It was 50 years ago this year that The Beatles released their psychedelic magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. With an iconic gatefold cover and persistent presence at the top of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Greatest Albums of All Time”, Pepper has held its own for half a century.
Most people, whether you are a rock connoisseur or casual Beatles fan, can rattle off the lyric and hum a few bars of the title track. Pretty catchy for a chorus that only appears once in the entire composition!
Wait. Are you sure? Don’t most choruses repeat at least 2-3 times in a song?
Typically, yes. But Lennon and McCartney were no slaves to conventional predictability. Instead they became masters of song form.
Song form in short are the patterns within musical compositions. The most common used forms in pop music today are based off of verse/chorus form. The verses typically tell a story while the chorus acts as a refrain, reinforcing the hook and/or title of the composition.
Back to Pepper.
The fascinating thing about the song, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is not only that the memorable chorus appears once in the entire song, but its song form outlines a perfect pyramid equally girded with the chorus as its peak:
Intro -> Verse 1 -> Bridge (instrumental) -> Chorus -> Bridge (lyrics) -> Verse 2 -> Outro
In a song that lasts a mere two minutes and three seconds, Lennon and McCartney (mostly McCartney) take us on an innovate, unconventional journey that still leaves us humming the chorus despite only being heard once for a short 20 seconds.
Lennon and McCartney were able to break the rules only after they mastered them. Any serious songwriter will pay attention to and practice song form. Whether you write metal or adult contemporary, song forms are the building blocks of all music.
The Beatles are a fine example of what can be done to freshen up verse/chorus song form while keeping the hook central and paramount.
Happy 50th, Sgt. Pepper!