The Hook Line

30 Jul 2023

Multimillion selling pop songs have all got one thing in common; a hook line which lodges itself somewhere in the brain but lurks between the vocal chords and the eardrums. There must be a medical term for it; repetitive musical phrase syndrome or RMPS will do for now.

There must be a psychologist practising somewhere, probably at a leading USA university, who specialises in the subject; a Professor of Euphonics who, in return for several sessions at modest fees, claims a cure for its most persistent symptoms. These might include a temporary inability to concentrate, severe loss of rational thought or even acute short term attention deficit or ASTAD which already has an entire scientific branch of its own.

According to most dictionaries, Euphonics is defined as “a harmonious succession of words having a pleasing sound” but RMPS is much more serious. For example, it can affect one’s ability to safely drive a car in London at 20 mph (the current speed limit) or even more alarmingly perhaps, to drive the Flying Scotsman express passenger train which runs between London and Edinburgh.

Research into this phenomenon raises at least one obvious question. Is it the lyrics or the music that creates the addictive quality to the hook? The most successful creators of pop songs over the last 60 years include Elton John & Bernie Taupin, Mick Jagger & Keith Richard, Lennon & McCartney, The Bee Gees, Billy Joel, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Stock Aitken & Waterman and Roy Orbison. It would be cruel dear reader to name any one of the hundreds of songs written by any of these talented artists which have topped the charts. It would be akin to releasing a RMPS virus into your airwaves.

But an answer to the conundrum of which is the more important element in a hook – the words or the music - is worth pursuing. Elton John was a classically trained musician who clearly reads music. Bernie Taupin is a poet whose often convoluted phraseology rarely scans. None of the Beatles could read music. They seem to have jammed together as a unit experimenting as they went along with only an odd reference to a chord sequence written down.

Often Lennon & McCartney and certainly George Harrison, worked on songs solo. Although most of Lennon & McCartney’s songs for the Beatles are credited to both, you can usually tell which song is mostly one or the other.

Arguably, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA have produced the most addictive musical hooks in the history of pop music. As Swedes writing in English for the Eurovision Song Contest there was an obvious need for simple singable crowd pleasers. It took Judy Craymer, a British theatre impresario, to string several ABBA songs together to make a hugely successful stage musical and two major films, much to the astonishment of Benny & Bjorn who had refused permission for many years before eventually relenting.

To mention the name of the musical would risk an epidemic.

Stanley Jackson

Saturday 29th July 2023

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