June 2021 Assignment

Write a song with no or minimal rhymes

Rhyming lyrics can be important to the structural integrity of a song. When placed strategically, the rhyming words link the lyrics to the music at the points where they occur. “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they’re here to stay, oh I believe in yesterday.” The rhymes fall precisely at the end of the lyrical lines and the musical lines. That’s stability in song structure.

Use of lyrics that come close but don’t quite rhyme are common in pop, county and folk music, where words like “wrong” and “gone” can sort of rhyme and provide suitable structural support. Musical theater audiences and composers of the American songbook canon tend to be less tolerant of the imperfect rhyme. In “Cry Me a River,” Arthur Hamilton famously kept the bridge together with the lines “… Told me love was too plebeian, told me you were through with me and now you say you love me, well just to prove you do, come on and cry me a river, cry me a river, I cried a river over you.”

Think of the way a garden vine attaches itself to a lattice. In the same way, your lyrical vine is attached to the structure of the musical lattice at particular junctures, often at the end of lines or stanzas, chord changes, pre-choruses, bridges, etc. The musical/lyrical linkages support much of the song’s structure.

Now, plant a garden with no lattice. Your lyrical vine no longer links to the music at rhyme points. Song structure can still be created with words — lyrical patterns or repetition, non-rhyming parallel syllables and well-placed word choices. Structure can be created with music by establishing repeated musical patterns, chord changes, junctures in arrangement, etc. 

As always in songwriting, there are no rules. Just make it work. Here are some songs with no or minimal rhymes:

When Songs Don’t Rhyme

“When the Saints Go Marching In” Traditional, performed by Paramount Jubilee Singers (original 1924)

“Day Tripper” by Lennon and McCartney, performed by The Beatles

“Don’t Let Me Down” by Lennon and McCartney, performed by The Beatles

“America” by Paul Simon, performed by Simon & Garfunkel

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Stephen Stills, performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash

“And She Was” by David Byrne, performed by Talking Heads

“Need You Tonight” by Andrew Farriss, performed by INXS

“Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen