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Cliché and Variations (The Musical!)

June 12, 2015

We all know about tropes and clichés. If handled well, they sing and enlighten. If handled poorly, they fizzle and turn people off the story. These days, it seems to be getting harder to find new ways of avoiding clichés, of making them fresh, of finding new ways to combine tropes and tell a good story. You can’t just tell a story about a girl who wishes to go to a ball anymore.

But it can be done. Change the setting, change the personalities, change the goals. Throw in something from a completely different genre. Know what other people are doing and do a variation on their variation. Anything’s possible when you get creative.

Now, an example? Of sorts?

There’s this song called “Blue Moon“. It was written in 1934 for Hollywood and was adopted by the jazz community because they had a habit of stealing showtunes. It became famous in 1949, and has enjoyed popularity ever since. If you’re a jazz musician, you’ve probably played it. If you’re a musician in genre that takes after jazz, like rock and roll, you’ve probably covered it. If you haven’t covered it, you’ve probably thought about it. It’s one of those songs.

Here’s the original:


Nice tune, but the words could use a bit of work. To continue the Cinderella analogy, this is the story of a girl who wants to go to the ball and doesn’t get to.

Here’s the first of the 1949 hit versions, to give a sense of the “standard” song. This is Cinderella attending the ball and marrying the prince:

Cinderella singing in her stepmother’s nightclub:

A meditation on the nature of hope and love:

Cinderella as told by a carefree prince (who’s been listening to Billie Holiday):

The prince is more of practiced seducer:

The other 1949 hit recording, and one of my favourite singers:

Sounds pretty sparse compared to Sinatra, doesn’t it? But go back and listen to the Eckstein and you’ll notice that Tormé’s lusher, with strings. It’s Cinderella where the stepsisters have an equal story.

Notice that you can do Cinderella without being explicit—all the themes, but with Sally and Martin and a horrible boss:

It’s also possible to write a Cinderella story that reads almost identically to one written sixty years ago, hitting all the familiar notes, and yet have it fall kind of flat:

Let’s kick it up a notch, shall we? But not a huge notch, because we’re not that much later than Tormé and Eckstein here. Cinderella barely sketched out, but with some interesting variations thrown in.


Let’s make it really kick! This is Cinderella writ large and bold, and she’s only one of the stories:


And here’s a Cinderella who’s only heard the previous version, but thought it was too fast:

Here’s someone who’s taken the idea of Cinderella and put her own ideas on top:


A nice classic Cinderella with just enough difference to be interesting:

Hipster Cinderella:

Cinderella on a different continent, and in a rather elaborate gown:


And finally, because it had to come at some point, variations on a theme (nicely executed, and done by a comedian, too):


A bit of a strange analogy, I know. My point is: You can absolutely take a cliché you think has been done to death and do something new with it. You don’t even have to be that different, though you have to make the differences count. Just go out there and make it rock!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Harold Rhenisch permalink
    June 12, 2015 9:35 am

    Great stuff! I hope you do more like this. I learned so much and had so much fun getting there.

    • anassarhenisch permalink*
      June 12, 2015 11:02 am

      Thanks! It was fun putting it together. We’ll see if the mood strikes me again.

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