Two core concepts are the 'signifier' — the word or sign that stands for something — (e.g. the words orchid, love) and the 'signified' — the thing that it stands for (e.g. a plant with flowers of unusual shapes and beautiful colours, the experience of infatuation and desire, mutual or otherwise). Some signifieds are more tangible than others, hence 'On love he said "I'm not so sure / I even know what it is... / You can't use a bulldozer / to study orchids," he said, "so... / I don't know anything about love"'
'I'm just a great composer
and not a violent man
but I lost my composure
and I shot Ferdinand
crying, "It's well and kosher
to say you don't understand
but this is for Holland-Dozier-Holland!"'
The rhyme scheme here goes A-B-A-B-A-B-A&B, with the final line delivering the coup de grace. In terms of the metre, the second Holland should come at the start of a new line, but by squeezing it onto the last line a double rhyme is achieved (kosher-Dozier, understand-Holland). And this metrical pile-up also delivers the punch-line in terms of the motive: Ferdinand's murder is the love song's revenge on the critic. See [other notes on the rhyme scheme].
Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and (Brian's brother) Edward Holland, Jr. wrote 25 Top-10 hit singles — many of which evoke the experience of being in love — for various performers on the Motown label during the 1960s [more details]. Listen to [audio clips] of Holland, Dozier and Holland talking about songwriting, and visit their [official site].
Aside from the hand-claps after 'I'm just a a great composer' The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure is a 'loop song': all the musicians play exactly the same thing straight through the song; the only thing that changes is the vocal melody. This approach has precedents in The Magnetic Fields' EP [The House of Tomorrow], on which all five songs are loop songs.
- [Lyrics and guitar tab] from stephinsongs web site.