- Introduction: The Story of a Heartbreak
- Back to the Basics: Key Characteristics
- Concerning the Structure: Taking the Song Apart
- Instrumentation and Textures: Velvet and a Spanish Guitar
- In Chord with the Audience: Harmonic Relationship
- The Power of Words: Lyrical Content and Melody
- Conclusion: Reading between the Lines
- Reference List
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Introduction: The Story of a Heartbreak
This is the kind of songs one is likely to see in the “100 Romantic Hits” CD, together with the songs of the 80ies, 70ies and 60ies. Clearly a product of its epoch, Un-Break My Heart is still one of those songs that have a timeless feeling, expressing the feelings that are just as applicable to a modern generation as to the people of any other epoch.
Back to the Basics: Key Characteristics
There should be no big reveal in the fact that the song was actually created by a woman and for a woman. Written by Diana Warren and performed by Tony Braxton, Un-Break My Heart possesses certain specifics that immediately set the romantic atmosphere.
Speaking of the key, this is a case when a creative spark literally changed the music landscape of the 90ies, sending the latter into soul-like mood. As Warren explained, Un-Break My Heart was initially supposed to be performed in a high A Minor key. But then Warren suddenly hit the key change and decided that a B Minor “was cool” (Tingen, 2008).
Commonly considered as “slow”, Un-Break My Heart is composed in a common time signature, which is defined as 2/4 and runs at 60 bmp (ISTD, 2012).
Though often mistakenly related to the genre of pop music, Un-Break My Heart is actually a mix of several genres, among which there is not only pop music, but also Soul, R&B, and even soft rock (Foster, n. d.).
Concerning the Structure: Taking the Song Apart
One of the most fascinating things about Un-Break My Heart is the combination of its structural simplicity and the huge effect which the song has on the audience, especially on the fair sex. The song does not have any out-of-the-ordinary elements or any innovative approaches; however, when the song is played, they all fall into their places, making the song a truly thrilling experience.
The introduction to Un-Break My Heart is unique mainly because it does not need a context, unlike many other songs (Dunbar, 2011, 9-10). Once the song starts playing, the melodic guitar creates the required romantic atmosphere.
As Dunbar (2011) emphasizes, “There appears to be nothing overly remarkable about the song compositionally” (9). As far as the rhyme in the verse goes, the structure can be represented as a verse – chorus – verse – chorus – solo – bridge – chorus (Tingen, 2008).However, taking a closer look at the verse itself, one will see that the rhyme in the verse is quite peculiar. Of all the eight lines, there are only two that can be considered as loosely rhymed (pain – rain, forget – left, Warren, 1996), while the remaining lines (tears – way, unkind – you, Warren, 1996) serve to enhance the feeling of despair.
It can be considered that the pre-chorus consists of a single line: “bring back the nights when I held you beside me” (Warren, 1996). Defined as a “transitional section” (Horne, 2005, 78), the pre-chorus serves perfectly well to link the first verse and the following chorus, since both start with addressing the person.
Bridge must be one of the trickiest things about songwriting. Suggested to be avoided “unless it really adds something wonderful” (Luboff & Luboff, 2007, 33), and in the case of Un-Break My Heart, it does. Having a new lyrics in it: “Un-cry these tears” (Warren, 1996) and serving to raise the tension in the song and bring it to its climax, the bridge in Un-Break My Heart is by far the most emotional part of the song.
It is important that the song does not contain the standard “middle eight,” which is supposed to consist of eight lines (Pandey, 2005, 440); in Un-Break My Heart, middle eight is replaced with a bridge.
In Un-Break My Heart, solo is introduced before the bridge with a guitar chord (Warren, 1996). Tony Braxton’s vocal is also there, but it fades into background, while the guitar solo plays.
Like many other popular songs (Narmour, 1988), Un-Break My Heart saves the most powerful moment and the most intense chords towards the point when coda breaks out. Tony Braxton’s powerful voice makes the line “Without you, world just can’t go round” (Warren, 1996) the song climax.
Ad lib. Considered a part when the vocal departures from the lyrics (Randel, 1999), ad lib is obviously present in the song. The voice frames the coda at its beginning and near the end, which adds dramatics.
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Instrumentation and Textures: Velvet and a Spanish Guitar
It is quite remarkable that there are quite few instruments in Un-Break My Heart. Namely, a guitar, piano and percussions can be identified in the song (Coates, 2006, 281). However, despite the few instruments, the song still manages to convey every single shade of meaning.
In Chord with the Audience: Harmonic Relationship
Finally, a couple of words about the chords of the song must be said.
Considered splitting the consecutive notes (Colson, 2012), phrasing is obviously used in the song. For example, the line “Don’t let me in all this pain” (Warren, 1996) is followed by a pause (Unbreak My Heart, n. d.), after which the line “Don’t let me out in the rain” (Warren, 1996) goes.
Considered a change of a chord from dissonance to consonance (Briggs, 2008), resolution can be traced in the lines “Take back that sad word ‘good-bye’” (Warren, 1996), where the major lift is followed by a minor tone.
The timbre, which is defined as a tone color of the song (Von Helmholtz, 2007, 59), does not change until the coda comes. Starting with a soft melody, the song peaks to a very sharp pitch.
The Power of Words: Lyrical Content and Melody
Un-Break My Heart is a good example of the case when the words and the tune are fully compatible. While the melody creates a whimsical pattern, the words complete the journey, creating a plot to follow. In addition, creating the word “un-break” (Warren, 1996) instead of saying “do not break” and meaning “return to me” is a truly lucky find.
Conclusion: Reading between the Lines
Once a huge hit, Un-Break My Heart is still popular, which is amazing. Belonging to a different epoch and century, it still renders people’s heartstrings the right way. Un-Break My Heart is a perfect example of a brilliant song meeting a talented artist.
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Tingen, P. (2008). Diane Warren. The world’s most successful songwriter. Web.
Unbreak My Heart (n. d.). Web.
Von Helmholtz, H. L. F. (2007). On the sensation of tone. New York, NY: Cosimo.
Warren, D. (1996). Un-break my heart. [Recorded by Tony Braxton]. A CD single [CD]. New York, NY: LaFace.