“Will you?” genius; here’s why. But could it have been even better?

This goes back to 1980 – but something of a classic and you’ll probably know it, at least for its epic sax solo.

It’s one of those songs that almost any person can relate to and most of us can identify the situation – invite someone back for coffee and you’re wondering if they are thinking that it’s just coffee, or coffee and something more. 

The way the insecurity of the situation is described so simply from inside the head of the inviter is genius. But this wouldn’t be SongExpresso if we didn’t ask – could it have been even better? Are there any weak links that we could perfect?

Let’s work through the lyrics:

Will You?


Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

You drink your coffee and I sip my tea

And we’re sitting here playing so cool, thinking “What will be, will be”

We already notice a contrast between Hazel’s character sipping (nervously) and the invitee drinking (possibly oblivious to what is going on inside Hazel’s head…). Already we feel her vulnerability. 

But it’s getting kind of late now

Oh I wonder if you’ll stay now, stay now, stay now, stay now

The repitition of stay now is just remarkable, managing to give a blend of voices to the verb – statement: “I wonder if you’ll stay now”; questioning “will you stay now?”; and an almost despairing imperative: “stay now (please!)”

Or will you just politely say goodnight?

What’s the opposite of passion? Hate? No, politeness. Kapow.

I move a little closer to you, not knowing quite what to do

And I’m feeling all fingers and thumbs, I spill my tea, oh silly me!

The idioms “what will be will be”, “oh silly me”, “much too much” etc. sound totally appropriate for Hazel’s character. We can believe that this is how she would actually speak. When we are trying to emulate this and a make believable character, we should try to develop a profile of them – who are they where are they from how old are they how do they speak etc.

But it’s getting kind of late now

I wonder if you’ll stay now, stay now, stay now, stay now

Or will you just politely say goodnight?

And then we touch much too much

Like “silly me”, “much too much” might have been there just for the rhyme (so be careful!) but it seems extremely apt to describe the crossing of the line that has happened – much too much to ignore, much too much to leave it there etc.

This moment has been waiting for a long long time

Musically it just flows but lyrically it’s interesting how it’s the moment that has been waiting – almost a switch of viewpoints. In a moment Hazel’s character tells us she’s been waiting but this takes it outside of her. This might give a flavour that there is some fate/destiny/outside force going on here. Or perhaps it’s the culmination of a long time of frustration/expectation on her part waiting for the right person to come along. For sure more than just “I’ve been waiting for this”.

Makes me shiver, it makes me quiver

This is where we were headed. Hazel wants to introduce a kinesthetic description of her character’s physical and not just emotional feelings. However, I don’t think I have ever used the word “quiver” in real life or that I know anyone that would. If this were my song, SongExpresso would say: that’s a literary word and not one that Hazel’s character would use – have you considered all the alternatives? Shiver also raises a questionmark – is this is moment when a person would shiver? Trembling, shaking yes. Heart pounding, pulse racing (clichees, but might be more the type of sensation we are trying to describe). So I would probably say go and brainstorm this situation and see what other descriptions or images we can find. We should do some object writing, free writing or mind mapping just to exhaust all the possibilities. Shall we? (Will you?)

Shiver and quiver have a good sound (important) and actually don’t jar the ear of the normal listener; but Song Expresso is very attuned to these things and when we come across this, we need to work through the process – is this as good as it can possibly be? In this case, they do hit the required note and we see exactly how Hazel’s character is feeling. And also importantly they work with the flow and structure of the song which any of our alternatives (so far) wouldn’t do in the same way. There might be an element of poetic licence here but the good elements outweigh any reservations we might have. I wonder if Hazel also considered this? The lyrics are really honed so she might just have.

This moment I am so unsure

This moment I have waited for

Was it something you’ve been waiting for, waiting for too?

Take off your ice, bare your soul

Gather me to you and make me whole

Wait a sec! What just happened? Gather me to you? Seriously, Mr Dickens? Aren’t we in 1980 not 1880? We just moved into a whole new register, that’s what happened. Like the music, we swoop upwards as Hazel’s character puts her desire into words and wills her partner to come with her. This isn’t just reality, we’ve escaped into a world of reciprocated passion and this is how she describes the feeling. What a contrast – from “oh silly me” nervousness, lyrically we move into an expressionist land where biblical language is required to do justice to the emotion. “Gather me to you and make me whole” – could be from a Psalm… Wow again.

Tell me your secrets, sing me the song

Sing it to me in the silent tongue

The silent tongue – still biblical but also carnal. Magic. We have some assonance between song and tongue; a true rhyme could have brought us back to reality with a bump. It just feels right – and we get just enough flesh to get us right there with what is about to happen. 

But it’s getting kind of late now

I wonder if you’ll stay now, stay now, stay now, stay now

Or will you just politely say goodnight?

We’re still there. Nothing happened yet. Wishful thinking, arousal, anticipation but we’re still waiting. The last “goodnight” feels a little bitter, as we’ve seen what passion could come but we know that it might not unless someone makes a move now. And sure enough the sax brings us – anti-climatically – down to disappointment. Goodnight, then.

The sax hesitates but the situation is too compelling and the drums (there’s the heart pounding we wanted earlier) gather us to them and lead us into the epic solo. No analysis of that here, but it’s around half the song – it’s the soundtrack to the movie in our heads – we imagine Hazel’s character and her lover bursting into a tender new room where no words are needed. (The song was also used in a movie – but we are all imagining our own).

We may never reach these heights. But what can we take from this?

– situations – a situation that everyone can relate to but never named. We know it’s dark, after-midnight, we know they are sitting on a bed in small room etc. without being told.

– develop your characters – how old are they? what do they do all day? what do they want? How do they speak – use their words.

– contrast – to develop our plot we can use different types of language. In Will You there is a definite before and after. Can we show this (not tell) by using contrast in the language used, the point of view, rhythm, light and shade, key changes, dynamics…

– rewriting/hard choices – if things feel right they may easily be! But think it through – each word can add or subtract from the situation. A bad rhyme or a word that doesn’t fit can break the mood. Review all the options, change structures and orders, change them back if needed. Work it through, SongExpresso style.

– structure – in this song the sax solo has a particular purpose. If we want a solo, have we thought about why? (Les Paul owners and jazz drummers look away now.) We need a break to consider what’s just been said? We need a break to show a before and after, and a new chapter in the story we’re telling? It can feel right – but would it be more effective in a different place, a different length, different key etc.

– instruments – replace the sax with an electric guitar and we have a totally different song. Probably something acoustic was always going to be the choice here. This is verging on production but songwriters should know what is right.

As you may have realised, SongExpresso can’t get enough of this song. Independent of style, musical preferences, it seems to tell a timeless story (there’s another thing – timelessness – do you want to place your story in time? Did he call her on the bakelite telephone or the iPad? etc. If not, avoid).

What’s your iconic song that you would aspire to write? Think about each word. What can we learn? Tell me and I will analyse it here.

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