House That Built Me

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There are many reasons why this is an unlikely hit song and yet it found it's way to the top spot on the Country charts and gives no sign of leaving anytime soon. The song itself sounds more like an album cut than a hit; while the chorus has a beautiful payoff line at the end, it lacks the huge hooks and big emotional release that usually drives a song to #1. So let's see what it has that makes people want to hear it over and over.

THEME
This song explores an emotion we've all felt: a yearning to go back to the place where we grew up, to reconnect with the sense of security or simpler times we once knew, especially when our lives are troubled. There's tremendous appeal in this theme and it's handled well here. We're right there with the singer as she knocks on the door, talks to the people who live in the house, and describes the things that happened there as she grew up, all the while hinting at the troubles that have driven her back home to try to heal.

STRUCTURE
While it's possible to look at this as a VERSE / CHORUS / VERSE / CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS form, it doesn't sound like that to my ear. What might be called the chorus ("I thought if I could touch this place...") feels like a continuation of the verse. Although the melody jumps up to a higher note range, as many choruses do, it doesn't really release the emotions. Instead it seems to create an emotional peak of greater urgency that gradually works its way back down to a long slow release in the final lines ("Won't take nothing but a memory / from the house that built me.") In fact, it reminds me of Kenny Chesney's hit "Better as a Memory." The song form is VERSE / VERSE / BRIDGE /VERSE (Shortcut #24). A big #1 chartbuster in this song form can only happen in the Country market. I'm glad they're still around!

Listen to this song and notice how the beginning of the chorus doesn't have the catchy, hook-driven release that characterizes most big hits, it just seems to peak and then fall away....
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