Songwriting - How Neil Young's Heart of Gold Uses Rhyme As an Accelerator in Its Lyrics

When you write lyrics, they tend to work best when the meaning of your words is directly tied into what's happening musically. When all the elements of your song are fused together this way, it's called prosody.

Neil Young Live

Rhyme can be an incredibly powerful tool for tying the meaning of your words to your music. One way to do this is to use rhyme as an accelerator. For example, let's say you have a rhyme scheme that rhymes on every other line. We'll call this an ABAB rhyme scheme. It might look like this:

Now we're gonna rhyme (A)

It'll be so fun (B)

We'll do it in four lines (A)

Just like that, we're done (B)

In this ABAB scheme, the 'A' rhymes are the lines with the words "rhyme" and "lines" and the 'B' rhymes are "fun" and "done."

Once we've established this rhyme scheme in our song, it becomes what's expected throughout the song. If we change it, it'll change what the song makes us feel.

For example if we establish our lyric to be an ABAB rhyme scheme and then change it to an ABBB rhyme scheme the next time around, it'll feel different. Check it out:

Section 1

Now we're gonna rhyme (A)

It'll be so fun (B)

We'll do it in four lines (A)

Just like that, we're done (B)

Section 2

Now we're gonna rhyme (A)

It'll be so fun (B)

These lines are gonna run (B)

Just like that, we're done (B)

Future Grammy-winning lyrics for sure. Okay, maybe not. But lame lyrics aside, how did the second section feel compared to the first? Did you notice the acceleration of the last three lines in the second section? One of the functions of rhyme is it can act as an accelerator, when you space your rhymes close together.

In the example above we established our rhymes to happen at every other line, in section 1. Then we went against your expectations in section 2 by increasing the frequency of the rhyme, which made the lines feel accelerated.

"Heart of Gold" by Neil young

Let's check out a great example of this concept in action. Who better to learn from than Neil Young? Check out the first verse of the song "Heart of Gold:"

I want to live, I want to give

I've been a miner for a heart of gold

It's these expressions I never give

That keep me searching for a heart of gold

And I'm getting old

This is essentially an ABABB rhyme scheme, in five lines. Technically, in lines one through four, they're not rhymes, but identities, since it's the same word being repeated ("give" and "live"). But that's beside the point for right now. Let's treat them as typical rhymes.

With the ABAB rhyme scheme that's established in the first four lines, there has been a certain rhyme pace that's become expected. So when the fifth line comes in with another 'B' rhyme, it's a surprise that accelerates that line.

Mixing Meaning With Your Rhymes

"So what?" you ask. "The fifth line accelerates... Big deal." Fair point. Here's why it's cool. This acceleration happens on the line "And I'm getting old." The implication of a line like "And I'm getting old" is "I'm getting old, quickly." Except he doesn't have to say "quickly" because that was implied with how the line was written. The acceleration due to two lines of rhyme back to back (after establishing a slower rhyme pattern previously) really helps us FEEL the aging process happening fast for him. It's the meaning of the lyric tied into the rest of the song. And in my opinion, it works very well. If you don't believe me, check it out for yourself.

This pattern continues throughout the song, but you'll get the gist after the first verse. So just listen to the first verse, through about 1:15 into the song.

You can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZX8RAaRNIk

Other Factors

With moves like this, rhyme is always the most obvious contributor, because it stands out so clearly when we hear it. It can't be mistaken. But when you're using rhyme to highlight one of your ideas, it usually works best when combined with other tools. In the case of our line "and I'm getting old," a second tool being used is a change of line length.

If you check out the first four lines of the verse, you'll notice they're longer than the last line, "and I'm getting old." This helps drive home the idea about "I'm getting old quickly." When you establish a longer line length in previous lines, and then shorten it, it'll feel quicker. It's a second contributor to the same idea. And it contributes so nicely.

Use It

Experiment with this idea. If your lyrics give you a reason to accelerate (or decelerate), try supporting that meaning with rhyme, and even line length, if possible. See if you like the results you get compared to what you would have done beforehand. And don't forget to have fun.

For more lyric writing advice, watch your free lesson, "Writing Lyrics to Music," here: http://www.successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer

Anthony Ceseri is the owner of http://www.SuccessForYourSongs.com, a website dedicated to the growth and development of songwriters of all skill levels. Anthony's writings appear as examples in the book "Songwriting Without Boundaries: Lyric Writing Exercises For Finding Your Voice" by Pat Pattison, an acclaimed lyric writing professor at Berklee College of Music.

by Anthony Ceseri; Monday, March 19, 2012 @ 01:30 PM [15434]

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