Describing melody III: Rufus’s Hooks

January 20, 2006

“A hook is a musical idea, a passage or phrase, that is believed to be catchy and helps the song stand out; it is “meant to catch the ear of the listener” (Covach 2005, p.71). This term generally applies to popular music, especially pop music.” (Wikipedia)

There is a difference between a hook and a riff. Again, quoting the Wikipedia:

“In music, a riff is an ostinato figure: a repeated chord progression, pattern or melodic figure, often played by the rhythm section instruments, that forms the basis or accompaniment of a rock music or jazz composition.”

Ancient Swedish Hook

One of the melodic elements that catches our attention in a song is a hook. We’ll hear a song for the first time, and the second time we hear it, we invariably will sing along with that hook. Some songs have multiple hooks. Sometimes the may appear at the beginning, sometimes they will appear in the middle, and sometimes at the end. Very often, the hook is fused to the title.

I’ll be writing a chapter about Rufus Wainwright’s use of hooks and will use this posting to throw out some initial ideas and will welcome your input.

Rufus’s eponymous (such a good word) album “Rufus Wainwright” as well as his earlier unreleased songs (The Demo Tape) are, by and large, more complex, and less like typical pop songs. There are title hooks as in “Baby” and “Barcelona,” but I listen to the other songs and don’t find blatant hookery going on.

Poses, on the other hand, has more of them. “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” has an opening title hook. The “A little bit…” sequence is a secondary hook. “Poses” and “California” both have title hooks: “all these poses…” and “California, California” the former being an opening hook, and the latter a mid-song hook. I don’t hear blatant hooks in the other songs, but let me know if you disagree.

Want One seems to be full of title hooks: “I Don’t Know What it Is,” “Vicious World,” “Pretty Things,” “Go, or Go Ahead,” “Natasha,” and “Beautiful Child” (…beautiful child, such a beautiful child again”).

Want Two continues in being full of title hooks — not surprising as he wrote all these songs around the same period: “Peach Tree” (“under the peach tree”), “Little Sister,” “Gay Messiah,” “Crumb by Crumb,” and “In With the Ladies.”

I need to point out that there are many melodic hooks that exist in his songs, but as the lyrics change from verse to verse, we are talking about a different kind of animal, one that will be dealt with in a separate chapter/posting. When the lyrics change, we hold onto the melodic hook, but have to endure a lyric change. This is good for “sticking to the subject” but perhaps tricky for everyman.

The image above is a carving of an ancient fishing boat that was found in Bohuslän (West Coast), Sweden. © Copyright 2005. O. Mustad & Son A.S.

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