We noted last time that Piggies is an Orwellian flavoured faux-baroque song. And yet the (small) kids love it. BSA reader Justice speaks for many when she writes “I always loved the sound of this song. It's also one of the first Beatles tunes I remember hearing as a kid - back then, I sat wondering who on earth would seriously write a song about 'piggies'. Then of course came the day, several years later, when I listened to it again, and the social commentary 'lightbulb' finally came on. I had to chuckle at myself”. What makes such a dark song so child friendly?
Lyrically George selects a childish vocabulary - not pigs but piggies. There's a sense not only of the absurd – pigs wearing shirts and having wives! - and a sense of naughtiness – smacking bums (they need a damn good whacking) and these pigs eat bacon! - cannibalism may be a dark subject, but kids feel clever getting the joke.
Repetition plays a part, not just in the lyrics (“piggies” occurs 7 times in 3 verses) but in the melody too. The cell of
C Db Eb C (have you seen the)
is repeated a scale tone lower
Bb C Db C (little piggies)
then repeated a scale tone lower again with one extra note
Ab Bb C Ab Eb (crawling in the dirt)
And then the whole sequence is repeated with only the final note altered. This predictability renders the melody singsongish and nursery rhymey.
This blend of clear melodic patterns, simple vocabulary and a bit of 'naughtiness' is what has made the Beatles kid-friendly for decades. At their best, something like I Am The Walrus (which 10 yr old guitarists beg me to teach them) has a 2 note melody (I am he as you are he), jokes like “Boy, you been a naughty girl” and rudeness (you let your knicker down)*. Even the weak All Together Now has something risqué (can I take my friend to bed?) buried in the simple skipping song. The genius is that in every song there is something for the adults too. And the 5 yr old hooked on Yellow Submarine has every chance of growing into an adult mesmerised by Tomorrow Never Knows.
So here's a thought – try writing for kids**. Use repetition, clear melodic patterns, simple vocabulary and grammar with some ridiculous concepts or or words. And don't forget to add something naughty!
*And pigs again! (See how they smile like pigs in a sty).
** And in a beautiful twist of fate, this will be Ticket To Write 64!