Some days ago I had a conversation with a friend during which we talked about certain songs whose melody did not fit with their lyrics.

By not fitting we meant songs which, by their melody, would create an at least predomintantly positive mood (e.g. by the use of certain major keys, specific instrumentation, speed etc.) while their lyrics would express the exact opposite (or overall positive melody with negative lyrics).

An example of this situation could be Rage Against The Machine's Killing in the Name of or Slayer's Relentless with the lyrics of a song such as Greenday's Wake Me Up When September Ends.

Are there any known songs featuring a discrepancy like that mentioned above, and, if so, which effect does this high contrast between lyrics and melody create for the listener?

  • This is off-topic because of two reasons: it is basically a list question (i.e. every answer is equally valid, plus there could be numerous answers), and it is basically a question asking for recommendations. – BCdotWEB May 3 '16 at 10:21
  • Also - what is your definition of "fitting"? It just seems far to vague, as it stands. – Tetsujin May 3 '16 at 12:11
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    I edited to remove the list/recommendations ask, and to highlight a question I thought was implicit in the earlier paragraph. These edits might make the question a little less likely to be closed as off-topic, but feel free to revert them if they don't match your intention. – Chris Sunami supports Monica May 3 '16 at 13:38
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    Actually my intention really was to get some information about songs where there is a clear discrepancy between their lyrics and their "musical devices". This is not in any way a question where "every answer is valid" as BCdotWEB states above, but one with explicite requirements. Nevertheless, thank you for your valuable information! – Tacticus May 3 '16 at 13:53
  • Did I get the gist of your question right? I'm assuming yes, since you accepted my answer, but I'm still not entirely clear what you mean by "musical devices." – Chris Sunami supports Monica May 3 '16 at 16:23

A number of my favorite songs use this technique. For example, Pumped Up Kicks sounds like a happy dance tune, but the lyrics are about a school shooter. In this case, the song arguably reveals a well of alienation under a shiny happy consumerist culture. Fire Island is a quiet, somber ballad about a wild party. The effect I get in this case is an intense nostalgia for the lost innocence of youth.

There are plenty of other examples. Imagine is a pretty pop song with a deeply subversive message attacking organized religion and government. Beyoncé's recent hit Hold Up is a sunny love song about rage and betrayal. Say It Ain't So is a easygoing rock song about alcoholism. The late great Prince's 7 is an epic dance song about the Biblical apocalypse. In general, when this is done well, the music pulls you in, and the lyrics reveal an unexpected layer of depth.

  • As it seems, one of Greenday's new songs would fit perfectly to the category refered to here: Bang Bang. – Tacticus Oct 27 '16 at 10:55

Tears For Fears' Mad World, while in a minor key, is an upbeat number whose themes of meaninglessness and emptiness are in contrast to the musical style. It can easily be contrasted with Gary Jules' version, which is much more melancholy musically.

I am only one 'data point', but I personally get more 'meaning' from the original - it makes me think of the contrast between how we're 'supposed to feel' (especially in situations where we are supposed to feel safe or happy) and how out actual feelings can be different.


The other two answers seem to approach the question from the point of view of lyrics not fitting the music emotionally or topically (sad lyrics to happy tune or similar), so I'll take a different approach and discuss how the lyrics might not fit the music metrically. I believe this is usually done for comic effect or because the lyrics require a few extra or fewer syllables.

The folk song is notorious for having loose meters (I believe this comes from variances in the tune that evolve over time). Tom Lehrer's "Folk Song Army" includes the line "And it don't matter if you put a couple extra syllables into a line" when the music is meant for less than half the syllables to make fun of this.

Most listing songs also do this, as it is near impossible to write music that will fit a list of ever-increasing length. In both cases, it usually has a comedic effect.

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