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Thread: Prog Songwriting: Where are the hooks?

  1. #1

    Prog Songwriting: Where are the hooks?

    I posted this in the Karfagen thread that I seem to have killed:

    Either composers are not learning the basics of writing a good hook or are actively rejecting the idea of a song hook.

    I mean, Mark Ronson may be a little too ubiquitous in the pop music world but the guy is a one-man Brill Building of hooks. Hell, if I were a band, I'd buy some of the cast-off hooks he hasn't used and build a song from that germ.
    This is what I don't understand about any popular music (and Prog is part of that crowd) that ends up being utterly unmemorable. If you go back in time, Bach knew how to write a hook. Mozart certainly knew how to write one. Beethoven as well. Wagner. Mahler. Tsiolkovsky. Rimsky-Korsakov. Stravinsky. Copland. They all knew how to do it and didn't reject the notion of doing so as beneath them.

    What the hell happened? Like I said, either artists are purposely not doing it or they're ignorant/incompetent and probably shouldn't be writing songs.
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  2. #2
    Orange Tick Squasher Buddhabreath's Avatar
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    Is it a hook if it does not appeal to most listeners but rather a small subset of the public? I think VDGGs Pawn Hearts for example is full of hooks that I will remember until the day I die, however Im sure the A&R folks at Capitol Records will vehemently disagree with me. I think the same is true of much of the classical repertoire: I have never seen anyone walking down the street humming a melody from a Bartok quartet.

    If a hook has to be simple and repeated then yes it absolutely should be rejected by the composer if that is not in the spirit of what he is trying to express. Finally, it seems to me song writing is a very different craft than a full-blown long form composition and it makes more sense to talk about hooks in the context of the former not the latter.
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    Member Top Cat's Avatar
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    a hook does not necessarily have to be good to a hook, and when I think about it the difference between a hook and an earworm is very small.

    I know some songwriters go out of their way to purposely create a hook in order to either sell more records or in some cases sell more records(just kidding).
    When I'm working on writing and recording a song, I generally try to stay in the intro, verse, chorus, repeat format simply because I think that's how listeners like to hear a song organized. Keep it simple, and if a hook or earworm type melody or instrumental passage occurs, for me it's usually due to it naturally popping into my head.

    I like Buddha's explanation, although I have heard ensemble hooks either classical or pop that I consider a hook, but when I try to hum it or do it vocally, it comes out one big mess, but the hook DOES exist while it plays in my head.

    btw, if you're looking for hooks in Progressive Rock music, check out Dave Kerzner's Acceleration Theory by Incontinuum, it's packed with hooks.
    Last edited by Top Cat; 04-07-2019 at 01:44 PM.
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  4. #4
    Then maybe "hook" isn't the right word. I also acknowledge that since the enjoyment of music is subjective, it maybe simply be what one person considers a memorable hook as opposed to another.

    However, the Karfagen thread did make me consider that there are pieces that a good number of people might enjoy while listening but don't stay with them afterwards. Aside from the classic bands that came out of a more pop songwriting era of Rock, two bands I consider excellent at writing hooks or motifs are The Flower Kings and IQ. Both bands have very memorable melodies that stayed with me even after one listen. They seem to be doing something different than a band whose melodies I can't remember at all.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Splicer View Post
    Then maybe "hook" isn't the right word. I also acknowledge that since the enjoyment of music is subjective, it maybe simply be what one person considers a memorable hook as opposed to another.

    However, the Karfagen thread did make me consider that there are pieces that a good number of people might enjoy while listening but don't stay with them afterwards. Aside from the classic bands that came out of a more pop songwriting era of Rock, two bands I consider excellent at writing hooks or motifs are The Flower Kings and IQ. Both bands have very memorable melodies that stayed with me even after one listen. They seem to be doing something different than a band whose melodies I can't remember at all.
    Actually, I think hook IS a good description of what you are describing. And I think you make a great point about some of the classic prog bands who have more accessible melodies that often will linger in your head.
    For instance, all this UK talk has had me on a UK binge lately, and after a night of listening to the Danger Money cd I can quite often be heard singing the phrase Caeser's Palace blues, or my wife the next day will say"I have UK going in my head", and then it she will hum a bit of Caeser's Palace blues.
    But if I'm listening to a recent Spock's Beard or Steve Wilson album, I have less hooks reappearing in my head, those stand out phrases that grab you, are just not there for me.
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    Good prog songwriting has hooks, and plenty of them. Think of the Big 5-or-Whatever: "Close to the Edge" is just full of them, as is "Firth of Fifth" or "Inca Roads". Even pieces quite remote from any kind of pop song, like "Fracture" or "Living in the Heart of the Beast" have their memorable moments. The rule I use personally is that a piece can be quite complex, and may have any number of sections, but each section should also contain something simple and direct - a rhythm, a melodic motif, an accompaniment pattern, a harmonic texture - that is, I would hope, memorable. Notice that the music mentioned earlier works that way, for the most part. The sections should also each have a sense of being a musical paragraph, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, that either leads into the next musical paragraph or sets up expectation for a change.

  7. #7
    Member StarThrower's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buddhabreath View Post
    I think the same is true of much of the classical repertoire: I have never seen anyone walking down the street humming a melody from a Bartok quartet.
    This one's pretty catchy. From the 3rd movement of quartet no. 1


  8. #8
    I would say that you just don't like current Prog songwriting too much. Which means that either there is a decline in quality or you are fixated to the past. Or both - which I think is the case. Or it has to be my case at least.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Zappathustra View Post
    I would say that you just don't like current Prog songwriting too much. Which means that either there is a decline in quality or you are fixated to the past. Or both - which I think is the case. Or it has to be my case at least.
    It could be fixation. However, it seems strange that I've heard plenty of new music, and have not heard much of real quality, strictly from a songwriting sense, and not instrumentality. I just don't hear many great "songs" anymore (and I would say pop music in general is deplorable and repetitive).

    I can appreciate Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett, Elvis, Johnny Cash, etc., and the great blues and jazz masters of my parent's and grandparent's generation, and literally a third or more of my music collection predates 1965. But somehow, as early as the 1990s there seems to be a noticeable drop off in quality. There are fewer and fewer songs that I hear that immediately make me take notice.

    Perhaps the bands from the 1960s and 1970s, like The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, The Moody Blues, Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Dylan, Neil Young, Tull, Genesis, Yes, Floyd, Zeppelin, and on and on, were simply more immersed in previous generations' music and so adapted the marvelous and many hooks they heard from the 30s, 40s and 50s (and classical music, for that matter) into their own songs. Having "hooks" meant more then, perhaps, as there were previous generations still listening to "their" music.

    As Muddy Waters once said "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll". Perhaps the further we leave that wellspring (and the same can be said of classical, jazz, folk and country), there is less of an indoctrination into the multiplicity of music that was.

    Or I'm just old and cranky. In which case, f*ck off.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Splicer View Post

    What the hell happened? Like I said, either artists are purposely not doing it or they're ignorant/incompetent and probably shouldn't be writing songs.
    Young songwriters, although they evidently love to listen to some old hook at the daily basis, for some reason they don't like to write a hook, or the human brain is not able to write a great hook anymore. Personally, I don't see the third option.

  11. #11
    I'm brought to mind of an episode of The Sopranos where Christopher was trying to be a music manager but was stuck with a band that couldn't write memorable songs. The scene that comes to mind is when they're in the studio and the engineer is explaining how the whole song is just verses with no chorus at all and nothing that is memorable.
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  12. #12
    Man of repute progmatist's Avatar
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    In many classical pieces, the "hook" is a long time coming. In Mahler's Titan Symphony, one must sit through almost the entirety of the hour long piece to get to the hook most people remember. Only listeners with a more refined ear can identify the theme which opens the symphony, and recurs in later movements. Most people only remember the Ode to Joy movement of Beethoven's 9th. I on the other hand also quite like the second Molto vivace movement. Apparently, so does Bob James, since he based his song "Ludwig" on that movement. In Stravinsky's Firebird, one must wait until the very end to get to the most memorable part...you know, the one Yes uses to open all their shows. Then again, people had far more patience and a much longer attention span in the mid 19th through mid 20th centuries.
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  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Splicer View Post
    the whole song is just verses with no chorus at all and nothing that is memorable.
    Kinda like Second Chance by .38 Special. The song takes way too long to get the refrain. I mean, you hear the song title at the end of each verse, but instead of giving a proper chorus, they head right back into the next verse. It's not like Hold On Loosely or Caught Up In You, where they sort of beat you over the head with the catchy chorus (hey, that's alliterative!), to say nothing of Jeff Carlisi's catchy guitarmanship.

    On the other hand, Second Chance was inexplicably a big hit, somehow (their biggest Stateside hit, in fact), so as Rick Springfield would say, "the point is probably moot".

    To be sure, there are a lot of hooks in progressive rock. As has been mentioned, for instance, much of the Genesis and Yes catalogs are very hook filled. So is the music of Focus. I always thought Magma was very melodic too. Things like MDK, Kohntarkosz, Retrovision and KA have things that you could walk around singing even if you were inclined to do so, and then there's all those sort of "short form" things of theirs, e.g. Nono, The Last Seven Minutes, Donda, I Must Return, etc. Hell, even Henry Cow had their share of hooks, in things like Nirvana For Mice and even Beautiful As The Moon...

    I think the stereotype of prog rock not having much in the way of hooks comes from assumption that prog rock was more concerned with "art", rather than "commerce", and that any hint of a melody or hook that you might be able to hum was considered "fatal to one's reputation" or whatever. But I think it's another undeserved association with the music, just as the stereotype that jazz musicians are only interested in playing long rambling solos with no melody.

  14. #14
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    I'm not sure I need hooks all the time. This is deliberately without hooks but amazing.



    This is complex too but has hooks, but I'm not sure its as longlasting as HC

    https://sungazermusic.bandcamp.com/t...rd-on-the-wing

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    I think the stereotype of prog rock not having much in the way of hooks comes from assumption that prog rock was more concerned with "art", rather than "commerce", and that any hint of a melody or hook that you might be able to hum was considered "fatal to one's reputation" or whatever. But I think it's another undeserved association with the music, just as the stereotype that jazz musicians are only interested in playing long rambling solos with no melody.
    As you pointed out yourself, the songwriting of the 70s seems to have been more attuned to the traditional way one writes pop tunes - I guess it would be Brill Building as a successor to Tin Pan Alley via Lennon/McCartney. I would say that too many of the Prog bands nowadays are focused on their musical chops rather than the songwriting. It's like shredders who tend to all sound alike. I think the reason that I like Buckethead so much is that I actually hear melodies in his compositions.
    No matter what anyone says, you are the decider of how you will listen to music.

  16. #16
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    If you want hooks and haven't heard Cardiacs, then proceed.
    If it isn't Krautrock, it's krap.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chalkpie View Post
    If you want hooks and haven't heard Cardiacs, then proceed.
    Cardiacs put so many hooks into their songs, almost to the point of explosion.

  18. #18
    Just because something isn't memorable to you (or a given individual) doesn't mean it's not memorable to someone else. If literally everything had hooks that "hooked" you personally, the music you love would not be as special to you because everyone would be doing it.

  19. #19
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  20. #20
    I like hooks, and I think they have a place in prog. Carry On My Wayward Son is just one long procession of hooks, and bands like Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull were also quite hook-oriented. But there was another tradition of progwriting, more indebted to romantic classical music maybe, like Genesis, that relied less on hooks and more on long, winding progressions and slow dynamic buildups. Thats a valid way of writing too, but it requires a bit more knowledge on the theory side. That said, Genesis could do hooks too, just listen to Duke!

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    Neal Morse stole all the hooks...
    Prog's Not Dead

  22. #22
    Hooks are a weird concept really. On the one hand all my favorite music has memorable moments and parts that I look forward to hearing and to me are the essence of the tune. Stravinsky, Somers, Bartok, Honegger, Penderecki, Coltrane Gentle Giant etc etc. all abound with delicious moments.

    On the other hand, most people seem to consider only tonal melodies based on chord tones as being hooks. That limits the field considerably.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by fictionmusic View Post
    Hooks are a weird concept really. On the one hand all my favorite music has memorable moments and parts that I look forward to hearing and to me are the essence of the tune. Stravinsky, Somers, Bartok, Honegger, Penderecki, Coltrane Gentle Giant etc etc. all abound with delicious moments.

    On the other hand, most people seem to consider only tonal melodies based on chord tones as being hooks. That limits the field considerably.
    Awesome response.

  24. #24
    70's prog bands had oodles of hooks. Modern prog? Not so much. Modern bands like Big Big Train are hook laden, but they're an exception.


    Where are the hooks? Great question Bro.

  25. #25
    Orange Tick Squasher Buddhabreath's Avatar
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    I still think this is a petty objective thing: unlike Zeuhlmate, for me Western Culture has hooks - even earworms: some of those jagged "melodic" lines and amazing arrangements just stick with me and play in my head after hearing them. Isn't that a hook? Perhaps it violates the "short and sweet" rule exemplified by the famous four notes of Bethoveen's fifth? Or maybe I'm just weird (which explains why I hang out here a PE).

    The Cardiacs - man that is like a vast nest of razor-sharp hooks in my book (my hook book), with that lot I just have to sit motionless and absorb it all out of fear I will be cut to ribbons if I writhe in the nest - and I say that with respect and admiration. :-)
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