A Pair of Nifties

A man walks into a bar and sees a butcher, a baker and a Broadway actor. The man walks up to the three gentlemen and says, “Tell me what rhymes with ‘me’ and ‘be.’” The butcher says “free.” The baker says “tea.” And the actor says “a Broadway composer.”

To some it may seem that “me” and “be” are the only words some musical composers use to rhyme, and this complaint extends to songwriters in general. I’m not the first guy with an overinflated sense of intelligence to criticize the IQ level of the lyrics in some genres. However, this article is not about casting aspersions on the size of a lyricist’s toolbox. In fact, I sometimes feel that there’s a confirmation bias about the whole thing: “Me” and “be” may be used often, but not as often as complainers make it out to be. And even if they are, I don’t begrudge the songsmith their use of two of the English language’s most common words. However, I do have one question for the songwriter: how hard, how hard, how hard would it be to sing the word “me” on the note mi? 

I am specifically talking about songs where the last word is “me,” and this last word is sung loudly and proudly for multiple measures. It would be a nice touch indeed to make this sustained note mi in the solfege scale, and yet often songwriters do not do this. This issue first came to my attention when I was home from winter break one year and watched a high school production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” The show is no world-conquering hit, but it is a solid bit of entertainment. The most notable part of this production was one innocuous song where the last word, “me,” ended on mi of the solfege scale. This made me chuckle; then almost immediately, I wondered how often songs have ended on “me,” but not mi. It was like that episode of “How I Met Your Mother” where Ted tells Marshall that Lily chews loudly and it Is like a glass shattering.  

Surely I am not the only one who has had this particular glass shattered. Aren’t there others out there who hear the rhyme scheme and the cadence coming and put two and two together? Aren’t there people who feel childish glee when a singer is made to appear like they’re singing solfege? With every rhyme — be, bee, we, see, sea, plea, free, tree and chi — there must be some people who also become more and more excited, with a tingling in their stomachs like the buildup to a nasty bass drop. Yet how often does that bass drop come? How often do sight-singing sadists get the rush of euphoria that comes from hearing solfege?  Not very often.    

Now, I am not asking for this sort of text painting every time the word “me” pops up in a song, or “ray,” or “tea,” or “lay” or “so.” That would be almost comically odious. I am merely saying that at the end of a musical number it is a safe bet to say you have some sort of tonic dominant cadence. It would therefore also be a safe bet to assume the last note you sing will be either do, mi or so. And since the word “me” is often used in songs, especially “I want” numbers on Broadway, the occasion to use the mi-me connection crops up quite often.

I am actually very passionate about this, and that is why I get mad at people who hate lyricists who use common rhyme schemes — because these people have no priorities. By focusing on the word “me,” they ignore the possibilities of the note mi. There is nothing wrong with writing what works for a song and getting paid, even if what works is simple. In fact, this sort of criticism risks creating an even bigger problem: songwriters will try to use clever or rare rhymes that feel too forced and do not fit with the song’s theme. Rhyming “Ryan Fitzpatrick” with “geriatric” may be sonically pleasing. It may signal to the audience your amazing depth of cultural knowledge and literary acumen. It may be the coolest thing you have ever done, but there are only a select number of scenarios where you would realistically be singing about those two words. But perhaps that is a bad example; “Fitzpatrick” and “geriatric” make almost too much sense together. A better example would be “closes” and “halitosis.” When would halitosis ever be relevant in a song? It is a clear example of the anti-basic rhyme scheme, and it is even more annoying than the basic rhyme scheme. 

So to those who say songwriters are bad for using basic rhymes all the time, I say get some priorities. Stop hating so much on simple rhymes. Make the most out of what we have, and petition for more songs to end on me-mi. And songwriters, please, give this technique a chance. Make the world a better place. Sneak solfege into your songs.