12. The Title
The title of a song is the advertising line, and therefore it must be the most attractive in your song. It is the whole song summed up in one line. It may be a single word or a half-dozen words. It is not the punch line always. It is often the very first line of the chorus, but it is usually the last line.
There is little need for constructive thought in choosing a title. All that is necessary is to select the best advertising line already written. You have only to take the most prominent line and write it at the top of your lyrics. Study the titles of the songs in this chapter and you will see how easy it is to select your title after you have written your song.
To sum up: a great lyric is as necessary to the success of a popular song as a great melody, but not more necessary. A lyric is a verse that conveys a great deal of emotion. Most popular songs have two verses and one chorus. A regular metre is rare; irregularity may even be a virtue. The regular occurrence of rhymes and precise rhymes are not necessary—but it is better to strive after regularity and precision. There are five lyrical measures common to all poetry, but you may break every rule if you only break a record. Rhythm—the swing—is the secret of successful songs. Every lyric must have one or more punch lines—which may occur at the end of each verse, but must be found in the last lines of the chorus. Contrast—either of idea, poetic measure or music—is one sure way of securing the punch. Love is the greatest single element that makes for success in a song idea. The one-word standard of popular-song writing is simplicity—music easy to sing, words easy to say, the idea simple and plain.
WRITING THE POPULAR SONG
In the preceding chapters we saw how the elements of a popular song are nearly identical in music and in lyrics, no matter how the styles of songs may differ. In this chapter we shall see how these elements may be combined—irrespective of styles—into a song that the boy on the street will whistle, and the hand organs grind out until you nearly go mad with the repetition of its rhythm.
Not only because it will be interesting, but because such an insight will help to a clear understanding of methods I shall ask you to glance into a popular song publisher’s professional department.
A very large room—an entire floor, usually—is divided into a reception room, where vaudeville and cabaret performers are waiting their turns to rehearse, and half-a-dozen little rooms, each containing a piano. As the walls of these rooms are never very thick, and often are mere partitions running only two-thirds of the way to the ceiling, the discord of conflicting songs is sometimes appalling. Every once in a while some performer comes to the manager of the department and insists on being rehearsed by the writers of the latest song-hit themselves. And as often as not the performer is informed that the writers are out. In reality, perhaps, they are working on a new song in a back room. Being especially privileged, let us go into that back room and watch them at work.