An internet hit song at a time when people were still getting used to the idea of music on the web, “A Drop In The Ocean” opened up the floodgates for singer-songwriter Ron Pope back in 2007. It’s one of those songs where you can tell that the emotion is authentic because you can read it between the lyrical lines and hear it in every vocal exhortation made by Pope. He finds beauty in the sadness and sadness in the beauty, and songs like that have staying power.
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In a recent ‘Behind the Mic’ session for American Songwriter on Facebook (watch here), Pope was asked by those tuning in about the shelf life of this song. “It’s weird,” Pope mused. I started writing that song about 15 years ago. And I edited it maybe a year later. It seems like every time it can’t get any more popular or reach any more people, it seems to kind of not go away. It’s wild. It’s exciting to have it be a part of people’s lives after all these years.”
Pope explained how he and songwriting partner Zach Berkman collaborated on “A Drop In The Ocean.” An early version of the song had been in gestation, with Pope coming up with bits and pieces like the chorus (albeit with different lyrics) and bridge. That’s when Berkman entered the picture.
“I’d been in a songwriting circle with Zack,” Pope remembered. “That’s how we’d met actually. We’re good at workshopping together, we’re very comfortable, we’re good at co-writing together. We’re at ease with it and we’re good with constructive criticism and stuff like that because we’ve been doing it a long time.”
“He came in and I said, ‘Well what would you play in the verse?’ I played him all the parts I had. And he played it (the main piano riff) like that.” With the instrumental hook in place, Pope could go about completing the song. But it wasn’t like there was a Eureka moment or a feeling that history was being made. “It wasn’t like a big to-do,” Pope insisted. “We wrote songs together all the time and tossed around ideas like that all the time.”
As is so often the case with the slow stuff, a breakup provided the lyrical inspiration. “I was 22 years old when we started writing this song,” Pope explained. “It’s about getting my heart broken and the confusion of growing up. There’s a line in there, ‘I was boy who loved a woman like a little girl.’ We were all growing up. I was treating somebody who was starting to feel like a woman like she was a little girl. It was a confusing time, coming of age. It’s a song about that period of my life and heartbreak and the pain of leaving love behind.”
“A Drop In The Ocean” details a relationship on the cusp of dissolving, that terrible period in limbo where staying is agony and leaving is terrifying. “It’s too late to cry/Too broken to move on,” Pope sings. The verses are almost like stream of consciousness, non-linear snapshots that flash in front of the narrator as he tries to make sense of where he’s at.
The pre-chorus spells out his torture: “And still I can’t let you be/Most nights I hardly sleep/Don’t take you don’t need from me.” It’s a plea for mercy that goes unanswered, just like his prayer in the chorus that “you and me might end up together.” Even as he tells her that “you are my heaven” and clings to her, Pope’s anguished delivery makes it clear that his fingers are starting to slip.
Like many artists who have success and extremely popular song at the start of their career, Pope has had to come to terms with the ubiquity of “A Drop In The Ocean” and his fans’ desire to hear it still after so many years. He explained how some advice from another successful songwriter helped him appreciate it more.
“I wrote a song with Michael Bolton a number of years ago and I asked him, “Do you ever really get sick of playing your popular songs?” Some which he had written at the end of the 80s into the 90s. And he said, ‘No, because they make people so happy.’ And I was then maybe five years into this being a popular song. And that’s how I feel now. I was wondering if I would feel like that.”
Ron Pope now looks at “A Drop In The Ocean” with a combination of wonder and gratitude. “It feels good to play it because people like it,” he said. “It makes people happy to hear it, so I’m gratified that I created something that means something to people. And I feel that way with all the popular songs. It’s like I write them for me but then I put them out for you. I want them to connect to you and be a part of your lives.”
Pope has a new album out, ‘Bone Structure,’ if you want to support his work, click here.