A brilliant musical hook turns a good song into a great song. This elusive musical element is the inescapable groove that burrows into people's minds and will simply not let go. It's Bon Jovi shouting Living on a Prayer (opens in new tab), it's the bassline in Billie Jean (opens in new tab), and it's the infectious guitar and drum groove of Get Lucky (opens in new tab).
But the perfect hook isn't going to land fully formed in your lap – it takes a combination of thought and luck to make something that's both unique and compelling enough to win the audience over again and again. With these five examples, we'll shed some light on what to consider when crafting an earworm fit to resound through the ages.
1. Craft infectious riffs and melodies
Whether it's a synth, guitar or vocal line, a kick-ass melody or unique repeated riff can make a hugely effective hook, and also give you enough fodder to spin out the rest of your track. Classic examples include Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine (opens in new tab) and The Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive (opens in new tab), which are both hugely recognisable, repeatable, and suitably hairy.
A good modern example of an infectious melody line is Jonas Blue's hit By Your Side (opens in new tab), which builds itself up to a highly infectious chorus melody.
2. Lay down a solid rhythmic groove
A rhythmic hook could be a drum or percussion pattern such as the contentious one in Thicke and Pharrell's Blurred Lines (opens in new tab), or Justin Timberlake's Like I Love You. In the case of the JT example, the sparse backing track lets a loose drum groove shine through. Its combination of the drum track and that chopped-up acoustic guitar makes for a smash hit.
3. Keep it rolling with repetition
Hooks generally benefit from a healthy dose of repetition, which reinforces the musical idea in the listener's brain.
Venerable songsmith Sting is a big fan of the tenaciously going on and on and on and on until it feels like he can't go on any longer, and the early catalogue of The Police is fittingly rife with repetition. From the relentless chorus of I Can't Stand Losing You (opens in new tab), to the raucous So Lonely (opens in new tab) and the obsessive Roxanne, whose repetition was recently parodied with speed-ups (opens in new tab).
4. Bring out the catchy lyrics
Sometimes, all it takes to form a hook are some infectious lyrics. In Missy Elliot's Work It (opens in new tab), for example, the line "I put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it", is… flipped and reversed to make "It's your frimly dippy frem anyet". Absolute nonsense, but you just can't help wanting to sing it back.
And you don't even have to use actual words, as proved by Blur's Song 2, which simply relies on the "Woo-hoo!" to drive its point (if it has one) home.
5. Design a unique sound to carry the tune
Characterful sounds can often be hooks in themselves. Case in point: Duck Sauce's It's You. Love it or hate it, there's no sound quite like that squeaky synth. It sounds like an abused balloon, and for better or worse, it'll stick in your head.
Gary Numan's Cars (opens in new tab) is another fine example of a hook arising from a unique sound – or arguably two unique sounds at the same time, playing off each other.