The Chorus Chameleon

The chorus is the home base, the anchor, the returning-point of any song. It has to be memorable, and it has to be catchy. It only stands to reason that it should be the same every time. But what if I told you there was a way to keep every chorus in a song exactly the same, while simultaneously making each one completely different? Well move over Boy George, and make way for the Chorus Chameleon.

Kaleidoscope Colors
The chameleon has the unique ability to change colors depending on its surroundings. The Chorus Chameleon works in much the same way. Though its words stay the same, its meaning changes depending on the context.

The key to creating a Chorus Chameleon is choosing words or phrases that can be interpreted in several different ways. Words with many definitions, like “shot” or “run” are prime candidates. Clever phrases and double entendres can be just as effective. By building a story around them that takes advantage of their multiple meanings, every verse can paint its accompanying chorus a completely different color.

Smoke and Mirrors
In the lyrics below, each verse (written in plain English) alters the meaning of the chorus that follows it. Check it out: 

V1: Guy sees a cute girl in a bar
Girl sees the guy is interested, but nervous
Girls says - If you ever want to win a girl like me you’re going to have to: 
Chorus 1: Take a shot, don’t be shy
Step right up and give it a try
Be a man and show me what you got,
Take a shot.

V2: Girl’s boyfriend comes back from the john just in time to see first guy flirting with his girl
He puts up his dukes, ready to fight
First guy threatens to pull out a gun, so the boyfriend says: 
Chorus 2: Take a shot, don’t be shy
Step right up and give it a try
Be a man and show me what you got,
Take a shot.

Bridge: First guy wakes up lying on the floor with a black eye
Bartender tries to console him by offering him some strong whiskey, and says: 
Chorus 3: Take a shot, don’t be shy
Step right up and give it a try
Be a man and show me what you got,
Take a shot.

Obviously, the pivotal phrase in the song above is “take a shot”. In the first chorus its meaning is akin to “give it a try”. In the second the interpretation becomes “shoot your gun”. In the final chorus we understand it to mean a “drink some whiskey”. The words never change, but the meaning does. Cool, huh?

In Its Natural Habitat
Seeing animals in a zoo is alright, but seeing them in their natural habitat is always more thrilling. Here are two places you can easily spot the Chorus Chameleon:

“Concrete Angel” by Stephanie Bentley and Rob Crosby (and performed by Martina McBride). Through the first two verse/chorus cycles the “concrete angel” is a young girl who has hardened herself to neglect and abuse. In the final, heart-rending chorus it becomes the literal embodiment of the statue on her grave

“Grampa’s Still” by David Norris. In this clever tune the meaning of the choruses shifts between Grampa’s alcohol-making still, and Grampa hiding from the law by staying motionless on the porch. Brilliant!

Practice Blending In
The beauty of this technique is that it lets you invoke new interest in a listener every time the chorus comes around, while still maintaining that memorable quality that is so important in choruses.

As an exercise to get your creative juices flowing consider the phrase:” I’ve gotta run”. How many different interpretations can you generate for that phrase? List them all, and then create a story that includes two or three of them. Relate them all to a chorus that includes the words “I’ve gotta run”, and see what you come up with.
Take a shot!

*Photo by LaertesCTB


Post a Comment