Rule #4: Timeless Hook(s)
If you’ve read the section about hit songs, then you already know that there are two kinds of hooks that are important:
- Vocal hooks, and
- instrumental hooks.
When it comes to slow songs, then the vocal hook is almost always the melody sung in the chorus – which means that you’ll have to come up with a highly emotional, unique but easy to remember melody for your chorus. In most cases slow songs don’t have any other outstanding vocal hook (à la Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yo Yo Yo, or A-ha A-ha A-ha), which means that the melody alone will have to do the job. Almost all of today’s slow songs – even the better ones – completely rely on the chorus melody when it comes to hooks, which is one of the big problems of the slow songs that have been written since the late 1990s. Your challenge will be to write slow songs that will have both vocal hooks and instrumental hooks. If you manage to do this correctly, then you’ll already a huge advantage, as that’s something most of today’s slow songs no longer offer. There are basically two ways to create an instrumental hook for a slow song:
- The sound, the instruments and the arrangement will be so special that the entire song will act as a hook.
- You will have one single element that will act as hook.
Let’s start with the first option, which means that you’ll have to create a sound that’s very unique and that you will be using all over the entire song. Very hard to achieve, but it’s worth giving it a try – if you manage to get this right, then you may end up with something very special and interesting. Here are a few examples, some of those have already been mentioned by the way:
- Imagine – John Lennon (piano)
- A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke (orchestra)
- Be My Baby – The Ronettes (Phil Spector’s so-called Wall Of Sound production technique)
- You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ & Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers (Phil Spector again)
- Georgia On My Mind – Ray Charles (orchestra)
- Hotel California – The Eagles (12-string guitars plus the entire sound of the band)
- When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge (organ)
- Whiter Shade Of Pale – Procol Harum (different organ, similar effect)
- Every Breath You Take – The Police (groove / guitar & bass)
- Mr Tambourine Man – The Byrds (the entire sound of the band)
- One – U2 (guitars & arrangement)
Those songs are so special, they will beam you right into a different world with their pure sound alone.
They are so great that you could completely leave the vocals aside, the atmosphere of the music alone is so strong and so unique that it may transport the entire feeling of the song.
And that’s the big difference when it comes to today’s slows and ballads, which only rely on some crazy bullshit vocal performance à la Mariah Carey, while the music itself is just a gimmick in the background. Puff Daddy’s I’ll Be Missing You (1997, sampling the groove part of Every Breath You Take) is a good example of how well a great song (I’m talking about The Police’s originial version) will work even without the original vocal melody or the lyrics. The second option will be to use one or more specific elements that shall make the sound of your slow song unique. If you think that this might be easier than option one, then you’re wrong. The problem is that – unlike with hit songs – the instrumental hook can’t just stand out of the song too much, as this would probably kill the entire atmosphere. The hook must be embedded in the sound of the slow, and it will thus have to amplify the overall feeling of the song. Here are some good examples of what can be done:
- What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (alto saxophone)
- I Walk The Line – Johnny Cash (not a typical slow song, but check out the guitar playing the chorus melody anyway)
- (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding (bass guitar at the beginning, whistling after the chorus)
- Let’s Stay Together – Al Green (trumpets)
- Walk On By – Dionne Warwick (trumpets)
- For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield (guitar)
- My Girl – The Temptations (guitar melody)
- It’s All Over Now Baby Blue – Them (guitar)
- Everybody Hurts – R.E.M. (guitar picking, strings)
- Never Tear Us Apart – INXS (strings, retro guitar)
You will notice that there aren’t that many songs with really outstanding instrumental hook elements, which means that this may probably be hard to achieve. Most great slow songs do have unique elements, but they’re usually buried deep into the overall atmosphere of the song so that we don’t consider them as being hooks at all.
In the end it will be your job to unite rules #3 and #4 in order to create a warm and unique sound with a great melody on top. Seems hard to achieve, but if you constantly compare your own work to the songs mentioned on this page during the writing process, then you should be able to greatly improve the overall quality of your songs. Just make sure not to get frustrated – always remember that the songs mentioned here are among the best ones ever written, and don’t lose your mind if you don’t instantly manage to reach the same level. You probably never will, but as mentioned before you also won’t have to. Always remember that you’ll only have to create something unique, special, and artistic. If you achieve this, then there will be people who will like your work.