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Hit Song Choruses

The Hit Songs Deconstructed Top 10 Deconstructed Report provides an in-depth look at the compositional characteristics and techniques utilized to craft all of the songs that land within the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 each quarter. This article spotlights some of the key characteristics of a hit song chorus.

This article features a small number of highlights and takeaways culled from the Hit Songs Deconstructed Top 10 Deconstructed Report. The full report provides you with an in-depth look at the compositional characteristics and techniques utilized to craft the 23 songs that landed within the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 during the second quarter of the year.  It shows you the “how they did it,” as well as the “why they did it,” in order to help you take your craft to the next level.  To read the full report, click here.

So many things are important – from the song structure you choose, to the manner in which you kick the song off, to the way you maximize the chorus (payoff) for maximum impact, to the way you conclude leaving the listener wanting more, and everything in between.

Here we’re going to take a look at some of the characteristics that define the hit song choruses (payoffs) of the quarter, in addition to their exceptionally hooky nature, which all have in common.

First Chorus Occurrence

Getting to the chorus (i.e. primary payoff) within the song is of the utmost importance.  The majority of songs have their first chorus hitting relatively early, averaging 0:42 / 19% of the way in.  A handful wasted no time at all, having the first chorus hit before the first verse.  A couple of recent examples include Counting Stars and Wiggle.

Chorus Count & Placement

Most songs feature three chorus occurrences within their framework, two of which follow a verse or pre-chorus, and the other following the bridge, if applicable.  It goes without saying that adding even more chorus occurrences certainly can’t hurt.  You just need to make sure that you differentiate in some manner in order to prevent the song from taking on a “cookie cutter,” monotonous quality.  A couple of examples are The Man (B-A-B-A-B-C-B) and Happy (A-B-A-B-C-B-C-B)

Chorus Length Uniformity

A small majority of songs feature chorus sections that possess uniform lengths throughout the song.  A couple of examples of those that don’t include Counting Stars (partial – full – full – full) and Stay With Me (full – full – double).

In the case of Counting Stars, the abbreviated, differentiated first chorus serves in the manner of an intro, while hitting the listener with the key infectious hook.  Stay With Me doubles up on the final chorus, further exposing the listener to the infectious payoff and getting it further engrained in their head in the process.

First Chorus Structure

The majority of songs have their first chorus featuring one of two types of chorus structures within their framework:  X or X-Y.   Those that possess an X structure feature just one stanza.  Some examples include Happy and Loyal.

Those that feature an X-Y structure are comprised of two individual stanzas or “parts,” both of which differ from one another from a vocal melody, lyrical or backing music standpoint, or a combination of all three.  This provides the section as a whole with increased engagement value due to the contrast imparted, coupled with taking its infectious nature to the next level.  A couple of examples include:

Am I Wrong

Part X:  “So am I wrong…”
Part Y:  “That’s just how I feel (oo-oo-oo-oo-)


Part X:  “Why you got to be so rude…”
Part Y:  “Marry that girl…”

“Simple” / Repetitive Choruses

The chorus doesn’t necessarily need to add a whole other facet to the storyline to be effective.  In some cases, the repetition of the title works just as well, if not better.  A perfect example of this is Wiggle.  Notice that the “shwing!” at the end acts as the catchy icing on the cake:

“Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
Just a ‘ittle bittle

Transitioning Into The Chorus

The manner in which you transition into the chorus is just as important as the chorus itself.  If not set up properly, its overall impact can be severely diminished.  A couple of examples of the most popular methods utilized to transition into a hit chorus include:

The Vocal Lead In:  This type of transition features the first line of the chorus being put into effect at the tail end of the preceding verse or pre-chorus.  Example:

  • Happy:  “because I’m” (verse), “happy” (chorus)

The Transitional Pause/Lull:  This is a technique that’s utilized primarily in songs that feature a powerful chorus in order to enable them to hit with increased perceived impact.

In most cases, it works hand in hand with the vocal lead in transition as mentioned above where most or all of the backing music is pulled from the mix out from under the vocal followed by the full chorus slamming in.  Example:

  • Ain’t It Fun:  The backing music is pulled from the mix following the pre-chorus.  At this point,  William’s solo “ain’t it” vocal enters the mix, followed by the chorus slamming in on the last lyric within the title, “fun.”

Clearly, the creation of an effective chorus is more entailed than just writing a catchy, memorable hook.  Placement, length, and context within the overall structure of the song are also paramount to its ability to fully connect and resonate with the listener.

To view the full Q2-2014 Hit Songs Deconstructed Top 10 Deconstructed Report, click here.


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