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 If so, Bob Dylan is superceded by Woody Guthrie as he was a great influence on Dylan, the Beatles are superceded  by Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones are superceded by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, etc.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: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 25, 2009 7:33 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

I am hoping to wrap this genre up by this weekend, top compile a list of everyone we've talked about and have a short runoff of everybody's top ten. Then when I wrap up the next genre, I will do the same and so on. I have four different main genre's in mind, American solo songwriters, Foreign, mostly British and Australian solo writers, best collaborator teams any nationality, and the best of the rest who don't fit into one of these, like the DOORS and Pink Floyd and REM where the whole group shares songwriting credits.  Take the ten best from each genre and try top get a final list of ten best songwriters period. At the current rate of a month at a time for eacvh genre, this is pretty ambitious and will take a while. Anyone who wants to contribute an opinion, please do.



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 25, 2009 7:24 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Thanks for the compliments fellows and for taking the time to read my boistrious writing.  I'm still waiting for someone to call me a pompous A$$ or an idiot, but apparently I haven't been offensive enough.

CLEAN, I have been a fan of Vince since the Pure Pratie League days and he can hit those high notes. A couple of the Eagles have that kind of range also although I think Chris Isaak is the closest to Orbison with a baritone singing voice and the ability to jump a couple of octaves without sounding strained.  Stll, I think Orbison is a singular talent and will probably never be matched as singers today have so much production help and tricks while the majority of Orbison's songs were done in one take in mono in a small studio.

JPS, glad to see you here again. I haven't deserted the ALL FRIENDS, just hit a time snag the past week. Regarding Brian Wilson as a producer, I got so wrapped up in the quotes and Pet Sounds that I neglected to elaborate the main point, that he was the producer and arranger for the Beach Boys from 1963 on pretty much. He was as influential on George Martin as he was on the musicians. I danced all around the point and then forgot to make it, that he was the first American and the best to use the production studio as an instrument unto itself and that was vert much a big part of his genius.



Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 25, 2009 6:35 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Great work.This was very well researched, well written and informative .I will only comment on Brian Wilson who as you know I am very familiar with.You have done excellent work in explaining his abilitiy to innovate.One thing that I believe is important to remember is that Brian did not have the benefit of having George Martin produce the Beach Boys.This is not meant as a put down of the Beatles but another point to add to the geniuos that was and is today Brian Wilson.



Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: August 25, 2009 6:28 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Hi Fans, I knew you were due for some new insights. I wanted to say that singer today who most reminds me of the Roy Orbison style is Vince Gill. I mean, that guy really gets up there. You should hear him sing the high notes in Brian Wilson's Surfs Up, which he performed on stage with David Crosby an Jimmy Webb on a Brian Wilson tribute show. 



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 25, 2009 5:29 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

      
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bsp;     WOULDN’T IT BE NICE IF WE WERE OLDER


Then we could understand the great influence of these singer/songwriters predating the Beatles introduction to America. These songwriters are underrated because people under the age of 55-60 missed the most productive periods of these artists’ careers which coincides with the most formative years of early rock and roll. This period from 1955-1965 is what I refer to as the “it” years, where an artist needed a gimmick or some “it” factor to get their records out. Songs like LOVE POTION #9, LITTLE RED HOOD, etc were as popular as surf music and instrumentals. Most songs conformed to the ABACAB formula(A=verse, B=chorus, C=bridge.)  You may recognize this term from the title of a Genesis album, which was their satirical tribute to the term as they probably never recorded a conventional formula song.  Anyway, let’s get to some actual songwriters’

      
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nbsp; CHUCK BERRY

Chuck Berry is quite simply the father of the modern rock song. Nobody else has had a bigger influence on guitarists’ style as Berry with the guitar solo introduction, the twelve bar verse and chorus combination based on the twelve bar blues of Robert Johnson and his contemporaries. His rhyming lyrics about cars, girls and teen and young adult life set a style that was copied by every singer/songwriter of the era including Buddy Holly. Berry is considered one of the ten best guitarists ever in many polls and by many critics. His list of commercial hits is like a list of the most classic rock songs ever recorded and are among the most covered songs ever written. Most of the bands that made up the British Invasion of the mid 60s were Chuck Berry cover bands at some point in time. From MAYBELINE to JOHNNY B. GOODE,  Chuck Berry set the bar for musical higher and higher and crossed  over farther into white American audiences than any other black artist with only Ray Charles coming close to equaling his success at a time when the music industry was almost completely segregated. A quote I lifted from the ALL MUSIC GUIDE SITE reads:

Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none is more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He is its greatest songwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, without him there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor a myriad others. There would be no standard "Chuck Berry guitar intro," the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have been mainstreamed into the now standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. There would be no obsessive wordplay by modern-day tunesmiths; in fact, the whole history (and artistic level) of rock & roll songwriting would have been much poorer without him. Like Brian Wilson said, he wrote "all of the great songs and came up with all the rock & roll beats." Those who do not claim him as a seminal influence or profess a liking for his music and showmanship show their ignorance of rock's development as well as his place as the music's first great creator.


Unfortunately, at the height of his popularity, Berry was embroiled in a lengthy court battle and a two year jail stint during which he released no recordings. When he was released in late 1963, bands like The Rolling Stones and the Beatles were taking over the pop charts from the surf music surge with songs that were based on Chuck Berry’s own songwriting style and even some actual cover songs of Berry’s. This temporarily vaulted Chuck back into the limelight with the hits NO PARTICULAR PLACE TO GO and NADINE, but within a year, he was surpassed by the Stones and The Beatles as they evolved their own songwriting styles like a student who goes on to surpass his teacher. Berry switched record labels and only recorded  a few more studio albums and only had one more hit record, the novelty song MY DING A LING. Rather than concentrating on new recording techniques, Berry chose to tour constantly without a backup band and just performing his old hits.

Springsteen related in the video Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll that Berry did not even give the band a set list and just expected the musicians to follow his lead after each guitar intro. Berry neither spoke to nor thanked the band after the show.

Berry was highlighted in the 1987 film, HAIL, HAIL ROCK AND ROLL where he was backed by a band led by Keith Richards for his 60th birthday, a tribute of Richards respect and love of Berry’s music. Maybe the best summation of Berry’s influence on modern music is this:

Perhaps John Lennon said it best, "If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'."


      
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bsp;      ROY ORBISON

Roy Orbison, besides being one of rock’s pioneers starting his recording history in 1956, may be the greatest singer in rock history. A natural baritone, Orbison’s voice had a range spanning over 3 octaves making his songs sound operatic, a style imitated by many from John Lennon to Bruce Springsteen to Chris Isaak. Orbison first gained popularity with the rockabilly hit OOBY DOOBY, but quickly showed his versatility with ballads and bluesy songs that showcased his vocal talents and guitar skills. During a period of songs that preached macho party fun, cars and surfing, Orbison chose to write songs revealing a tenderness and vulnerability uncommon to his contemporaries. Songs like BLUE BAYOU, DREAM BABY, ONLY THE LONELY, CRYING and PRETTY WOMAN show a variety in style unmatched by others at the time and are highlighted by Orbison’s remarkable voice. Orbison lost popularity after Pretty Woman in 1964 as he lacked the stage presence and good looks of the British invasion bands. After virtually disappearing for two decades, Orbison resurfaced in the mid 80s as a member of the TRAVELING WILBURYS. He was quite influential within the group despite being surrounded by the likes of TOM PETTY, GEORGE HARRISON, JEFF LYNNE and BOB DYLAN, all substantial talents and songwriters who probably idolized Orbison long before becoming famous themselves. Perhaps the best way to describe the high esteem that Roy Orbison was held in by his peers are to quote them.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN referencing his own song THUNDER ROAD:     “I wanted a record with words like Bob Dylan that sounded like Phil Spector - but most of all, I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison. Now everybody knows that no one sings like Roy Orbison.”

BONO on witnessing the recording of the song SHE’S A MYSTERY TO ME:  “I stood beside him and sang with him. He didn't seem to be singing. So I thought, 'He'll sing it the next take. He's just reading the words.' And then we went in to listen to the take, and there was this voice, which was the loudest whisper I've ever heard. He had been singing it. But he hardly moved his lips. And the voice was louder than the band in its own way. I don't know how he did that. It was like sleight of hand.”

Music critic Dave Marsh also wrote that these compositions "define a world unto themselves more completely than any other body of work in pop music"

Bob Dylan marked Orbison as a specific influence, stating that there was nothing like him on radio in the early 1960s: "With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop. [After "Ooby Dooby"] (h)e was now singing his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal... His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, 'Man, I don't believe it'."

      
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nbsp;   BRIAN WILSON

I’ll start this by quoting the opening line of AMG’s bio of Brian Wilson:
  Brian Wilson is arguably the greatest American composer of popular music in the rock era.
Pretty strong statement to back up, but quite believable. Brian Wilson achieved massive popularity by writing some of the most memorable surf music songs ever. He was the primary songwriter for the Beach Boys, but also supplied rivals JAN & DEAN with many of their hits. Many people think that this is his legacy, but in reality Wilson’s genius really shown it’s brightest in 1966 when he stopped touring with The Beach Boys to concentrate on songwriting and production techniques.  After listening to the Beatles RUBBER SOUL album, Wilson responded with PET SOUNDS, essentially a solo album as session musicians played all the instruments and the Beach Boys only provided the harmony vocals. While PET SOUNDS was not their biggest commercial record, it is considered one of the most influential albums ever recorded. To quote some of the most famous people in rock history on PET SOUNDS:

Paul McCartney said:  "It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life ... I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album ... I love the orchestra, the arrangements ... it may be going overboard to say it's the classic of the century ... but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways ... I've often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John [Lennon] so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence ... it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines ... and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines. "God Only Knows" is a big favourite of mine ... very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. On "You Still Believe in Me", I love that melody - that kills me ... that's my favourite, I think ... it's so beautiful right at the end ... comes surging back in these multi-coloured harmonies ... sends shivers up my spine."


Eric Clapton stated that "I consider Pet Sounds to be one of the greatest pop LPs to ever be released. It encompasses everything that's ever knocked me out and rolled it all into one."

Elton John has said of the album, "For me to say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. I had never heard such magical sounds, so amazingly recorded. It undoubtedly changed the way that I, and countless others, approached recording. It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty."


Beatles producer George Martin stated that "Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn't have happened... Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds."


Bob Dylan said of Wilson’s production talents:  “That ear - I mean, Jesus, he’s got to will that to the Smithsonian.”  &nbs
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Then along comes GOOD VIBRATIONS, which was scheduled to be on PET SOUNDS but wasn’t completed in time. Wilson spent the rest of 1966 recording different parts of GOOD VIBRATIONS at various studios and then remixing them on one of the few eight track recorders in the United States. The song itself is a groundbreaking mixtures of harmonies, electronic sounds and movements that are operatic in style.  It was one of the first songs to use the newly invented electro-theremin providing the haunting high pitched instrumental sound that pervades so much of the song. GOOD VIBRATIONS is said to have cost over $50,000 to record, an unprecedented amount at that time. The song featured double tracked vocals, overdubs, and many new production techniques that would strongly influence John Lennon on STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER. It was their biggest selling single to date and broke almost every rule of convention AM success at the time. Taken together with PET SOINDS, it hard to imagine anyone having a greater artistic year than Brian Wilson had in 1966. Tragically, Wilson started to show signs of mental illness at this time and went through several years of misdiagnosis and poor treatments and lost his creative genius. He never again reached this level of brilliance and this untimely turn of events caused most of the post Beatles generation to grossly undervalue Brian Wilson’s contributions to rock history.  Another quote to close this:

David Leaf, author of the critically-acclaimed biography, The Beach Boys and The California Myth, said of the song, "Nothing but perfection here. The Beach Boys' first million-selling #1 hit...was a major technical breakthrough...the record that showed that anything was possible in the studio."


 EPILOGUE : As a 53 year old, I just missed really experiencing these three great artist first hand and am amazed at how great they are in retrospect. Chuck Berry laid the foundation for the basic rock and roll song and exposed more white Americans to black music at a dangerous time to cross that bridge. He is the favorite artist of many of my personal favorite artist. Roy Orbison was a unique talent with the perfect voice to express his innermost vulnerable sides and reveal that true men could be tender, the original meterosexual. Brian Wilson may have been the most brilliant of any of them and who knows what he would have accomplished with the electronic advances that were exploding in recording techniques in the early 70s. These are the true founding fathers of modern music and they cannot be deified enough to the generation that followed them. Rock and roll would not be the same today without the contributions of any one of them.




Since: Dec 13, 2007
Posted on: August 24, 2009 11:46 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Hey mj!
Glad you found it in spite of my poor directions.

Great review of John Hiatt.
Unfortunately I do not own any of his music but I do like what I've heard from him.
He is another one of those artists that I really need to get into my iPod.

And I totally agree with what you said about Joni. She is a poet with an attitude!

Clean,
I really enjoy both Melissa Etheridge and Alanis Morisette. Both are great songwriters who deliver their message in a very pleasing way.
That Jagged Little Pill album by Alanis is still the most bitter collection of songs I've heard on one album!



Since: Oct 15, 2007
Posted on: August 24, 2009 8:08 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

John Hiatt

John Hiatt is one of those artists that is primarily loved and respected by his peers.  His songs have been covered by many artists, Three Dog Night, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, well, the list goes on.

He started out as a song writer and session musician and earned the respect  of musicians and critics alike.  He did not really receive any kind of commercial success until 1988 with the album "Slow Turning", although he did get some play from '87s "Bring The Family".

"Slow Turning" was my introduction to Hiatt (many thanks to my BIL Kevin).  This is a beautiful album in which Hiatt shows his sharp wit, while also baring his soul.  The rocker "Tennessee Plates" is an homage to Elvis, and at the same time an amusing story about a multi-state crime spree.  "Trudy and Dave" is a true redneck "Romeo and Juliet" story.  My favorite song on the album, "Feels Like Rain" is a gorgeuos ballad which oozes the sultry south from every pore.

Hiatt possesses a unique voice which is capable of a wide range, which he uses quite capably, and he is no slouch on guitar, either. 

While I would not put him on my "Mt. Rushmore" of songwriters, he is certainly far up the list. 




On a side note Fans, I have to disagree with you about Joni Mitchell.  While her melodic stylings are eclectic, they are firmly based in jazz, which could be considered the musical definition of eclectic.  I, personally have never had any problem connecting with what she has to say.  It is my belief that her excellent musicianship, and her writing (true poetry, in my opinion), intimidated the many male musicians and critcs in the '70's.  I'm not in any way intimating that there weren't other strong female artists in the '60's and '70's, but she seemed to have a much stronger force about her, an "F" you attitude, if you will.

Anyway, tremendous blog.  I am extremely impressed with your writings, you have put a lot of thought, time and effotrt into your posts, and I really appreciate it.  Props also to Rock, Rhino, Muffin, Clean and everyone else who have contributed.



Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: August 24, 2009 6:59 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

I want to mention two more ladies for more of the current generation - Melissa Etheridge and Alanis Morissette. They certainly are a throwback to the singers-songwriter types, but with more harder-edged material - no Chelsea mornings and ice cream castles in the air. If Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Carole King were the voices most identified with the 60s and early 70s, then Melissa and Alanis certainly put their stamp on the edginess of the 90s.
 



Since: Dec 13, 2007
Posted on: August 23, 2009 11:49 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

After an extremely busy weekend it was nice to be treated to so many wonderful posts in here.
Really fabulous reading!
Fans,
Just where do you find the time to make all of these great, detailed posts?

And I'm glad that Clean touched on Jim Morrison.
Afetr reading the great book "No One Gets Out Of Here Alive" I gained respect and disgust for Morrison at the same time.
Respect for his amazing ability to put words together like no one else ever could.
And disgust for the way he treated his fellow band members - and other people in general.
Still, a true legend in my book who left us way too early.



Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: August 22, 2009 7:54 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Back to the ladies. Here's one who is the country-genre and its easy to laugh her off because she's noted for other things (well, two other things). But Dolly Parton has quite a resume of original songs, one of which I put in karaoke hell (I Will Always Love You). Anyway, she wrote a lot of her hits, so within her genre she certainly is tops, so to speak.


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