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:

Rhiannon:

Blue Letter:

Say You Love Me:

Second Hand News:

Don’t Stop:

The Chain:

You Make Loving Fun:

rumours

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.

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