The Songs of Few Words
On a routine weeknight at work after close, while most of the crew gathered into an aisle to stock, the buzz of huddled conversation battled the repetitive music coming over the speakers. It’s usually at this point of the night where I’m zoned out into another dimension on a spaceship fueled by my thoughts; in reality I’m carefully loading jars of marinara sauce onto the shelves while in my head I’m entrenched in a made up scenario or in a loop of something embarrassing I did that day. This particular night, I was sent back down to earth for a brief moment. In response to a chorus that was irritating a coworker behind me, she asked another coworker next to her if songs could exist without a chorus. My brain immediately had a knee-jerk reaction and scanned my inner catalog of songs such as what my coworker was suggesting. Instead of opening my mouth to chime in, I sent myself back into space and indulged in a search for some of my favorite songs with only one verse and no chorus in the technical sense, and their impact on my introverted soul.
The first song that came to mind was “When U Love Somebody” by Fruit Bats, off of their album titled Mouthful, which came out in 2003. The folk rock band totes a slappy beat and melody to carry the same phrase of lyrics throughout the whole song, which are: Baby, remember on the bus and my hand was on your knee?/ When you love somebody, it's hard to think about anything but to breathe/Baby, I am the cub who was washed out in the flood/When you love somebody, bite your tongue, all you get is a mouthful of blood. The ease and simplicity of these lyrics are what makes it one of my favorite love songs. It paints a picture for the listener and offers us a relatable bite of falling-in-love jitters without giving us more than we can chew.
Next came the song “Tugboat” by Galaxie 500, off of their 1988 album titled Today. While it could be argued that this song does have a small chorus, it flows as a transparent verse, which is the following: I don't wanna stay at your party/I don't wanna talk with your friends/I don't wanna vote for your president/I just wanna be your tugboat captain/ It's a place I'd like to be, it's a place I'd like to be, it's a place I'd like to be/It's a place I'd be happy/It's a place I'd like to be, it's a place I'd like to be, it's a place I'd like to be/It's a place I'd be happy. To drive the phrase above, the listener is greeted with a slow guitar riff that is reminiscent of a musical era marked by The Cure. I think what I love most about these lyrics is that it denounces some of the things we should enjoy or feel compelled by society to take part in, and instead offers an alternative that’s more aligned with the singer’s desires. As a quiet and cerebral person, I have endured far too many parties and forced conversations past my social battery, and can guarantee that I was fantasizing about being elsewhere more suited to my nature.
The third and final song that revealed itself to me was “I Wanna Be Adored” by The Stone Roses, off of their self titled album that came out in 1989. Following an instantly recognizable bassline are the words: I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me/I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me/I wanna be adored/I wanna be adored. Even as a fourteen year old, when I was first getting into The Stone Roses on my walks home from school, I always appreciated the blunt confession that was Ian Brown singing “I wanna be adored” over and over again. Additionally, the assumed nod to one being in sync with the devil was enough rebellion for me; I dove in again and again knowing that my mother wouldn’t approve of the message Brown was getting at in so few words.
While I’m accustomed to full songs just as much as the next listener, to me the lack of a normal structure doesn’t make these three songs any less full or complex. In taking on the task of using significantly less words, one is challenged to tell a story, get a point across, or invoke a feeling in a way that is paradoxically calculated and elementary. Songs that utilize this format are far from bare; they give the listener room to digest as well as focus attention on the instrumental aspects of the piece. They present to us as they are, not asking to be anything else, and we are left on a seesaw of wanting more and feeling content.
As I’ve grown up with these songs, I have also grown to tune into the way I show up in the world. There was certainly a time where I wished to be more of everything, and speak enough to fill what I felt was expected of me. However, after surrounding myself with people and environments that celebrated my sparse, yet grounding interjections, I no longer yearned to add more bars to the composition of me. I think about these songs and the countless replays that have held me, a person of few words who still begs a listen.