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Lyrical Hooks

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What makes a lyrical hook effective?

Defining it is elusive - but, like a lot of things, we can all recognise it when we hear it.

My take is that a hook is effective becuse it sings out well. Take "Hey Jude" as a for instance: the title-hook is just two notes but a proud and natural melodic statement nonetheless; a minor third - everyone can sing it and identify it even if they don't really know the rest of the lyrics.

It's the hook that's get 'em. Repetition helps punch it home. Ans if it makes sense as a 'summation' of some kind then that's a good plus, too. ("Hey Jude' is maybe nowhere the best example of those last two points but I still feel they enhance effectiveness and have to be a craft consideration.)

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To me hook is simply "memorable". The more memorable the better. If you combine it memorability with something that evokes curiosity or emotion, you have a great hook. Repeating the hook makes it even more memorable. Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The USA" took this to an extreme. The line is simple, and repeated, and it evokes different emotions depending on nationality/perspective etc. That said, I think everyone and their dog was sick of it really quickly because the hook was used so many times.

Songs form can emphasise or even create hooks, but the line has to meet the criteria above to be strong hook.

Where "Born in the USA" fell down was the lack of other content in the lyric. A hook functions by grabbing the listener and hooking them into the lyric. But the song has to have substance to keep the listener interested. If not, the song can be memorable (i.e. I still remember "Born in the USA") but the listener loses interest in the song and remembers it for the wrong reasons.



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But the song has to have substance to keep the listener interested.

That may be what you and I personally prefer, John, but somehow I doubt that is really generally objectively true - 'though I guess it would revolve around how we were to define 'substance', it seems from my cynically jaundiced perspective that this can easily be an absent quality in loads of songs that become successful and popular hits. Not necessarily a bad thing per se - the nature of 'pop' leans towards the trivial and ephemeral. Smokey Robinson has always been a fond favourite writer of mine, for example, but something as sweet and perfect (in pop terms) as "Do You Love Me (now that I can dance)" hardly submits to the idea of 'substance'.

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I agree with Lazz. I have heard many songs with a good hook, but I've had no idea what the song is about! The initial 'feel' of a song can make or break it. I often think that the 'sound' of a lyric is often as important as the actual words themselves. My mind is a blank at the moment so denying me supplying any suitable example! Billy Connoly did a very funny skit about the typical pub singer. Somebody who knows no words of the song except the last line of each verse and the chorus!




I love you!"

All being greatly exagerated!

By sustaining the last sylables with what sounds like the correct words, the pub singer can sing any song!

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Very true, but the point you make about "what is substance" is the crux of longevity. I prefer writing songs that have something more for those who are interested.

Substance is of course contextual. For example anthemic songs. The message is the hook, is strongly linked to the subject and has a message that people want to hear, and they want to belive in.

I get knocked down

I get up again

You're never gonna keep me down

A simple pop anthem. The hook chorus is repeated lots, and it is a message people want to hear. It has an ongoing relevence that moves with the times. They did link it clevery to drinking culture and partying, but it is in most ways low in the substance I look for. Still, if it comes on the radio I do find myself singing along with the chorus :D.

So maybe the relevence and desirability of the obvious message in the main hook can negate substance in the terms that we may measure it in?



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The subject of repitition has brought to mind a song by Kevin Ayres during his 'Kevin Ayres & the Whole World' days.

They did a 'song' comprised of nothing more than a repitition of the title, and the title was 'I Did it Again'.

'I Did it Again' was repeated not so much like a mantra, but as a vocal riff. It was in unison with the bass line (Kevin was a bassist). It was rather more than just some endless riff though, as the the chords would shift underneath it & eventually build to a climax and a cadence, before restarting once more (not unlike computer music 30 years later).

Kevins excellent idea was to turn the song form on its head and have the vocal fill (& support) the role of the bass, and give the harmony (keys) an (almost) leading role.

It has to be one of the most memorable tunes Ive ever heard. I last heard it 30 years ago, and its still fresh in my mind.

A little over half way through, the trance element would kick in (for me anyway) when every time Kevin sang 'I Did it Again' sounded as if he was refering to the last time he sang 'I Did it Again', a cycle of about 1 second continuously updated. Very unusual, highly effective.

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  • 2 months later...

A good hook.....it needs to really sum up what it is that the song is about, in a few memorable and unique words. Or a single word, in some cases. All of your verses (and the music that acompanies) need to be written to lead up to the hook. It helps to set it up especialy well off of the line that precedes it. This will give the hook the extra power it needs to fulfill the listeners needs. I'm talking about a song that put's it's main hook at the end of the chorus. Of course, this is not every song, and there are tons of good songs written in other formats. Elton John, for example. "I'm a rocket man...rocket man, burning out the sootie pootie haww" or what ever he says. "Rocket Man" is the hook in this case. The last line of the chorus is almost uninteligible, but it works well as a sort of second hook.

The hook must be also be a constant within the song. What i mean is that if the lyrics involve a change of mind, a realisation of some kind, the hook needs to be something that still works by the end of the song. If he thinks he's a loser at the begining, and he'll never get the girl, but by the end finds his confidence to go and talk to her, the hook can't be "I'm a loser".

O.k, i hope at least some of that babel made sence. If this post was a song, you'd probably turn it off!

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O.k, maybe that what i just said kindof sounds like a very limited overly structured type of songwriting. I would never try to write a song strictly by formula. If it could be done like that, computers would be doing it. As an amendment to what i posted above, a hook can be anywhere in the song, i just have a preference for something catchy at the end of the chorus, that's all. A hook can even be just a short line, said only once in the song. You'll recognise this type when a few of people at a party who were paying little attention to the music sudenly sing along with this one part of the lyric (just an example). That said, I think you still need a traditional hook or two to back it up. I usualy try to use as many as the song will allow. Would a soldier go into battle with just a rifle, when he could talk a rifle, a pistol, and a knife? With several hooks, you don't have to drive the listener crazy by repeating the some one over and over.

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  • 2 months later...

Ok, here's where I'll get my first wacking.

To me, the hook is the greatest marketing tool for songs ever.

How many songs you hear on the radio or in the store, and though you can't remember one single line, when the hook comes up, you sing right along with it.

Plus if one is smart, the hook and the title is the same. Hence when in the record shop, (do they still have these?) they may not even remember the artist name but if that hook and the title is the same, you just made another sale!

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Completely agree. Unlike most songwriters, the title is usually my starting point now. Partly for the reason you mention, but also because it helps keep the lyric more unified and makes planning a lyric easier. :)

Have you posted an introduction to yourself in the Introduce Yourself board?



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I suppose the worst kind of hook is the one that you keep in your head all day! Like 'Aggadoo' Drives you nuts! but you can't get it out of your head! Is this a good idea or not? I suppose if you're trying to flog a load of records, it's a great ploy!

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I suppose the worst kind of hook is the one that you keep in your head all day! Like 'Aggadoo' Drives you nuts! but you can't get it out of your head! Is this a good idea or not? I suppose if you're trying to flog a load of records, it's a great ploy!

True, but as john pointed out, after a while the hook will piss you off and if there is no substance to the verses it will fade away.

John Popper said it best

It doesn't matter what I say

So long as I sing with inflection

That makes you feel that I'll convey

Some inner truth of vast reflection

But I've said nothing so far

And I can keep it up for as long as it takes

And it don't matter who you are

If I'm doing my job then it's your resolve that breaks

Because the hook brings you back

I ain't tellin' you no lie

The hook brings you back

On that you can rely

O' Fish all link

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I agree. But as an aid to selling records, what better than an instant hook! It matters not that you may be pissed off with it after a few days! You've bought the friggin record by then! You've played it to within an inch of it's very existence and you've memorised every friggin nuance of every scratch and pop! Obviously none of this applies to us intelligent folk here at songstuff who can spot a bogus hook line from 20 paces! :)

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I agree Steve, when I write I usually get a hook in my head (ouch) and work around that. I try to add other quality parts to make the Song as a whole, the best it can be. To cater to the lower IQ that listen to whatever is spoonfed to them on the radio just to get a paycheck would go against my artistic integrity (flash me a check that says I can quit my job and do Music full time and we'll see how long my integrity holds out ;) )

I'll do as I'll decide and let it ride until I've died

And only then shall I abide this tide

Of catchy little tunes

Of hip three minute ditties

I wanna bust all your balloons

I wanna burn all of your cities

To the ground I've found

I will not mess around

Unless I play then hey

I will go on all day hear what I say

I have a prayer to pray

That's really all this was

And when I'm feeling stuck and need a buck

I don't rely on luck because....

The hook brings you back

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I agree with everything here so far. I just wanted to toss my $.02 in for the sake of hearing my own head rattle...

From what I have been reading elsewhere on the Internet on this topic, I have found these statements regarding lyrical hooks and what they have in common:

  • Lyrical hooks often are found in song tiles, in choruses, as the climax or introductory statement of "what the song's about" phrases and so on.
  • Lyrical hooks tend to be short, easy to say, melodically interesting (use chord tone intervals, 3rds, 5ths, 7ths...) and repeatable (by the listener) as well as repeated by the singer(s).
  • Lyrical hooks commonly have an obvious rhyme scheme and meter.
  • Lyrical hooks leverage commonly heard phrases and sometimes simply twist them slightly to make them stick out.

For me, when I am trying to think if a particular phrase that might have "hooky qualities" I use the "Children's playground chant" rule of thumb to test it out. This rule of thumb is; if you can hear your phrase becoming the kind of thing you would hear kids chant repeatedly while jumping rope or playing those paddy-cake style clapping games, you probably have the makings of lyrical hook on your hands.

"Eenie Meenie Minee moe, catch a tiger by his toe, if he hollers let him go"

"I get knocked down, but I get up again, you ain't never gonna keep me down"

"Ikka bikka soda cracker, ikka bikka boo... ikka bikka soda cracker, out goes you"

"De do, do, do... De da, da, da... is all I want to say to you..."

So if you can easily hear the playground kids repeating your phrase, go with it.

Much of that playground philosophy carries over to melodic hooks as well.

"Nah-nee nah-nee nah nah"

"Rain, rain, go away, come again another day"

A certain symmetrical quality or balance also needs to be there. It seems that, in short, a hook - even as short as it is - needs to start and complete a shape.

"De do, do do, De da, da da..." = (up the first side of the hill)

"Is all I want to say to you..." = (down the other side)

Also - it seems that a good hook is one that you can mentally incorporate into a nice walk. So, ballads and speed-metal aside, a phrase that has a nice, up-beat pace that can be chanted as one takes a nice brisk walk on a warm summer eve seems to work well.

So - in your mind, if you can:

  • Hear kids chanting it
  • Hear kids singing it
  • Find it to be balanced
  • Can use it to set a mental cadence for a nice walk

...you are probably working with a good pop hook.

I think.

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Good guidelines, although it would make me cringe to hear children chanting my hooks, I think the lot of us would quickly be assigned to coal shoveling duties in the hotter than hot :jumping38: :jumping38: :jumping38:

Seriously though, your theory makes good sense :thumb23:

Thanks, man!

And even though it's a rather broad and loose set of guides, it can still apply even to more rique or "adult" subject-matter. I am certainly not advocating asking kids to start chanting lyrics along the lines of Ozzy Osbourne's "Suicide Solution" or Trent Reznor's material - but you could can see how Ozzy's tune could play out as a kids chant...

"Wine is fine, but whisky's quicker - suicide is slow with liquor..."

or Reznor's "Head like a hole, black as your soul, I'd rather die then give you control"

Apart from the no-so-kid-friendly subject matter, this little rule of thumb still works.


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