Elements of Great Songwriting: Fleetwood Mac and the Art of the Lyrical Coda

f mac

The great rock artists usually have a distinguishing characteristic that sets them apart. Think Freddie Mercury’s semi-supernatural voice or Eddie Van Halen’s scale-shredding guitar, Elton’s piano or McGuinn’s Rickenbacker.

fleet album

Fleetwood Mac were always a more democratic operation in that no single member’s talents dominated their recorded performance; they seemed more concerned with playing, harmonizing and producing great music as a unit. With no less than three capable hit-producing writers–and as many lead vocalists able to put those hit songs across–they relied on no single member’s talents as a calling card.

But there was a distinguishing characteristic to this band, though it was one subtle enough that even fans may not have given it a second thought. In their heyday the thing that often set a Fleetwood Mac song apart from other radio fodder was the presence of a lyrical coda at the end of a song.

What’s a coda? The word is Italian for “tail” and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a part of a song distinct from all the parts that precede it. It usually takes the form of a repeated phrase at the song’s conclusion that has never appeared previously within the song.

Let’s call on four guys who know a little about songwriting to demonstrate…

This is the verse:

This is the chorus:

And this, which is neither verse, chorus or bridge, but rather the song’s musical and lyrical “tail”, is the coda:

And now a few Fleetwood Mac codas, all of which were taken from the Fleetwood Mac and Rumours albums. Most or all will be familiar to you, although you may not have realized just how frequently the band employed this songwriting tact:


Blue Letter:

Say You Love Me:

Second Hand News:

Don’t Stop:

The Chain:

You Make Loving Fun:


Sadly, the coda is just one more underutilized musical technique these days (along with tact, lyrical subtlety, articulation…) Seems no one’s playing pin the tail on the song anymore.

Fleetwood Mac are the go-to source for a budding songwriter to learn by example how to add a catchy tag to the end of a hit tune.

Science Suggests Bassists Are Far More Important Than Most People Realize


(via Music.Mic)

by Tom Barnes

When Led Zeppelin’s bassist John Paul Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, he made a classic bass joke. “Thank you to my friends for finally remembering my phone number,” he said, looking over at the rest of the band.

Like any good joke, there’s some truth to it: Bassists are criminally overlooked and underappreciated members of most every band. Yet there’s scientific proof that bassists are actually one of the most vital members of any band. There are powerful neurological and structural reasons why our music needs bass. It’s time we started treating bassists with the respect they deserve.

Read more: http://mic.com/articles/120137/science-suggests-bassists-are-far-more-important-than-most-people-realize

Some Important Observations On Steeleye Span, Experiments In Folk Rock And Cows


(via 90.9 wbur in Boston)

I want to talk to you about what it means to experiment. Let’s begin with the following sentence: “We did try a reggae ‘Spotted Cow’ and we weren’t terribly convinced by it, so we stopped doing it.”

You’ll be needing a little context for that. “Spotted Cow” is a song from around 1740. It’s about a woman who’s lost her cow. She complains about it to this guy she runs into. He’s like, “Lady, I am game to help you find your cow. Let us do this.” They go off to a field to find it. Obvious place to start, right? Before long … well, you know how fields are. Sexiest thing in nature. So they decide to do what comes naturally to a man and a woman in a field, which isn’t really looking for cows. From then on, whenever the lady’s looking for a bit of you-know-what, she finds some guy and tells him about her cow.

The speaker of that sentence was Maddy Prior, singer of the great English folk-rock band Steeleye Span. This is a band that she’s led since 1969, and they’re playing on July 24 at Johnny D’s in Somerville.

So, to sum up: ‘70s English folk-rock band, cow used as cover story for Georgian booty call. And then: reggae.

“When you’re experimenting with things they can’t all be winners,” she says. “I’m pleased that we tried things.”

Read more: http://artery.wbur.org/2015/07/20/steeleye-span

Video of the Week: Dan Wilson Explains How He Hid His Hit Song’s Meaning in Plain View


Dan Wilson, singer and songwriter of the band Semisonic, reveals the true meaning behind the band’s biggest hit at his 25th reunion at his alma mater, Harvard.

Possible Follow-Up Songs for One-Hit Wonders

(Reprinted from McSweeney’s Lists)

by John Moe

How Are We Going to Get These Dogs Back In?

Bust an Additional Move

Seriously, Eileen, Come On

(Won’t You Give Me A Ride Home From) Funkytown?

Remember When You Lit up My Life? That Was Great

I Will Now Pass the Dutchie Back to You and Thank You for Passing It to Me Originally Because I Really Enjoyed the Dutchie

The Morning That the Lights Came Back on in Georgia

Everybody Was Kung Fu Making Up

Whoomp! There It Continues to Be

867-5309 extension 2

We Never Took It and Persist in Our Refusal to Take It

Songs You May Have Missed #540


The Police: “Canary in a Coalmine” (1980)

You could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to the early work of Talking Heads or something by 10cc on your first hearing of this 1980 album track by the Police.

It clocks in at just under two and a half minutes and serves as a reminder that not all the work of the “classic rock” bands needed to be epic and ponderous–or contain a flashy guitar solo for that matter. The lyric here is merely a sketch. It could very well have ended up un the Zenyatta Mondatta cutting room floor as an idea that needed more fleshing out.

Thankfully the band instead let it stand as what it is: a couple minutes’ worth of catchy, idiosyncratic pop rock.

Video of the Week: Wheel of Musical Impressions with Jamie Foxx

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2015/02/27/video-of-the-week-wheel-of-musical-impressions-with-christina-aguilera/

Pop Quiz: What Do These Artists Have in Common?



Each group of artists listed below have something in common. Can you identify the link between the artists in each group?

Some are easy, others are tough. Answers will be posted in comments section.

1) Neil Young, Loverboy, Joni Mitchell, The Guess Who, Barenaked Ladies, Rush

2) Donna Summer, Kiss, Parliament, Village People

3) John Denver, Jim Croce, Otis Redding, Patsy Cline

4) Dionne Warwick, Frankie Valli, Dolly Parton, Samantha Sang, Yvonne Elliman, Tavares, Kenny Rogers, Barbra Streisand

5) Paul McCartney, Kurt Cobain, Elliott Easton, Jimi Hendrix

6) Aerosmith, Guster, Boston, The Cars

7) The Beach Boys, AC/DC, Bee Gees, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Heart, The Black Crowes, The Kinks

8) Lauren Hill, Christopher Cross, Starland Vocal Band, America, Debby Boone, Jody Watley, Men at Work, fun.

9) The Sex Pistols, The Postal Service, The La’s, Blind Faith, Jeff Buckley, Rockpile, Derek & the Dominos

10) Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ben Folds Five, America, Run-DMC, The Police, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, ZZ Top

“Taste Lock” vs Staying Current: The Aging Music Fan’s Dilemma

my day

I recently received a correspondence which read:

I need your help. Can you link me to anything that proves that I am not old the music just got VERY bad after the 80’s. A co-worker is smarming me saying I have just become my parents. NOT TRUE my Dad stopped listening to music after he turned 18 and unfortunately sees this as just what you do. My mom likes all kinds as I do and is open to everything. Long story short, we have radio that only picks up 2 am stations and a lame FM one. She bought a device and we can stream but she only plays i heart radio 96 something or other. After 8 hours I wanted to scream. She “said” we would all get to choose but this is all I’ve heard. When I voiced my discontent (nicely) she slammed me with the age thing. Any help appreciated.

I’m doubtful this post can provide much help to my friend. But the topic interests me a great deal.

steely dan

The issue of so-called “taste lock” vs. staying connected with current popular music is a many-faceted one. As perusal of this blog will reveal, I have tendencies in both directions.

I consider myself a music fanatic in the truest sense. There is music in my head almost literally all of the time. I enjoy music even when I’m not hearing it. Even while asleep my brain often replays familiar songs or invents original melodies. I couldn’t stop it if I tried.

Much of my metabolism as a fan of music is geared to the discovery of new stuff. But the “new” music can be old music, as long as it’s new to me. This hunger to be stimulated by new sounds puts me on the “staying current” side of the fence on this issue.

But my heart will always be stuck in the 70’s.


I think it’s natural for any music lover to maintain a profound emotional attachment to the music that provided the soundtrack to their own coming of age. For my part, the three bands I consider my all-time favorites all entered my world between the ages of ten and fourteen. I doubt any band could make as powerful an impact on crusty old middle-aged me as the Moody Blues’ Every Good Boy Deserves Favour album did on that impressionable, prone-to-daydreaming kid with the record player beside his bed.

But arguments can be made on either side of the issue of whether to stick to the old favorites or continually seek out good new music.


In defense of those who have succumbed contentedly to taste-lock, I must say that in certain genres of music at least, the peak years seem to be decades behind us. Chris Squire’s recent passing reminded me that progressive rock’s flowering of genius in the early 70’s still echoes in the stuff you hear today–perhaps rock music’s evolution reached a creative summit with music created by bands like Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes over the span of a few brief years. To my ears at least, creativity, complexity and melodic appeal never more perfectly shared the grooves of a record than on some of Yes’ early masterworks, the indelible riffs of which are demonstrated by Steve Howe here.

stonesLike contemporary jazz and dance music, even when new rock is good it sounds derivative.

There’s a reason bands like the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac not only continue as viable touring entities, but can basically name their price for concert tickets: no one has come along to supplant them, if not artistically then at least in terms of mass appeal. Certain artists, such as Neil Young and Bob Marley, and certain bands, such as Steely Dan and Led Zeppelin, have no real successors or contemporary peers.


If you’re a big fan of such artists I sympathize with your contention that “new music sucks”. Nothing new sounds like what you love best.

Arguably, no female songwriter born after 1970 has written anything as deeply affecting as Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide”. Perhaps no rock band in the last 30 years has recorded a song of such bombastic splendor as Zep’s “Black Dog”. And not one of the retro-soul acts currently tearing up the charts has recorded a song half as good as the Righteous Brothers’ “Soul and Inspiration”. I get it.


But there is a ton of great undiscovered music out there, both new and old. Whatever your taste, if you’re a true lover of music I defy you to do a little digging through this blog’s song recommendation section  without finding something that piques your interest. Some of it’s current, some not, but if it’s new to you and you like it then the takeaway is that you’re not done discovering good music. And it follows that though you may be attached to a particular era of music–and this is to be expected–no era or decade has the corner on great music.

And anyway, your perception of the music of the past as superior is colored by this inevitable fact:

older music

It’s true. Most of the dreck of past decades has sunk to the bottom of the barrel and radio formats don’t bother to stir it up. Don’t forget much of today’s dreck will be tomorrow’s dregs. And the classics that survive this era will make current music seem better on the whole than it actually is.

Video of the Week: “Times I Tried To Be A Hipster?”

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