The most popular two words to rhyme in modern pop music history might be “do” and “you”

This is fairly cool: if you analyze the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of every year from 1960 to 2013, and look for what words the artists attempted to rhyme together (and only take one example per song, to avoid repetitive choruses), it seems the most popular rhyme pair in modern pop music history is “do” and “you.” The other 19 of the top 20 involve “go” and “know” as well as “me” and “see” and “night” and “right.” All told, you might come away with the idea that popular music isn’t so creative when it comes to lyrics (and you’d conceivably be right). The flip side is that, in Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, his most common rhyme is “me” and “thee,” so greatness sometimes does emerge from simplicity. Then there’s this, from Slate (where the article originated):

I asked Walter Everett, a professor of music at the University of Michigan who has studied popular music, what he thought attracted artists to the do/you rhyme. His hypothesis is that its frequency has less to do with do and everything to do with you. He noted that when a singer uses melisma (singing different pitches on the same syllable), it can “work to create a strong perceived bond between singer and listener, especially in romantic songs.” Such an effect, he says, can be particularly pronounced when the melisma is applied to the word you at the end of a line or verse. He points to the Beatles’ appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show as evidence of “what the word you does to the female fans.”

Here’s a less scientific post on the subject, which talks more about pairs like “fire” and “desire” via a lyric search site. And here’s a post from The AV Club on some of the worst rhymes in popular music history, including:

It’s not just a complacency that comes with celebrity; West gave us fair warning in the first full track on The College Dropout“We Don’t Care.” He has a staggering five of six consecutive lines ending with “man,” like “But as a shorty I looked up to the dopeman / only adult man I knew that wasn’t broke, man.” Considering he uses “man” in that verse nearly a dozen times in roughly 50 words, you could argue he was going for something in particular—fine. What about “Scratchin’ lottery tickets, eyes on a new house,” with “house” at the end of the next line? Or “I’m trying to get the car with the chromey wheels here / you tryin’ to cut our lights out like we don’t live here”? Etc. C’mon, ’Ye, there are free rhyming dictionaries online.

And then, of course, there’s LFO’s “Summer Girls,” which might be the worst-rhymed string of pop culture references in music history. A cult classic, for sure.

Check out that top link (begins the post) for an interactive on what some of your favorite bands use the most in terms of rhymes. Linking words back together is something we learn to love from childhood — i.e., uh, nursery rhymes — so it can give us particular delight in music, even when it’s so damn simple.

Ted Bauer

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