SONGWRITING: The Gambler (fun.) Case Study

This is probably my favorite piano-pop/drumless song of all-time. I did a substitute bass lesson for a 10-year old three years ago and he introduced me to the song (two years before anyone gave a damn about the band, who are now pop superstars). He’s like “Show me the bassline of the Gambler by Fun!” I was like “who?”

So let’s point out the things that immediately stand out:

1. There are no drums or percussion at all.

2. The song is either in 12/8 time, or (more likely) 6/8 time.

3. It begins with basic triad arpeggios (most in root position, some as inversions).

4. There are places in the song which leave “space” (verse 2), where there’s no piano arpeggio… just strings added to held piano chords (strings which remain through the rest of the song, and become the busiest when the piano chills out.

5. The song is extremely well-written, lyrically. It tells the story (at least from my understanding) of a lifelong love/marriage/family… and a man’s wife who is either very sick, or terminally ill. It moves along at the absolute perfect pace…

6. The melody phrases (vocal) are consistent throughout each verse, but with just enough “lift” to keep the song from becoming stagnant. Nate R. of fun. sure knows how to write melodies. I mean, this guy is seriously fucking top-notch. Every male singer should strive for vocal melodies this interesting. But I honestly think they just come to him…. in the same way very interesting vocal melodies often come to pop/indie female singer/songwriters (some that come to mind including A Fine Frenzy, Gregory and the Hawk, Ingrid Michaelson, etc). The melody is ALWAYS the thing that makes someone love a song FIRST (and forever). Always remember that.

7. In the 2nd verse, we hear a quarter-note triplet on the “collective hearts” line.

8. The lyrics have a lot of internal rhyme– rhymes in the MIDDLE of lines, not just at the end.

lyrics:

Slow down, we’ve got time left to be lazy
All the kids have bloomed from babies into flowers in our eyes
We’ve got fifty good years left to spend out in the garden
I don’t care to beg your pardon, we should live until we die

We were barely eighteen when we crossed collective hearts
It was cold, but it got warm when you barely crossed my eye
And then you turned, put out your hand, and you asked me to dance
I knew nothing of romance, but it was love at second sight

I swear when I grow up I won’t just buy you a rose
I will buy the flower shop, and you will never be lonely
For even if the sun stops waking up over the fields
I will not leave, I will not leave ’til it’s our time
So just take my hand, you know that I will never leave your side

It was the winter of ’86, all the fields had frozen over
So we moved to Arizona to save our only son
And now he’s turned into a man, though he thinks just like his mother
He believes we’re all just lovers, he sees hope in everyone

And even though she moved away, we always get calls from our daughter
She has eyes just like her father’s, they are blue when skies are gray
And just like him she never stops, never takes the day for granted
Works for everything that’s handed to her, never once complains

You think that I nearly lost you when the doctors tried to take you away
Like the night you took my hand beside the fire thirty years ago to this day,
You swore you’d be here ’til we decide that it’s our time
But it’s not time, you never quit in all your life
So just take my hand, you know that I will never leave your side
You’re the love of my life, you know that I will never leave your side

You come home from work, and you kiss me on the eye
You curse the dog, you say that I should never feed them what is ours
So we move out to the garden, look at everything we’ve grown
And the kids are coming home so I’ll set the table…. you can make the fire.

This is how timeless songs are written, ladies and gentlemen. Play this song for your loved one on Christmas Day, or whatever holiday you may celebrate (and of course, play it for them on their birthday).

Happy holidays!

P.S. I dedicate this lovely song to Hanna from Hungary (even though she never reads this blog as she is an incredible artist, but not a musician, she means the world to me, and makes me think of this song).

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About chriscaulder

music.film.books.food.sleep.

Posted on December 19, 2013, in arpeggios, piano songs, singing, songwriting, writing melodies. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. These are some awesome lyrics and content about songwriting and putting lyrics to music. Absolutely love it, really great site keep the content coming! http://www.musicbymandi.com

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