We’ve all been there; you’ve thought of a brilliant little line that works perfectly with your rhythmic scheme. The only problem is that the final word of the line has almost no perfect rhymes. As we must take perfect rhymes as a ground rule (I will talk more about this in the future), damage control is now the main priority. Say you manage to put together a workable but by no means particularly good line out of one of the two or three rhymes for your problem word. You now have two lyrical lines, one of them getting along swimmingly, the other still floating but otherwise dead in the water (like an overextended metaphor). This is what I mean by damage control: we must find a way to reduce emphasis on the lame line.

            There are plenty of musical ways to do this. If you construct your melody carefully, you can imperceptibly but very effectively move the emphasis away from a particular word or syllable, but there is a much simpler and much more effective way of achieving this effect: simply place the lame line first. The central problem is that you are saddled with accommodating your good line. The greatest lyrical emphasis always falls on the last line of the verse, and so that is the place where you must deposit your clever line so as to avoid the (admittedly correct) impression that you are accommodating it.
            A terrific example of how not to do this comes from my old enemy, High School Musical. In the closing number, insufferably titled “We’re All In This Together,” we are forced to swallow the lines “Together, together, together everyone/Together, together, come on let’s have some fun.” We will leave alone for the moment the imbecilic redundancy of the “together” portion of the lyric, favoring instead the rhymes “everyone” and “fun.” The word “fun,” in general, is a word that should be used in lyrics seldom, if ever. I am hard-pressed to think of a lyric sporting that word that is not diminished by its presence. “Everyone” is the better rhyme by far. It is multi-syllabic (always good for a second rhyme), its natural rhythms match those of the music reasonably well. Though the song itself is beyond salvation, think of how much better that verse would be, were the lyrics “Together, together, c’mon, let’s have some fun/Together, together, together everyone.” Still not good, perhaps—there is little to be gained in dressing the wounds of a corpse—but still markedly better.
Next time: A positive example, courtesy of Mr. Billy Joel.

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