How to write a parody song – a creative exercise
Looking for a new way to kill a few minutes? Do you have access to a writing implement and a music player? Congratulations – you’re halfway to writing your very own parody song.
Parody songs can be hilarious. They can be activist or political, mocking or empowering. They can prick the balloon of the world’s ego, and they’re found everywhere. Filk, the music tied to sci-fi fandoms, is richly saturated with them. Weird Al Yankovic has made a living around them. But, most of all, they’re fun to write…
1. First, find a song to parody
You’ll need a song to parody before you begin. You may have one in mind (something recent, for example, might get your version noticed. It can also help if the original song’s style and/or lyrics are a stark contrast to your parody version, e.g. the sexual confidence of Milkshake by Kelis in contrast to the Vulcan reserve of Spock). If you’re just doing this for personal amusement or as a creative exercise, put your music player on shuffle and see what comes on. If the song’s already on your playlist there’s a good chance you don’t hate it, which is a real bonus because you’re likely to be listening to your song repeatedly to make the syllable counts match as well as possible.
For the purposes of this guide I put my music library on shuffle, pressed skip a couple of times and got ‘To France’ by Mike Oldfield
2. Find a theme
Do you have a theme? Now’s the time to choose one. You might already have one in mind. Humorous parodies tend to work best when the theme roughly matches (but plays with) the song’s original meaning.
My song is about Mary Queen of Scots, just because. My theme was randomly selected by pestering people until they cracked. As a result, it will be the popular children’s TV series ‘Bing’.
3. Clear your mind and find the rhythm
If you don’t know your song off by heart, you’ll want to listen to it a few times to get the hang of where the rhymes fall and how many syllables you need per line. This when you’ll start to deliberately mishear things in order to make them fit your theme.
In my song, ‘taking on water’ becomes ‘playing in water’, which conveniently changes the scenario from a sailing ship to a Bing-esque play park.
4. Start changing the lyrics
Now read through the lyrics and start changing the words. Personally I like to leave as many lines intact as possible, enabling people to easily recognise the song being parodied whilst still subverting the song’s meaning.
Playing in water, Bing is a young Bunny
Making new memory, play fantasy
Now Coco carries Charlie to water
Far from Amma’s house
But you know that
It is always ‘a Bing thing’
Flop will save the day with his catchphrase
It is always ‘a Bing thing’
Padget and Amma stand in a daze
5. Count the beats
To keep each line neat, count the number of syllables (or beats) in each, then substitute the words with ones with the same number of beats. Rhythm is important. The Spock parody of the Kelis song is funny precisely because the beat-matching goes haywire to allow for his precision-speak (I know, jokesplaining), but think of it as the exception to prove the rule that beats matter. Matching the individual words helps, but isn’t as important as matching the number of beats in the whole line:
‘Far from the islands’ is ‘1 1 1 2’ whilst ‘far from Amma’s house’ is ‘1 1 2 1’ but they equal the same number of beats, so I went with it.
6. Make like the original singer to spot any tweaks
Once you’ve got your written lyrics into shape, play the song once more and try to read it as the original singer sang. Does anything need tweaking?
iTunes shuffle chose a song for me which is sang with the lines running into each other. When I wrote my version I needed to be mindful of the fact that it would be done in the same way..
7. Like it? Post it
Doing this exercise for yourself purely because you have a moment’s spare time is a pleasure in itself, I’ve found. However, if you really like the results, you could always post a recording of your parody song on Youtube and bask in the adoration of strangers with internet connections…