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Songwriting Standards

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Stephen L. Rich 27 Oct 02 - 04:03 AM
alanabit 27 Oct 02 - 04:18 AM
The Shambles 27 Oct 02 - 04:38 AM
C-flat 27 Oct 02 - 04:52 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 27 Oct 02 - 07:28 AM
Leadfingers 27 Oct 02 - 07:31 AM
McGrath of Harlow 27 Oct 02 - 08:01 AM
Stephen L. Rich 27 Oct 02 - 08:09 AM
Stephen L. Rich 27 Oct 02 - 08:13 AM
dorareever 27 Oct 02 - 08:13 AM
alanabit 27 Oct 02 - 08:39 AM
KingBrilliant 27 Oct 02 - 09:44 AM
Murph10566 27 Oct 02 - 09:50 AM
Amos 27 Oct 02 - 10:09 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 27 Oct 02 - 10:10 AM
The Shambles 27 Oct 02 - 11:22 AM
Murph10566 27 Oct 02 - 12:00 PM
The Shambles 27 Oct 02 - 12:46 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 27 Oct 02 - 01:02 PM
The Shambles 27 Oct 02 - 02:24 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 27 Oct 02 - 02:45 PM
McGrath of Harlow 27 Oct 02 - 03:07 PM
The Shambles 27 Oct 02 - 03:27 PM
GUEST,Zolton the Stoat 27 Oct 02 - 06:56 PM
khandu 27 Oct 02 - 07:22 PM
Stephen L. Rich 27 Oct 02 - 07:49 PM
Stephen L. Rich 27 Oct 02 - 07:53 PM
McGrath of Harlow 27 Oct 02 - 09:48 PM
The Shambles 28 Oct 02 - 02:56 AM
The Shambles 28 Oct 02 - 09:09 AM
McGrath of Harlow 28 Oct 02 - 10:06 AM
Genie 28 Oct 02 - 03:16 PM
SlickerBill 28 Oct 02 - 09:55 PM
Midchuck 28 Oct 02 - 10:07 PM
The Shambles 29 Oct 02 - 02:56 AM
greg stephens 29 Oct 02 - 05:53 AM
Declan 29 Oct 02 - 06:29 AM
McGrath of Harlow 29 Oct 02 - 06:42 AM
alanabit 29 Oct 02 - 11:04 AM
GUEST,Kim C no cookie 29 Oct 02 - 11:58 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 29 Oct 02 - 12:47 PM
Stephen L. Rich 29 Oct 02 - 01:22 PM
Genie 29 Oct 02 - 01:23 PM
The Shambles 29 Oct 02 - 01:50 PM
Jeri 29 Oct 02 - 02:13 PM
alanabit 29 Oct 02 - 03:23 PM
GUEST,harvey andrews 29 Oct 02 - 03:27 PM
alanabit 29 Oct 02 - 03:27 PM
alanabit 29 Oct 02 - 03:42 PM
McGrath of Harlow 29 Oct 02 - 04:42 PM
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Subject: Songwriting Standards
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 04:03 AM

Since the 1970's, when I first heard him, the songwriting of Stan Rogers has been the standard to which I aspire. That has been, changing in recent years, as the songwritng landscape has evolved (some would say "mutated"). I've discovered a number of new (some to the world, some just to me) and different types of songwriters producing new and different was to approach a given thought in song.

    I'm curious. Which wordslingers set your standard, 'Catters?


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: alanabit
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 04:18 AM

I find one characteristic of good lyrics is that they are easier to learn. They are memorable, have clear ideas and original rhymes. I also like good characterisation. I think Dylan has improved at this over the years. Another master of characterisation is Randy Newman. The (probably drunken) macho pig of "You can keep your hat on" is so brilliantly drawn that I don't know how anyone can sing the song with a straight face. More thoughts later. I have a feeling this one will run and run.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 04:38 AM

Songwriters with the the best track record are still capable of writing some less memorable songs, if not indeed some complete 'turkeys'. A certain ex member of the Beatles springs to mind.

I know for example, of many of Randy Newman's great lyics, if not always the combination of words and music that make the best songs, but I do not hear of any of his 'turkeys'. Does he (or Dylan) not then write any?

I would suggest that individual songs, rather than their creators, are a more sensible means of inspiration. These songs can come from surprising sources, like writers in syles of music that you would not expect to be inspired by, or from a completly unknown writer.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: C-flat
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 04:52 AM

I entirely agree with alanabit that good lyrics, with stronger imagery are easier to learn. On the other hand, many of Paul Simons lyrics are, by his own admission, nonsense, but are painstakingly re-worked to make the words flow smoothly.
Elvis Costello writes teriffically caustic lyrics but a lot of the time I haven't a clue what he's singing about either!


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 07:28 AM

This being a folk music form, I'd like to praise the folks that have shaped traditional music as my standard. Of contemporary songwriters, I am probably most drawn to Steve Earle (his earle-ier stuff), Thank you Art Theime. That may be because I can hear his appreciation of traditional music and early country song-stories. He is more of a rocker than Merle Haggard, another favorite, but they both drink from the same well.

For me, I don't strive to be like someone else, or as "good" as someone else. I'm not sure that I ever want to grow up, let alone grow up to be like someone else. I hear songs all around me, in the everyday courage of people I know, in the funny real-life stories I hear, in the music of words in relaxed conversation, and the wisdom of people who have learned to take what life has given them and see the goodness in it. My inspiration for folk songs is folks.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Leadfingers
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 07:31 AM

Its always different strokes for different folks.Keith Marsden used to take months honing his words and music and turned some absolute classics,whereas Hank Williams maintained that if a song took more than twenty minutes to write it wasn't worth writing,but he also turned out some absolute classics.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 08:01 AM

People can get better at writing songs with experience. (Or they can lose their freshness and sink into mechanically writing the same songs over again.) I don't think that songwriting as such improves - new fashions mean new types of songs, and changes in the world mean new subjects for songs.

It takes time to sort out which are the good songs in a new fashion and which aren't so good. By and large it's probably fair to say, for that reason, that an old song that is still sung probably has more likelihood of being a great song than a new song. That's where folk songs win out.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 08:09 AM

Jerry -- Perhaps I should explain in a bit more detail. Waht i mean by holding up Stan rogers as the standard, is more involved in the obvious care which he took with each song. he obviously knew, for example , the value of the rewrite. one does not produce a song like "Delivery Delayed" in one fell swoop. "Second Effort" is, now that I think about it, probably a better example of what I mean. Its subject matter is one we've heard a million times; facing the possibility of going home a failure. Yet nowher in it iws there anything which resembles a cliche' (a trap into which it would be very easy to fall). you know that my song do not, in any manner resemble, stylistically speaking, those of Stan Rogers. By holding him as my standard what i'm trying to achieve is to try to similarly move people and give a similar amount of care toward matching the right word to the right thought and, if at all possible, surprising listeners just a bit along the way.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 08:13 AM

... and, toward that end, I should probably learn to be a more careful and accurate typist.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: dorareever
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 08:13 AM

There are several songwriters I like,but I don't think about them when I'm writing,It's not so deliberate.I simply write,without thinking about the rules,even though there are rules and I appy them.I mean,I don't think about walking when I walk,right? Same thing with writing.Okay,you can say I walk better than I write,but I'm a bad walker,really,I hardly can stand up ;)


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: alanabit
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 08:39 AM

Good point. I think most of us are influenced by all sorts of things, but the influences are usually subconcious when we are actually writing.
Two songwriters who stick out for me are Ray Davies - of the Kinks - and Bob Dylan. They both wrote types of song which seemed very new at the time. In the case of Ray Davies, he quickly progressed from the normal teenage pop/rock love song to a more quirky, observational style. He wrote some delightful character sketches -"Mr.Pleasant", "Sunny Afternoon" etc, which were all mixed up with influences from folk songs, rock and even music hall styles. There is a unique ability there to get across serious irony with a big smile.
With regard to Bob Dylan, I am on the side of the true believers. He recognised the opportunity to use the popular music of his time to present serious, complex character studies of his characters. He had the talent to do this well and the perception to realise that there was an audience ready for it. It is hard to imagine songs such as "Ballad of a Thin Man" or "It's Alright Ma - I'm Only Bleeding" before the mid sixties or without the brilliance of Dylan. I know that plenty of folks can do without those songs, but they certainly enriched my life and showed me just how sophisticated songwriting can be as a craft.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 09:44 AM

Richard Thompson.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Murph10566
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 09:50 AM

Songwriters who seem(ed) to consistently find the mark, set the standard, raise the bar (and every other trite metaphor) for me -

Bob Dylan -
Stan Rogers -
Mark Knopfler -
Paul Simon -
Don McLean -
Eric Bogle -
James Taylor -

All have had a profound influence on me, and what I hope to give, and get, from the Music I write... I have found, at least for me, that nearly every song is a 'work in progress' and, returning to it later (sometimes months, years) can lead to a flurry of change...

Interesting thread... Thanks

M.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Amos
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 10:09 AM

I like your list, Murph, and would add, with Jerry, that many of the strongest voices in my song-writing hall of mirrors are anonymous authors who wrote spare, elegant, clear, resonating lines such as "Alas-- my love, you do me wrong" and "Oh, , cruel Bar'bry Ellen", or simple and powerful phrases like "Git along, l'il dogies" or "I was grabbing for leather as blind as a bat" or "A man ain't nothin' but a man" or "no-one behind but the wild birds to mourn....". "I won't be reconstructed, and I do not give a damn...". "Black is the color of my true love's hair..."



There are thousands of them -- don't get me started -- each of them like the sharpest tip on an arrow.

They (these phrases and lines of magic) condense a life, or a century into a few words in such a way that it unfolds beautifully every time you hear it.

Good thread!

A


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 10:10 AM

Stephen. I understand what you're saying. I probably hold Paul Simon in equal regard for his ability to use words. Anyone who can do a span of songs from Bridge Over Troubled Water and Old Friends to Me And Julio Down By The School Yard is a genius, in my mind. It seems like each songwriter has their own, special gift... which can also be their downfall. Simon has a great gift for words which sometimes leads him to write songs which seem overly self-conscious and "wordy." I've never heard a songwriter who can capture the life of a gas station attendent or a murderer so succinctly as Steve Earle.
I don't hear that as much in his more recent albums. Gifts can be lost, too. I agree with Doraeever... no matter how much I might admire another songwriter, they have no influence on my songwriting.
I agree with leadfingers, too. Songs come in many different ways. I've written songs in ten minutes (literally) and some have incubated for months at a time. I believe that songs have their own pace at coming to you. Some come busting out, and some need to take their time. If I feel a song isn't coming, I don't try to force it. I'll go back and sing what I have every once in awhile, and more lines will slowly emerge. I think that the thing I feel strongest about is that you have to live with a song, roll it around on your tongue, sometimes even play with a different melody or rhythm. Sometimes playing it on a different instrument will lead you in a new direction.
Some songs need to be burnished through time before they're ready to be shared. And as Doraeever says, some just come bursting out.

Songwriting is a gift. Many of the greatest line and images in a song just "come." Craftsmanship can hone a song until it rolls off your tongue, and the choice of one or two words can make it come alive. The easiest thing in the world is to make lines rhyme. Nine year old kids do that, skipping down the sidewalk. It's a gifted few who can make four verses create an image that stays with you forever.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 11:22 AM

Stephen, accepting the care in with which you state Stan Rogers uses in his songwriting, are there there any of his songs that you do not like or feel do not compare with the very best examples?

I think the danger of listing songwriters (in general) without giving particular examples of their work, both the best and not so good, is that this does not recognise the length, say of a writing career.

Even using an example of two songwriters who had been writing for the same length of time, they may not both be as prolific.

Using the monkey, complete works of Shakesphere and type-writer, concept, the one that produced the most songs should have an advantage. But it is the ratio in the output of memorable, to less memorable songs, and the reasons for this, that is more informative than just listing a songwriter's name or just a list of their songs.

I think am just trying to give some hope to the newer or less prolific songwriters amongst us. For whilst I recognise the value of a body of work, is it not possible (with luck), for one's only songwriting effort (or indeed a unknown TRAD writer), to be be as good and inspiring to us as the great individuals listed here?


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Murph10566
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 12:00 PM

Valid points, Shambles et al -

I listed these few writers as indicators of those whose work most influenced ME; in fact, there are many, many more artists, both male and female, so gifted with expressive lyric and melody - who perhaps have not been quite as prolific... and Quantity does not ensure Quality.

You're right, of course - Maybe a 'Catter is working right now on the 'perfect' song, or perhaps she/he has ALREADY written it, a finely crafted, laboriously simple tune - one born of love, hate, vision, dream, experience, Life...

I certainly never meant to suggest that the aforementioned songwriters had a 'lock' on creativity; merely that their Music and turns of phrase had provided so much listening pleasure to me over the years... a real and lasting inspiration...

Good luck with the Muse...

Murph


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 12:46 PM

Sorry Murph I was not knocing your list and had accepted your reasons for listing them.

But just using that fine list as a guide, there would be a vast difference in the length of their writing careers and of the quantity of songs produced. Examples and opinions on their best (and worst) efforts would be interesting.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 01:02 PM

Every songwriter has their "worst." Even the finest. If someone was objective enough to list all their songs, grading each one from best to worst, what would be gained? Just wondering..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 02:24 PM

You could say you liked and were inspired by all the songs ever produced by the people of Finland. It may be more informative and interesting to narrow the statement a little.

I may say that I liked and was inspired by Titian. It would be more informative if I stated which particular works I had in mind and why they had that effect.

There is a general tendency to overstate the achievements of known artists, as if everything they ever produced was wonderful, when individual pieces of their work, may not be typical, representitive or very inspiring to anyone.

I just think that the art is very important - the artist less so.

How would they themselves judge their own output? Or how would you judge your own output? On the total number of songs, your best, your worst, your progress? What?


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 02:45 PM

Better yet, Shambles... What is it that you admire in particular songs... what lines are most moving to you, or most humorous. Usually on these threads, you end up getting lists. I hear you. How about a line like "the arc of a love affair?" for example. That really stirs my imagination. In songwriting, because you have so few lines to work with they have to carry far more emotion, and sometimes, visual imagery than words need to in a novel, or even a short story.

I always find it amusing that some of the songs that I've written that I consider throw-aways have lasted so long. I recently got an e-mail from a long lost friend from the early sixties, wanting the words to a song I wrote back then. I didn't have the words written down and hadn't sung it in years, so I had to track down another friend from those days who is still singing the song, and thinks that it's a fine song. I don't get it. But someone else did. Maybe the song wasn't written for me. Just by me.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 03:07 PM

There's a difference between trying to grade songs - "here are all Dylan's songs arranged in the correct order from best to worst" - and saying why some songs have been particularly important for us in writing songs or in living.

Grading to me seems a pointless exercise, and one which I find rapidly gets boring, though some people seem to love it. (Witness that stuff they've got on TV in the UK at present about "who was the greatest Briton" - which I've avoided watching, and will avoid watching.)

Picking out songs that have affected us makes more sense, but I think I'd find it impossible to say which are the ones which have affected anything I've written, and I think most people who have written songs probably would be like that. It's maybe easier to listen to someone else's songs and say "I bet that they'd been listening to such and such." Or reading such and such a book. Or looking at such and such a picture, or film.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 03:27 PM

I don't get it. But someone else did. Maybe the song wasn't written for me. Just by me.

Just the point. It is a bit of a mystery why some ideas work for some people and why some don't or exactly where our ideas come from or if we should take any credit at all, for the songs that may work.

As for the lists. We have many Mudcat lists, but it is more interesting to hear the songs and the reasons, than just read the names. I hope the originator of the thread thinks this too?

I would honestly be well chuffed, in the unlikely event I were to be included on this list, but would probably not think that I honestly deserved to be there. Perhaps those listed would also think they did not deserve to be in such exhalted company?

It would be an interesting exercise to see, off of the top of our heads, how many memorable songs (by definition ones that we remember) that we can place against those songwriters listed. I have no idea what that would prove however! Only that given a lifetime of professional songwriting, there would not be too many (with some possible exceptions).

As for me, the best lines are the perfect match of melody and lyric. Which is why it has to be a song, say rather than a poem or a just tune. I will know it when I hear it and I will not expect to hear it only from well-known songwriters.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: GUEST,Zolton the Stoat
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 06:56 PM

So many ideas to which to respond and so little space.
To the point about which songs last and which don't -- obviously the audience is the final judge.
As for being deliberately aware of your influences as your writing a song, I'm not sure that it's even possible to write a song while you're carrying that much mental baggage. If I've understood Stephen right he's talking about what sorts of techniques he uses to making the needed judgement calls to CRAFT a song as opposed to just writing it down. He seems to be using Stan Rogers as the best example of those techniues.
lastly, songwriters will always be thier own worst critics. They are the last people you should ask about which of thier own songs are any good.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: khandu
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 07:22 PM

There are many songwriters that have "influenced" me. But, then, everything I have heard has had some influence upon me.

Cat Stevens was an excellent writer, though he has had several duds. Ditto for Stephen Stills, Mark Knopler, James Taylor, and many more.

All of these have weighed heavily upon my own writing, but I never consciously held any up as my standard.

When writing, I just "let it out". Some times it "clicks", some times it doesn't.

I think it is like running my hand into a sock. I grab the toe from the inside and pull, turning the sock inside out. A song written by a writer that does that to himself while writing is usually a "keeper".

k


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 07:49 PM

khandu -- Well said.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 07:53 PM

"This song jumped out and wrote itself down. So, I figured that I'd better learn it quck before it went away."
--Arlo Guthrie--


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 27 Oct 02 - 09:48 PM

Some people keep a pen by the bed so they can write down their dreams before they slip away, which they do. Songs can be like that too. Even good songs which you'd maybe remember easy enough if you heard them.

The most direct way a song can affect me in making a song is when it alerts me to the possibility of a song that hasn't been written yet. Sometime that can even be a song I don't much like, or think much of, but it leaves me feeling that the subject it touches on deserves another song that sees it slightly differently.

So maybe poor songs have an important role to play in producing good songs. That's a very encouraging thought for anyone who writes songs, in our more self-doubting moments.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 28 Oct 02 - 02:56 AM

That was a good point, it could well be that no so good good treatment of a subject does inspire folk to do a better job of it.

You are still left with the problem of not really knowing, or of how to judge, if you have done a better job.

The songs that I am most pleased with, even if no one else may think so, are as a result of the following process.

I have something to say, I want to say it and I manage to say it in that song.

I am lucky that unlike most of those listed, I do not have to produce new material to order. Like being contracted to do so for a nwe CD. It is great credit to those on the list and others, that they can and do still manage to write memorable songs, under such circumstances.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 28 Oct 02 - 09:09 AM

Maybe there is a difference and the above ability is the difference between a great songwriter and the writer of a great song?

Trouble is their success then puts them in a different place. How many more songs do we need like ones about 'waiting at the railway station' or 'leaving on a jet plane?

I did the test of all the songwriters memtioned so far in this thread. The most memorable songs I could come up with (without looking any up) 15+ for a couple of them.

Most were only about 2 or 3. One, I struggled to find even one song for.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 28 Oct 02 - 10:06 AM

The other way to do it would be to start with the songs that most impressed/affected you, and find out who wrote them. It'd probably result in a very different list of names, and mst oifvthem not too well known.

The good thing with Song Challenges is the way they can kick start you into writing a song you wouldn't have thought of writing, and get your songwriting mucles to get working. Which is not unlike gettinmg a song writing commission.

Incidentally, I suspect that "write us ten songs about these things" would be more likely to produce some good songs than "write us ten new songs about anything you like" would.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Genie
Date: 28 Oct 02 - 03:16 PM

alanabit, I totally agree that "... one characteristic of good lyrics is that they are easier to learn. They are memorable, have clear ideas and original rhymes."

Actually, I think Dylan has written a few well-known 'turkeys' if you judge that by rambling, unedited lyrics.  He has some very tight, well-formed songs like Blowin' In The Wind, I Shall Be Released, You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, and One Too Many Mornings, but he also has some unnecessarily wordy songs with hard to remember lyrics such as Masters Of War, Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word, Boots Of Spanish Leather, and Mr. Tambourine Man.  Not that the latter four are terrible songs, but they are, IMNSHO, not as tight, lyrically, as the former three.  (I think he may have been stoned or having a tantrum when he wrote some of his songs.)

I entirely agree with alanabit that good lyrics, with stronger imagery are easier to learn. Several of  Paul Simons's songs have lyrics that are quite memorable and easy to recall because, even if they are "nonsense," they have been carefully tooled to flow just right with the music (and conjure up images).
 

McGrath, I don't know why one should assume that songwriting as such would not improve with practice, the study of music theory, or exposure to more and more music.  Most art forms and other endeavors do.

A few songwriters whose work I really amire are:
Kate Wolf  -- for her marveous ability to paint wonderful word pictures that are also, usually, meaningful and, always well matched to the music
Bill Staines  -- much the same excellent marriage of words (sound and meaning) to the music (though I don't think his imagery matches Kate's)
Sting  -- part of what I admire is his versatility in style
Carole King -- partly because her songs sound so different from each other  (similar to what I said about Sting)
Paul Simon -- can sometimes make a profound point with words (Sounds Of Silence), other times incorporate incredible whimsy (Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, Me And Julio), and occasionally just really move me with the marriage of words and music (Bridge Over Troubled Water).

Both Paul Simon and Randy Newman (and of course the incomparable Tom Lehrer) have that marveous gift of humor and whimsy in their lyrics.  And John Prine just does wonderful things with words -- even though I don't always know what he means.  Theirs is a kind of talent hard to emulate.  On the other hand, I am also in awe of the lyrical genius of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Ira Gershwin, and several other songwriters of the Jazz Era in the US, and I think their type of genius can, to some extent, be nurtured and developed-- and applied to various musical styles, including folk music.

I've heard it said that "good writers" say that a cardinal rule is to write every day -- no "if"s, "and"s, or "but"s.   Maybe part of the reason why there seems to be a lot of crap peddled today as "songwriting" is that too many "songwriters" take Hank Williams's attitude but have not the natural genius to be able to put together a gem in 20 minutes.   If you look at other endeavors, such as dancing, gymnastics, figure skating, opera singing, science, etc., you seldom find anyone outstanding who has not spent countless hours doing tedious excercise, study, practice, etc.   Why on earth would one EXPECT to be great at songwriting without anything of the sort?   (Yes, Handel said that "The Messiah" was, essentially, given to him by inspiration, and the tune to "Yesterday" came to Paul McCartney sort of in a dream, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.)

The point is, I think, if it takes Irving Berlin's writing 1500 songs to come up with about 15 American standards, why does that make him less an artist?  (I don't think the monkeys could come close in 15, 000,000, 000 songs,)

For me, FWIW, "Yesterday" is a nearly perfect song.  By that I mean that:
--the tune is so natural that I, like McCartney when it first came to him, could swear I'd heard it somewhere before,
-- the words fit perfectly, naturally with the tune/melodic rhythm, without having to be squeezed or stretched into place.
--the lyrics are easy, conversational sentences, not contrived  -- yet they are not clichés, either.
--the rhyme scheme is perfect -- again, without seeming to have been manipulated
In short, I cannot imagine changing anything about the song -- tune, meter, words -- that could make it a better song.  It has the unpretentious elegance of a rose.
Yet this song is not one that came to the writer fully formed.  Paul thought of the tune first, then played around with silly lyrics like "Scrambled eggs, oh, my darling, how I love your legs...," and after WORKING on the song, finally arrived at the finished project.

Interesting, though, Shambles, that my favorite songwriters tend to write songs that could stand on their own as poems, even if you did not hear the melodies.  They also tend to write songs that grab you even when sung by mediocre singers with mediocre instrumental accompaniment.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: SlickerBill
Date: 28 Oct 02 - 09:55 PM

I'm with you on Bob dylan et al above. Some additions; Bruce Cockburn, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell,Lyle Lovett, Ani Difranco, and Neil Young.

I think it's the imagery that these people use, their ability to make me "see' their story, "feel" their words that I appreciate so much, combined with such a great melodic/groove sense.

What I find fascinating is their ability to write batches of songs at a time, say, for a particular album. I often think this is where you get some stinkers; the difference is people like me don't have the luxury of massive amounts of studio time to record the really crappy stuff, so there is a silver lining to limited opportunity.

What I find happens to me is that I get many parts of many songs, but seldom the whole thing at once. The trick I think is to go back to these songs regularly to try to finish them, but more often I keep going on, producing more partially formed ones.

Great thread.         sb


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Midchuck
Date: 28 Oct 02 - 10:07 PM

Tom Russell

Ian Tyson

Stan Rogers

Utah Phillips

Jim Ringer

Rudyard Kipling/Peter Bellamy

Guy Clark

Townes van Zandt, a few times

Hank Williams (the real one)

Waylon, R. I. P.

Dick McCormack, T. F. S. (The Senator)

Andrea Cady (Whoops, highly personal prejudice...)

P.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 02:56 AM

"Yesterday" came to Paul McCartney sort of in a dream, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.)

Has he (more recently) had more nightmares than dreams? Good post Genie, with some interesting points.

What I find fascinating is their ability to write batches of songs at a time, say, for a particular album. I often think this is where you get some stinkers; the difference is people like me don't have the luxury of massive amounts of studio time to record the really crappy stuff, so there is a silver lining to limited opportunity.

I think that is why I used the example of Titian. Many 'hangers on', critcs, galley owners in the case of fine art and record companies, agents and promoters, in the case of music, stand to make money from pushing the mere 'NAME' of the artist, rather than the quality of the art. Much fine art gets buried in this process.

So our complete commercial failure, is actually an advantage to songwriting and really a form success! *Smiles*


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: greg stephens
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 05:53 AM

For writing fairly close to what you might call "traditional", there's noone to touch Cyril Tawney for my money.He influenced me to try writing songs, and also probably to give up (except the ephemeral stuff I churn out for theatre shows). I soon realised I was not going to match Sally Free and Easy, Grey Funnel Line or Sammy's Bar, so I stopped trying!


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Declan
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 06:29 AM

Ditto to Guy Clarke, Townes Van Zandt, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman and many others.

Some more of my favourites not mentioned are John Prine, Nanci Griffith, Butch Hancock, Michael Marra (a gem of a scottish songwriter a bit in the Randy Newman mould, but not very well known internationally), Woody Guthrie (of course), early (and some more recent), Bruce Springsteen, Tom Paxton, Tim O Brien, Brain Mc Neill, Bill Caddick and one of my current favourites is Ina May Wool (I hear many of you out there saying "who?" but go check her out) and the great Les Barker.

Some local (Irish) songwriters well worth a listen are Jimmy McCarthy, Kevin Doherty, Mick Fitzgerald, Kieran Halpin, Luka Bloom (aka Barry Moore), Mickey McConnell, Mick Hanley, Phil Coulter (some songs) and Ron Kavana.

I could go on and on, but I'll spare you all.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 06:42 AM

I don't know why one should assume that songwriting as such would not improve with practice, the study of music theory, or exposure to more and more music. Most art forms and other endeavors do.

I didn't say that, at least that wasn't what I meant. I meant it's a mistake to assume that songwriting as such (either in general or for a particular person) does keep getting better over the years. And the same goes for a lot of other arts and other endeavours.



There are times when it does and other times when things stand still, and other times when they go into reverse. And it's pretty hard to be sure which sort of time you are living in.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: alanabit
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 11:04 AM

I like some of the comment which has been passed here about the importance of great songs rather than great songwriters. For me a great song has above all else resonance. That's why very often the simple sounding ones - such as the ones Amos mentioned - are the ones which matter most to people. I don't actually create anything - rather I try to listen to what is going on in my head. It is not really a song until it sounds natural. Sometimes it happens in minutes and other times you have to carry the thing around with you for years. I try hard to listen to what's going on above all. After all, I don't really create the things, I'm just the lucky (or deluded) sod who gets to write them down. Plenty of writers of good songs are quite unexeptional at anything else - including other forms of writing. I think the craft is about listening above all.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: GUEST,Kim C no cookie
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 11:58 AM

I love that Arlo quote that Stephen posted! That is so very often how it happens with me. Except mine usually fall from the sky - sometimes like snowflakes, and other times like boulders. It just depends. And when you tell that to people who don't write, they look at you like you just grew horns or something.

The creative process is, all at once, easy and complicated.

Songwriters....... I most admire the quirky style of people like John Prine and Guy Clark; the storytelling of Tom Russell, Ian Tyson, Tom T. Hall; and the emotion of Sarah McLachlan. But there are so many others, and so many great songs of all kinds that stand out simply because they are well-written.

I think one of the best-written popular songs has to be Don Schlitz's The Gambler. Sure, we poke fun at it now, because it was so overdone, thanks to its popularity. But as a piece of songwriting.... I think it's pretty incredible.

Another great song is Tom T. Hall's The Homecoming. And Tom Russell's Hallie Lonegan. (dang, how I wish I had written that!)

I tend to like things that don't necessarily make a lot of sense. I have really enjoyed Drops of Jupiter by Train - in part because it has some sentimental value to me, but also because within its enigmatic poetry, I found something that made sense to me.

Your mileage may vary. :-)


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 12:47 PM

Alanabit: You've made some excellent points. When I've been in songwriter's workshops at festivals, one of my first bits of advice is "shut up and listen." We all like to feel that we are the fountain of wisdom, insight and sensitivity. Not. Many of the best lines for songs, the best stories, the best imagery, the best humor are all around us in everyday conversations. "Sensitive Singer/songwriters get the deservedly bad rap they get because they think that there is enough profundity in their own life to be the wellspring for endless songs. Some of the songs of mine that have lasted best (for me) are ones that are based on listening and observation. Images that have become songs for me are everyday experiences that it's easy to walk right by and never notice.

See the old man sitting on the stoop of a run-down old hotel, and later when you stop into the Star Cafe, there he is sitting at the table, looking out at the street. It's a ritual he probably follows every day, brightened when someone comes in to the Cafe who says "Hey, Roy, How ya doin?!" And then the lines flow...

"Never thought I'd end up living in a hotel room
Lying half-awake all night and sleeping until noon
I think I'll walk down to the Star and get a bite to eat
Maybe see someone I know, or sit and watch the street."

The stories are all around us. For me, the best song writers are observers who can create a movie in four lines.

Alanabit, by the way, is a fine songwriter..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 01:22 PM

"The craetive process is, all at once, easy and complicated."
Well said, Kim C!!

alanabit -- Good point about listening and observing. The stories are out there. Tom Dundee is supremely good at that. songs like "Macbride/Argyle Station Furnished Rooms" and "These Cowboys" are fine examples of his ability to "create a movie" as Jerry put it.

Jerry is quite right about alanabit's songwriting. Jerry's no slouch as a tunesmith either.

One finds the earlier references to Cole porter, Johny Mercer, and the like particularly telling. A good song is a good song; genre' not withstanding. There's much to be learned from all of them (the songs and the writers).


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Genie
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 01:23 PM

Kim C, I totally agree about "The Gambler."

BTW, in country music there have been some really good songs written by Rodney Crowell, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Harlan Howard, Bob McDill, Merle Travis, John Denver, and Marijohn Wilkinson (Wilkins?).  None of them wrote only gems, of course.  Neither did Kris Kristofferson, Steve Goodman, Gordon Lightfoot, Willie Nelson etc.  But if you can write a few really memorable songs, I think you're doing well.  (I'd love to have written "Crazy," "Coat Of Many Colors," "Annie's Song," "Sixteen Tons," "Long Black Veil," "Me and Bobby McGee," "City of New Orleans," "If You Could Read My Mind," "I Walk The Line," etc.

Did anyone mention Bonnie Raitt or Gillian Welch?  And I'm very surprised that Kate Wolf has not been mentioned by anyone else, so far.

Declan, I did mention John Prine, above -- but his name is well worth repeating.  I'm told that he wrote most of his songs -- especially the better known ones -- within a pretty short period of time when he got his first regular gig, at a coffeehouse, and had to come up with enough new material to have fresh stuff every day.

Another songwriter I'm quite impressed with, at least on the basis of his song "What's The Use Of Wings," is Brian Bedford (Artisan).

Genie


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: The Shambles
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 01:50 PM

Another great song is Tom T. Hall's The Homecoming. And Tom Russell's Hallie Lonegan. (dang, how I wish I had written that!)

I wish I'd written that


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: Jeri
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 02:13 PM

Sometimes it's hard to differentiate quality from personal preference. There are a whole lot of folks who are outstanding songwriters, but I'm not interested in their songs. There ARE some horrible songs by songwriters who think they can't do anything wrong who may not edit and may not listen to feedback. They might be nice people who just don't ask for or get good, honest advice. There are songs with dumb lyrics, mixed tenses, awkward rhymes, or nearly incomprehensible ideas. Those songs normally don't last long. If they do, we make fun of them mercilessly, so they're still of some value.

As to what I believe and what I like...
A good songwriter writes good songs. Cleverness that seems intended to garner attention for itself isn't impressive to me. I love poetry and imagery in songs IF it helps further the meaning and impact of the ideas in the song.

I believe "method acting" involves becoming one with the role - you get into the head of the person you're playing. Jerry's verse above is a good example, as is Rick Fielding's 'Angus Frasier'. If there's action, you have to see yourself in the scene.

The type of songs I like don't tell you what to think or feel. They show you. As a result, you might come up with a completely unexpected take on the song, but 1) thinking helps make a song enjoyable, and 2) if a person's able to interpret the song his way, there's a lot more chance it will mean something to him. It's hard to explain what I mean if you don't understand. It's the difference between painting a picture with words and describing it. I sing a song that contains "looking out seaward on molten gold." It sounds a whole lot more interesting than "the sun was shining on the water."


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: alanabit
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 03:23 PM

I like that Jeri. I like just telling the story - very often through someone else's eyes. I think this is where many people miss Dylan. He is not always telling the story as he sees it, so much as the way the character perceives it.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: GUEST,harvey andrews
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 03:27 PM

I try to explain songwriting to young people....A song comes like an E mail..the talent is in knowing it's arrived...the craft is in downloading it.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: alanabit
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 03:27 PM

Something else I should have added, is that it is often a good idea to keep one's own comments out of the story. Very often someone else's take on it has more insight than your own. Jerry's (Rasmussen) songs are very good at this. They stand up because they paint the picture as Jeri puts it and leave the listener to do the rest.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: alanabit
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 03:42 PM

How did you squeeze that in between my posts Harvey? Good metaphor!


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Subject: RE: Songwriting Standards
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 29 Oct 02 - 04:42 PM

Myself, I think that "the sun was shining on the water" is a better line than "looking out seaward on molten gold."


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