Mary Gauthier’s “I Drink”, and “Nobody Drinks Alone,” written by Matraca Berg and Jim Collins (recorded by Keith Urban) are two great examples of well-written songs about the same subject but with very different perspectives.
There are two songwriting tools used by both groups of songwriters which help give the songs their ability to deliver the message well: point of view and rhyme pattern.
Drinking Songs: Point of View Matters
One of the first things you’ll notice is the difference in point of view. If either song had chosen a different perspective, and tried to write the song around their original idea, both would have been a disaster.
“Nobody Drinks Alone” is written in second person with the singer/speaker addressing someone else – the “you” in the song. This can often be dangerous, especially with this kind of topic, because the speaker/singer can come off as sounding judgmental, never an appealing trait for someone who’s attempting to convey an idea. If the listener disagrees with the speaker, or the speaker seems unwilling to see things from any perspective other than their own, they lose credibility with the listener, and the listener’s out before the first chorus.
Matraca Berg and Jim Collins do a nice job of creating a speaker who comes from a very firm, but ultimately, caring position. You know the speaker is a close friend or family member, and the conversation is probably uncomfortable for the “you,” but not out of line.
They do this by avoiding name calling (judgment), recognizing the family background in verse 2 (indicates compassion for the situation), and by not having the speaker/singer tell the “you” what to do – i.e., there’s no preaching at the “you” during the entire song.
It’s contemplative and merely outlines the facts without placing judgment on any of them. Very hard to do, since most of the time we all have opinions, and nicely done here.
Keith Urban “Nobody Drinks Alone”
“I Drink” is a very different song because of the point of view – first person. Equally as difficult to write, for some of the opposite reasons to the Berg/Collins song, but primarily because it’s hard to justify being a drunk. The song is able to do so because it is tied so closely with the speaker’s personal history and uses a first person perspective to convey the information.
The speaker isn’t trying to justify drinking, but telling the listener about his/her life. In the bridge they acknowledge their own role in how their life has evolved – using the song structure to allow for a self revelation, adding complexity to the speaker’s personality and the situation.
The speaker never asks for forgiveness or expects the listener to give them a pass, sympathy, empathy, etc. – they’re simply saying it’s one of life’s inevitable situations, like fish swimming, or birds flying. In other words, it’s their history, and so – who they are.
Even though country artists are very reluctant to tie themselves to songs with a negative theme, this song is so well written Blake Shelton had no issues with recording it and putting it on an album. A compliment to Mary Gauthier’s songwriting skills no doubt about it.
Mary Gauthier “I Drink”
If you ever want to see how rhyme patterns can give subtle structure to a song that helps move it through the melody, build emotion and focus on key power positions, these two songs are great examples. To understand the rhyme pattern graphing below, please visit the post “Rhyme Patterns.”
“Nobody Drinks Alone” Rhymes:
The verse rhyme pattern moves you to the lift, which uses internal vowel sounds to move through the two lines (4 bars) – pretty neat trick since it’s the vowels driving pace rather than the actual end rhymes. This results in the listener not being hung up at the end of the lines, so the lift flows very naturally into the chorus.
The chorus uses the long O vowel sound throughout. Always a great choice because it gives you so many rhyme options. Alone however, is a tough word to rhyme with a perfect rhyme, because you end up with options like atone, bone, blown, cone, own, moan, scone, stone, all nasals in terms of the rhyme family, and they don’t really go with the song since it’s trying to sound supportive and most of the words have a hard connotation.
So, the songwriters used the long O for the first line (know) and spread it across 2 bars of the chorus. This immediately indicates a change, and is clearly an address to the “you” – by extending over two bars, the listener is given the time to figure all that out. As the lyrical pace slows, the drum pattern shifts to a 1&2 pattern to create the momentum, so the song seems to pick up, but in terms of the lyric, no one’s rushed.
They then pick up with “alone” in the second line, moving the nasal rhyme to a less prominent position; use a fricative (ghost) for the 3rd line; find a near rhyme in the nasal family for the 4th line (home), then frame the chorus with the word “alone” to create a box that clearly, through sounds, compartmentalizes what the idea of “nobody drinks alone” means. Now that’s some songwriting chops!
“I Drink” Rhymes:
Verse 1: A/A/B/B
Verse 2: C/C/B/B
The first thing you’ll notice is the linking of the C rhyme (fly/cry/high/side) from the chorus to the second verse. Then, the second verse links the B rhyme (flame/veins/same/change) back to the first verse. This song uses the techniques of a terza rima, with its interlocking rhyme pattern, and a stave – which uses repetition as a refrain. Staves are a form used most often for hymns and drinking songs! The irony alone is worth using the form, but in this case, a perfect choice.
The refrain “I drink” loses some of the stigma associated with the line because of the repetition, but the linking of the lines across verse and chorus create a connectivity to the story. This connectivity gives the story a balance, which gives the speaker/singer credibility. An example of how rhyme can help deliver your song in the most flattering way for everyone.
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