If you twist your hook too hard, you might break your song

A clever twist on the hook is a mainstay of country music and a common form of that is using a phrase or cliché as a metaphor such as the Garth Brooks hit “Two of a Kind Working on a Full House.” Another way is to change the expression slightly such as Brad Paisley’s “Laughing All The Way to the River Bank.” In the hands of a skillful writer, twisting a cliché can be delightful and entertaining.

However, when not done properly it can be a recipe for disaster. All too often I see developing writers find a clever way to twist a cliché and then get completely carried away with it. They worry more about ways to work the cliché into the song than about telling a real story.

I once gave a critique to a writer on a song called “You Returned to the Scene of the Crime.” It was about an old girlfriend who had broken the singer’s heart coming back around. It was full of crime references such as master thief, easy mark and got away clean. But when I asked the writer what the relationship had been like, why she left and why she had come back now, he hadn’t really figured that out. One line said that she stepped behind the yellow tape, but he couldn’t explain what action on her part that referred to.

If you look at the lyrics of “Two of a Kind Working on a Full House” you’ll only find five card references other than the title: three in verse one – Lady Luck, wildcard and hot hand, and two in the second bridge – a perfect combination and playing for keeps. There are three verses and a bridge that have no card references at all. The song is a wonderfully descriptive story and all the card references still make sense even if they didn’t refer to the metaphor in the title..

In “River Bank” Brad Paisley ends the chorus with the clever phrase, “laughing all the way to the river bank,” but there are no bank references anywhere in the song. Nothing about tellers or deposits or savings or interest on an investment.

If you want to use a twist on a cliché it can add to the entertainment value, but be sure the story is the most important thing in your song. Cleverness is the spice you put in the stew, not the main ingredient, and too much can be hard to swallow.