“All the Pretty Girls” by Kenny Chesney – Episode 014

What makes us remember what someone says?

Maybe you remember the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”.

Maybe you remember that quote from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address when he said that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.

And maybe you remember the lines from “All the Pretty Girls” by Kenny Chesney, when he says:

 

All the pretty girls said “pick me up at 8”

All the pretty girls said “I’m going to LA.”

All the pretty girls said “I hate my hair”

Talking to the mirror in their underwear.

 

But have you ever wondered why we remember those quotes so well?

We talk a lot about how we remember phrases because of repetition, but it’s not just because of the repetition. If it were, we’d only remember the words “it was the blank of times” when we think of A Tale of Two Cities, or “the people” from the Gettysburg Address, or the words “all the pretty girls said”.

So what makes us remember the parts that aren’t repeated?

 

I’m Hunter Farris, and you’re listening to Song Appeal, where we dive into your favorite songs to answer the question “Why do we like the music we like?” So on today’s episode, let’s take a look at one reason we like “All the Pretty Girls” by Kenny Chesney.

You can find the full transcript for this episode, the shownotes, and a link to hear the song at SongAppealOfficial.com/AllThePrettyGirls. This episode is made possible by my patrons, so thank you so much. If you want to become a patron, visit Patreon.com/SongAppeal.

 

In the Star Wars episode of Song Appeal we talked about how we can like some songs more just because of what psychologists call the “mere exposure effect”, which explains that when we’re exposed to something more, we like it more, even if we didn’t like it that much the first time. In a sense, the “mere exposure effect” is the psychological reason why something can “grow on us” until we like it.

And when we can remember a song, we can play it in our heads over and over. And every time we play a song in our heads, it “counts” as an exposure, the mere exposure effect kicks in, and we like the song just a little bit more. So when a song is memorable, it’s more enjoyable.

So imagine how much more I enjoyed “All the Pretty Girls” by Kenny Chesney when I could remember most of the lyrics after hearing it only once or twice.

But after a while, I had to ask “Why are those lyrics memorable?”

One reason we can remember the lyrics of “All the Pretty Girls” is because it uses two writing tools called “anaphora” and “epistrophe”. Those two tools make the words of this song more memorable because they can connect ideas you might think would have nothing to do with each other by linking them all to one big idea.

 

If you’re wondering “What’s anaphora?” or “What’s epistrophe?”, you’re in luck. Let’s get into that right now. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “anaphora” as “The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses”, or in other words, saying a few different things, each starting with the same few words.

For example, listen to this segment from the classic example of anaphora, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Listen for how every sentence begins with the same phrase.

 

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that.

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside.

Let freedom ring.

 

That was a lot!

And in this section from “If I Had A Million Dollars” by Barenaked Ladies, how many times do they start a line with the phrase “If I had a million dollars”?

 

If I had a million dollars (if I had a million dollars)

Well I’d buy you a house (I would buy you a house)

And if I had a million dollars (if I had a million dollars)

I’d buy you furniture for your house (maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman)

And if I had a million dollars (if I had a million dollars)

I’d buy you a k-car (a nice reliant automobile)

If I had a million dollars I’d buy your love.

 

Those are really extreme examples of anaphora. Anaphora can be as simple as using the same phrase at the beginning of two or three sentences.

On the other hand, (again from the Oxford English Dictionary), epistrophe is “The repetition of a word at the end of successive clauses or sentences”, or in other words, saying a few different things, each one ending with the same few words.

For example, notice how each line in this speech from The Return of the King ends with “but it is not this day”:

 

A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day!
This day we fight!

 

Or how every line of the chorus of “Grenade” by Bruno Mars ends with “for you”:

 

I’d catch a grenade for you

Throw my head on a blade for you

I’d jump in front of a train for you

You know I’d do anything for you

 

That’s just a few examples of how everything from speeches to songs repeat the same phrases at the beginning of sentences to create anaphora and at the end of sentences to create epistrophe.

 

But anaphora and epistrophe don’t just make the repeated words memorable. They also make the unrepeated words memorable.

I recently reached out to Gideon O. Burton, PhD, a Rhetoric teacher at Brigham Young University, to ask about some of the psychological effects of anaphora and epistrophe. He told me that when someone uses anaphora and epistrophe, our brains connect the unrepeated phrases to the repeated phrase.

Remember how every line of “Grenade” by Bruno Mars ended with the words “for you”? That makes “I’d catch a grenade”, “I’d throw my head on a blade”, and “I’d jump in front of a train” connect to “for you” in our minds.

And since the speaker is usually only repeating one phrase over and over, the unrepeated ideas like “I’d catch a grenade”, “I’d throw my head on a blade”, and “I’d jump in front of a train” get connected to each other because they’re all linked to one big idea like “for you”

That makes the words so much more memorable. In our episode on “Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay, we talked about how we make memories by connecting together tiny parts of the brain called “dendrites”. What we didn’t say is that we have to use different sets of dendrites to make different sets of memories. To make the math easy, let’s assume for a minute that our brain only has to connect 2 dendrites together to remember each idea. According to the lyric website Genius, “All the Pretty Girls” has 35 lines. If each of those lines were treated as its own idea and each of those ideas required 2 dendrites, we would need to use 70 dendrites to remember all the ideas in this song. If you were to draw out a model of those dendrites, it might look like a bunch of completely unrelated lines between completely unrelated dots.

But if each of the 35 lines could connect to the same idea instead of each line standing on its own, our brains could connect 35 dendrites to one central dendrite. If you were to draw this out, it would kind of look like spokes on a bicycle, all connecting to one hub in the middle. So we would only need 36 dendrites, about half as many, so your brain can store it easier.

Now obviously these aren’t the exact numbers, but they show that when ideas connect to each other through anaphora and epistrophe, they’re easier on our brains to remember.

 

So how do anaphora and epistrophe work in “All the Pretty Girls” to make the lyrics easier on our brains to remember?

More than half the lyrics are wrapped up into one big idea with occasional little ideas branching off from it.

In the first verse –

 

All the pretty girls said “pick me up at 8”

All the pretty girls said “I’m going to LA.”

All the pretty girls said “I hate my hair”

 

“Pick me up at 8”, “I’m going to LA”, and “I hate my hair” are all subconsciously connected to the phrase “all the pretty girls said” because of the anaphora, which ties them all into one idea.

There’s a new piece of anaphora in the second verse when Kenny Chesney sings:

 

All the lost boys said I just got paid

All the lost boys said I wanna get laid

 

Because of that piece of anaphora, “All the lost boys said” connects “I just got paid” to “I wanna get laid”, wrapping those two lines into one idea of “all the lost boys”.

And in the very next lines, “all the lost boys” and “all the pretty girls” connect to each other when they each become a form of epistrophe, because the sentence ends with both of those phrases together.

 

When the town goes blue and the lights blink red

All the lost boys do what all the pretty girls said

 

Once “all the lost boys” connects to “all the pretty girls said”, every idea we’ve heard so far connects together into one big idea: “all the pretty girls said”.

The next two lines of the chorus don’t really have much to do with the big, central idea, but the 4 lines after that turn “all the pretty girls said” from anaphora (repeated phrases at the beginning of sentences) into epistrophe (repeated phrases at the end of sentences).

 

“I’m coming over, call all your friends

Somebody hold me,” all the pretty girls said

“All of the whiskey went to my head

Shut up and kiss me,” all the pretty girls said

 

That way, the lines “I’m coming over”, “call all your friends”, “somebody hold me”, “all of the whiskey went to my head”, and “shut up and kiss me” can all connect into the central idea of what “all the pretty girls said”.

The last line of the third verse (“All I ever heard was all the pretty girls said”) and the last line of the bridge (“Me, I’m heading south cause all the pretty girls said”) use the same line as epistrophe so that the lines can connect back to the idea of what all the pretty girls said.

Considering how many times the chorus is repeated and how many times lines start or end with “all the pretty girls said”, our brains can connect 21 of the 35 lines – 60% of the song! – into one big idea to make it that much easier to remember.

Interestingly enough, this is also why it’s a little harder to remember the other lines from the 3rd verse or bridge: The anaphora is a bit looser. Instead of saying exactly the same phrase at the beginning of every line, Kenny Chesney sings:

 

All the sheriffs said kid, you better slow down

All the preachers said it’s the devil’s playground

I wonder if they knew they were wasting their breath

All I ever heard was all the pretty girls said

 

And the bridge follows the same pattern: almost using anaphora, but changing one word in the middle of the repeated phrase. Since the lines don’t start with exactly the same phrase, our brains don’t treat them quite the same way they treat anaphora, so the ideas aren’t really connected to each other and each idea isn’t quite connected to what “all the pretty girls said”. At that point, our brains have to treat each line as a different idea, so we have to put in more mental effort. Since it’s a little harder for us to remember these verses, we get to feel like all the sheriffs and all the preachers are wasting their breath, because we’re not going to remember it either.

That way, we can relate to the main character in the song more. He only remembers what all the pretty girls and the lost boys said and he doesn’t remember what anyone else said. And the anaphora and the epistrophe throughout the song make us remember what all the pretty girls and the lost boys said and make us forget what everyone else said, too.

 

Have you ever made a bubble chart? You know, that thing you do when you’re writing an essay in school where you draw a bubble around an idea and then connect little ideas to the big idea?

That’s one way anaphora and epistrophe affect us psychologically and neurologically: They connect ideas to one big idea, which connects the little ideas to each other, connecting everything together into something our brains can remember easily.

We don’t just remember the lyrics to “All the Pretty Girls” because of how much repetition there is. We remember the lyrics because of where the repetition is.

Since the repetition comes at the beginning of sentences, we get anaphora.

Since the repetition comes at the end of sentences, we get epistrophe.

And since “All the Pretty Girls” gives us both anaphora and epistrophe, the words are more memorable, because the lyrics act like one big idea with lots of little ideas branching off of it.

Whether it’s something as important as Lincoln’s plea for the nation to unite during the Gettysburg Address, something as classic as Charles Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities, or something as evocative and relatable as the lyrics to “All the Pretty Girls”, anaphora and epistrophe can give us a helping hand towards remembering what someone says, making us like the song that much more.

 

Thanks for listening. If you liked this episode, check out SongAppealOfficial.com for more episodes. You can also support Song Appeal on Patreon at Patreon.com/SongAppeal. I have some great perks for all you patrons.

Again, thank you so much for watching. I’ll talk with you soon. In the meantime, have a great day. And enjoy your music.

 

This episode was made possible by the generous donations of following patrons:

Brenda Farris