Tuesday, October 13

Don't Stop Believin' - Song Form - continued...

Song Form – Part 1

The most unique (and my favorite) characteristic of Don’t Stop Believin’ is its remarkably strange song form, especially the three line chorus*…

Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people
Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people
Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people

What’s so remarkable about that, you ask? Well, did you realize that we only hear the chorus once?...at the end? That blows my mind. The chorus is so incredibly memorable, yet it only happens ONCE!

Structurally, most songs fall into one of two categories...


..in other words…

A – verse 1
B – chorus
A – verse 2
B – chorus
A – verse 3
B – chorus



A – verse 1
B – chorus
A – verse 2
B – chorus
A – bridge
B – chorus

Most songs in all genres use slight variations of these two forms (such as additional verses, etc).  [Side note: There’s also a  song form called “verse/refrain” which we’ll address at a some future point.]

Don’t Stop Believin’ uses a unique song structure....


A – verse 1 - Just a small town girl....
A – verse 2* - A singer in a smoky room....
B – pre-chorus - Strangers waiting....
A – verse 3 - Working hard to get my fill....
B – pre-chorus - Strangers waiting....
C – Chorus - Don’t stop....

*verse 2 is really half a verse.

Verse/chorus songs, with only one chorus, are extremely rare,  I can only think of two other major pop songs that have a single chorus; Sail On, by the Commodores; and Your Smiling Face, by James Taylor (I’m sure there are more, email me if you think of others). Both of these songs are ABABC, with the chorus on the end...just like Don’t Stop.

What’s remarkable about this song form (in all three songs!) is it FEELS like the chorus happens more than it really does. The power of the title/hook isn’t diminished because the chorus happens once. Who knew?!



For my songwriting students:  The title is considered parasitic. By itself, "don't stop believing" doesn't say what to don't stop believing in. The title depends on the information given in the verses to provide its meaning. (Now that I think of it, the song never really tells us specifically what to don't stop believing in. :))

Also: The chorus is considered to be unbalanced since it has an odd number of lines. The other sections are all balanced, with an even amount of lines. This is another area of great contrast. You have four balanced sections in a row, followed by the unbalanced chorus...which leaves you wanting more. 

PS. My initial idea was to have Song Form and Rhyme Scheme on the same day, but this post feels about the right length, so I’ll continue with Rhyme Scheme tomorrow. Please address any complaints here. :)

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iTune Links to Songs in this article:
Don't Stop Believin'
Sail On
Your Smiling Face


Andrea Elliott said...

HEY SHANE! Love the blog :) These songs take me back - I loved them but now I know WHY!! Parasitic titles rock! And totally unbalanced choruses - priceless! (but didn't you get after us for not providing enough detail like "don't stop believing in WHAT?") :) Seriously tho this is great -I look forward to your "musings" ! - Andrea

Andrea said...

I'm blown away - who'd ever think that having the chorus at the end could work at all?