Blog Entry

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Posted on: August 2, 2009 2:27 pm
 
My hope here is to create a place where we can discuss what makes a great songwriter, why they are great songwriters and to analyze the aspects of  the many different styles of successful songwriting. I think it is impossible to just name THE TEN BEST or some other form of that style as there are so many ways to measure success. Is it most popular, which is what I believe happens when you have TEN BEST format? If so, ABBA and MICHAEL JACKSON are the greatest  songwriters ever arguably. Is it quantity of songs recorded? If so, Neil Sadaka and Burt Bacharach could be the  greatest songwriters ever. Is it most influential? If so, Bob Dylan is superceded by Woody Guthrie as he was a great influence on Dylan, the Beatles are superceded  by Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones are superceded by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, etc. Do songwriting teams get the same respect as individual songwriters who write both lyrics and melodies? I think the best way to do this is to talk about the different genres of songwriting individually. I have made many friends the last couple of years on the music threads who I think I understand pretty well and who I think understand me pretty well. While I think my taste is pretty diverse and that I possess a pretty deep understanding of musical history, I tend to be pretty mainstream and centered around the 1964-1980s timeframe in a lot of ways and I will offer my opinions in that manner. Others seem to be quite adept at filling in the gaps of having a greater knowledge of pre-BEATLE rock and roll and R&B music from Motown ands STAX. Some are more knowledgeable about writers like Townes Van Zandt and Warren Zevon  or country tinged bands like Gram Parsons. Some of you really seem to like narrative songs that are thought provoking from artists like Springsteen. I believe there is room to explore all these areas and they all deserve to be discussed, but not all at the same time. So I will propose some ground rules.

I will offer up various topics to discuss one at a time. Please feel free to offer up individuals you which to champion or lists of your favorites. However, please try to include a little dialogue about your choices.

I will generally try to comment on the entries made by those who wish to visit here and I invite all participants to feel free to offer their opinions of both agreement and disagreement. However, everyone MUST BE RESPECTFUL AT ALL TIMES . Remember, we are all stating opinions, not facts and I will remove any posts that are inflammatory.

I hope that this will be a long running forum and free flowing forum where everyone is comfortable enough to visit frequently and express their views. I’m using the blog format to control content  to a degree and to promote more in depth analysis of this great subject.

OK, enough of me pontificating. Thanks to anyone out there who reads this and chooses to participate.

Category: General
Comments

Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 31, 2009 3:46 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

As I understand this ends today I would be remiss if i didn't say great work Fans,lots of great memories and MAY YOU STAY FOREVER YOUNG.



Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 31, 2009 3:01 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

My favourite Dylan line is "there' something happeneing here and you don't know what it is do you Mr.Jones".Favourite song is Idiot Wind,favourite song title ;IT takes a lot to laugh it takes a train to cry"



Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 31, 2009 2:55 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

One more thing i would like to add to Dylan,he was not only a great songwriter but he changed music ,without him there would be no folk rock,no Byrds,no Turtles, no Tom Petty,and many others as you mentioned in an early post everyone is influenced by someone..Dylan brought influence.




Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 31, 2009 11:28 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Great post Fans,you have captured the essence of Dylan,who is definitely the most prolific writer of our times.I had the good fortune to see him first in 67.He played the first set solo and you could hear a pin drop.The second set he was backed up by the Band (then Levon and the Hawks) and they played all the songs from Blonde on Blonde,it was amazing.I have seen him many times since some were good and some left a bit to be desired.The man has left his footprint on music.



Since: Dec 13, 2007
Posted on: August 30, 2009 11:41 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

BRAVO! BRAVO!

All of your posts in here have been great Fans but this one really takes the cake! Very in-depth and informative. And I love the way you are able to give him props even though he is not your personal favorite. That is not a very easy task.

Dylan really is head and shoulders above all other songwriters in my opinion. Sure, he might not have the best singing voice ever but that quality of words thing definitely overcomes any shortcomings in his delivery.

So many of his songs are just pure poetry. And they tell a story at the same time. I have his entire discography on my iPod and he has so many songs that I never get tired of hearing any of his stuff.

Well done Fans. I'm pretty sure our resident Dylan expert - mj - would approve this message!



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 30, 2009 10:00 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

      
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ROBERT ZIMMERMAN   AKA  BOB DYLAN


Let me start by saying that I am not a true Bob Dylan fan. In fact, his concert in 1989 that I attended was so bad that it was the only concert I ever paid full price for and left early. But my respect for Bob Dylan and my acknowledgement that he is easily the most influential single person in rock and roll history. He is a poet of the first degree who is unrivalled as the best in popular music, with Bruce Springsteen being the only other person who even approaches the density of lyrics and the ability to write seemingly endless verses of prose without sounding redundant. For me, being able to set my personal preferences for better singers and harder rockers aside, any discussion of GREATEST AMERICAN SONGWRITER begins and ends with Bob Dylan.

I’m not going to recount the endless number of songs that Dylan wrote and often performed as they have been so assimilated into our society’s lexicon as to be self-evident. Instead I will use a couple examples of just how influential Bob Dylan has been. Beginning his career in earnest in Greenwich Village in January 1961, Dylan CHOSE to be a folk musician at a time when novelty acts and Elvis Presley and surf music were the conventional paths to success. To put this in perspective, folk music in 1961 was what ALT MUSIC is today. The melodies were simple and were mostly provided as a canvas for painting to vivid images provided by his lyrics. What songs are more insightful and more reflect the mindset of a generation than BLOWING IN THE WIND and THE TIMES THEY ARE A’CHANGING? Within a period of three years, Dylan had gone  from a nasly voiced nobody to the most important songwriter on the planet. Dylan is making millions, has total artistic control over his recordings, is being featured in a soon to be released documentary movie and has every reason to be happy and continue down this lovely path.

And the most important headline in music history is written:  DYLAN GOES ELECTRIC!!!!!  The audacity to forsake his following to pursue his musical muse. This has always been a trait in true artists that I truly admire, the ability to leave their comfort zone and success to explore new musical horizons. And if you’re going electric, what style to do it with, basically stealing the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with the amazing Mike Bloomfield on electric guitar. Dylan had played electric songs in his high school bands and was an ardent fan of Buddy Holly, so this was not uncharted water. And he continued to record acoustic songs, even whole sides of albums ala Neil Young to go with his new electric sound, but his concert performances and his attitude towards his fans would change forever. Topping this is the GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL SONG ever, LIKE A ROLLING STONE. In it’s six minute incarnation, this song broke every rule for popular music at the time. It has feelings of abandonment, disillusionment, rebellion, sarcasm, belittlement, contempt and redemption. Who is he talking to or about when he sings HOW DOES IT FEEL???  Himself, society, his audience or perhaps all of them? The snare shot at the start of the song has been compared to a judge slamming his gavel down to call court to order, and Dylan may have felt sure enough of himself  that this is intentional. By now, Dylan was being backed by a group of musicians formerly called the Hawks but better known simply as THE BAND. This is like Neil Young being backed by the BEATLES with no billing. While the Beatles are dominating the American pop charts, no musician is more in demand worldwide and particularly in England than Bob Dylan.

So Dylan goes to England where his trip is chronicled in the documentary DON’T LOOK BACK, a milestone to be featured in a movie as something other than a novelty as the Beatles did in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. The movie is a fascinating watch and shows a side of Dylan that makes you realize just how important he was to pop culture in 1965. Curiously, you see Donovan hanging around incessantly with Dylan throughout his time in England. But most significantly, while only briefly mentioned in the film, Dylan meets and befriends the Beatles, arguably the greatest rock and roll band in history. Music would never be the same, not for the Beatles, not for Dylan, and most importantly, not for the rest of the world. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all urged Dylan to expand his use of melodies in his songs from the simple repetitiveness of his folk form to capitalize on the more exotic boundaries his recent foray into electric music offered. Dylan countered by challenging the Beatles to write more meaningful and insightful lyrics. Without this mutual admiration, we may have been treated to some songs like NORWEIGEN WOOD(WHERE WE HOLD HANDS) and WHY DON’T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH!!!!   Couple the influence that Dylan already had on musicians the world over and add to that the influence that the Beatles had that came from Dylan’s influence, and it’s impossible to find someone who has changed music to a greater degree than Bob Dylan. And keep in mind, we are only six years into a career that has lasted almost 50 years.

I think the true masterpiece of Bob Dylan’s career is the Todd Haynes movie I’.M NOT THERE, in which Dylan is portrayed by six different people, most notably Cate Blanchett playing him during this period while he was in England and meeting the Beatles. I have watched Martin Scorcese’s NO DIRECTION HOME, which covers Dylan from 61 to 66 which actual archival footage and also DON’T LOOK BACK, D.A. Pennybooker’s documentary of Dylan’s trip to England and Blanchett’s performance is erie in it’s depiction of Dylan. But the real genius of the movie is the use of different actors to show the way Dylan compartmentalized the different parts of his life and how even he couldn’t completely control it. Dylan has been a Jew, an agnostic, a born again Christian, and finally just a musical force throughout his life and all these complex personas are represented by someone in the movie. He is the ultimate paradox, seemingly incomprehensibly complex and mind numbingly simple at the same time, a giant in popular society and a mere mortal like every one of us. WHO IS BOB DYLAN???

 Dylan took a break from recording after a motorcycle accident in 1966 and became a virtual recluse making very limited public appearances and a handful of albums compared to the quantity of albums he produced in the 5 years prior to his accident. He experimented with straight up country on NASHVILLE SKYLINE marked by the single LAY LADY LAY, possibly the first popular song his sang that his voice wasn’t instantly recognizable and grating. He made a couple of other middling albums by his standards, but in 1974, his marriage started to break up and resulted in his writing and releasing 1975’s BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, perhaps his most personal album to date filled with songs of love, hate, hurt and bewilderment, most notably TANGLED UP IN BLUE. Dylan resumed touring and has never really stopped since. For two years in the mid 80s, he had Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers as his backup band, then followed that by having the Grateful Dead back him up for a year. Finally, Dylan joined the TRAVELING WILBURYS with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. What a collection of talent. Since the late 80s, Dylan has been on his never ending tour, which continues to this day and is still releasing studio albums of significance.

The catalog of albums, much less songs written by Dylan is staggering, too immense to list here. The musicians influenced by him reads like a roll call for the rock and roll hall of fame. The use of real poetry, stream of consciousness writing, social commentary disguised as songs, protest songs, love songs, introspective songs, all these things owe a great debt to Bob Dylan. Perhaps two songs that best sum up Bob Dylan are songs where the titles seem totally unrelated to the lyrics, MY BACK PAGES with it’s “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” and POSITIVELY 4TH STREET with it’s absolutely caustic lines like “You’ve got a lot of nerve.”  No artist has been so rerecorded by so many others and left such an indelible imprint while retaining their artistic integrity as Bob Dylan. He is far from my favorite songwriter, but in my opinion, he is definitely the most important and the GREATEST AMERICAN SONGWRITER EVER. If you could break lyrics down into a mathematical formula, in a world where most musicians would be better served by saying more with less words, Dylan is the master of the formula:

QUANTITY OF WORDS WRITTEN/ QUALITY OF WORDS WRITTEN/ QUANTITY OF SONGS RECORDED.




Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 28, 2009 4:26 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

The posts on Lightfoot,Neil Diamond and the GD were excellent.Like Rhino said you always learn something.In Canada we hear a lot of Lightfoot obviously.Truely a great songwriter and storey teller.He was also a very close friend of Dylan's in the 60'-70's,Dylan used to stay at his house when he was in Toronto.He had his demons and health problems but seems to have overcome them.
One of my favourite Lightfoot lines was.."you can't hop a jet plain like you can a freight train'..from Early Morning Rain.



Since: Dec 13, 2007
Posted on: August 27, 2009 10:43 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Great stuff about The Dead!
Slump,
Good to have you here. Like Fans, I am only a casual fan of GD and am glad that you gave us a glimpse into the process of their songwriting.
That's why this is my favorite thread of all. You learn something new every day!



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 27, 2009 9:02 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

SLUMP,all I can say is THANK YOU, AGAIN!!!   You give an enlihgtening look into a band of world reknown, THE BEST LIVE SHOW EVER SEEN  by a whole lot af people, and if you really wanted to hear Jerry Garcia, you needed to hear him live and the improvs to know how good a guitarist is was. I've only been to one DEAD concert a longgggg time ago, but i worked for several years with someone who followed them for vacation every summer when they toured the midwest and swore he never saw the same show or heard the songs done the same way twice. To me, this is like writing a new song everytime you play it. Anyway, I really appreciate you participating in my blog so graciously and would love to have your input ANYTIME as, like everybody around here, you obviously do more than just hear something when you listen to music and you get it.


SlumpBuster
Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: August 27, 2009 6:49 pm
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