Analyzing The Hits


Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

This big 1980 hit is as perfect an example of a hit rock song as you can get. Its form is an almost textbook pop formula, and looks like this:

intro (with guitar solo) | verse | B-section | half-chorus | verse | B-section | chorus | bridge | solo  | verse | B-section | chorus | outchorus

As with most hits, the dynamics in the song are great, but unlike many of the songs of today built around beats, loops and sequences, they’re not only created by additional overdub layers but by real dynamic playing from the band. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have always been a great live band, and this song shows why, as the playing breathes with the song, pushing it to a peak in the bridge, and bringing it back down to a quiet third verse. The arrangement elements are:

  Foundation: drums and bass

Pad: organ

Rhythm: shaker

Lead: lead vocal, guitar in the intro and solo.

Fills: guitar in the verses and background vocal answers in the chorus.

The song builds and develops in a classic way that every band should learn. In the intro, the full band is playing with intensity with the lead guitar over the top, then in the verse the intensity lessens as it is just the organ and rhythm section with rhythm guitar strums every four bars. In the B-section, the band gets louder as another guitar kicks in. In the chorus, the guitars go back to what they played in the intro (but they’re lower in the mix) and the background vocals answer the lead vocal.

The only fancy arrangement aspect in “Refugee” is the doubled lead vocal in the bridge, and the fact that the first half of the solo is by the organ, followed by the guitar.

More Than A Feeling  


Just to show that there are exceptions to most formulas, Boston’s 1976 hit “More Than A Feeling” uses a slightly different form from the normal rock or pop song of the era in that the B-sections are instrumental as they transition into the choruses. The form looks like this:

intro | verse | B-section | chorus | intro | verse | B-section | chorus | bridge/solo | intro | verse (with an extra 9 bars) | chorus | outro

The intros are just verses minus the vocals, and the outro is a chorus minus the vocals. The bridge is where the solo occurs and is almost like a different song with a completely different set of chords and feel. During the last verse the song takes a left turn with an added nine bars that build to the B-section guitar line.

The Arrangement

The arrangement of “More Than A Feeling” is pretty classic in that it breathes with intensity pretty much where you expect it to––except for one place. The B-section is unexpected in that it is a Les Paul/Marshall lead line that fades into feedback and reverb into the chorus, which has both double big electric guitars, handclaps adding motion and harmony vocal answers

The bridge is interesting in that it is a lead guitar melody over a new set of chord changes, which leads into the third verse where the drums drop out and the intensity lowers. This is brilliant in that there’s a new nine-bar part tacked on to the verse where the drums and lead guitar enter and help the song build to its peak with the lead vocal and guitar wailing on the same reverbed note. The arrangement elements are:

Foundation: bass and drums

Rhythm: acoustic 12-string guitars in verse, claps in chorus

Pad: none

Lead: lead vocals, lead guitar in the B-section and solo

Fills: lead guitar in 9 bar third verse build, vocal answers in chorus

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