What is a melody, and why are good ones so hard to write?…
In The Guardian Clive James writes:
It could be said that Adele is Mama Cass born again, but she needs a song to match her voice. I have listened several times to her smash hit, Hello. I was hoping that the shapely beauty of her opening phrase would hook me for what remains of my forever. But the opening phrase never really arrives. The whole number is one of those big ballads in which the singer whispers her way through a verse section that hasn’t got a melody and then goes soaring and bellowing into a chorus section that hasn’t got a melody either. The virtuosity leaves you yawning with admiration.
Adele’s monster global commercial success is not due so much to her considerable vocal talent as to her managing to write two terrifically catchy tunes (Someone Like You and Rolling in the Deep). The four year wait after the album 21 suggested she might have lost her songwriting mojo, and Hello confirms it. If Hello was her first release she would remain unknown, however fine her singing.
Music journalists write endless analyses of what makes certain pop stars and bands ‘great’, and will go on about image and rebellion and youth movements and iconoclasm and lyrics and whatnot. But no factor in determining the lasting popular success or otherwise of a musician is anything like as important as the ability to write (or hire someone to write) nagging, earworm melodies. That applies to Dylan and Bowie, Michael Jackson and James Brown, the Sex Pistols and The Jam, Madonna and Beyoncé, Oasis and Blur, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.
For all their innovation and influence, The Beatles and the Stones ruled mainly because they ceaselessly churned out whistleable tunes. If Amy Winehouse hadn’t penned the ‘No, No, No’ chorus of Rehab she’d very likely be alive and happy now, a virtuoso vocalist performing to select audiences in smallish jazz clubs.
I’m fascinated by melody. Why can so few talented musicians write even one exceptional, memorable tune in their career… while a very, very tiny few can, without effort, write hundreds.
What is a melody, anyway – and how is it that a brand new one can suddenly be conjured from the ether, out of so few available notes? Quite possibly Adele has spent the long gap between Someone Like You and Hello worrying at that very question.
Nb. Dabbler Notes is like Dabbler Diary only less so, but possibly more frequent.