Analyse This

Types and Tactics of Self-Referential Songs

Authored by: Bethany Lowe , Freya Jarman

The Routledge Companion to Popular Music Analysis

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138683112
eBook ISBN: 9781315544700
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315544700-5

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Abstract

When listening to songs, we can focus more on the lyrics or more on the music, but in most cases “it is how they interact that produces significance.” 2 When the singer remarks “But how strange the change / From major to minor” in Cole Porter’s song “Ev’ry time we say goodbye,” most listeners understand this as a technical description of what happens in the harmonic underpinning, even while the lyrics evoke, on another level, the emotional experience of parting from a loved one. Likewise, when Maria von Trapp melodically instructs “When we sing, we begin with do-re-mi,” or when Gloria Estefan tells us “the rhythm is gonna get you,” we recognise that the connection between lyrics and musical content has been pulled a little tighter than usual (and perhaps a little weirder). The presence of music-specific terminology in song lyrics raises the possibility of self-reference, a process whereby the words explicitly recognise, describe, or analyse aspects of the music’s function. The strange quality of self-referential songs, in explicitly pointing our attention towards their own musical contents, emerges more vividly from close inspection. What is it that self-referential songs are doing, and what does it have to say about the general operation of the text-music connection that is often taken for granted?

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