The Rhyme Crime post

As a young performer, I had a song which contained the not very remarkable verse:

“You say it could all be the same

If I would only let it;

But I don’t want to play this game,

When we both want something better.”

It was a kind of anguished indie-folk-jazz thing with a trumpet section that actually sounded pretty good. But I will always remember our bass player saying “trying to rhyme ‘let it’ and ‘better’ really grates – you need to change that”. I think I took it on board but never quite got round to doing the work. It didn’t grate to me – and it actually caught the meaning I was looking for. And in the scale of things, it’s not that bad, right?

SongExpresso is now all about doing the work. There are two parts to this – the emotional one: you strive to be the most professional and the best you can be (I think Taylor Hawkins said something like that), and the practical one: as Barbara Cloyd said, producers are “looking for any reason to say no.” As soon as they hear one thing they don’t like, they pass and go on to the next song.

What would I do with this now? Maybe something like this:

“You say that we can turn back time

And it wouldn’t hurt to try;

But going back seems like a crime 

When we both deserve to fly.”

Hmm. Swapped a bad rhyme for a cliché? And lots of “i” sounds. Have another delve:

“You’re tempting me to stay

But I can’t justify 

Accepting yesterday

When we both deserve to fly.”

That took quite a few minutes, one bike ride and two sleeps. It’s getting there. It was worth it already. Bass-guy was right… I had committed SongGBH. But was it rhyme crime? Not really – I had gone with a bad rhyme and not been sufficiently bothered to look and find all means of escape (slightly ironic given the theme of the song). True first-degree rhyme crime is saying something no-one would ever normally say (or worse still something that you don’t really mean) just in order to make a rhyme.

So here’s the thing. There are loads of music professionals who commit this all the time. And I never like to criticise professionals (after all they are professionals and I am sitting writing this). But some of them seriously need a bass-player to make a citizen’s arrest. Or a shot of SongExpresso. OK, so now they (and their fans) will all hate me. But here we go with some examples that we don’t ever want to follow:

1. Rhyme Misdemeanours – no-one really notices or cares 

OK, some songs aren’t intended to be taken seriously (or apparently even listened to – and certainly not ever written down and scrutinized). And it’s all about the hook. But why settle for less? Why not be the best we can be? SongExpresso wants you (us) to feel great – and never apologetic – about every line.

The way you move me / Everything is groovy  (“Drive By” – Train)

Maybe this has to go down as attempted rhyme crime as it actually fails to do so. And groovy? Was that word sent back from the 60s in a rhyme-crime-time-machine? Also contains “I’m just a shy guy looking for a two-ply” among other – um – unique lyrics.

So open up your morning light / And say a little prayer for I.  (“I Don’t Wanna Wait” – Paula Cole)

Boom, she shot the rhyme (and the English language) into the air, and missed. Unless she is really saying “for right”? (as if that would make it better).

My Eloisa, I long to please her…  (“Eloise” – Barry Ryan, as faithfully reproduced by The Damned)

That’s taking poetic licence pretty far – to actually change the lady’s name in order to make the (awful) rhyme.

2. Rhyme Felony – some people notice – most just find it amusing

Somehow a few classic radio songs have been allowed to go down in music history with their rhyme crime intact. Light entertainment, not art you say? This does matter. Even a burger bar doesn’t leave garbage on the floor…

Yes, there’s love if you want it / Don’t sound like no sonnet  (“Sonnet” – The Verve) – Agree with that…

Abra, abra-cadabra / I want to reach out and grab ya  (“Abracadabra” – Steve Miller Band) – Yeah, ‘like Cleopatra’…

Nobody calling on the phone / ‘Cept for the Pope maybe in Rome  (“What if God was one of us” – Joan Osborne) – no comment.

Gotta write a classic… I can’t bring myself even to go on with that one.

3. Rhyme Homicide – take them away

These are just inexcusable lapses from people that should know better.  

Never opened myself this way / Life is ours, we live it our way / All these words I don’t just say  (“Nothing Else Matters” – Metallica)

Pardon? Was this written with Google Translate?

Piano keyboard, oh lord  (“Ebony and Ivory” – Paul and Stevie)

Piano keys, oh please?

Even if you cannot hear / My voice / I’ll be right beside you, dear  (“Run” – Snow Patrol)

Everyone loves this epic indie anthem. But I can’t get past the “dear”… Pass the indie sherry and my anthemic zimmer frame, dear?


My view? Rhyme crime is never necessary. Sorry, Sir Paul and company, there is always an alternative. But – at least in my case – it takes wrestling and wringing and wrenching, a convoy of JCBs to dig into your inner imagination and dusty dictionaries. This is not simply about calling people out when they do this – we’re constructive and always asking “how could this be better?” or “could we perfect this?”. Usually we could do a bit better. And it’s a worthy process. As always, send me your favourites – but also say what you would do instead… (but don’t bother with the classic in the attic – that ship has sailed and even a cafetiere of SongExpresso couldn’t bring that one back…).


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