not a beautiful or unique snowflake (nothings) wrote,
not a beautiful or unique snowflake

Notes on: Juliana Hatfields "Swan Song", from Bed.

I really like Alan Pollack's "Notes On" series analyzing Beatles songs, so I've appropriated it for this posting.

I'm not sure I even like Juliana Hatfield's song "Swan Song", from her album Bed, but I find it interesting structurally; it has two different sections which appear to be a chorus.

Here's the layout of the entire song:


The intro begins with two quarter-notes worth of snare fill, then offers two repeats of a simple major-chord 3-measure phrase:

 | C#      | G#      | D#     |
 | C#      | G#      | D#     |
   VII       IV        I 
  (IV of IV?)

Verse 1

The verse consists of a 20-measure phrase based around a simple power chord riff, nominally in the key of E. The verse is divided into three parts; the first part, 4 measures, introduces the riff; the second part, 8 measures, has vocals over the riff; the third half alternates the IV chord with the riff, with vocals.

 | E5 D5   | G5 E5    | E5 D5   | G5 E5    |
 | E5 D5   | G5 E5    | E5 D5   | G5 E5    |
 | E5 D5   | G5 E5    | E5 D5   | G5 E5    |
 | A       | A        | E5 D5   | G5 E5    |
 | A       | A        | E5 D5   | G5 E5    |

Refrain 1

The first refrain section, which repeats the words "Dear Jack: I hate you, love Diane" (a John Cougar Mellencamp reference?) returns to clearly arpeggiated major chords in a I-IV-V arrangement, but sticking with the key of E. It is apparently 12 measures long, although I'll consider it 10 here because the last two are borrowed from the verse.

 | B       |       A  | E       |          |
 | B       |       A  | E       |          |
 | B       |       A  |
   V               IV   I

At this point this chorus drops straight back into the verse, complete with 4 measures before the verse vocals begin, although as noted above the chorus is rhetorically extended over the first two measures.

Verse 2

As above.

Refrain 2

Verse 2 leads straight into a different, refrain-like section: a reprise of the intro, but with repeated lyrics ("clean up my mess"), with two alternating melodies giving a somewhat question-and-response feel. It does not function as a pre-chorus (it is not followed by refrain 1), and it doesn't sound to me like a bridge. Instead, it sounds to me like it ought to be a refrain, except we already had one.

 | C#      | G#      | D#     |
 | C#      | G#      | D#     |
 | C#      | G#      | D#     |
 | C#      | G#      | D#     |

Verse 3

As above.

Refrain 3

A reprise of refrain 1 ("Dear Jack, I hate you, love Diane"):

 | B       |       A  | E       |          |
 | B       |       A  | E       |          |
 | B       |       A  | E5 D5   | G5 E5    |

This time I've explicitly included the two measures of the verse riff which this refrain's vocals extend over, because that's all that we get this time before the next section:

Refrain 4

A reprise of refrain 2 ("clean up my mess"):

 | C#      | G#      | D#     |
 | C#      | G#      | D#     |
 | C#      | G#      | D#     |
 | C#      | G#      | D#     |


 | E5 D5   | G5 E5 |


Viewing this as major sections, and ignoring the fiddly transitions, we get:


A: intro / refrain 2/4
B: verse
C: refrain 1/3

The verse section repeats 3 times, the "clean up my mess" refrain repeats 2.5 times (the intro version is half the length), and the "Dear Jack" refrain repeats 2 times.

One possible interpretation is to interpret C as being a "transitional" thing: the format of the song is verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus, B-B-A-B-A, and C is used to link them (to transition to the second verse, and then as a pre-chorus for the second chorus). But that's a pretty awkward role, especially given its length. And it doesn't really feel this way to me, given how it's a strongly V-IV-I resolution; it sounds like a chorus. And it would be pretty weird if A is the only chorus for A to not appear until 1:52 in a 3:32 song.

Another interpretation is that C is the chorus, and A is something else: a bridge, maybe. Except the song ends with A, making it feel very much like the chorus.

So the interpretation I prefer is that I wrote out originally, considering them both to be dueling but equal refrains. This is how I usually hear it; when section A finally shows up in the middle, I mentally go 'wait, this is the chorus? I thought I already heard the chorus'.

So, all in all, I think it's a pretty cute structural trick: sounding offhand like it's a typical pop song structure, yet refusing to pigeonhole naturally as one.
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