The Melody Exchange (a Modest Proposal)

Often I will tell people who do not consider themselves poets of a poetry event coming up. Sometimes the response is “Ah, thanks, but I just don’t like poetry.” The technical term for most of these folks is Liars, especially if they have an iPod full of songs. Songs are poetry. That they are set to music is incidental.

Musical lyrics usually rely on stressed and unstressed syllable patterns that fit in poetic form (for instance, look up IAMBIC or TROCHAIC or ANAPESTIC if you are unfamiliar with those terms). A sophisticated songwriter like Paul Simon is not as yoked to stress pattern as most if he doesn’t want to be. (His word-economical “Overs” starts “Why don’t we stop fooling ourselves?” and ends “But each time I try on the thought of leaving you, I STOP/Stop and think it over…”) But–and here is my Modest Proposal for you with a chunk of computer programming under your belts–a melody exchange is possible for songs whose lyrics have identical, or even near-identical, stress patterns.

Example: Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” may be sung to the tune of “Seven Spanish Angels.” Example, with a bit of a stretch: that weird song of the 60’s “Quick Joey Small” can borrow the Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Me If You Can,” thus:

Sheriff’s got a shotgun (ooh, oo-ooh)
Fill ya full of lead, son (true, oo-ooh.)
Sheriff’s got a blackjack (ooh, oo-ooh)
We about went out of our minds.
Catch us if you CA-AN, catch us if you CA-AA-AA-aan…

Another stretcher: Lennon/McCartney’s “You Won’t See Me” sung to the tune of the Everly Brothers “Love Hurts:”

I call
You up
You’re line’s
I’ve had
So act
Your age…

But the weirdest I’ve ever realized is Simon Zealotes’ song from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. The punchline will reveal the melody exchange:

Christ what more do you need to conVINCE you
That you’ve MADE IT and you’re EASILY as strong
As the FILTH from ROME who rape our COUNtry
And who’ve TERRorized our PEOple for so long?
The BRAdy Bunch
The BRAdy Bunch
That’s the day we all became the Brady Bunch!


  1. The Product Poet said:

    I’ve often said that rappers and lyricists are nothing more than melodic Poets. Cheers.

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