“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” —Plato
Here I present a critical analysis and discussion of the song Stay, describing its structure, use of rhythm and meter, exploring its ideas, images and themes, use symbolisms and what the work is about.
The author asserts that this work was written in a stream of consciousness, practically writing itself and needing only one revision. It may be for this reason that what at first appears broken and uneven in fact flows well over the music. The version of the recording provided, the only one currently available, is a demo and it is not always easy to follow where the lyrics would go. On their own the words scan well enough but with the addition of the music they take on added meaning through their tonality. This of course varies with the interpretation of the singer.
As a rough guide the music is composed as follows: Four chords of introduction; Main riff (instrumental only); First through to third verses. Instrumental (slowing near the end); Final three verses; Outro. The lyrics fit the music to the specific chords so that the first line fits with the first chord, the second line with its modulation. The same follows for the third and fourth line. This is the first pattern of the verse. The fifth line fits with the second chord and the sixth with its modulation. The seventh and eighth lines follow in the same way making the second pattern. The second pattern is played in the same way as the first pattern so that they complement each other and form a steady rhythm that underlies the melody. In this way the words and music go together to conjure up a rhythmic sensation of movement from the ‘smoke’, to the ‘train’, ‘going up to her room’.
Movement is in fact one of the main themes of the song. However the title is Stay. From this we may gather that the song is about the desire to resist going ‘with the flow’ but finding the struggle hopeless. While the music in Stay has a standard rhythm, the lyrics do not. The rhyme pattern varies from verse to verse and though the verses flow smoothly there is no clear syllabic breakdown. In the first verse the rhyme pattern is ABCBDBEB but in the others it is ABCBDEFE. This is perhaps because the first verse sets the tone for the rest of the song. It is the background and within eight lines we have moved from the very real, the girl waiting, to the imaginary, her being ten feet tall. Thus when verse two comes the listener is taken into the motion of the song.
The recording was made on a four-track in the summer of 1992. Steve King plays an improvised lead guitar over Owen’s rhythm. The piano is played by Owen. One track was left empty for the vocals but they were never recorded. The problem is that the main melody is provided by the singer. If a ‘da’ is higher than the last note, and a ‘dum’ is lower and the first ‘da’ is the root note of the chord and all the notes are within the scale of the chord then the lyrics go: da da da— dum dum da da— (As she waits by the window…). The next problem is that the first line of the first and fourth verses begin two words before the music gets on to the next verse. However it is possible to get the gist of the song. The benefit of removing the lyrics is that you can sing the them yourself to see how you would fit them.
Why were the instruments chosen? Though usually it is due to the composition of the performing group it can be seen how the two electric guitars, lead and rhythm, and a piano, without any drums or a bass, can portray a different set of musical qualities than say a single acoustic guitar. Pianos can be synonymous with rain or other things falling, or emotions and memories falling away. Ideally, in the author’s opinion, it should be performed on an round-back acoustic guitar accompanied by an archtop, f-hole, jazz guitar, a double-bass, a piano, and drums played with brushes. A comparison can be made between this song and George Michael’s Cowboys and Angels. They both share a similar theme and a musical modality.
A consideration of the work should include a synopses of the story told in the song. The author remembers why the song was written but the listener receives their own message. For instance, the title of the song is taken from the last word and is also a counterpoint to the theme of motion.. The last line summarises the view of the singer of the song. The power of the song is that it is telling a story in that will continue to happen wherever anyone feels powerless. This is the basis of mass appeal. One possible received meaning of the song is that a girl is waiting for a man to come and see her. She lives in a world of dreams, out of touch with reality. She is in not in love with the man but someone else who does not love her. He embraces her knowing that she is using him as a substitute for emotional support that she cannot get elsewhere. The man, having done his best to sort out the situation then leaves her, to get on with his life, but feels regret that he cannot stay with her. He knows, however, that it could not work.
Imagery is a very important part of this song. Why for instance does the smoke loom by the wall, not drift or hang. It could be that the smoke is a representation of something that she is scared of which could be a part of herself, like a shadow, which does loom as the light strays from the area it hits. The smoke could be casting an unusually dark shadow on the wall. To do this it would have to be late at night. She is sitting by the window so there must be a light source other than that such as a lamp. She is waiting for the man, though it could be a woman as interpretation is subjective, to arrive so she is watching for him. Thus in four lines Owen has already painted a strong picture that sets the scene.
There is also the divide between the real and the surreal or perceived. This first manifests itself in the second half of the first verse. She can’t see him, although she is looking. She can’t hear him, although she is listening. The reason is that she is in a dream like state and she is listening to a side of her self. We are told she is in her own world, just to make sure we understood, and then told that she is ‘ten feet tall’. This cliché is generally used in association with euphoria, but under the circumstances can take on a darker tone, perhaps meaning that her inner self has power over her.
The momentum of the story continues as the girl is sitting by a window, then she is on a train. But then is it a window on the train and could the room at the end of the passage be, in fact, a train carriage. Because the train is going ‘nowhere’ we don’t even know if it is real and it could all be an illusion in her mind or in his. She doesn’t know where the train is going but when she gets there the man will be waiting. She could be thinking of someone else (she always is). This verse is completely surreal. The significance of the ‘midnight train’ could be said to be the journey of dream time. She is still physically located in her room as we learn later. She cannot tell where her thoughts will take her, hence the second line of the second verse. However, when she recovers from this dream like state she knows the man will be there. She looks out of a window, we do not know if it is the real window or her mind’s window but she sees the world in motion while she is in stasis. It is the lack of will or power to act that is being driven at. She then goes back into her past and feels regret in the last two lines of the second verse.
Reality comes back as we are introduced to the idea of habit in verse three. She drinks to get away from her problems and this dream like state is one of alcohol driven euphoria of alternate heights and depths of this state. She is plagued by ‘demons’ who are an aspect of herself. Slowly Owen peels back the layers of reality until a universal truth is at least in sight if it is not quite reached. Verses four to six propel the listener back into real time and close the story as described earlier but Owen hints at further meanings. ‘Is there a tomorrow? Should I wait just to be sure?’ is clearly another reference to the desire for action but the lack of power, which as we now know is due to drunkenness and loss of self respect. However the man still respects her. He holds her knowing that she can never be his. He too is trapped in an existence in limbo.
The final verse is the only awkward one in the song. However, if unintentionally, this emphasises the state of confusion in the mind of the man in the song who may or may not be the author or the listener. The story is told through various narrative techniques, descriptive at first, then suggestive, then recollective, and finally direct communication with the receiver – the listener.