Breaking the Law

The most common phrase uttered by budding songwriters: "Rules are meant to be broken." Wow… it sounds so dangerous! In that outlaw spirit, I've compiled a list of my ten favorite rule-breaking songs....a Rouge's Gallery of the ugliest offenders in all of songdom. Proceed at your own risk.

The Lineup
Breaking rules should be a product of understanding, not inexperience. Make sure that any time you break the rules, you do so because it works for the song. Each of these songs is a rule-breaker for a reason. Listen to them and figure out why they still work despite their “flaws”.

10. Rocky Mountain Suite (Cold Nights in Canada) – John Denver
Two verses, a pre-chorus, and one chorus…followed by a short coda.

9. The Gambler – Kenny Rogers
Three long verses precede a chorus which does not contain the title. In fact, the word “gambler” only occurs once in the entire song. #1 smash hit.

8. The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner – Iron Maiden
I know this song doesn’t really belong on this list. It was never intended as a “pop” song. Still…it is 13-plus minutes of 100% pure awesome. This song is opera rock at its finest.

7. Something – The Beatles
Sort of an AABA form with no clear chorus…just kind of a refrain followed by a repeating guitar lick, with a bridge stuck in just to make sure you cry.

6. When Doves Cry – Prince
This is a pop/dance song with no bass line. At all. Anywhere. Cajones – Prince has ‘em.

5. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
A six minute single with no chorus. ‘Nuff said.

4. Every Breath You Take – The Police
No verses. The song starts with the chorus, goes to a bridge, then back to the chorus. Later a second bridge appears.

3. The Eagle and the Hawk – John Denver
This Denver gem is completely devoid of traditional song form. A single melodic phrase is repeated three times, followed by another melodic phrase. Epic!

2. Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles
It goes a little something like this: bridge 1, verse, bridge 2, verse, bridge 2, bridge 1, verse, bridge 2. WTF?

1. Escape - Journey
The lyrics switch between third person and first person. It’s almost a “Siamese song” - two songs stuck together at the hip. There are two different sets of verses and two choruses, connected to each other by a long instrumental section. The crazy thing is….it’s catchy as all heck!

Jail Bait
There are tons of other well known rule breakers out there - Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana), American Pie (Don McClean), and America (Simon & Garfunkle), just to name a few. It is important to remember that ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, “rule-breakers” are written by the artists that perform them. Rule-breakers are a tough sell for independent songwriters. That said, a good song is always a good song.

Go write one.

*Photo by mr • p


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