Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Breaking the Rhyme: Four Songs That Would Have Rhymed With a Different Singer

So I've been listening to the Smiths. There's a certain line in "A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours" that stuck out, that I'd like to show you:
Oh, but don't mention love
I'd hate the pain of the strain all over again.
What's intriguing is that, written down, it looks like a triple internal rhyme, but the way Morrissey sings the word 'again', it isn't. 'Again' is an interesting work, mind you: it has two different pronunciations, with no regional preference as far as I can tell. I can't say 'Morrissey pronounces that word /əˈgɛn/ because he's Mancunian' or anything like that. Additionally, of course, with Morrissey, you can never be sure what's supposed to be a rhyme and what isn't. After all, he hardly follows ABABCDCD rhyme schemes.

But it reminded me of a few different songs down the years I've noticed, songs with rhyme schemes that would work in one accent but are sung by people who speak a different accent. Observe:

(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care

Take this fifties rocker, written by New Yorkers Lieber and Stoller and sung by Tennessee native Elvis Presley. Building a rhyme entirely around function words, Lieber and Stoller write the following:

I don't know why my heart flips.
I only know it does.
I wonder why I love you, baby.
I guess it's just because
You're so square.
Baby, I don't care.

Apart from noting that I never thought the verb was 'flip', note that while Northerners Lieber and Stoller have no problem rhyming 'does' and 'because' as /dʌz/ and /bɪˈkʌz/, Southerner Presley breaks the rhyme by pronouncing the latter as /bɪˈkɔz/.

Still a great song either way.


I had to do a bit of research here; I thought this one was a north-south thing, but it's not. The map of 'rhotic accents' in England is rather more complex than I'd thought it was. The lines in question in this brilliant 1960s song are:

Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova
You'll be dancing with 'em, too, before the night is over
Tony Hatch, the songwriter, was born in London, where most accents drop the letter 'r' at the end of words (creating the distinct 'driving in my kah' accent one associates with England as a whole and with Boston, Massachusetts). So for him 'bossa nova' and 'over' made a perfect rhyme. Petula Clark was from Epsom, Surrey - almost walking distance to today's London but, if my dialect map is to be believed, on the 'rhotic' side of th eline. Whatever her native accent ought to be, there's no doubt that Clark sounds that 'r' in 'over' about as strongly as any English-speaker could, wreaking havoc on the rhyme in question.

All Apologies

Obviously, this song was made famous by its composer, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, rather famously from Washington State. Dubliner Sinéad O'Connor is one of several people to have covered it, though. The rhyme in question is just that - a rhyme; no more, no less. It's the part that goes:

In the sun
In the sun I feel as one
In the sun, in the sun

The strange spelling given 'buried' is no problem: 'bury' is a homophone for 'berry' everywhere. It's that other word, one of the most intriguing to students of English dialects. Mary, merry and marry can be pronounced three different ways or all the same, depending on where you're from. West Coaster Cobain would have pronounced all three the same. O'Connor probably says them all differently. She whispers (I can't call it 'singing') /ˈmærid/ before /ˈbɛrid/, breaking the rhyme and turning it into merely two words repeated one after another.


This one doesn't quite fit. Sting wrote it, Sting sings it. Still, it's a mystery that can only be solved by looking into the head of history's most pretentious songwriter. Observe:

In Europe and America
There's a growing feeling of hysteria

And believe me, that's pretty tame for someone who has rhymed 'cough' with 'Nabokov' and 'apprentice' with 'Charibdes'. Anyway, 'hysteria' has two pronunciations: the middle syllable can be 'stair' or 'steer'. Neither exactly rhymes with 'America', but the former comes close. So that being the case, why oh why, Mr. Sting, did you pronounce 'hysteria' with the second pronunciation? It's an ugly rhyme anyway, why make it even more uncomfortable by pronouncing it so it doesn't rhyme at all?

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