain | Just singin' in the rain
One is a genius | What a glorious feeling
The other's insane | I'm happy again
They're laboratory mice | I walk down the lane
Their genes have been spliced | With a happy refrain
They're dinky | I'm singin'
They're Pinky and the Brain | I'm singin' in the rain 

(Singing the P&TB lyrics to the Gene Kelly melody is goofy fun, but doing it the other way around sounds just psychotic. Rain, rain, rain, doodly, rain, rain, rain, RAIN.)


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