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Original Article From http://measureformeasure.blogs.nytimes.com
By SUZANNE VEGA
Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime.
People’d call, say “Beware doll,
You’re bound to fall,” you thought they were all
Remember that song? I’ll bet you do. What’s the melody? Pretty much one note from the beginning to the end of the phrase, with a lift at the end. Is it a cool song? Yes, very. It’s Bob Dylan — “Like A Rolling Stone.” A classic. As classic as “My Way” by Frank Sinatra or anything by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
How about this one?
Holly came from Miami Fla
Hitch-hiked her way across the USA
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, hey babe
Take a walk on the wild side
Said hey honey
Take a walk on the wild side.
That’s Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side.” It’s another classic. What’s the melody? A couple of notes here and there in close proximity to each other.
Imagine either of those songs with wide intervals and sweeping melody lines. I don’t think so. Both are served up the way they are meant to be. And they are great songs. So a great song does not need a well-crafted, “memorable” melody to work. There are a million examples of this — blues songs, folk songs, three-chord rock songs, rock poetry, rap music. So what is a melody for? I used to think of a melody as a kind of serving tray for the lyrics and the story within the song.
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