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The Language of Lyrics – Analysis of Rush’s "Force 10"
You wrote a great tune with an interesting rhythm structure and a catchy vocal melody. Now you have to write words for the song. When I was a freshman in high school, I analyzed Rush’s “Force 10” from the Hold Your Fire album. In the process (wearing my Hold Your Fire t-shirt and a poster of the three men I most admire on the chalkboard), I gave a talk about the eight literary devices that make up well-written poetry or lyrics. These are pronouns, alliteration, similes, hyperbole, personification, rhyme, assonance and metaphors.
I chose “Force 10” because it contained all eight literary devices and therefore gave me extra credit for my speech. I will define these literary devices and give examples.
Onomatopoeia is the literary device used in the first introduction. Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the described sound. The opening ahhh, a name book, lasts about 15 seconds. Defines the tone of the song as a song that requires endurance. The second tool presented is alliteration. Alliteration is a literary or rhetorical stylistic device that repeats the same consonant at the beginning of several words in succession. “Hard times call for hard speech, hard hearts call for hard songs…” The repetition of the words hard and need emphasizes the need to take control of any undesirable situation and turn it around for a favorable outcome.
Neil Peart immediately states the fallibility of the human condition: “We can rise and fall like empires, flow in and out like the tide,” which is a simile. A simile is a figure of speech comparing two different things, often introduced by the word “like” or “as.” It compares our ability to achieve and fail to the collective effort of an empire and the intense power of Mother Nature. He continues his comparison with “Be vain and clever, humble and silent, we can hit and miss like pride” to further emphasize how we can be “vain and clever” like empires at their height, or humble and dumb when they fall .
The following line: “We can go around like a hurricane” is an example of hyperbole. When used as a literary device, hyperbole is an exaggeration that, while not meant literally, describes a situation or image that is at least feasible or possible. This lyric emphasizes how we humans can be disorganized and chaotic, like a storm that randomly sweeps through and destroys. Or “Dance and dream like lovers” is the other side of the coin that says that when we are happy; we express emotions with joy and creation. “Attack the sun like birds of prey” again refers to fulfilling tunnel vision, regardless of who might get hurt along the way. “Scavengers under cover” is the fear we feel when we can’t take care of ourselves and be independent.
After the first two verses, the chorus says, “Look into the eye of the storm.” This is the first example of personalization. Personification is an ontological metaphor in which a thing or abstraction is represented as a person. Storms literally have no eyes, but they do have a focal point where their power is strongest, as looking someone in the eye is the most direct way to approach a person. “Beware of formless power.” The song warns us to take care of our surroundings: “Look around – at the sight and the sound, look in, look around.”
There are also examples of rhyme and assonance in the third verse. Rhyme is the repetition of similar sounds in two or more words (most often at the end of a phrase) and is most often used in poetry and song. Assonance is the retention of vowels to create internal rhymes within a phrase or sentence.
“We can move with wild grace to the rhythm of the night
Cool and distant like dancing girls
In the heat of the beat and the lights”
This verse emphasizes how it can be hidden in our own introspection. Focusing on the music of nature, the night rhymes with lights to contrast the natural rhythms of nature with the artificial lights of the enclosed club environment. “In the heat of the beat” is an example of assonance. This quickly sung lyric with an internal rhyme shows an impulsive and emotional reaction to the music.
The last verse compares the “rose of romance” to the “air of joie vivre” or “the joy of life” as a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech that is succinctly expressed by comparing two things, saying that one is the other. This comparison calls into question, a flower associated with love and the joy of life. Neil Peart elaborates on the comparison: “hearts too tender on our sleeves”, meaning that to love means to be vulnerable, contrasting with the “skin as thick as thieves” simile.
The bridge is another example of hyperbole: “we rise and fall with the power of ten, turn the world and ride the wind.” The power of ten is exemplified as a power beyond our three-dimensional existence, as literally twisting the world would require a power beyond our current knowledge.
I used these literary devices to write my own songs. It’s helpful to be aware of these techniques to write great lyrics. In the case of writer’s block, literary tools are fun play tools. For example, another Rush song that specifically plays on literary devices is “Anagram”. In this song, Neil cleverly wrote that it is a play on words and the song is actually quite smooth. The chorus declares, “There is no safe seat at the feast, stab the beast best, the night is waning, the saint turns to sin.” The chorus alone uses alliteration, metaphors, rhyme and personification… Neil Peart shows that the use of these devices will always be pleasing to the ears of the listener, so we conclude with a thought. Let us not be misfits in the fog of our fits… Never challenge the never-ending end and accept what we can achieve in the midst of the fog.
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