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Pull this out of the 80's. I dare you
Uninteresting Music - Reinforcing Themes
Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time sets symbolic lyrics to stagnant, predictable music. The A section (first 8 bars of the verse) contains two alternating chords, F and C. Beginning in C major, this first phrase merely oscillates around the tonic, repeating IV – I. Instead of drawing attention away from the simplicity of this “progression” the melody emphasizes it by similarly working around the tonic note, c. By repeating the IV – I harmonic movement with the 2 – 1 (d - c) melodic motive, the song firmly establishes the tonic early but fails to move away from it. The melody climbs to the third above, e, in the fourth bar, but it does so with the same harmony as the previous bars, and before it can move anywhere new, returns to the tonic. This first period repeats relentlessly throughout the song with no variation to either the melody or the harmony.
The B section introduces a bit of melodic and harmonic interest as it progresses down the scale to the fifth below the tonic, g. The supporting harmony introduces two new chords, G and Em, but does so using the same method as the A section: repetition. The B section also makes heavy use of the IV chord, F. This connects it to the previous harmony, but considering the simplicity and heavy repetition of the A section, the IV chord begins to feel too familiar; of every two chords so far, one is an F. This movement repeats (again with no variation) to form the second half of the B section.
While the slowly building complexity and quickening rhythm from the A section to the B section seems to lead listeners to the chorus and the hook, “time after time,” the chorus barely delivers any new harmonic contrast. The G, F and C have all appeared many times before, and the Am sits as merely a coloration or substitution of these chords. The melody redeems the immobile harmony by shifting to higher register as well as reversing the rhythmic pattern, and the new phrase includes leaps and eighth notes before quarter notes. The listener may feel grateful for the contrast in music, but the second, third and fourth lines of the chorus quickly subvert the feeling as the music is repeated note for note, chord for chord, and rhythm for rhythm. Even the bass line runs through the exact same notes in the four lines of the chorus. The one fluctuation of the chorus happens when Cyndi Lauper leaps up an octave to the high c in the melody, but even this redeeming change happens while the backup singer continues with the original melody.
The lyrics, however, contain much richer content and imagery than the music conveys. The song begins with the persona ‘lying in bed’ presumably awake, listening to “the clock tick” and thinking of her significant other. She is “caught up in circles” of confusion. This first A section introduces two key elements: the character’s apprehension through the sleeplessness and thoughts of confusion and the ever-presence of time through the ticking clock and mention that the feelings are “nothing new.” Lauper heavily employs alliterations with the repetition of the ‘k’ sound in “clock tick,” “think,” “Caught,” “circles” and “confusion,” as well as ‘n’ in “nothing new.” The stressed and unstressed syllables fall in a two, three or four syllable bar, and the lines end in the perfect rhymes ‘you – new,’ ‘ahead – said,’ and ‘grey – ok.’
Still in bed, the persona begins to have “flashbacks [of] warm nights,” but these pleasant feelings are immediately threatened by the feeling of being “Almost left behind.” Her memories, which seem to be fond, are packed in a suitcase, a symbol for leaving. On schedule for leaving, the character starts the hook phrase “time after…” but cuts herself off to reminisce; this time from his point of view. He “picture[s] her… walking too far ahead,” a direct reference to a metaphor framing their relationship. He calls but she doesn’t hear until he says to “go slow.” She reacts to his plea to slow time as if time drives her away from him. If he can slow her walking pace and have her “go slow” he can keep her from leaving as she takes the time out for him. The last line of the B section reaffirms that time drives her away, but between them they have some control over their relationship as “the second hand unwinds.” The clock physically losing track of time parallels their success in overcoming the force driving them apart. The B section lyrics have fewer syllables placed irregularly and utilize a slant rhyme (behind – unwinds). The irregularities emphasize the falling out of time suggested by the words.
If A sections show time pulling her away, and he manipulates time to change her mind in the B section, then the presents the two reunited with time on their side. Now the lyrical content addresses classic feel-good themes of never being lost with each other and to always have someone to “catch you…if you fall. Ironically, the concept of time which drove them apart in the past and which they had to overcome to be together now represents the consistency and security of their togetherness. Coincidently the syllables fall more rhythmically in the two lines of the chorus. The hook, which was alluded to in the first section, cements the idea of having time on their side “time after time.”
After the high spirits of the chorus, the next verse once again turns time around. Now her “picture [has] fade[d] and darkness has turned to grey.” The timelessness of the chorus has been captured in a photograph or portrait, but the picture itself has a timeline making it susceptible to fading just as the feelings have gone past joyfulness to darkness and finally monotonous grey. She continues to describe him “watching through windows” as he “wonders” about her well-being and feels something taken from him “deep inside.” The sincerely mournful tone of this verse closes with a “drum beat[ing] out of time.” This may seem a fitting end to a painful, disparate time as the drum, the force driving a march or livening it up with rhythm, loses its primary function of keeping time, but at this point, time has turned against the relationship once again. It has worn down the picture and dulled the mournful feelings. If the drum begins to fail then perhaps the timelessness will return and the feelings from the chorus will reinvigorate the relationship with hope and sincerity once more, and in fact, it does. The chorus returns for another chance at timelessness and repeats to the end of a song. Even the loop of the chorus and fading out allude to the themes from the verse and chorus; as the loop strives to remain timeless, the fading track represents the reality of the mortality of the song. Perhaps the true test of the songs timelessness lies in the its ability to overcome its incredibly simple melodic content and continue past the track’s duration to live on in the minds of its listeners.