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Great MELODY is music's "face"

Updated on June 19, 2009

A super-strong melody can make music a hit... or a miss

Let's explore MELODY in a bit more detail then we have in previous chapters.  This chapter is dedicated to the first of the three 'building blocks of music": MELODY.

Some argue that a song's melody is most important of the three, because without a great melody, few people would stick around long enough to enjoy the song's harmonies or rhythms.

So, enjoy the MELODIES in each of these hit songs from various eras and genres on this page. Each of these songs have a very strong and powerful MELODY. Millions of people around the world know every word of these, except for the Dave Brubeck song on this page which has no words (!), but for that one, millions can "dum dum de dum" the melody, even without any words!

"All You Need Is Love" - Beatles (1967)

One of the biggest melodies of the 1960's was a chant from the Beatles

This specific video was the very first live global simultaneous broadcast of ANY event. Since 1964, the Beatles were causing a sensation everywhere, and their fans were watching their evolution from young men in suits and ties (with moptop longish hair) and becoming more and more extreme.

At this point it was the summer of 1967 and this giant worldwide broadcast event was the opportunity for the Beatles to introduce current hit single, "All You Need Is Love." A new wardrobe and much longer hair was quite a change from just 3 years earlier.

This song was hitting the single charts (individual songs on 45rpm vinyl) at the same time their latest album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was charging up the album charts, on it's way to become one of the most admired albums of all time.

Lead singer for this song is John Lennon, but you can also see Beatles members Paul McCartney, George Harrison and drummer Ringo Starr, side by side around John.


1. Listen for the song's two parts: Part I contains the familiar hook, verses and chorus, while Part II contains the chanting of the song's title and main melody over and over, while in between are snippets of other songs as the song is ending, including the Christmas classic "Greensleeves" played by the string section, and you hear John toss in the line "She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah", which was the name one of their very first hits just a few years earlier.

Where's the melody? In this song, it's sung throughout by John Lennon, who sings all the verses, and is joined by the other 3 Beatles and the crowd when they all sing the title, over and over.

2. Listen also for the harmony, which comes from brass section of trumpets and various horns, along with the orchestral instruments like violin and cello, added to this song's full sound. The Beatles' producer, George Martin, often called "the fifth Beatle" is acknowleded as the main brains behind adding more instruments and somewhat odd recording and overdubbing techniques to Beatles songs. As the Beatles became more unusual and revolutionary in their style, so did George Martin.

3. And, listen to the lyrics. When this song began rising up the charts in June of 1967, it was during the so-called "Summer of Love" where large cities, most notably San Francisco, were suddenly home to thousands of teenagers and people in their early 20's with long hair roaming the streets in search of a new lifestyle where everyone could live happily together in peace and harmony. This song and its instantly recognizable melody became one of the most important anthems of 1967.

You can read the lyrics of "All You Need Is Love" here (if you can, play the song in one window and watch the lyrics in another), and examine the words of what some people consider the most positive and accurate statement of all music in the past century.

Optional further reading.  To learn more about the Beatles, click here.

"You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman" - Aretha Franklin (1968)

Sing along with the Queen of Soul!

Memorable MELODIES carry MEMORIES with them.  Most likely that may be true for you, as well.  Many people associate key times in their lives with specific performances of specific songs.

For example, soul singer Aretha Franklin had a long, long string of very popular songs covering more than 25 years. Known as "the Queen of Soul", Aretha's most known song was "Respect", a soul & pop classic, one of the most memorable melodies of all the sixties. It had a deep meaning to women and a great, fun to sing melody, too.

Another one of Aretha's great melodies was in her torch ballad, "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman", which you can hear by clicking the video link on this page. 

Where's the melody?  As the soloist in this song, the melody is every note sung by Aretha in this song.  There are millions of people from all races, worldwide, that know and relate to all the words and can sing along with the melody Aretha is singing.

Optional further reading:  lean more about Aretha Franklin here

The performance we link to on this page was when she was still very new and very young.

"Take Five" - Dave Brubeck Quartet (1961)

People sing along to great melodies...even when the song has no words!

The Dave Brubeck Quartet were quite hip in their time in the world of jazz and smoke filled lounges with their four-person group, or "jazz combo", as small groups back then were called.

Because of their most famous song, "Take Five" which crossed over onto the pop charts in the early 1960s, creating millions of new fans of jazz music, and cemented Brubeck's name into the annals of jazz and pop history as an innovator and well-respected musician.  

Watch and listen to "Take Five" by clicking the video link on this page.  NOTE:  Although this instrumental piece has no vocals at all, BUT that doesn't mean there's no melody!

Where's the melody?  The melody in "Take Five" is heard over and over in the saxophone part, played by Paul Desmond. By the way, Dave Brubeck is the keyboardist.  This is Dave's "combo" and he wrote most of the group's songs.

Optional further reading:  learn more about Dave Brubeck here.

"Dancing Queen" - ABBA (1978)

All ABBA songs had very catchy melodies

One of the biggest bands of the 1970's was ABBA, a pop group that made no pretense to be rock or soul or anything but pure pop music. Four natives from Sweden, ABBA won the equivalent of an "American Idol" competition 30 years ago. Back then it was called the Eurovision Song Competition, an annual European contest to pick the best pop group of the year, and in 1974 ABBA won that honor. The song they won the competition with called "Waterloo", like all their hits, was sung completely in English, yet the singers barely knew the language at all, they had to learn the lyrics phonetically at first.

ABBA's biggest hit came a handful of years after they rocketed to superstardom, with "Dancing Queen", their only #1 song and a giant disco hit at clubs everywhere. Even today, this song is still played and danced to at weddings.  

All the biggest songs by ABBA became woven into a Broadway show called Mamma Mia! in 1999 and today is one of the top 20 longest running Broadway shows of all time. 

In the Summer of 2008, the Broadway show was adapted into a motion picture starring Meryl Streep.   

Where's the melody?  It's sung by lead singer Agnetha Falkskog (the blonde) throughout the song.  During the verses, Anni-Frid Lyngstad (the brunette) joins Agnetha in singing the same notes of the melody.  The rest of the time Anni-Frid and the two guys in the group (Bjorn and Benny) are all singing harmony with Agnetha's melody. 

Millions of people know the words and can sing along to the melody of "Dancing Queen".  To watch and listen to the original version, click the video link on this page.

Optional further reading:  Learn more about ABBA here.   

"Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" - Journey (1978)

Concert audiences love to sing along to great melodies

It's a fact all live performers know:  Anytime a major group from any genre performs in front of a live audience, they know that they've gotta do their most popular songs. In fact, that's why the audience is there, so they can hear songs they already know. What happens, even without asking, is that the fans end up singing along to the melody of the songs. That adds greatly to the audiences' enjoyment when they can sing along, a form of interactively participating in the feelings that song brings. 

And almost always, most hit songs have melodies that are somewhat easy to sing along with.  A cricital characteristic of a hit song is that "sing along" factor.


One of the most popular formula rock bands of the mid to late 1970's was Journey. The band and its lead singer Steve Perry perform one of their biggest hits, "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'", just for you, just by clicking the video link on this page. 

Where's the melody?  You'll notice that Journey has no problem getting the audience to sing along with the melody of "Lovin, Touchin', Squeezin'" in the verses which makes up the first half of the song.  Later, during the second half of the song, the melody transforms into just a taunting chant "na na, na naaaa na"! The melody is simple and the words are just "na" over and over, so you can't even mess it up.

Whether it's rock or R&B or hiphop or classical or jazz or country, doesn't matter the genre. It's a fact: in every style of music, without exception, the biggest hits have the most memorable melodies.

Another Journey hit:  One of the many 1970's songs from Journey became popular all over again in 2007, when their song "Don't Stop Believing" was used in the final episode of the HBO TV series The Sopranos.  Even today, that song still ranks among the top 100 most downloaded songs on iTunes each week.  Watch Journey perform "Don't Stop Believing" here, or read the lyrics here, if you want to try your own hand at singing along with Steve Perry doing the melody.   

Sure, the rhythm of a song is important and the harmony is, too.  In fact, both are critical! But if your song doesn't have a great melody, you've got nothin'! :)

Watch and listen to Journey's "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" by clicking the video link on this page. 

Optional further reading: learn more about Journey here.

MELODY assignment

Explain in your own words why you think the melody of the song is important to the song's success.  Pick just one example from your own knowledge of popular music and point out where the melody is in the song, and how it's performed (if it's a vocalist, name the vocalist.  If the melody is performed by an instrument, which instrument?)

When you're done with the above assignment, you may continue on to the HARMONY page here


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