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Writers: Phil Collins, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford
Abacab was one of three singles to hit the U.S. charts from the 1981 Genesis album of the same name. It is a progressive rock song that reached no. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100, spending 14 weeks on the charts. The song title, a word repeated in the chorus, seems to be nonsense? Is it?
Here is the chorus:
When they do it you’re never there
When they show it you stop and stare
Abacab isn’t anywhere
You certainly can’t tell from the context. There is no clue as to what abacab means. The fact is that the word has no meaning in the song and is certainly not a real word. However, it does have an origin. It refers to the song’s structure or form.
Most songs have a form and this form is often expressed as lettered parts. So, for instance, part A is the verse, part B is the chorus, etc. How many bars there are in each part depends on the genre and the speed of the song but you will recognize that most rock, pop, blues, and country songs have simple structures with repeating verses and choruses, sometimes with other parts thrown in such as a bridge. ABAB is a standard form for a song. This would correspond to verse, chorus, verse, chorus.
Genesis’ song “abacab” uses the form that the letters signify, with three different parts, a, b, and c. Keep in mind that intros are not normally included in the form lettering unless they represent a repeating part. Abacab, for instance, has an intro, but this is not lettered. So, the A is for the first verse. The B is for the chorus, and the C is for the bridge. Genesis was looking for an abstract word for an abstract concept, so they decided to use the song’s form itself as a word. I’m sure it was something of an inside joke.
If you actually listen to the song you’ll notice that the actual form is not abacab. At some point between coming up with the title, and the final version, the form was changed. The final version is more ababcab, not counting the intro and outro.