I haven’t yet blogged much about one of my key activities for retirement – learning new skills other than last week’s light-hearted effort. I have been having guitar lessons and I will write about those later but for this blog and it is chronologically a bit out of order, I want to try and write about writing a song. This, rather than ‘song writing’, which sounds too grand and on-going. So the challenge I have set myself (setting challenges is good for retired people) is to write just one song. All I have is one small portion of lyrics that I’ve had in my head for a long time. Around these few lines I intend to try and construct a song which I will publish on my blog when finished.
In an ideal world I will record the different parts – sing (as well as I can, actually I can’t sing for shit), keyboard, electric, acoustic, some sort of rhythm track, maybe banjo if I learn to play the one I recently bought from my sister-in-law but I’m getting ahead of myself. I have a little talent in the area but it’s not huge. I’m not sure I have any actual song writing talent. What I need first is a bit of guidance about how to write a song.
I have had on my bookshelves for more years than I can remember a book entitled ‘Teach Yourself to Compose Music’ by King Palmer. Perfect, I thought, its moment has come. I opened it and started to thumb through it to get an idea. Then I closed it again and put it back on the bookshelf for its moment to come perhaps in another 30 years. It said things like ‘When a modulation occurs in an important position (i.e. at the end of a phrase) the Tonic Triad in the new key may be taken in root position and the modulation made gradually by means of a pivot chord preceded by other chords common to both keys’. What? I thought writing the song was the hard part not reading the book about how to. So, no, that’s not the way. I need something a little more accessible.
Should I go further back? Hegel said ‘Music is architecture translated from space into time – for in music, besides the deepest feeling, there is also a vigorous mathematical intelligence’. Nope. Sorry mate. I probably need to come forward in time.
As luck would have it, I think, The Guardian (7.9.13) had an article by Daniel Rachel about modern song writers, some good people on the list. I should learn a lot. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with Noel Gallagher. Question: How long can you go without writing a song? Answer: Oh, fuckin’ months. Question: when was the last time you wrote? Answer; Oh fuck, nine months ago. Paul Weller told me to get my fuckin’ finger out. All the other shit (life) gets in the way. Elsewhere: “the first single was fuckin’ rubbish – wrote the song (Supersonic) in less than half and hour, recorded it … fuckin’ hell, great.”
That’s much clearer, half and hour, fuckin’ hell, great. In this encouraging manner he continues “I’m not one of the world’s greatest thinkers.” I like that. He goes on“Damon Albarn (who he?) can see 4 black dudes playing cards in a pub in Notting Hill and write a symphony about it. I see the same and to me it’s just 4 black dudes playing cards.” So the next time I see 4 black dudes playing cards I must check whether I hear a symphony or not. This could be a measure of my song writing capacity.
I like the idea of carrying a notebook in which to jot down ideas but John Lydon does not. “Urrgh, it’s all fucking manufactured.” So, no notebook then, although Mick Jones of The Clash had a ‘little tape recorder’. Well, I’ve got one of those so all is not hopeless.
Apparently ‘Walking on the moon’ by Police/Sting started life as walking in the room. Whereas Paul Weller’s ‘Down in the tube station’ started as a long prose poem, sort of short story. Think of a song as a short story. This was advice given to Smokey Robinson by, legendary Motown man, Berry Gordy, because each verse, by Smokey’s own admission, bore no relation to the last one. So Berry said think of it as a short story that makes sense! OK, short story, makes sense. I can do that.
I also just happen to be reading a book by Sean Egan entitled ‘The Mammoth Book of The Beatles’. More advice here surely. And there is – a song needs a ‘middle eight’ or ‘bridge’. Sean says this is frequently the best part of a song. So better get one of those. It apparently ‘makes the song much better by increasing its artistic breadth’. He also writes that the bridge is ‘designed to prevent tedium setting in’. Ok, then I will definitely get myself a bridge.
One of the great difficulties, it seems to me in writing a song is avoiding it sounding like many other songs, there are only so many notes and so many combinations this seems inevitable. But if I wait until I’ve got something totally original, i.e. forever, I’ll be too mouldy to play it. But help is at hand here as well. There’s nothing wrong according, at least, to Sir Joshua Reynolds, no less, with nicking other people’s ideas. “The more extensive, therefore, your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers of invention – and what may appear still more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions.” I think Lyle Lovett said something similar.
Certainly Smokey Robinson interviewed by Elvis Costello on TV last night had no problem at all with the modern version of being ripped off – sampling. “Sample my songs all you like. I love you sampling my songs,” he said.
There we are then, advice from Sir Joshua to Noel Gallagher – steal from others and it only takes half an hour. Well, I’ve already got the words, well, some of them, this is going to be easier than I thought.
His golf clubs are in my hall
And his photos are on my wall.
His golf clubs are at the tip
And his photos in the skip
So although it’s a Country and Western song – easier musical construction, basically 3 chords – it has a happy ending.
Take it from there.