By Gary Earl
Megahit songwriter and ASCAP rep Ralph Murphy is a Sensei when it comes to lyrics. (Sensei is Japanese for Master of the Art & Master Teacher). For several years he has analyzed the top ten hit singles on country radio, and noticed that something like 90% of them follow some basic forms and similarities. Here are those results distilled down to bare bones:
They have a romantic/humorous or sad/heartfelt theme – Romantic in a family way, not in a sexy way. Think of a female driving at 7 AM to a job she hates in a car that might break down in the rain. She wants to hear that you care about her, will always be there when she needs you, etc. Sad works, but not in an egocentric, whining way. Don’t paint the singer as a “loser.”
Contemporary country musical style – Tells a story or conversation, heavy on humor and irony, packed with ear catching details, snappy comebacks like the sort of thing you wished you’d said, but didn’t think of at the time.
Written in 2nd person or 3rd person (if singing about a teen or grandparent, then use 3rd person). Uses a linear melody (little motion, few chords) on the verse, going to a soaring chorus melody (more movement in chords perhaps also).
Form: verse/chorus verse/chorus bridge chorus out. (2 verses at front if they’re short. Used the title within 60 seconds, and no more than 7 times. Total length of 3 minutes to 3:45 minutes long, with no more than a 13 second intro.