A little while ago, a buddy of mine brought me a box of records he wanted me to sell for him, in exchange for a small fee — plus first dibs on anything he may be selling. I took a few — Tame Impala, Small Faces and both Neutral Milk Hotel albums.
The second one, In The Airplane Over The Sea, is far superior. Its title track struck me as being a bit odd when I first heard it. So, I spun it again. Sure enough — it doesn’t have a chorus. It has recurring melodies, and refrains but no chorus:
I have a few songs like this myself. One of them — Riverside — was in a recent setlist and led to a bit of discussion at rehearsal when one of the guitar players had a question about a chord in the chorus. But then he started playing the verse. “That’s not the chorus,” said the bass player, who started playing a different part. “I thought this was the chorus.” No, I told him, that’s not the chorus either. That’s a pre-chorus for a chorus which I actually removed from the song because it didn’t work. And, it turned out I liked the progression without it.
So, all this gets a guy thinking about what other songs don’t have choruses — especially ones where you never really noticed.
I can think of a famous one right off the bat: Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Not only does it not have a chorus, but it doesn’t have any repeating sections. The only repetition is the line “hit me where the wind blows” line which gets repeated at the very end.
I can’t even imagine what a Bohemian Rhapsody chorus would sound like or where the hell it would go. For fun, try singing the chorus of I Will Play A Rhapsody by Burton Cummings — except as “I’ll Sing Bohemian Rhapsody” after each segment. Ugh (shudders).
Pinball Wizard is a funny one. The original version by The Who from 1969’s Tommy doesn’t really have a chorus. It has a refrain:
“He’s a pinball wizard
There has got to be a twist
A pinball wizard’s
Got such a supple wrist”
But this never gets repeated. Instead, they do it again later with different lyrics:
“I thought I was
The Bally table king
But I just handed
My pinball crown to him.”
However, the version done by Elton John for the 1975 Tommy motion picture and soundtrack has additional lyrics written specifically for the film by Pete Townshend. This version appears to have six choruses. The “twist one” gets done twice, the “Bally table” one twice — plus two new ones:
“He can’t beat me now,
I’ve always been the champ
I know every trick,
no freak’s gonna beat my hand.”
“He’s a pinball wizard,
he scores a trillion more
A pinball wizard,
the world’s new pinball lord
He’s scoring more, he’s scoring more.”
For even more fun, try singing the Pinball Wizard lyrics overtop of Folsom Prison Blues.
Another one in this category is Losing My Religion by R.E.M. It doesn’t have a repeating chorus, just a pair of repeating refrains:
“I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough.”
“That was just a dream.”
Then there are songs which, instead of a chorus, have verses that start with the same line. Hey Jude is one of these. Money by Pink Floyd and Hello by Lionel Ritchie fall in the same category.
But the best chorus-free songs are the ones which are so damn cool that they don’t need one. While Bohemian Rhapsody does qualify, even better is Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan. That’s because the Queen epic at least has non-repeating progressive sections. Dylan’s rant is just verse after verse after verse. It does have a refrain, though:
“Look out, kid.”
So, are there any songs without choruses or refrains? Sure. One you know really well, too. Paranoid by Black Sabbath has five verses and a bridge. The bridge is this bit:
“Can you help me
Occupy my brain?
Like I always say, leave it to Black Sabbath to redefine standards and broaden your musical palate. Now, I wanna fucking hear you!!
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.