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“Merry Go Round” – Kacey Musgraves

“Merry Go Round” – Kacey Musgraves

Written by Kacey Musgraves, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally, the play on words in “Merry Go Round” bring the images and the story of “a life” from a Texas small town full circle.

It’s a universal message delivered with a popish melody line and music that resonates with audiences across genres – and most importantly – in younger demos.

The song uses the simplicity of a nursery rhyme to capture a vignette of small town life from the perspective of an adult (told in third person).

The innocence and time frame reference of a nursery rhyme to evoke a “from childhood” sense of drama to the song without telling it from a child’s perspective is not only clever, but critical to the success of the song.


“Merry Go Round” Point-of-View


In this particular case, any point of view other than third person would have sounded judgmental, or if from a child’s perspective – too mature, and subsequently unbelievable.

After all, when you’re living in the environment as a child, it’s just the life you’re part of in the household.  You have no control of behaviors or outcomes – you simply grow up and innocently observe.

By using third person point of view, the same environment of seeing what’s going on around the speaker is achieved.



Metaphor Of The Merry Go Round


While the imagery is stunning, the primary image makes a fantastic metaphor in the song.  The constant spinning in a single place and the childhood structure evoke a sense of repetition. And, who didn’t spend at least a few hours of their high school years finding a playground and hanging out on a merry go round?

There’s also a great play on words in this song with the different iterations of “Mary” “Merry”.  It’s actually the element that sparked the song idea – all of the things called merry.

While the song was ignited by a word play song idea, notice how the metaphor finds its way into the song.

Well written songs tend to take on a complexity as they begin to evolve.

The lesson here?  Let it happen.


Story Behind The Song!
Shane McAnally talks about “Merry Go Round” on BobbyCast podcast


Rhyme Pattern Matters – It’s a Nursery Rhyme!


Given how this song leverages a nursery rhyme (or two), paying special attention to the rhyme pattern is critical to tying the song into a nice package.

I’m not sure if it’s his doing on this particular song, but Shane McAnally has a really interesting way of being able to lyrically move a song down the page without sounding contrived, and tends to use a lot of internal rhyme to do so.  It’s a great device to create pace in a song when you’d prefer not to have a time signature that’s fast paced.

VERSE = A | A | B | C | C | B | D | D

The rhyme pattern of the verse is two triplets, and a couplet, with the last line of the first triplet rhyming with the last line of the second triplet.  This works to segment the verse into two small vignettes – notice the lyrics are grouped into two distinct scenes.

This verse is a great example of how form follows function!

The triplets construction and rhyming of the last lines of each helps separate the two vignettes, giving audio clues to the logic of the flow – i.e., here’s a snapshot, now another, etc.  The listener is queued to the fact they shouldn’t be waiting for a “first this happened, then that” sort of story line.  All work to create a mood of reflection.

The chorus (see lyrics below) uses an internal repeat of “Mary” in the second line to tie back to the first line, but then creates the F rhyme, which is used to tie to the remaining lines in the chorus.

Very neat device, and worth a steal if you’re a songwriter.


Using Near (or Close) Rhymes


Another interesting component and something done extremely well in “Merry Go Round”, is the use of close rhymes and the variety of sounds through the song.

Notice the word “twenty-one” in the first verse is a near rhyme with “die alone,” and it works fine.

Why?  Because it’s part of the triplet describing the scene.  Because the listener is waiting for the next line (line 3 of the triplet), they’re willing to take the close rhyme for the pay-off of the third and completion of the thought.

By using a near/close rhyme in a non-critical spot, it doesn’t halt the song or sound strange to the ear.  This is another nice writing device that adds variety and allows you to create rhymes that don’t sound contrived or repetitive.

Notice how it does stick out when used in the last two lines (couplet) of the second verse: “cashin'” and “distraction”.  This happens for two reasons: (1) the lines are at a key point in the verse, and (2) in Verse 2 they have changed their role in the song.

An ambitious topic done well here.


Another Song To Compare


Lori McKenna’s ‘Stealing Kisses’ is a great song about small-town life and the cycle of childhood to adulthood in the same town.  The song offers another perspective on the same “growing up” theme. It’s a great example of how to craft a story with detail and moments a listener can connect with throughout.  You’ll recognize the song from Faith Hill’s Fireflies album. McKenna’s live performance is below.



Merry Go Round Lyrics



If you ain’t got two kids by 21,              A
you’re probably gonna die alone:           A
Least that’s what tradition told you.       B
And it don’t matter if you don’t believe,          C
come Sunday morning,  you best be (there)    C
in the front row like you’re supposed to.          B
Same hurt in every heart.                             D
Same trailer, different park.                         D

Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay, brother’s hooked on Mary Jane,   E | E
Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.                                 (E) | F
Mary, Mary quite contrary – we get bored, so, we get married      G | G
Just like dust, we settle in this town.                                             F
On this broken merry go ’round                                                    F
and ’round and ’round we go – where it stops nobody knows         H | H
and it ain’t slowin’ down. This merry go ’round.                           F | F

We think the first time’s good enough,             I
So, we hold on to high school love,                 I
Sayin’ we won’t end up like our parents.         J
Tiny little boxes in a row                            A
Ain’t what you want, it’s what you know.    A
Just happy in the shoes you’re wearin’.        J
Same checks we’re always cashin’ –       L
To buy a little more distraction.             L


Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay, brother’s hooked on Mary Jane,   E | E
Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.                                 (E) | F
Mary, Mary quite contrary – we get bored, so, we get married      G | G
Just like dust, we settle in this town.                                             F
On this broken merry go ’round                                                    F
and ’round and ’round we go – where it stops nobody knows         H | H
and it ain’t slowin’ down. This merry go ’round.                           F | F

Jack and Jill went up the hill. Jack burned out on booze and pills.

And Mary had a little lamb. Mary just don’t give a damn no more.



  1. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say excellent blog!

    • Sorry about that! Might be the plug-in. Tech support is on it (that would be me). Thanks for letting me know.

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