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  1. #26
    Now you're broaching songs about songwriting. There's Dylan's Country Pie; the godawful (at least in the turgid bridge) I Write the Songs---and many more I can't remember just now.

    Or how many times have songwriters written the line: '...so I wrote this song...'?

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Put another way, if Cole Porter were alive today, he wouldn't be writing 32-bar AABA songs. He used that form because it was the most popular form for popular songs at the time. It no longer is.
    I'm still writing that way, among other ways. Gotta do what works for me, not what's popular.

    And I'm far from the only one doing it today. And what about Jobim, from the late '50s up til his passing in '94? Worked just fine for him. Or A song like Yesterday? Classic AABA...

  4. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    Now you're broaching songs about songwriting. There's Dylan's Country Pie; the godawful (at least in the turgid bridge) I Write the Songs---and many more I can't remember just now.

    Or how many times have songwriters written the line: '...so I wrote this song...'?
    Randy Newman uses that in "Good Old Boys", which you mentioned above.

  5. #29
    It's time to bear down and be honest about lyricists (and 1 composer) who, though professional and in most cases good and successful craftspeople, I don't love their work. This is based on a lot of thought and review, and not meant to slam or hurt anyone.

    Marilyn & Alan Bergman: They made a strong start early on as part of the team that wrote (Let's take it) Nice and Easy for Sinatra. That lyric is sexy, to the point---and winking, b/c we all know what's really meant by 'gonna be so easy...to fall in love'. Just as clever as Porter with 'Birds do it, bees do it---let's do it, let's fall in love'. Well done.

    In their later collaborations with Michel Legrand, I find their work to be more appropriate for Hallmark cards than song. Those are the sentiments expressed---totally w/o bite. But my real objection is their squeezing in as much rhyme and alliteration as they can, in lieu of real ideas, emotion, and plain better lines. Otherwise great songs like What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? are marred by forced and not very good rhymed lines like: 'All the nickels and the dimes of your days'. It doesn't measure up to the rest, sounds almost desperate, like they were stuck, and just plain is wince-worthy. The great You Must Believe in Spring not only is rife with Hallmark sentiment, though beautiful imagery, it's a classic example of their forced alliteration: '...the meadows of your mind...'. A mind has meadows? Gee, you learn something every day! So not only is it not realistic, the attempt at connecting it as a nature metaphor with the other lines sounds strained. These songs simply deserve better lyrics.

    Way, way better is both the English lyric (Johnny Mercer), and the French,by Eddie Barclay and Eddy Marnay---to Legrand's Once Upon a Summertime (original French title: La Valse de Lilas). None of the over-rhyming or errant alliteration is resorted to in creating a sweet travelogue-reminiscence.

    Paul Webster: I don't know much about his other lyrics, but the ones to The Shadow of Your Smile are IMO pretty words and rhymes that don't say a whole lot. Just a typical, professional movie theme assignment lyric. Mandel's great tune is why we remember it.

    Hal David: It's sacrelig to say so, but I find his work very candy-apple---and way beneath Bacharach's. I'm guessing he had good connections. There's always a back story. And he lowers the standard of an otherwise great song like A House is Not a Home with done-to-death hack lines like '....it's all a crazy game...'. Again, it's Bacharach's rhythmic displacement on the last bars of the A section ('...No one there---to hold you tight...and, etc.) and his equally inventive 2 bar, not 4 lead-in to the bridge that makes the song, and makes it a favorite of improvisers.

    David tried to do with the hippie/'60s feeling in the air what Chuck Berry did way better describing the lives, loves, travails, and earnings of white teens (his target audience, apparently) in the late '50s/early '60s. I believe Berry's lyrics will last longer, b/c they are universal and real, not designed to cash in on a trend.

    Stevie Wonder: This really pains me to write, b/c Wonder is such a hero. His melodies; changes; rhythms; voice---and the whole effect, lyrics included, are genius with a capital G. But his lyrics? I think the messages are great, moving, and heartfelt. But craft? IMO it fell way off when he and former wife Syreeta Wright stopped writing together. They gave us gems, like the lyrics in Girl Blue; Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer, and others on that level. And it's not like Stevie hasn't written wonderful lyrics. Talking Book; Music of my Mind---all his classic '70s ballads; Too High. We'll remember these for eons.

    So what's the beef? Let's look at an otherwise work of genius: Living For the City. It would be that rare perfect work of art. Until he drops the level all the way down with the tired rhyme 'pollution/solution' (I played in a forgettable R & B band in HS that used that rhyme. I mean, c'mon---this is Stevie Wonder!). The rest of the song (really a brilliant play within a song) has lines equally weak. And, through it all, I still call it a rare masterpiece. Musically! My word! That 3/4 instrumental interlude that's sung as a Greek Chorus at the end? The harmonic construction is on a par with anything any genius has ever written.

    Other Wonder lyric mis-steps: in the (again) otherwise great and moving Too Shy to Say comes the groaner '...make me feel good's everything'. Some would defend it as ebonics. I call it poor writing. And the jury's in: every singer I've heard cover it sings '...feel good, and everything'. And Send One Your Love has 'send her a flower from your heart'. Corny, and not anywhere near his perfect lyric for You and I.

    Kenny Barron:
    Even the greats can screw up. We're all human. Kenny Barron has written many wonderful tunes, and explored composition in every aspect, including serialism (Row House, while studying with Yusef Lateef). I wish I could say Voyage, recorded by Stan Getz, and played ad nauseum at jam sessions worldwide, was up to his high standard. The A sections are fine. The bridge just takes the same figure and ascends in chromatic II Vs---no variation, subtlety, or interesting asymmetry. This is simply not good writing to me, especially coming from someone whose other work is hip, swinging, and well-thought out. (The album Simbao---featuring the great Toninho Horta, and a real Brasilian rhythm section---is really beautiful stuff.

    These quibbles are presented with love, and in the hopes that we all can learn the craft---and learn from the mistakes of some real pros as well as our own. Every person named here is a pro---and more than one an artist of the highest caliber. And, yeah, I'm opinionated as hell, and maybe nit-picky. I'll take the heat. But to truly love the art and want to excel at it requires honesty and guts---in self-evaluation and that of others. The beauty of it is that we all fall short---super talented, accomplished folks like the above-discussed do---and are uber-self-critical. I not only don't dare compare myself with any of the above, but wince, and often, at my own lameness at times.

    Let's all try to improve and learn...
    Last edited by joelf; 05-26-2020 at 10:05 AM.

  6. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    I'm still writing that way, among other ways. Gotta do what works for me, not what's popular.
    Sure, you gotta do what works for you. But, say, Gershwin could make all kinds of things work for him; he wrote show tunes in the style of the day because he wanted them to be popular. Irving Berlin was trying to be popular. So was Johnny Mercer. He started a record company, for heavensake. Sammy Cahn, when asked, "What comes first, the music or the lyrics?" answered "The check!" (This is sometimes told as "The phone call asking you to write a song," which implies payment for completing it.) He wasn't ashamed to write for money and he took great pride in his commercial success. (One thing Cahn paid a lot of attention to---and talked about in relation to songwriting---was the 'singability' of a lyric. This is very important and part of the reason why some ungrammatical lines may be the mark of great songwriting because they sing just-so. They're not lazy; they're crafty. But I digress...

    I'm a nobody and I write things I enjoy playing. I have fun with it. "I don't want to set the world on fire." I hope that on my deathbed there are 2-3 hours worth of my songs I am happy I wrote. They will be all that ties together the whole of my life and makes the best of it.

  7. #31

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    ^ couldn't disagree more about hal david!!...he wasn't tryin to be hip..he was hip and he was backpeddling...to make hits...which he did!! time after time and time again!...


    nothing better than dionne w singing a bacharach/david tune!


    cheers

  8. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Part of presentation nowadays includes the persona of the singer who also wrote (or co-wrote) the song he is singing.
    To continue with Steely Dan, I think the only cover they ever did was of Duke's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" (on "Pretzel Logic") They were doing their own songs and their previous records were part of the assumed framework of latter ones.

    And then there is the singer who may only occasionally write a song (or a lyric) but who seeks out material to suit an onstage persona and so is able to make a song be heard a certain way that has as much to do with its success as the songwriting itself.

    I'm thinking of Peggy Lee's recording of "Is That All There Is." The songwriters (Jerry Lebier and Mike Stoller) did not want Peggy to record it. They thought she was all wrong for it. She managed to record it anyway (she chose a then-23-year-old Randy Newman to do the arrangement.) But the record company didn't want to put it out. Finally she got her friend Joey Bishop to have her on his show where she would sing it---she told the record company and they begrudgingly pressed a few thousand copies. The song earned her a Grammy and became part of Lee's legend. It seems more "her" than some of the songs she wrote with husband Dave Barbour (-and they wrote many good songs together).

    A song is like anything else: once you give it life, it can take on a life all its own. That's the beauty of interpretation, right?

    My favorite Christmas song, and I use that term loosely, is Coltrane's cover of MFT. I think his take was very far afield of what R&H had in mind writing it, but boy, it tickles me.

    Like children, you have to go of a song sooner or later.
    Last edited by Thumpalumpacus; 05-26-2020 at 10:15 PM.

  9. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    Now you're broaching songs about songwriting. There's Dylan's Country Pie; the godawful (at least in the turgid bridge) I Write the Songs---and many more I can't remember just now.

    Or how many times have songwriters written the line: '...so I wrote this song...'?
    Self-awareness, or self-consciousness, can sometimes ruin a perfectly good song ... or make it. That's another very fine line in the craft.

  10. #34

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    Some songwriting tips, including quotes from songwriters from Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen to Tom Morello and Taylor Swift.

    How to Write a Song | 10 Songwriting Tips from the Pros

  11. #35

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    From a Time magazine cover story on Cole Porter's writing process. (From 1949)

    Cole Porter at 125: Inside His Songwriting Process | Time

  12. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Some songwriting tips, including quotes from songwriters from Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen to Tom Morello and Taylor Swift.

    How to Write a Song | 10 Songwriting Tips from the Pros
    That's a cool article loaded with good points, but while they alluded to it at points, there's something missing that I consider the primary rule of songwriting: do not judge the song while you're in the process of writing it. Get out of the way and start going. You can rewrite anything, this is not a final exam.

    Silence your inner judge until you have the essential body of the song. Don't stifle the process with ulterior considerations.

  13. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thumpalumpacus
    That's a cool article loaded with good points, but while they alluded to it at points, there's something missing that I consider the primary rule of songwriting: do not judge the song while you're in the process of writing it. Get out of the way and start going. You can rewrite anything, this is not a final exam.

    Silence your inner judge until you have the essential body of the song. Don't stifle the process with ulterior considerations.
    That is good advice. There's an expression among writers, "You can't revise a blank page." You have to get something out, get something down, to have anything to work with.

    Anne Lamott: Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

    Shitty first drafts. I need to produce more of 'em.

  14. #38
    You're both right---and songwriters from both points of view are, too.

    Persistence will at least yield something you can develop, or like better later if it looks like crap.

    Worry is more complicated: If you worry it means you care. If you don't, why do anything? But if it causes you to force, instant death of flow and energy. Leave it until the muse returns. The rough spots? That's where craft---or bouncing it off someone you trust, b/c we're often too close to our work---can save your ass.

    My 1st song w/lyric---which I still love best, and has gotten props from names we know and love, was sent half-baked (lyric needed much more work, silly font, the good vamp interlude I eventually used not yet there) to a drafty diva I'd heard was looking for material. She sent a chilly, condescending email rejecting it---and taught me an unbelievably valuable lesson: don't rush!! I licked my wounds awhile, picked it up again, saw how good it'd be with a fix---now it's building a following among quality singers.

    Another one (an instrumental) just didn't feel right somehow. Stayed in the file cabinet 10 years, til what it needed hit me. Now it's going into my soon-to-be-published collection.

    Don't rush; work enough to at least get the shape of all ideas, even if they don't seem that good. There could be gold later mined from that 'dog'...

  15. #39

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    Worry is more complicated: If you worry it means you care. If you don't, why do anything? But if it causes you to force, instant death of flow and energy. Leave it until the muse returns. The rough spots? That's where craft---or bouncing it off someone you trust, b/c we're often too close to our work---can save your ass.
    What I do, Joel, is when I hit a roadblock I walk away from the song or part in question and return to it later. The human subconscious has an amazing ability to resolve problems on its own once the conscious mind leaves it alone. I will return to craft the piece on occasion, but I've got enough experience beating the life out of a song that soldiering after it doesn't work for me too often. I like the moment of inspiration being nearby, even if the fragment is five years old I'll run through it and see if something worthwhile pops up.

    As you aptly point out (as does Mark's article too), different approaches work better with different songwriters. I enjoy employing craft, but it's got to light me up, too. If it doesn't, I step away from it, work on something else, and then return to it another day.

    Funny story: about five years ago, I was working on a pop song based on the major/minor tension between Emaj7 and Cmaj7, and had really good verses and choruses written for it, but it felt unfinished, it needed a bridge. I couldn't get one together. It just wasn't happening -- everything I tried sounded trite -- so I set it aside and moved on to another few songs.

    So one day my girl was asking to play some songs that were in progress but not done, something I usually never do, but I humored her, because, well, women. I launch into this unfinished verse/chorus thing, and when I got to the part where the bridge belonged, instead of freezing up, I jammed in an arpeggio lick based on a stepwise (in F) Fmaj7 -- Dmaj9 layout (which I'd literally had laying around for 20 years), and surprise surprise, it fit and flowed. It was one of those very rare moments where I blew myself away, you know? It took the piece another place without sounding forced, and then I finished up the last verse and chorus and all was good.

    When I got done playing it for her, she told me, "But that sounds finished."

    I laughed a little and replied, "Well, it is now, thank you, hon."

    It took me about an hour to put the lyrics together for it a day or two later.

    The balance between inspiration and perspiration is a funny thing, so I don't try to force myself on the song, but I do stay alert to possibilities. I remember those little bits I've written that never got fleshed out, and don't waste a piece if I can help it.
    Last edited by Thumpalumpacus; 05-27-2020 at 09:03 PM.

  16. #40
    'The human subconscious has an amazing ability to resolve problems on its own once the conscious mind leaves it alone.'

    Bingo. Get out of the way...

  17. #41

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    'The human subconscious has an amazing ability to resolve problems on its own once the conscious mind leaves it alone.'

    Bingo. Get out of the way...
    If I have a tune I'm working on and I take a quick early morning listen to what I have (I'm usually recording right when I have a seed of an idea), and then go for a dog walk... Things will often appear to me this way.
    Last edited by fep; 05-27-2020 at 07:01 PM.

  18. #42

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    Exactly, don't interrupt the process with desiderata, just sit on it when you have a little stoppage.

  19. #43
    Desiderat a ttitude...

  20. #44

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    I enjoyed this discussion of one of my favorites:


  21. #45

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    Quote Originally Posted by fep
    If I have a tune I'm working on and I take a quick early morning listen to what I have (I'm usually recording right when I have a seed of an idea), and then go for a dog walk... Things will often appear to me this way.
    Einstein said he got his best ideas while shaving.

    There's something about repetitive motion---which covers walking and for some, scrubbing floors or washing a car or baking cookies or shooting hoops---that seems to allow stalled ideas to move.

  22. #46

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    Funny thing about Dylan. He sings his own songs though he's not considered much of a singer. Yet many others (including better singers) have recorded his songs.

    Discuss.

  23. #47

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    I'd say Dylan is a character singer. Back in the day folks were more accepting of voices that weren't studio polished and with unusual tone and more variance in pitch. I'm biased towards flawed vocalists, after all I'm one of those myself.

    As far as others singing his songs, I'll just say, good songs.

    Joni and Dylan hitting this thread today... Joni had opinions about Dylan, I believe she questioned his authenticity. Now there's something I find thought provoking both in that Joni would say that and whether it's valid.

  24. #48

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    Quote Originally Posted by fep
    I'd say Dylan is a character singer. Back in the day folks were more accepting of voices that weren't studio polished and with unusual tone and more variance in pitch. I'm biased towards flawed vocalists, after all I'm one of those myself.

    As far as others singing his songs, I'll just say, good songs.

    Joni and Dylan hitting this thread today... Joni had opinions about Dylan, I believe she questioned his authenticity. Now there's something I find thought provoking both in that Joni would say that and whether it's valid.
    I've long been drawn to, as you say, "character singers": Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, many others.

    In Dylan's case, though, I think something needs to be said that rarely is said: he can write a catchy melody. "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" are catchy. (They have been covered a few hundred times each.) Very singable tunes.

    I didn't know Joni said that about Dylan. I don't know what "authentic" means here. Dylan is very much a writer who plays on tropes (musical and lyrical) from songs he knows. That's how his musical mind works. Here's one of his latest songs (based on one from the '50s) and I really like it (though I think it has too many verses.)




  25. #49

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Einstein said he got his best ideas while shaving.

    There's something about repetitive motion---which covers walking and for some, scrubbing floors or washing a car or baking cookies or shooting hoops---that seems to allow stalled ideas to move.
    I've had a couple of great songs come to me while on bike rides of fifteen or twenty miles. For me, there's something about getting into a good groove on the pedals that gets me to coming up with good riffs for a rhythm section.

    Another thing I'd do is a change of scenery. Instead of sitting in my studio plugging away at a block, I'd grab an acoustic, or a portable keyboard, and head to the beach, or the hills overlooking Ventura, and let the surroundings work their way in, too.

  26. #50
    And Pat Metheny questioned Joni's authenticity at a 1989 master class, Royal Conservatory of the Hague (paraphrased): 'I worked w/Joni Mitchell. She said she didn't care what the names are for her chords. Can't get behind that'.

    While I agree in this case, as I've said many times here and to friends, students, fire hydrants: the 'community' of big name musicians is a big lie. Sure, they'll rally to help an unwell colleague or lend their names (and sometimes $) to causes they care about. (There's arguably an element of ego/image there too, though those things are certainly commendable). But most egregious, and least uplifting to the race: many talk mess about each other like dogs---publicly. A real turnoff.

    One of the worst songwriter offenses to me was by Paul Simon (marvelous writer I've learned from musically, and better guitar player than people realize). His arrogance is well-known. In the early 70s he, in an interview that touched on then-current lyrics/lyricists, he inveighed about the 'banality' of pop lyrics. He in particular lashed out at Carole King: 'When I hear Carole King, I think of toast. When I hear Carly Simon, I hear a human being'.

    Very classy, Mr. Simon---especially since his barb was aimed at an early music biz friend and colleague---breaking into session playing/singing and song plugging as early as their teens. Plus, his premise was not just unfair, it was plain wrong: Goffin-King were writing on assignment for other artists, and under a deadline. Jerry Goffin was the chief lyricist. When Tapestry (one of the all-time best-selling pop recordings) came out, well IMO some of her own lyrics had real bite (Smackwater Jack), some were on the blander side (So Far Away). But she's every bit his equal as a crafter of lasting songs---just spent more time having to cater. Simon wrote for himself and Art Garfunkel---and took his time writing those albums.

    I don't know if this sort of self-important (and ultimately self-destructive---b/c the slammer ends up looking mean, petty, and egotistical, while the slamee gets sympathy) behavior will ever end. That's why I take the music seriously and try to laugh at the sideshow. I guess big egos and mouths go with big talent.

    Luckily for us, at least not all the time. Plenty of sweethearts in this thing too...