Songwriting basics Section II – Analysis 1: The World Came to Springburn

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

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Pre-cooked songs ……oven.gif

We’ve already looked, in some depth, at various “recipes” and “ingredients” involved in songwriting. 

In this, Section II of this blog, I intend to see how those pan out in the creation of songs by myself, traditional folk songs, and songs by other modern writers in the traditional genre.

I’ll also give a little bit of each song’s history, and explain any possibly unfamiliar terms.

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The World Came to Springburn …

We’ll start with one of mine.

The World Came to Springburn was conceived as a kind of social protest song that was also a piece of family history.

My mother’s family came from Springburn, in the northern part of Glasgow, Scotland.

Springburn was, from the mid-1840s, an industrial neighbourhood, specialising in locomotive construction for railways in the UK and throughout the Empire.

train.gif My mother used to tell me of how her father and brothers had worked at the Hyde Park Locomotive Works there, and of how the children used to cheer when they wheeled out the engines, on the back of a huge truck, to be transported to whichever country and customer had bought them.

In the 1950s, the owners were too slow to change over to diesel and electric engine production and lost out to other manufacturers. The works were progressively shut down, and the area descended into Depression. Many emigrated, and many of those left behind were living in properties that slowly decayed into slums.

Finally, much of the place was demolished and new housing was built – a lot of it totally inappropriate for one of the highest, windiest parts of the city. Unemployment was endemic, and the area began to suffer from crime and drug problems.coll.gif

One attempt to lift the area was the conversion of the old locomotive company’s offices  into a community college – first called Springburn College, then, after amalgamation with Barmulloch College, it was renamed North Glasgow College.

I worked there as a lecturer from 1992 – 2012, and was most surprised to discover that the little row of modern houses at the back of the college, just next to Paddy Orr’s Park (a favourite playground for Springburn kids in its heyday), bore the name of my Granny’s old street: Adamswell Street – which my Mum always referred to as “A damn swell street!”

While chatting to a friend, harmonica player Fraser Speirs, during the interval of a gig I was doing, we got on to the subject of Springburn (Fraser was born and brought up there), and I mentioned the coincidence of my working on the same site as my grandfather and uncles had done before me.

A chap next to us at the bar leaned over and said, “Would that not make a good subject for a song?”

Land and Sea - Bob Leslie

The song in question was released as part of my 2017 album 
Land and Sea –  CDs available here, and digital downloads and previews here.

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Lend an ear and an eye …

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World Came to Springburn © Bob Leslie 2017

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The importance of the Count …count.gif

The stress pattern in the verses goes 

  • Lines 1 to 3 – 4 stressed syllables, e.g.
    “Oh, my grandfather worked on the big locomotives
  • Line 4  – 3 stressed syllables
  • Line 5 – 5 stressed syllables
  • Line 6 – 7 stressed syllables
  • Line 7 – 4 stressed syllables
  • Line 8 – 3 stressed syllables

The last verse changes the pattern slightly by making the 6th line 3 stressed syllables and also interposes a line of 3 stressed syllables between lines 7 and 8 as a  kind of short coda.

  • The bridge has the pattern 5 5 4 3

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Metre matters …

There is also a pretty much regular metric pattern – this is where we get a bit technical!

iambi.gifThe building blocks of most poetry and lyrics are called feet, and there are, of course, different kinds with different names. 

foot consists of a stressed syllable and one or more unstressed ones – either before or after it. 

The most common foot in this song is the one that goes dah-dah-DUM. The formal name for that is an anapest – some people call it the “galloping horse” metre.

  • “Oh, my grandfather worked on the big locomotives
  • dah-dah-DUM, dah-dah-DUM, dah-dah-DUM, dah-dah-DUM

You’ll notice that there’s a spare syllable at the end (“-tives”) that’s squeezed in like a grace-note. It “borrows” a little part of the end of the anapest by shortening the time “allocated” to -mo-, so it doesn’t disturb the rhythm by extending into another beat. 

Don’t worry about that – songs don’t have to be too exact about metric feet so long as they put the stresses in the same places, follow the pattern most of the time, and don’t add extra beats.bob

Bob Dylan’s early work is a bugger for this – he jams in extra words all over the place!

However, don’t be too free and easy about it; the closer you can follow the pattern, the tighter the song will sound.

foot.gif

 

The other type of foot used is that old Shakespearian favourite: the iamb. If you remember, that’s the one that goes dah-DUM. 

 

As with the other lines, there are odd syllables squeezed into the rhythm here and there, but they never disturb the basic
dah-DUM, dah-DUM, dah-DUM, dah-DUM, dah-DUM
of the line. 

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So the metric pattern of the verses is

  • Lines 1 to 3 – 4 x anapest
  • Line 4 – 3 x anapest
  • Line 5 – 5 x iamb
  • Line 6 – 1 x anapest, 6 iamb
  • Lines 7 – 4 x anapest
  • Line 8 – 3 x anapest

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The bridge has the pattern

  • Line 1 – 5 x iamb
  • Line 2 – 3 x iamb, 2 x anapest
  • Line 3 – 4 x anapest
  • Line 4 – 3 x anapest

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Rhyme and reason …rhymer.gif

The rhyming model established in the 1st verse is followed for the other verses (plus the coda line in the last verse).

V1 end-words are “locomotives”, “day”, “together”, “away”, “cheering”, “bay” “Egypt”, “day”. Structurally, that gives an end-rhyme pattern of

  • A  B  C  B  D  B  E  B

ie every 2nd line rhymes.

V2 has a half-rhyme of “gates” and “day” which bends the structure slightly, but doesn’t break it!

The bridge  also follows the “every 2nd line rhymes” rule.

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A small bunch of keys …

keys.gifThe song is basically in A major but makes plentiful use of its natural relative minor aka F# Aeolian

The second half of the verse briefly flits into the key of the dominant or 5th:  E major.

 

Then, even more briefly, it implies F# minor (the relative minor of A major) by deploying a C#7 chord, before returning to A major.

The bridge, like the first half of the verse, is an A major/F# Aeolian mix.

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A line and hook …hk.gif

The song’s title The World Came to Springburn is reflected, at the end of each verse, in the hookline “the world came to Springburn in its day.” The placing of the hookline makes it more memorable, as does its repetition. Deriving the title from it also helps memorability, and gives some indication of the song’s subject matter.

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So, structurally, apart from some very minor variations, the song has the following:

  • Stress pattern in the lyrics repeating in each verse
  • Repeated metric pattern
  • Repeated rhyme pattern
  • Main key of A major plus some dabbling with very closely-associated keys
  • Memorable hookline used as title

Basically, I’ve been a good boy, and followed the “rules” (really just strong recommendations) that previous blog posts have established. Hurray!

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I hope you found this informative and interesting. Next time, we’ll look at a song  that’s much older!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

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