Today I thought I might give a brief argument as to why perfect rhyming is essential in lyrics. Let’s think about musical dissonance for a moment; modern music is fully aware of dissonance, but is also smart enough to use it sparingly. The fully atonal composers saw dissonance as a style, rather than what it actually is: an effect. And any musical effect must be used intelligently and therefore intermittently if it is to maintain its efficacy over time. Thus, dissonance must be saved until the moment at which it will be most effective. At that point, it may be used with abandon.

As a rule, any kind of artistic effect is like bad language: it is deliciously startling if used rarely and disappointingly tepid if applied indiscriminately. So it is with the technique of temporarily abandoning rhyme. Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics for the magnificent “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy demonstrate how best to apply this technique. Through most of the show, Sondheim’s lyrics had been conventional musical theater lyrics, but very clever and expertly rhymed. “Rose’s Turn” represents a drastic departure from that style, corresponding with Mama Rose’s mental deterioration:
Why did I do it?
What did it get me?
Scrapbooks full of me in the background.
Give ’em love and what does it get ya?
What does it get ya?
One quick look as each of ’em leaves you.
All your life and what does it get ya?
Thanks a lot and out with the garbage,
They take bows and you’re battin’ zero.
            Obviously it’s still rhythmic, but the rhyme schemes have completely collapsed, replaced by a stream of regrets and recriminations. It’s a brilliant moment, but imagine if the whole show was written like this; what would happen to this number’s emotional impact without its anarchic departure from the orderly lyrical structures that surround it?
            Doing away with rhyme is hardly taboo and can generate extraordinary dramatic effects, but only if used with moderation and a keen eye. Forcing yourself to rhyme is a wonderful thing; it crystallizes ideas, forces you to express emotions in ways that you might not have thought of, and abets both clarity and concision. Any of those alone would be worth playing for.

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