08:02:13 pm on
Wednesday 24 Apr 2019

Reason to Rhyme
David Simmonds

The late rock iconoclast Frank Zappa, father of the legendary band the Mothers of Invention, once stated, “All the good music has already been written by people with wigs and stuff.” Zappa was echoing the sentiments, expressed a century and a half earlier, by the philosopher John Stuart Mill; he worried over the thought of the exhaustibility of musical combinations and worried how musical genius might become outdated. Obviously, neither Zappa nor Mill predicted the onset of Rap, which gave words and music a new direction to grow.


Running out of new words for rhymes.

Now, the focus has turned to the finitude of musical lyrics. According to David Hart, of the Canadian Lyricists’ Foundation (CLF), lyricists are just plain running out of new rhyming words and phrases. “Just look at the word ‘love,’ for example,” he told The Times. “That’s the most common word in pop music. Yet, how many rhymes does it have? ‘Above,’ ’Dove,’ ‘Glove,’ ‘Shove,’ ‘Of’; that’s about it. It’s not much to work with, yet lyricists have to earn a living somehow by coming up with something unique.”

We took up the assertion offered by Mr Hart and searched common popular music words in the online “RhymeZone” rhyming dictionary. It appears that, sure enough, Hart has a point. Take “marriage,” for instance. “Carriage” is an obvious rhyme, but who dares to try to risk being accused of stealing from Sammy Cahn, “Love and Marriage” or Harry Dacre, the pen name of Frank Dean, who wrote lyrics for “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)”? Cahn even took “disparage” for good measure. There’s nothing left.

We fared little better with “wedding.” It may be tough sledding, it’s something I’m dreading, the fever is spreading, better than a beheading, so look where you’re treading. None of those rhymes work that well.

Mr Hart points out that the shortage of rhymes means the good ones are in heavy use, far too often. “Take’ kiss’; RhymeZone gives you over 500 examples of songs in which writers use the rhyming word ‘this,’ almost 300 examples of ‘miss,’ and over 100 uses of ‘bliss.’ It’s a daunting task to come up with something fresh. “When there aren’t enough rhymes to match the sentiments, is it any wonder our divorce rate is so high,” asserts Mr. Hart.


Here is a possible rhyming solution.

What do Mr Hart and the CLF want done about it? “We’ve got to introduce some new words into our language,” he says. “Take the word ‘moon.’ We’re all tired of songs that say ‘I soon swoon to the tune of the moon in June.’ Why not create the occasional brand new word, such as “hoon” to rhyme with moon. It would spice things up a bit and allow songwriters a chance to put their own meanings into the words.”

We challenged Mr Hart on that point, noting that RhymeZone lists some one hundred and two exact rhymes for “moon.” His response was swift. “So what would you have me do,” he says; “write a song in which I say ‘I’m just a buffoon for using a spittoon by the light of the moon’? The words must be emotionally evocative, not just technically compliant. They just aren’t there.”

What of near rhymes, might such ideas work? Couldn’t CLF members resort to rhyming, say, “moon” with “gloom” and thereby expand the inventory of rhymes? “Absolutely not,” says Hart; “We have standards to maintain. Once we let near rhymes in the next thing you know it will be blank verse; then you just opened the floodgates for any Tom, Dick or Hoagy to become a lyricist.” I now have a speck of stardust in my eye.

Mr Hart wants to see change come down from the top. He is canvassing his members and will select ten key words that require new rhymes, although he acknowledges that “love,” “marriage,’’ “wedding,” “kiss” and “moon” will likely be on almost every lyricist’s shortlist. His aim is then to press the government to legislate, formally, one new official rhyming word for each key word.


Finding new words to rhyme.

The new word, “tove,” an old Scandinavian word meaning “beautiful Thor,” might become an approved rhyme for “love” and “yedding,” a song sung by an medieval minstrel, might be an approved rhyme for “wedding.” The government won’t try to put meaning into the words: that’s the job of the lyricist. CBC would put the songs, using these new rhyming words, in constant play. Mr. Hart anticipates that “you’ll see an explosion of creativity from Canadian lyricists as a result of this measure.” Frank Zappa would no doubt be delighted.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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