“ABACAB” and Other Oddities

Of the other popular song formats, the biggest seller is probably the ABAB, which can either be verse/chorus or chorus/verse. Example of this form range from “Back in Black” (AC/DC) and “Margaritaville” (Jimmy Buffet) to “Sugar, Sugar” (The Archies) and “Hotel California” (The Eagles). This form often inserts a long instrumental section in lieu of a bridge, making it a favorite of musicians everywhere. ABABs can get a little stale when they have more than two verses. From a production standpoint, you'll want to do something to differentiate the verses. This is often done by taking the dynamics further down than usual for the last verse.

Myriad variations in form exist. If you look hard enough, you'll find AABACA, ABCBAB, ABCABCB, and almost any other variation you can think of. Rumor has it that the Genesis hit “ABACAB” was named after the order in which the sections appear.

Nonrecurring “A” Sections

One of the oddest song parts, and one that is seldom used these days, is the nonrecurring “A” section. In the early part of the twentieth century, this part was called “a verse,” but it bears little resemblance to the verses of today. The nonrecurring “A” section is more of a “pre-song” or verbal intro that sets up the story. This section was usually sung, though sometimes spoken, and bore little musical resemblance to the rest of the song. There were huge lyrical differences, too. Long, dense lines hovered over held chords to create a tension that was broken when the “real song” finally kicked in.

This device is interesting because it freed up the main body of the song to be very simple and singable: All the background information was covered by the “A” section, leaving the rest of the song to say as little or as much as desired. This also allowed for lyrics that were more poetic and vague, because the listener was already let in on any necessary details of the story. For great examples of nonrecurring “A” sections, see if you can find copies of “Stardust” or “I Got Rhythm” with the “A” sections included.

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