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  1. #1

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    Some replies to the 'lyrics that bug me' thread have revealed an informed interest in the craft of lyric writing by several members.

    I thought a thread on great lyrics---focusing on sterling examples of the craft and whatever sound advice about the craft one wishes to pass along---was in order.

    Please note that we are thinking here of lyrics written for such tunes as jazz musicians are apt to perform or at least appreciate. The reason for this is that part of the craft of lyric writing in the tradition of the Great American Songbook lies in making it singable. (For example, some vowel sounds are easier to sustain than others, and thus are called for when pairing a word to a note that needs to be held a long time; anyone writing lyrics for the stage should know this.) As Alexander Pope put it, "The sound must seem an echo of the sense."

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  3. #2

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    Hhmmm, perhaps this was an idea whose time has not yet come.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Hhmmm, perhaps this was an idea whose time has not yet come.
    I have to admit that my sole purpose here, as a guy who writes lyrics, is to snoop on your conversations and learn more stuff to help me write better.

    It's not the wrong time so much as the wrong place.

    I like the culture here very much, a hip fellowship of committed musicians with open hearts - 'scuse me while I wipe away a tear - while, on the other hand, every local jerk and their mum and dad can write words. There are many places out there where such non dues-paying folk engage in their chatter already. I would not encourage their like to congregate here, personally. They know nothing. NOTHING!! The joint is better off without 'em

    JazzGuitar - Don't Lower the Tone

    But if anyone wants to talk about "Lush Life", then I'm up for that, too.
    Last edited by Lazz; 08-08-2015 at 11:07 PM. Reason: vitriol

  5. #4
    See, if I had to choose a lyrical genius, I don't know if I'd be able to pick someone who works in the Great American Songbook style of things.

  6. #5
    destinytot Guest
    Thanks for starting this great thread.

    Movies - I prefer that word to 'film' - help. I love great dialogue, but that's not what I find helpful.

    Nowadays, when I find myself 'engaged'/'engrossed' or caught up in a movie, I take a kind of snapshot of my feelings. This can set me off on a kind of Hansel-and-Gretel trail of reflection. Novels probably provide greater opportunities for this, but the depth is not what counts for my purposes here.

    Besides, I don't think 'movie' means 'instant gratification' or 'cold medium' - enter Marshall McLuhen, as in Annie Hall, to set me straight... I don't profess to know.

    But I do think that, when it's 'right' (which, I'm beginning to believe, is perhaps to say 'in the right hands'), the convenient blend of images and - more importantly, because (for me) it not only supports but actually sets the emotional tone - music grabs and forcibly shakes me. 'Empathy' is putting it mildly, but that's my point.

    Movies give me quick insight into a character's dilemma; from their perspective - and from a safe distance. For me, the rest is just nuts and bolts - of course it's a craft - and to do with communicative style.

    'Narrative voice' applies to lyrics, too.

    Having checked - again - last night, I stand by the idea of music being a language. Not even the musicians I know get the lyrics of standards - not even native speakers or singers - unless they're the sort of thing that can be taken literally. (Like blockbuster movies, I don't really have time for that kind of stuff.) Melody and harmony are what really 'speak' to audiences, rhythm gets their attention. (Singing combines both - the notion of a 'good voice' is nonsense to me, btw.)

    I think lyrics need to be written to oneself, that writing needs to be approached with a 'can-do' attitude and a 'growth mindset' - and, above all, that confidence needs to be cultivated along with one's own character. (I think one needs to work alone, but that one needs others - and i see no contradiction in this.)

    And I think words and notes should both be treated with reverence. Each one belongs somewhere; not just a 'place', but a 'home' - and I say let that home be a... 'castle rising in Spain' (groan).
    Last edited by destinytot; 08-09-2015 at 09:00 AM. Reason: spelling

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow of the Sun
    See, if I had to choose a lyrical genius, I don't know if I'd be able to pick someone who works in the Great American Songbook style of things.
    I am open to the suggestion that someone working outside that tradition might be a great lyricist; are you suggesting that no one working in that tradition was???

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lazz
    I have to admit that my sole purpose here, as a guy who writes lyrics, is to snoop on your conversations and learn more stuff to help me write better.

    But if anyone wants to talk about "Lush Life", then I'm up for that, too.
    Snooping is fine. We all have more to learn. (We all have something to share too.)
    This is a good book on lyricists, aka 'the poets of Tin Pan Alley'. It's been years since I read it; a re-read might be in order.


    The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists (Oxford Paperbacks): Philip Furia: 9780195074734: Amazon.com: Books

  9. #8

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    Speaking of "Lush Life," this is my favorite version.


  10. #9
    destinytot Guest
    Love* songs.

    *(v. & n.)

  11. #10
    I think it's interesting that, at the time, fans of the great American song book writers AND fans of the 60's singer songwriters each view the other as somewhat shallow.

    I like both very much. They're each their own thing.

  12. #11

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    Two books on great American song and lyrics

    Alec Wilder, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950

    Will Friedwald, Stardust Melodies
    The stories behind about a dozen of the best songs. Includes a discussion of the jazz treatments of each selected song.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stuart Elliott
    Two books on great American song and lyrics

    Alec Wilder, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950

    Will Friedwald, Stardust Melodies
    The stories behind about a dozen of the best songs. Includes a discussion of the jazz treatments of each selected song.


    I read the Wilder book some years ago and have it on my re-read list as of this morning. That's not primarily about lyrics, but it's a very good book.
    I'll look for the Friedwald book at the library. Thanks for the suggestion.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher
    I think it's interesting that, at the time, fans of the great American song book writers AND fans of the 60's singer songwriters each view the other as somewhat shallow.

    I like both very much. They're each their own thing.
    I think fans of '60s songwriters were too young to know any better! (I speak as someone born in the late '50s.) Of course, many of the musicians working in the '60s---who tended to be older than their audiences---had grown up hearing great American songbook material. (Nick Lowe once said in an interview on "Fresh Air" that bands then tended to start out as cover bands and they covered a wide array of material--"anything the traffic will allow" as Irving Berlin put it---and in so doing, learned how songs are put together. It gave them many tools to work with. The Beatles are a great example of this.)

  15. #14

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    Okay, since you are opening it up beyond the Great American Songbook... How about this for a first line of a song...

    "You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips".

  16. #15
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    (For example, some vowel sounds are easier to sustain than others, and thus are called for when pairing a word to a note that needs to be held a long time...
    I've been pondering this while (er - lying in semi-supine, practising intervals with my thumb and) "staring up at the ceiling"... and I thought of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. Personally, I tend to hold voiced consonants (ceiling).

  17. #16

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    My advice on songwriting craft is to learn it and get over it. You'll write some mediocre songs with lyrics that are well crafted. Then you'll be stuck knowing how to write a song, waiting for inspiration so you can apply your craft to a great song.

    See what I'm saying? Great craft only guarantees a mediocre song. Without craft, some songs would have nothing. And some great songs have been written without much attention to craft.

    One of the best lyricists that I know said he learned how to write songs primarily by studying the work of Bob Dylan and watching movies. Movies are just long songs that don't rhyme.

    The content of a lyric can only be compelling if one can relate to it. That's the part that's hard to teach. Dylan stepped into his role as speaker for his generation and found himself surrounded by plenty of material to work with and a ready-made audience. A niche was born. The inspiration has to be real.

    To pop writers just doing their day job, I say well-done. Jimmy Van Heusen was so good that he re-wrote his own name, Edward Chester Babcock. A writer needs that kind of confidence, to think that you could improve on your own name, to find a better way to say something.

  18. #17

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    He's not part of the great American Songbook, not part of the rock singer-songwritters, but I do think Mose Allison has written some great lyrics. Not to mention, he's a jazz man. Here is one of my favorites, "Your Mind Is On Vacation."

    You sittin here and yakkin right in my face
    You comin' on exactly like you own the place
    You know if silence was golden
    You couldn't raise a dime
    Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is workin' overtime

    You quotin' figures and droppin' names
    You tellin' stories and playing games
    You're overlaughin' when things ain't funny
    You tryin' to sound like the big money
    You know if talk was criminal
    You'd lead a life of crime
    Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is workin' overtime


    You know that life is short
    Talk is cheap
    Don't be makin' promises that you can't keep
    You don't like this little song I'm singin'
    Just grin and bear it
    All I can say is if the shoe fits wear it
    If you must keep talkin
    Please try to make it rhyme
    Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is workin' overtime

  19. #18

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    This quote from Michael Feinstein about Van Heusen is instructive:

    "He was a real partier, and yet the romance in his songs is something that came from another part of him, because I would not say that in life he was a romantic guy," Feinstein says. "I mean, he didn't get married until the age of 56 — that was the first time he got married! But then here he is, writing all these songs like 'Darn That Dream' and 'Polka Dots and Moonbeams' and 'Love and Marriage' and 'The Tender Trap' and 'All the Way.' And I don't think that he actually believed in those songs, you know? But he knew how to express what people wanted to believe in."

    You have to be a good liar, like Dylan was. Dylan didn't actually go to the rallies and throw in 100% behind the protesters (Joni Mitchell used to complain about that). But he would sing about it and write about it as if he really believed in it.

    The ability to see life the way your target demographic sees life--that's what it takes. You have to express what people want to believe in.

  20. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    I think fans of '60s songwriters were too young to know any better! (I speak as someone born in the late '50s.) Of course, many of the musicians working in the '60s---who tended to be older than their audiences---had grown up hearing great American songbook material. (Nick Lowe once said in an interview on "Fresh Air" that bands then tended to start out as cover bands and they covered a wide array of material--"anything the traffic will allow" as Irving Berlin put it---and in so doing, learned how songs are put together. It gave them many tools to work with. The Beatles are a great example of this.)
    I thought about this when watching that Joni Mitchell documentary several weeks ago after discussion here. She talked about wanting to have the lyric quality (something about honesty or directness etc.) of Dylan, with melodic sensibility of the great American songbook.

    The fact that the American songbook tune's lyrics are thought out , a little cerebral, clever - in rhyming and ideas , is kind of the POINT of them. At the same time, I can see the desire for something more "real". Again, I like both for what they are. I'll take Joni and the standards as well.

    I found it really interesting and enjoyed listening to her music more after hearing that comment, by the way. I think she achieves pretty well what she was talking about.

  21. #20

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    Two things crack me up about Lush Life.

    First is that Strayhorn was a schoolboy when he wrote the noir-ish nuanced evocation of a love-lorn life lived at the bottom of a cock-tail glass. He didn't know anything about that stuff at first hand. He knew about hard times and dreaming of better. But he had an imagination and went to a powerfully good school with a visionary and inspired music department. It's tragic to register how shamefully dysfunctional Westinghouse High has become over recent years. The local community of the catchment area of Homewood, Pittsburgh, used to call it just the "House. And it was a source of pride and leadership in its glory days, with a proud list of graduates who went on to further success in business, sports, civil rights, music, entertainment and the arts. On piano, for instance, the inspirational driving force of Carl Vickery helped enable and nurture not only Strayhorn but Mary Lou Williams, Ahmad Jamal, Dakota Staton, Errol Garner, and his elder brother and my late mate, Linton, now passed, but from whom I heard all about it. There was also bassist Wyatt Ruther, whom I got to know and sing with as well, and several Basie sidemen whose names have much less recognition. It was the crucible within which Billy Strayhorn constructed his portrait of sophisticated heartbreak.

    Second is a problem with the words - or rather the bent way people hear them and perpetuate the laughable mistake without ever stopping to think to themselves "Hey. This can't be right." You know the bit, I'm sure. It's in the first eight bars of the refrain, after the verse. Strayhorn has a pattern of rhyme and rhythm in the first four bar phrase (with "life is lonely again, and only last year everything seemed so sure") which he obliges himself to replicate neatly in the subsequent four bars. And in that four bars, I regularly and constantly find people articulating something very weird and misheard in the shape of "(now) life is awful again, a trough full of hearts could only be a bore". Say what?? They contemplate this gentle slight bespectacled fey and gay black young man settling for the ugly shock of such an image - "A trough full of hearts!!!" - in his search for adequate pattern-repetition. Do they think that he worked in a ferkin abattoir, for heaven's sake? The word he settled on to solve his puzzle was TROTH, my little deaf darlings. Considered maybe a little arcane by some, but Billy had a greedy vocabulary. He knew, as in "I pledge three my troth", that the word speaks of "truth" and "loyalty", and he adopts it as a far better metaphorical measure of hearts than a lowly trough. On those occasions I glance at those execrable lyric web-sites which exist out there, they all repeat this ill-considered and un-thought-about mistake. Where technology permits, I make my correction and add a small explanation. Don't you know that it always gets changed back to the incongruous "trough full of hearts" - which I picture slopping blood and offal onto the floor each time another torn heart is tossed into the mess.

    Is it me or is it them?

    I believe it to be the reason Strayhorn got so wound up by Nat Cole's version.
    And what does Johnny Hartman sing?
    (I think he says "trough".)

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    My advice on songwriting craft is to learn it and get over it. You'll write some mediocre songs with lyrics that are well crafted. Then you'll be stuck knowing how to write a song, waiting for inspiration so you can apply your craft to a great song.
    I wrote well in school but was a terrible singer as a child. I wrote a lot of songs without knowing---or sensing intuitively--that some sounds are easier to sing than others. I didn't know that one 'sings on the vowel' or the difference between open and closed ones. For some rock songs, this may not make much difference, but it makes an enormous difference in songs written so that OTHER PEOPLE will also want to sing them. Looking back, I can see that many of my juvenile errors were rooted in ignorance of singing. I know a little better now and it's been a great boon to my songwriting. (It also enhances my appreciation of people who do it brilliantly.)

    Here's a short article about singing vowels and another about singing English successfully.

    http://singing.about.com/od/pronunciation/fl/

    Singing English Understandably

    (One need not be a singer to be a lyricist, but if one's lyrics are unsingable, it may be hard to find someone to sing them for you.)

  23. #22
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Lazz
    Where technology permits, I make my correction and add a small explanation.
    Great comment - 'troth' (from 'truth') to 'promise/pledge' makes sense, but I'm curious to know how your correction reads - "a troth full of hearts"... "a trothful of hearts"?

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by destinytot
    Great comment - 'troth' (from 'truth') to 'promise/pledge' makes sense, but I'm curious to know how your correction reads - "a troth full of hearts"... "a trothful of hearts"?
    I wondered the same thing. (And I do think Johnny Hartman says "trough".) I appreciate the word "troth" but I don't know that that is how the original lyric goes. Further, it is not clear----at least to me----what, in context, a troth full ( or truthful) of hearts would refer to.

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by destinytot
    curious to know how your correction reads - "a troth full of hearts"... "a trothful of hearts"?
    I always choose "troth-ful" as my stab at self-explanatory compromise.

    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    I don't know that that is how the original lyric goes. Further, it is not clear----at least to me----what, in context, a troth full ( or truthful) of hearts would refer to.
    It is interesting to read the dialogues between the estates of Ellington and Strayhorn in which they analyse voicings and stylistic devices to establish some signature of musical identity in order to divvy up the rights and royalties in something approaching fairness. And by similar and equal tokens and signs of aesthetic individuality, "troughful of hearts" simply don't float as Strayhorn, and I am not wearing it - the picture is just too smelly and ugly to be credible.

    In context:
    The first four bars says "you're on your own (again)".
    The second four bars is saying "it's so bleeding awful that even a large pile of tempting promises (from a slew of attractive beauties) won't get to seem more than tiresome intrusion".
    How's that?

    I think Hartman says "trough", too.
    I shudder.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    My advice on songwriting craft is to learn it and get over it. You'll write some mediocre songs with lyrics that are well crafted. Then you'll be stuck knowing how to write a song, waiting for inspiration so you can apply your craft to a great song.

    See what I'm saying? Great craft only guarantees a mediocre song.
    I can see it. I can read it.
    But I don't get what you mean.
    It makes no sense to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    Without craft, some songs would have nothing. And some great songs have been written without much attention to craft.
    Can you feed me some f'rinstances so I can follow what you mean, Ken?
    Are you including, say, "Louie, Louie" in your latter category?

    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    One of the best lyricists that I know said he learned how to write songs primarily by studying the work of Bob Dylan and watching movies. Movies are just long songs that don't rhyme.
    How can anyone learn to write songs by studying just one practitioner?
    When somebody wants to become a painter, they study art.
    When somebody wants to become an actor, they study theatre.
    When somebody wants to direct movies, they study film.
    But it is an article of faith and self-deception that anyone can write songs without regard for history and tradition.

    Your friend, for instance, wants to be a songwriter so he studies Bob Dylan, innocent and ignorant of Salvador Dali’s warning that anything NOT grown from tradition is plagiarism.

    Singer-songwriter syndrome is a dark and dismal corner for songwriting. Joni and Dylan are pretty much a genre each to themselves. But the subsequent hordes are largely musically impoverished, claim melody notes from their chords while sticking resolutely to triads. They own a guitar, have learned a few grips and shapes with no understanding, and believe their job is to strum a simple repeated progression and cram what they have to say in words inside however many bars and beats there happen to be passing by. That’s a very different style of working to the ones I consider more productively worthwhile to talk about and learn from. The guys ploughing that field neither need to know nor even care about those other elements of musical sound involved in language like cadence or rhythm or regard for prosody.

    Too bad. They can do like that if they want but it ain’t for me.
    I want to do the best work I can, and keep working with the best musicians I can.

    Lyricists need to develop musicianship, an ear, and be alive to melody and harmony if they are to work most effectively with the best composers. Most of the singer-songwriter pop-rock crowd don’t go for those values and fail to see their relevance.

    But if I’m working towards something with a top-notch musical collaborator, I need to be fairly conversationally fluent in the musical/structural concepts at play and confident of their emotional effects. It helps me do my bit, better. I have to be hip to nuance and tone. Unlike the relentless singer-songwriter fraternity, I am writing for someone else, other artists, so I can’t get away with any old crap like they can.

    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    The inspiration has to be real.
    And here’s a very loud "later!" for inspiration.
    Inspiration is a myth for the amateur to swallow.
    Others don't have the time to wait around.

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    I wrote well in school but was a terrible singer as a child. I wrote a lot of songs without knowing---or sensing intuitively--that some sounds are easier to sing than others. I didn't know that one 'sings on the vowel' or the difference between open and closed ones. For some rock songs, this may not make much difference, but it makes an enormous difference in songs written so that OTHER PEOPLE will also want to sing them. Looking back, I can see that many of my juvenile errors were rooted in ignorance of singing. I know a little better now and it's been a great boon to my songwriting. (It also enhances my appreciation of people who do it brilliantly.)

    Here's a short article about singing vowels and another about singing English successfully.

    http://singing.about.com/od/pronunciation/fl/

    Singing English Understandably

    (One need not be a singer to be a lyricist, but if one's lyrics are unsingable, it may be hard to find someone to sing them for you.)
    This is good stuff.

    ROCK

    The reason it doesn't matter for rock songs is that they don't care. The one that gets me is when they substitute yo for you, like Hoobastank did in "The Reason":

    I've found a reason for me
    To change who I used to be
    A reason to start over new
    and the reason is YO

    Yo is easier to sing in that high register, so instead of lowering the key or changing the words or learning how to sing better.... Do nothing.

    It's a good pop song with a good message. And it sounds good until they hit that awful note, not to blame the note, somebody should have....


    WRITING FOR SINGING

    To me, there are two things needed to take a line from simply saying what you mean to greatness:

    1. It has to be singable. That means in range. That means perfect prosody (in the old sense of accents falling on the right syllables*). And all the little things like the vowels on long notes, unambiguous consonants, whatever it takes so that the words flow and are not easily mistaken for other words. It should sound easy to do for the singer, even if amateur singers find it difficult. These are the essentials.

    2. And then there needs to be a little something extra. It could be an internal rhyme, or a rhyme that matches somewhere within the corresponding line in the previous verse, or a multi-syllable rhyme, or some other clever wordplay or notable thing. A great line is a line that may sound fairly ordinary even though it has these other qualities craftily embedded in it. In fact, a good lyric line should sound so ordinary that it could be taken for actual conversation, but not so ordinary that it could be mistaken for actual conversation (Oscar Wilde should have said that). It has to be special.

    *The way songwriting is taught in some places these days, prosody could mean anything. You'll hear teachers say stuff like a happy song in a minor key is bad prosody. Or a sad song with a fast tempo is bad prosody. They may avoid saying bad prosody by calling it reverse prosody or whatever. But to me those things have nothing to do with prosody. Those are issues of setting, not in a literary sense, but in a music-compositional sense. I insist on using the word prosody in the poetic sense where it means versification, the mapping of accented and unaccented syllables onto notes in a song so that in the end the pronunciation of each word is natural. That's what I call prosody, and I limit it to that in songwriting discussions (good luck with that in Nashville).

    By the way, I was in Nashville a few years ago writing with a team at a songwriter event. We arrived on a Thursday night, split up into teams, and started writing Friday morning. On Saturday afternoon each team presented their song to a panel of music industry pros to get a critique and potentially win a prize.

    I was writing with my nephew Chad (a known-good singer/songwriter) and internet friend Greg (a PHD in philosophy among other things). Chad can write, sing, and play. Greg is intelligent, insightful, and can also write (he could have written the whole song in Latin), and he plays a little guitar.

    On Friday morning Chad came in with a good idea for a song. He had a title, a cool guitar part, a sort of sketchy verse, and a very good chorus. I had a broken finger, so I found a cool slide thing that I could play along with Chad, and I sang harmony on the verse. We did what we could that first day.

    Saturday morning, Greg got up at 4:00am and rewrote the 2nd verse. So when we got together at 9:00am to finish the song Chad and I had some catching up to do. Actually, it mostly Chad, because he had to sing the song. So I sat in my chair half dozing while Greg and Chad tried to reconcile that verse.

    The song was about a couple on their 3rd date. The guy had taken her home, said goodnight on her front porch, and then driven away. But as he drove, he really wanted to go back, which he did do, so there was a happy ending.

    But Chad was having a problem singing the first line of the new second verse. So I woke up and asked Greg to see his notebook. The line said something about driving home that night (don't remember the exact words). I looked at it for a second and said, "Rollin' along into the middle of the night". Chad sang it and said, "That's perfect". And I went back to sleep.

    I thought the first verse was still rough. There was an issue of events not being in the right order. I had offered suggestions to Greg and Chad, but they didn't see the problem.

    So, at 3:00 that afternoon we go to the place and play our songs for the pros. The place was great, a music club closed for the afternoon except for the bartender and the sound man. Both of those guys did their jobs nicely.

    When it was over, and we got to talk to the pro panel for our critique, here's what happened. The guy from Brad Paisley's production company said that he couldn't follow the first verse, "But when it got to 'Rollin along into the middle of the night', man, I was right there with you." I thought, hey, that's my line, but of course I didn't say anything, because it wasn't so much that line (I just made it singable), but the organization of the whole second verse, Greg's work, that made it work.

    I still feel like we could have fixed the first verse, but neither Chad nor Greg grokked what I was about. They didn't see the problem. But you have to question everything. Everything you write, look at it, and ask yourself, "Why does this suck?"

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lazz
    I think Hartman says "trough", too.
    I shudder.
    Sometimes one is in a ditch with few choices. What else rhymes with awful? Lawful and waffle come to mind but they don't seem to be of much help. Given the circumstance, I think "troughful" was a good choice, not a bad one, if only because this is a song about drinking and a trough is something to drink from. One can only expect so much elegance in a dive....

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lazz

    Singer-songwriter syndrome is a dark and dismal corner for songwriting. Joni and Dylan are pretty much a genre each to themselves.
    Alec Wilder wrote well of Dylan's gift for melody. Yes, melody. He treated Dylan (-as a subject) as a tunesmith. Dylan can craft a long narrative line and sustain it. (Easier said than done.) Chuck Berry was brilliant at this too. Strong narrative flow is no insignificant gift.

    Here is the opening of Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue" (-from memory). This does not come across as 'deathless poetry'---it is not--but it tells a lot of story in a few words.

    "Early one morning the sun was shining and I was layin' in bed,
    Wonderin' if she'd changed at all and if her hair was still red.
    Her folks they said our life together sure was gonna be rough---
    They never did like mama's homemade dress; papa's bankbook wasn't big enough."

    Dylan's line flow better than many assume they might. "Blowin' In The Wind" is easy to sing and hard to forget. No small feat.

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lazz
    I can see it. I can read it.
    But I don't get what you mean.
    It makes no sense to me.


    Can you feed me some f'rinstances so I can follow what you mean, Ken?
    Are you including, say, "Louie, Louie" in your latter category?
    Not necessarily. "Louie, Louie" may have been a completely thought out, strategically written, thoroughly crafted song. We don't know for certain which is which. But we can safely say that both have succeeded.

    How can anyone learn to write songs by studying just one practitioner?
    I didn't say that was the only thing. It's just what he told me. It may have been the first influence, the biggest influence, or just one of many. That's not important. What's important is that he found a model to follow.

    Anyway, how many sunsets do you need to see before you can paint one. If you're a good painter, the answer is ONE!

    When somebody wants to become a painter, they study art.
    When somebody wants to become an actor, they study theatre.
    When somebody wants to direct movies, they study film.
    But it is an article of faith and self-deception that anyone can write songs without regard for history and tradition.
    Nobody said otherwise. And by the way, the guy I'm talking about has been writing songs every goddamn day for a long goddamn time. I never said he took any shortcuts.

    And, incidentally, he spent most of his writing life not caring whether his songs were commercial or not. He only wanted them to be good, which everybody admitted they were.

    Your friend, for instance, wants to be a songwriter so he studies Bob Dylan, innocent and ignorant of Salvador Dali’s warning that anything NOT grown from tradition is plagiarism.
    No, he is a songwriter. This is a heavy cat. We do not know the limits of his knowledge or ignorance. We simply know that the writings of Bob Dylan influenced him. Some of the stuff he has written, most of it decidedly non-commercial, is out of the realm of Dylan.

    He has lived beyond his wants and pondered beyond what most of us are capable of in terms of imagination and lyrical creativity.

    How do you deduce that my friend's writing did not grow from tradition?


    Singer-songwriter syndrome is a dark and dismal corner for songwriting. Joni and Dylan are pretty much a genre each to themselves. But the subsequent hordes are largely musically impoverished, claim melody notes from their chords while sticking resolutely to triads. They own a guitar, have learned a few grips and shapes with no understanding, and believe their job is to strum a simple repeated progression and cram what they have to say in words inside however many bars and beats there happen to be passing by. That’s a very different style of working to the ones I consider more productively worthwhile to talk about and learn from. The guys ploughing that field neither need to know nor even care about those other elements of musical sound involved in language like cadence or rhythm or regard for prosody.
    I'm sorry for your lack of understanding.

    Too bad. They can do like that if they want but it ain’t for me.
    I want to do the best work I can, and keep working with the best musicians I can.
    God bless you.

    Lyricists need to develop musicianship, an ear, and be alive to melody and harmony if they are to work most effectively with the best composers. Most of the singer-songwriter pop-rock crowd don’t go for those values and fail to see their relevance.
    That may be true. What does that have to do with me. I don't associate with that kind.

    But if I’m working towards something with a top-notch musical collaborator, I need to be fairly conversationally fluent in the musical/structural concepts at play and confident of their emotional effects. It helps me do my bit, better. I have to be hip to nuance and tone. Unlike the relentless singer-songwriter fraternity, I am writing for someone else, other artists, so I can’t get away with any old crap like they can.
    I'm sorry you have such a bad attitude. Where is this coming from? Who do you write for? How do you do it?

    And here’s a very loud "later!" for inspiration.
    Inspiration is a myth for the amateur to swallow.
    Others don't have the time to wait around.
    So, add something to the conversation. Tell us how you create masterful works without inspiration.

    Some great songwriters have admitted the difference between when they were inspired and when they were simply crafting a song because it was required. Pros can do it either way. How do you do it?
    Last edited by kenbennett; 08-09-2015 at 06:16 PM.

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Sometimes one is in a ditch with few choices. What else rhymes with awful? Lawful and waffle come to mind but they don't seem to be of much help. Given the circumstance, I think "troughful" was a good choice, not a bad one, if only because this is a song about drinking and a trough is something to drink from. One can only expect so much elegance in a dive....
    I remain resolutely unconvinced.

    If we are in a ditch with few choices, we can't afford to overlook the option of filling that useless ditch back in, covering it up, and re-engineering a different route, starting somewhere else and affecting a new orientation.

    I can't remember the full story from Furia or biographer David Hajda, or even how deep they dug into it, but Strayhorn spent three to five years pulling at the song, poking at it, primping and polishing, getting it just right!, he was persistent, driven, and would never have settled for the clumsy clunk buckets-of-blood of "trough-ful of hearts". For me, it's such a shockingly poor choice that I can't believe it. It makes no sense to me that he would do that. There are just too many available workable alternatives.

    Mind you - I've been wrong before.

    Linton Garner, old school-mate of Strayhorn, nonetheless liked it the way I told it.
    It's the only way that makes sense.
    (to me)

  32. #31
    destinytot Guest
    "A troughful of hearts" does jar with me, but surely it needn't have gruesome connotations? I can't help but feel queasy at the thought of human offal (sorry).

    'Trough' appears to derive from words for 'wooden vessel' or 'wooden container'. Perhaps its meant to signify size - a pocketful, a bucketful, a.. (you get the picture)

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Sometimes one is in a ditch with few choices. What else rhymes with awful? Lawful and waffle come to mind but they don't seem to be of much help. Given the circumstance, I think "troughful" was a good choice, not a bad one, if only because this is a song about drinking and a trough is something to drink from. One can only expect so much elegance in a dive....
    My instincts tell me that trough was the word.

    Mark, the question is not what rhymes with awful. Lyric writers think this stuff out in advance. They have ideas and words that rhyme with those ideas which are relevant to a lyric they are crafting in their mind. They don't usually paint themselves into a corner. I mean they have a plan and do not necessarily use an end-line word they haven't already thought of a rhyme for. It's part of gathering the material for a song.

    The songwriter friend that I was defending against Lazz told me that that's what he does every day in his morning jog. He goes out with a song idea in mind. During his run he thinks of key words that express the ideas and actions that will happen in the song and comes up with rhymes before he ever writes the song.

    He already has the story. He already knows how he's going to lay out the plot. So just before he writes the song he goes for a run and somehow works out rhymes in his head. Even though he doesn't have actual lines yet, his ideas are solid enough to choose key words and think of good rhymes for them.

  34. #33
    I'd say it's got to be "troughful". It's crazy how neither of these seem to be commonly used words I could find much about .

    "Trothful" apparently has a completely different meaning and is an adjective. Don't see how it could be that. Couldn't find "troughful" in any online dictionary , but that was on my phone.

    The only occurrence I COULD find was in the title of a book, "A Troughful of Pearls". It's apparently very rare , and I don't know anything about it . Not that I know anything about literature....

    Without knowing anything about it, I would assume it has to be a reference to Christ's words re. "throwing your pearls to the pigs" from the sermon on the mount. It's a deliberately stark, dramatic, image. I think that title captures it pretty well, if that's what it's referencing.

    "Lush Life" is pretty stark and ironic itself. After talking briefly about having found love supposedly, it goes back to the reality of life being awful . I don't see that he's describing hearts here anatomically. Had to be in the romantic sense. although I suppose it could be kind of double entendre.

    Any kind of romance would now be boring after the loss? I don't see what "troth" has to do with anything in that part of the song.

    The most important factor, for me, is that "awful" and "troughful" actually rhyme. "Trothful" would rhyme with "moth full", wouldn't it? If you're from the Midwestern United States, you may pronounce all of these with the same vowel, but that's not correct. "Offal" and "awful" are pronounced differently as well. In addition to the vowel being different, the consonant in between is also different. I don't think these kind of rhyme cheats were as common at the time.

    I like "troughful". It fits the context of the song for me.
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 08-09-2015 at 09:51 PM.

  35. #34
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher
    The most important factor, for me, is that "awful" and "troughful" actually rhyme.
    One of those songs where some of us have no choice but to fake an American accent...

  36. #35

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    The "troth/trough" question is tricky. TBH I hadn't analyzed it as much as some here, but my subconcious interpretation was "trough".
    In certain "old world" drinking establishments, there was very commonly a trough built round the entire perimeter of the bar. (You can still see one in the city I live).
    To me, it conjured the image of the "lushes" round the bar being the same as the contents of the trough. Perhaps.

    Now " distingue' ".....that's a whole different matter.

  37. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by pubylakeg
    The "troth/trough" question is tricky. TBH I hadn't analyzed it as much as some here, but my subconcious interpretation was "trough".
    In certain "old world" drinking establishments, there was very commonly a trough built round the entire perimeter of the bar. (You can still see one in the city I live).
    To me, it conjured the image of the "lushes" round the bar being the same as the contents of the trough. Perhaps.

    Now " distingue' ".....that's a whole different matter.
    I used to think that bit said 'distant gay traces'! maybe I'd been reading too much about Billy Strayhorn!
    Last edited by grahambop; 08-10-2015 at 07:35 AM.

  38. #37

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    I always thought 'troughful' though odd, made some sense. As if he was expressing disgust with the whole messy business of being in love.

  39. #38

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    Back on the farm, a trough was the thing we put food in for the hogs.

  40. #39

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    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    Back on the farm, a trough was the thing we put food in for the hogs.
    I think that's a slightly different milieu than the setting for 'Lush Life'!

  41. #40

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lazz
    I remain resolutely unconvinced.

    If we are in a ditch with few choices, we can't afford to overlook the option of filling that useless ditch back in, covering it up, and re-engineering a different route, starting somewhere else and affecting a new orientation.
    That is always an option. And you are free to stick to your view, but in so doing you leave yourself in an awkward position you fail to realize: "troth full" does NOT rhyme with "awful." "Trough full" does.

  42. #41
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    That is always an option. And you are free to stick to your view, but in so doing you leave yourself in an awkward position you fail to realize: "troth full" does NOT rhyme with "awful." "Trough full" does.
    The Great Vowel Shift...
    Last edited by destinytot; 08-10-2015 at 10:06 AM. Reason: to press shift

  43. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    My instincts tell me that trough was the word.

    Mark, the question is not what rhymes with awful. Lyric writers think this stuff out in advance. They have ideas and words that rhyme with those ideas which are relevant to a lyric they are crafting in their mind. .
    When rhyming, the word one is rhyming with is paramount. English is considered a rhyme-poor language. (Italian is rhyme rich.) We all know this because of the important word "love" and the dearth of good rhymes for it. (Glove, shove, er, um, dove, oh, and there's of!) Ten thousand love songs and five-six rhymes for that word. (The number one reason for not putting 'love' at the end of a line, though of course it still happened, as in "I Can't Give You Anything But Love".)

    How many times have we heard 'self' rhymed with 'shelf' because there aren't many other choices in English?

    "Awful" has few rhymes in English. I think "trough full" was in inspired choice, not a poor one. Though it sounds a little phony because, well, who says "trough full"? But then, the drunken alkie singing "Lush Life" is pretentious, so some latitude is given.

    It is said of Lorenz Hart that when he had to come up with a lyric, he made a mark for each syllable in a line and a "suck" or [f-word] at the end, then left the room with Richard Rodgers and a piano in it to walk around New York to craft a lyric. First he had to fix the tune in his head, and that's what a "dummy" lyric did. Then he worked out the lines we all know and love. Often there were constraints----'this is the song about them meeting' or 'this is when she tells him she's leaving' or 'this is after he loses the girl' or whatever. And of course, the tune was set.

  44. #43

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    Here is a lyric (excerpt) I wrote many years ago and still consider good:

    "I'd rule the world, an infinite range,
    The diamonds in my pockets would be small change;
    I'd reign supreme, if I could sing---
    And I'd have it all 'cause I wouldn't want anything."

  45. #44
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    When rhyming, the word one is rhyming with is paramount. English is considered a rhyme-poor language. (Italian is rhyme rich.) We all know this because of the important word "love" and the dearth of good rhymes for it. (Glove, shove, er, um, dove, oh, and there's of!) Ten thousand love songs and five-six rhymes for that word. (The number one reason for not putting 'love' at the end of a line, though of course it still happened, as in "I Can't Give You Anything But Love".)

    How many times have we heard 'self' rhymed with 'shelf' because there aren't many other choices in English?

    "Awful" has few rhymes in English. I think "trough full" was in inspired choice, not a poor one. Though it sounds a little phony because, well, who says "trough full"? But then, the drunken alkie singing "Lush Life" is pretentious, so some latitude is given.

    It is said of Lorenz Hart that when he had to come up with a lyric, he made a mark for each syllable in a line and a "suck" or [f-word] at the end, then left the room with Richard Rodgers and a piano in it to walk around New York to craft a lyric. First he had to fix the tune in his head, and that's what a "dummy" lyric did. Then he worked out the lines we all know and love. Often there were constraints----'this is the song about them meeting' or 'this is when she tells him she's leaving' or 'this is after he loses the girl' or whatever. And of course, the tune was set.
    I love that process - for self-expression. But I could never contemplate writing songs for other people to sing.

  46. #45
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Here is a lyric (excerpt) I wrote many years ago and still consider good:

    "I'd rule the world, an infinite range,
    The diamonds in my pockets would be small change;
    I'd reign supreme, if I could sing---
    And I'd have it all 'cause I wouldn't want anything."
    Love the idea, but not sure about the prosody.

    EDIT It's just the last line that I find tricky; I can't make 'wouldn't want anything' work with 'if I could sing'.
    Last edited by destinytot; 08-10-2015 at 11:48 AM. Reason: addition

  47. #46

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    "Prosody and melody, why the two are an unlikely pair,

    Harmony and euphony, with these, then you haven't a care."

  48. #47
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by goldenwave77
    "Prosody and melody, why the two are an unlikely pair,

    Harmony and euphony, with these, then you haven't a care."
    True - it's the effect on the listener that matters.

    To be clear, what I'm unsure about is whether the natural placement (spoken) of those lines' prominent syllables lends itself to song.

  49. #48
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    "Awful" has few rhymes in English. I think "trough full" was in inspired choice, not a poor one. Though it sounds a little phony because, well, who says "trough full"?
    I agree. Again, I think it's a statement which compliments the tone of the rest of the lyric (and music) very well.

    Besides which, what are these questions everyone is asking? What does "trough have to do with anything? Who says "trough full"?

    Come on guys....

    Then next line gives the answer...

    "would only be a boar..." :-)

    Apologies....

  50. #49
    destinytot Guest
    'Boar' to 'hog' to 'hogshead' to 'lush'.

  51. #50
    Quote Originally Posted by destinytot
    'Boar' to 'hog' to 'hogshead' to 'lush'.
    ;-)

    Mush? Rot? The misspelling of "boar" and "offal"? Maybe "trough" is the key to the whole thing.

    All we need is something to do with a grassy knoll here...

    :-)