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The Way We Get By

The Way We Get By

by Spoon

Songwriting

This song has a structure very common in popular music. It goes verse/chorus, verse/chorus, verse/bridge/chorus, verse/chorus. The chorus is just, "That's the way we get by," a phrase with a universal meaning—you can probably find something to relate to in that phrase even if you don't hear the rest of the song. You'll find this technique in a huge number of songs on the Billboard charts, because phrases like this one give meaning to a song beyond what the rest of the lyrics mean. (Don't believe us? See for yourself.) Music critic Robert Christgau calls these "free-floating signifiers."

A prime example of this is "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. If you look closely at the lyrics, you'll find themes of anti-commercialism and alienation, but these messages only get through to a small number of listeners. The song's repeated refrain, on the other hand, stands on its own and gives the song a simpler, more universal meaning; each listener will interpret it according to his or her own circumstances. That's why this song got to be immensely popular, even iconic. Spoon's song is similar in that the repetition of "that's the way we get by" gives it universal appeal, even while the rest of the lyrics are more allusive, and therefore more elusive. Christgau similarly describes Daniel's lyrics as "spiky and cryptic," even while they deal with universal themes. It's this mixture between mysteriousness and commercial appeal that brings Spoon to the forefront of independent rock music.

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