"Do I wanna know?" - rhyme grit - and no blandarctica

Billy Joel is not Alex Turner. For SongExpresso, Bily is a master of natural sounding rhyme. But for SongExpresso, the best Arctic Monkey's lyrics are like raps - layering on rhyme and sounds without compromise to meaning. No "rhyme crime" here ("rhyme grit", anyone?). 

As readers will by now have realised, SongExpresso is universally unimpressed by contrived or forced rhymes; but what we have in "Do I wanna know" is something more sophisticated than rhyming couplets. It's wordplay with half-rhymes, internal rhymes, and eclectic but never stilted sounding vocabulary. The rhymes keep coming, maybe 10 obvious ones to a verse, not counting the ones we feel but don't see, that season and spice the remainder of the lyrics.

This is really structured and disciplined - we might try to emulate by sitting with the rhyming dictionary open and going for a rhyme at the end of every line. Could be a good exercise but almost inevitably boring.

So let's take a moment:

  • to feel the "organic-ness" - I don't believe there's a dictionary that would give you all the rhymes here (verse 1: the "ee" sounds - verse 2: the "uh" sounds). This comes from feeling - and perspiration.
  • to chase the rhyme - it seems to start at the end and wander backwards into the middle or even near to the beginning of the line. That reminds us of some (modern) rap techniques - the rhymes seem to be attracted together and to chase one after the other. It creates an accelerating and decelerating flow - more natural, more rhythmically varied and attention-keeping.
  • to enjoy the Englishness - "summat", "settee", "you've 'ad a few" - of course this wouldn't be Arctic Monkeys if the language was some kind of mid-Atlantic, estuary, blandarctica. This takes some self-assurance to pull off - but in reality they always had it and haven't changed much since album 1. For the rest of us, daring to use details like this can help us inject a pinch of credibility, sincerity and personality. Of course, if trying to write from the point of view of a character from a culture that isn't yours, best get these right.
  • to notice how the flow of the lyrics matches the beat - there are no scanning issues here. This depends to an extent on Alex's delivery, and using short words helps - but the emphases fall all in the right places. The mix of shorter and longer phrases also makes for a more spoken feel and avoids dull symmetry.

Let's not try to be rappers if we aren't. (If you do want to, please try first in the safety of your own home and not on 8 Mile Road.) And I don't think we really need more pop songs with rap breaks. But we can try some of the techniques to add interest and variation to the lyrics and rhyming patterns of a rock or any other style of song. What other non-hip-hop songs use elements from or could be raps? As always, SongExpresso wants to hear your favorites.

 

DO I WANNA KNOW?

Have you got colour in your cheeks?

Do you ever get the fear that you can’t shift the type that sticks around like something in your teeth?

Are there some aces up your sleeve?

Have you no idea that you’re in deep?

I dreamt about you nearly every night this week

How many secrets can you keep?

Cause there’s this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow and I play it on repeat

Until I fall asleep

Spilling drinks on my settee

 

Do I wanna know

if this feeling flows both ways?

Sad to see you go

Was sort of hoping that you’d stay

Baby we both know

That the nights were mainly made for saying things that you can’t say tomorrow day

 

[Chorus]

Crawlin’ back to you

Ever though of calling when you’ve had a few

Cos I always do

Maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for somebody new

Now I’ve thought it through

Crawlin’ back to you

 

So have you got the guts?

Been wondering if you’re heart’s still open

And if so I wanna know what time it shuts

Simmer down and pucker up

I’m sorry to interrupt

It’s just I’m constantly on the cusp

Of trying to kiss you

I don’t know if you feel the same as I do

But we could be together if you wanted to

 

Do I wanna know

If this feeling flows both ways?

Sad to see you go

Was sort of hoping that you’d stay

Baby we both know

That the nights were mainly made for saying things that you can’t say tomorrow day

 

[Chorus]

Crawlin’ back to you

Ever though of calling when you’ve had a few

Cos I always do

Maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for somebody new

Now I’ve thought it through

Crawlin’ back to you

Too busy being yours to fall

Ever thought of calling darling?

Do you want me crawling back to you? 

 

Songwriters: Turner, Alex

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

http://www.arcticmonkeys.com/song.php?id=136