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"It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This"

Analyzing a songwriter's creative options


 
  Jack Perricone is the chair of Berklee's Songwriting Department. His songs have appeared on the pop, country and r&b charts and have been recorded by Lou Rawls, Jerry Butler, K.T. Oslin, Angela Bofill, and many others.

Ideas for a song can come from many sources. I wrote a jazz song, "It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This," based on the title, which came to me because of a happy accident. I'd seen the movie As Good as It Gets, starring Jack Nicholson, and inaccurately remembered the title as "It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This"-a title that's as good as it gets! Beginning the songwriting process with a title often prompts a writer to consider the circumstance or context in which the title phrase should occur. In this case, I began thinking of elements that make a romantic relationship work. I made a list of elements-"the touch of your hand," "the smile on your face," "the warming glow between us when we first embrace"-that led naturally to the title, which is also the concluding line.

Songs that use this technique, called "list songs," are often verse/refrain songs where the verse culminates in the title, proving once again that function determines form. The list song has many precedents, especially in the material from the Great American Songbook. Songs with choruses such as "These Foolish Things," "As Time Goes By," and Dave Frishberg's terrific song "Peel Me a Grape" resemble verse/refrain songs. This style of song repeats the A section and invariably has a contrasting B section or bridge (what jazz musicians often refer to as "the channel"). The song is in AABA form.

Since the song was meant to be kind of sexy, I chose to use blues inflected music. Even the form of the A section reflects the blues. It's 12 bars in length, but the harmonic progression is different from that of a standard blues. The main motive of the A section (see bar 1) is harmonized with the Imaj7 chord. I repeated the motive in bar two 2, but harmonized it with the I7 chord that has a closer association with the blues. For the next phrase (bars 3 and 4), I chose to extend the one-bar phrase to two bars, vary the melody, and harmonize it with the flat-VII7, a chord that adds freshness to the music. I followed the two-bar phrase with a four-measure phrase that ends on the important word kiss. With a song developed from a title, the songwriter knows where he or she is going, and in this case, I was able to set up the title with a perfect rhyme between the words kiss and this. The melodic phrase ends on the downbeat of the third bar of a four-bar harmonic phrase, allowing both the vocalist and the listener to breathe. It also permitted me to write a figure in the arrangement that became intrinsic to the song (see bars 7 and 8).

  Example

Christy Bluhm '04 sings the vocal with backing from faculty members Scott Free (guitar), Jim Stinnett (acoustic bass), Bob Tamagni (drums), and Jack Perricone (piano).

I really love the leisurely way the phrases unfold in the A section. Following the lyrics, they go as follows: one bar, one bar, two bars, four bars, and four bars. The phrasing gives a vocalist the chance to narrate the lyric in an unhurried fashion-a rarity in today's frantic world. The harmony of bar 9 warrants comment. Although the V7/V chord could easily harmonize the melody of the entire phrase, I chose to use the sub-V/V on the third beat of the measure because of the tri-tone relationship that occurs between the melody and the bass. This dissonance highlights the piquancy of the lyric.

The lyric of the second verse continues with a list of attractive items but slips in some additional information with the line "I've had a taste of hell and longed for heavenly bliss." The choice of the word bliss makes another perfect rhyme with this in the title. The line is the kind a writer strives for to add depth to a song. I am always aware of title placement and setting. In this song, placement is no problem, because the title is naturally highlighted each time it appears at the end of the A section. I strove to make the melody of the title line have a strong hook with a bluesy quality. I also made sure the melody moved in an upward direction in agreement with the positive feelings I tried to generate with my lyric (see bars 9 to 11).

The B or bridge section of an AABA song must contrast musically with the A section, and the lyric needs to provide a new perspective on the subject. Though it contrasts, a B section still needs to sound like it belongs to the song. The potential problem of creating contrast while retaining similarity often makes writing a bridge a challenge and a major stumbling block for some writers. The bridge of this song contrasts with the A section in several ways. It begins on the IV chord instead of the I chord that begins the A section. As well, its rhythm and melodic contour are more straightforward. Comprising a pair of two-bar phrases and a four-bar phrase, the phrase structure is more uniform and predictable. The melody of the A section has very low and high notes, covering a range of an octave and a sixth, while the melody of the B section sits mainly in the middle of the vocalist's range. The bridge lyric addresses the first time a romantic connection was made and conveys the intensity of that connection (at least from the singer's perspective).

The bridge also contains the literary device known as "anaphora," where the first three phrases begin with the word one (One look . . ., one night . . ., and one time ...). Why does the bridge with all these contrasting devices still sound like it is part of the fabric of the song? I believe it's because it stays in the same key, uses harmonies that were heard before (although possibly in a different order), and the point of view of the lyric (direct address) doesn't change.

The B section also leads smoothly to the third and final verse by decelerating the melodic rhythm (see bars 21 to 22) and by ending on an unstable harmony, E7, the sub-V7/I, and on the unstable melody note Ab, the fourth scale degree in the key of Eb. This note asks for resolution and that resolution is found in the first measure of the next A section (see bar 23) on the note G, the third scale degree in the key of Eb.

The final verse grows in intensity and exuberance both musically (note the octave displacements in bars 27 and 28) and lyrically. In a way, the line "'Cause we got somethin' they all want and can't resist" brags about what a terrific thing the singer and his subject have together. The title is set up this time with two imperfect rhymes with words together and better and resist and kiss. I chose to ignore this imperfection because the lyric said exactly what I wanted to say.

I hope you enjoy the song as much as I enjoyed writing it and writing about it.