Famous hooks dissected: Calvin Harris, Outside

Ellie Goulding's vocals and Harris's track analysed

Released in 2014, Calvin Harris' Outside features an instrumental chorus that abandon's the lead vocal melody while a killer stringy synthy hook takes centre stage.

He's known for crafting catchy tracks, but Harris outdid himself with Outside, creating an earworm that still hasn't left our brains. Here's how the elements of the track combine to create an uber-catchy epic.

0:00 The main instrumental hook comes in two different incarnations, the first of which we’re treated to from the outset. Twin picky guitars kick things off, one playing arpeggiated Bb, Gm, Dm and C chords while the second picks out what will eventually become the main hook. The two heavily processed guitar parts intertwine beautifully, continuing on throughout the entire first verse to provide the backdrop to Ellie Goulding’s vocals.  

0:10 “Look at what you’ve done...” Enter the lead vocal, singing a melody in the key of D minor. The phrases in the melody are largely made up of  simple runs up and down the notes in the scale. A powerful hook bounces between alternating F and D notes – “there’s a power in what you do...” before ending on a “wo-ah”.  

0:40 Now we get the second version of the main hook, with the same melody previously taken by the picky guitar now played by a combo of synth and live, unison strings with a healthy dose of portamento (glide) thrown in on choice notes. 

0:54 The rest of the track begins to build in intensity up to the next section, while Ellie Goulding sings the main chorus hook (“I’ll show you what it feels like, now I’m on the outside”) over the top. The main lyric is punctuated by the “oh-ah” vocal hook after every line. Chorus? Pre-chorus? Musically, it builds like a bridge, quarter-note handclaps and snare rolls building the tension, ready for...  

1:09 ...the drop! The vocal drops out and the main hook repeats in full force  over a stepped-up groove, with four-to- the-floor kicks and that bendy string hook more prominent and pronounced.  

1:24 The track drops down to the second verse, with a reprise of the picky guitar hook and the same vocal melody repeated from the first verse.  

1:42 “I’m holdin’ on ... never enough for me”. This answering backing vocal in three-part harmony halfway through the verse is a choice little piece of ear candy that gives us something new.  

2:39 After a repeat of the verse, pre- chorus and chorus, we drop back to a middle-eight section made mainly from the arpeggiated guitar from the intro, with a new vocal hook laid over the top. This has the same lyric as the chorus vocal, but uses a different melody.  

2:54 In a final repeat of the pre-chorus section, we get a new backing vocal hook with a harmonised “aah-aah-aah” part that complements the main lead.  

Get a full dose of tactics and inspiration for making catchy tunes, and discover How to write Perfect Hooks across 19 pages and 21 videos in Computer Music issue 240.

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