A chorus serves to tie a song together. It emphasizes the song’s theme through repetition. It breaks up verses to slow the pace of the story. It adds a sense of consistency. An excellent example of this is the chorus to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The whole purpose of the song is to illustrate that there never was a “Golden Age” without scandal, war, and tragedy, and that in fact, those things have been in existence all along. The verses list significant world events, and the chorus reminds us that “the fire’s been burning since the world’s been turning.”
However, there is a secondary use of a chorus that I think is the hallmark of a clever songwriter, and that is a chorus which drastically changes meaning after each verse. The contrast between the repeating words and the changing definition creates a sense of growth, progress, change, or learning. It isn’t common, partly because I’m sure it isn’t easy to do, but these often become some of my favorite songs. My two favorite examples are linked below. (SPOILER ALERT: you may want to click the links without reading further if you don’t want the surprises ruined!)
Don’t Take the Girl – Tim McGraw. Pretty straightforward; “don’t take the girl” changes meaning from a little boy wanting a little girl left behind on a fishing trip, to a young man protecting his wife (?) in a robbery, to a father-to-be bargaining for his wife’s life as she dies giving birth.
Everybody’s Fool – Evanescence. The words of the chorus do change a little bit throughout the song, but I believe the idea still carries through here. The first chorus refers to the producers who create false images, and accuses them of knowingly deceiving people. The second chorus refers to the model’s picture-perfect persona, and the singer is speaking about her own alter ego. During the bridge the singer confronts this alter ego, and in the final chorus, the singer is able to conquer the alter ego persona.
Anyone have other examples they like?