Poignant but Energizing: the Killers “Be Still”

The Killers: Battle BornMy Twitter friend @niickcauilan’s second request was this song — man, I dig your taste!  This was not a song I was familiar with, but one listen and I fell in love with it.  And songwriting-wise, there are some standard moves and twists here, very worthy of analyzing and learning from.

Here I am going to describe the noteworthy pieces, section by section.

Verse 1

The standard move here is how untuneful (un-melodic) this is.  Which is a good move, because if you start out your song with very dramatic phrases it’s hard to go somewhere from that.  It also focuses the listener’s attention to the words, because the melody by itself is uninteresting.  The lines are all pointing downward, which is consistent with the idea of “be still” — which is a winding down of energy.

Chorus A

Notice the phrases start going up here, even though it starts by saying “be still.”  Upward melodies build up energy, which matches the energy in the wishful lyrics here.  And ends on the Ab, which is the 7th in the Bb chord — the “color” that makes that chord have a strong need to be resolved.

Chorus B

But instead of resolving to Eb, it goes to Cm then Ab.  This major third down move has a sense of heroic landing, one that I myself like to rely on for choruses.  And the melody here is a 5th down, which is a big interval to come down — very dramatic, matches the equally dramatic phrase “Don’t break character.”  And the line for “Is this real or just a dream” is a step-wise coming-down then going-up, giving an open-ended energy to that question, to resolve to a step-wise conclusion of “Rise up like the sun/Labor till the work is done.”  Notice those lines implies a good routine, and it’s matched up with a very predictable melodic line.  After the wild drama and intensity of the preceding lines, this conclusion feels like a coming home, a great musical gesture that matches the concept of how a good routine beats a drastic move like breaking one’s character. But at the same time, this phrase has chord changes that come twice as fast, giving the song a heightened energy.

Chorus A

The second time around, they wisely include a twist at the end of the Chorus A here, they extend it a bit and have a less intense set-up for the Chorus B.  The extending works, though the less-intense set-up may be better used in verse 1 instead and have a more dramatic setup that was used in verse 1 here for a more consistent build-up.

Chorus B

They cut the chorus in half and start going somewhere, an unusual move.  But an effective one considering that the next bridge also is based on the same Chorus B chord progression — so this “Be still” section functions like a bridge in itself.


This bridge sounds almost like a song-ending refrain thanks to its shared chord progression with the choruses, and the even, steady rhythm of the melody.  They restrained themselves from coming back to this here, but it could have been revisited at the end of the song as a stick-in-you-head melody.

Chorus B

A return to the structure of the first chorus B, with the final step-wise melody repeated three times to reinforce it.  It feels a bit heavy-handed because this particular melody is very predictable, but it leaves you with the energy to maintain or resume your steady walk, again with those faster-changing chords.


Calling this song “Be Still” is a bit misrepresentative, as the song is slow but full of energy and leaves you wanting to start going somewhere.  But it’s a powerful song, filled with three sections with rich melodies that could be seen as chorus-worthy and words that work perfectly with the musical gestures they are matched up with.  A masterpiece.