Blog Entry

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Posted on: August 2, 2009 2:27 pm
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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 If so, Bob Dylan is superceded by Woody Guthrie as he was a great influence on Dylan, the Beatles are superceded  by Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones are superceded by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, etc.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.

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Category: General
Comments

Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 21, 2009 3:48 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

CLEAN, that's pretty much exactly how I felt about Morrison.  I think he is a great wordsmith and a true poet who had Roobie Krieger and Ray Manzarek contributing melodies that were fitted to his poems. The Doors all received a songwriting credit on all their originasl material, though that doesn't necessarily indicate who actually writes the songs. I would have treated Otis Redding the same way except I have seen a couple of specials on STAX records where "Duck" Dunn and Steve Cropper described times when Otis would literally sing to them how he wanted the giutar or the horns and base to sound. I don't envision Morrison as quite having that kind of input, but I wasn't there either. Morrison will fare well whenever we get into collaborators.



Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: August 21, 2009 11:24 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Another from the Gone but Not Forgotten group would be Jim Morrison, but I view of him more as a poet whose songs were set to music. I think a lot of their songs were based on poetry he had written sometime ealier in his life. Morrison might have been the heir of the Alan Ginsberg (Howl) beat poets, especially with The End, Celebration of the Lizard and When the Musics Over. Who knows what would have happened if Morrison lived, but I can't picture him on a PBS special looking fat and partially bald doing Light My Fire. I guess he wrote songs, but its hard to classify him as a songwriter, if you get my drift.



Since: Apr 15, 2008
Posted on: August 21, 2009 11:18 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Great write up Fans!  Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix especially stand out for me.



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 21, 2009 12:05 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

      
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;    GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

In this post, I will try to explore some songwriters who tragically were taken from us at an early age.  I will rank them in the chronological order of their deaths as it is impossible to predict what their true impact might have been had they lived a full live.

      
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p;    BUDDY HOLLY

It is incredible how influential Buddy Holly is considering that his career lasted slightly less than two years. He predates Bob Dylan and was a contemporary of Elvis Presley who did as much as Presley to popularize rock and roll. But unlike Presley, Buddy Holly wrote an amazing catalog of songs and played his own instruments. Holley virtually invented the singer/songwriter as a significant part of the generation that would follow him. He was phenomenally successful in his brief career in the USA, but he was even bigger in England and is a significant influence on the wave of artists that became known as the BRITISH INVASION. Holly pioneered a new creative freedom at a time when the  “disc jockey code” kept songs of social relevance off the airwaves and the three minute barrier was unbreakable if you wanted to have your songs played. Ironically, shortly before his death, Holly had married and moved to Greenwich Village in New York in 1959. Now Holly may have evolved into another Elvis Presley, but had he joined with the blossoming beat movement and folkies that were flocking to Greenwich Village at this very time, he could easily have found himself traveling in the same circles as Bob Dylan, John Sebastion and John Phillips. The marriage of his melodic pop sensibilities with the lyrical explosion that was just beginning is a daunting concept to comprehend. Sadly, we will never know. What we do know is that Holly forever changed the face and sound or early rock and roll and his importance cannot be overestimated. I would rate him as top 5 for impact divided by career length, but the briefness of his career and the uncertainty of how it would have progressed keep him out of my ten best.

      
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p;   OTIS REDDING

Otis Redding was possibly the most massive talent ever to record for STAX. While Otis did not play any musical instruments to speak of, he was still an arranger of the first degree expressing with his voice how he wanted the instruments surrounding him to sound. He wrote songs, both lyrics and melodies in his own head. Redding was a gifted lyricist, a great singer, a performer who refused to be constrained by the customs of the R&B genre he came from. Had he been white and received the exposure due him based on his talents, he would have been substantially more popular than he was in real life. He was a huge hit in Europe while still being sequestered to the black radio stations of America. Most people seeing him at the Monterey Pop festival didn’t even know who he was, but his career took off immediately after that as the growing white rock and roll fan base saw his talent. Sadly, just days after recording DOCK OF THE BAY
And showing a softer and more introspective side that his path seemed to be turning to, Redding was killed in a small plane crash. We can only wonder how successful and influential he would have become. But we can celebrate the genius of the music he left us with. Otis makes my twenty best based on his short, but brilliant career, but as with the others here, his lack of longevity keeps him from the uppermost echelon of songwriters.

      
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JIMI HENDRIX


Like Buddy Holly, it is hard to fathom just how influential and prolific a songwriter Jimi Hendrix was in just four years. Guitar players everywhere have been imitating Jimi ever since he first became a known commodity. His versatility is best shown by his ability to write and release two such different songs as PURPLE HAZE and the WIND CRIES MARY on his debut album. Were it not for his distinctive voice, you would swear that two different people were responsible for these great songs. Hendrix only released three albums while he was alive, but there was an amazing amount of unreleased material that was left behind as well as several albums worth of live recordings. It’s safe to say that Jimi’s influence on the electronic sound of rock and roll music and the explosion of hard rock bands in the 70s owe their existence to the groundwork laid by Hendrix. While each of his three albums released during his life seemed to be a little less impressive than it’s predecessor, perhaps due to Jimi increasing dependence on drugs and his frenetic lifestyle, it’s impossible to predict whether he would have spiraled down a victim of his own excesses or risen to the pinnacle of musical creativity promised by his early music. Certainly his influence on the future of rock and roll is eclipsed by only a handful of artists and his greatness is hard to estimate. Again, as with Buddy Holly, I would rate Hendrix as a top five talent based on what he actually did and his potential, but I can’t rate him with the artists who were lucky enough to survive the 70s with a legacy of decades rather than years.

      
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sp; JIM CROCE

It’s difficult to really assess Jim Croce’s place in rock and roll. He was just starting to achieve real success at the time of his death and his career really took off after his untimely demise. His down to earth, everyman writing style seems to indicate that he may have had a career to rival James Taylor or Paul Simon, but we’ll never know. Was his success truly deserved or a function of his untimely death and its subsequent media coverage?  Croce seemed equally comfortable writing introspective love songs such as OPERATOR  and TIME IN A BOTTLE as he was making party songs like YOU DON’T MESS AROUND WITH JIM and BAD, BAD LEROY BROWN, to harder rocking songs like RAPID ROY THE STOCK CAR BOY. I think he would have been a hybrid version of Jimmy Buffet and  James Taylor, and I mean that in the nicest way. He was never going to be a great social commentator, but he never pretended that he would be. Even had he survived and gone in the direction I predicted for him, I still don’t think I could put him into my top ten and he would probably have been on the fringe of top 25. Still, he was a successful songwriter who wasn’t allowed the time to mature and evolve to a higher state that what we have left to judge him on.

      
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  HARRY CHAPIN


Perhaps the best storyteller of the 70s with his songs that painted scenes as vivid as Van Gogh paintings, Harry Chapin was a wonderfully introspective songwriter unafraid to personalize his stories with the history of his personal life. Musically, his songs are not very challenging nor artistically groundbreaking, but those luscious lyrics are unforgettable. Chapin won awards for children’s songs as well as for best male singer. While Chapin’s death was truly tragic and cut short his career, even had he lived he would be more highly regarded as a poet who happen to sing songs than as a great songwriter. His limited commercial success of songs like TAXI, W.O.L.D., and CAT’S IN THE CRADLE, his biggest hit by far just aren’t enough to elevate him past the top 25 on my list.

      
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sp;  MARVIN GAYE

Marvin Gaye was a very successful Motown singer/songwriter who was unhappy with the constraints of the Motown formula as he was successful using it. He consistently reached the top ten of the R&B charts throughout the 60s both as a solo singer and in duets with Tammi Tyrell. But it was after her death that he achieved true greatness. After taking two years off following her death, Marvin Gaye recorded the album WHAT’S GOING ON, a radical departure from his Motown background that Barry Gordy fought bitterly with him over before finally releasing it. WHAT’S GOING ON with it’s introspective musings on Gaye’s personal life as well as the immense social changes going on in society in the early 70s is considered by many to one of the five best and most important albums ever recorded.  He followed that with another radically different album, LET’S GET IT ON, one of the most sexually provocative albums ever recorded at the time. Popularity wise, it outsold What’s going on to become Motown’s most successful record released up to that date. Gaye’s music had begun to crossover to white audiences and his creative juices were flowing as never before. His next studio album was another success, I WANT YOU which was funkier and more disco inflected than anything he had previously recorded. These albums were all made after Marvin had renegotiated his Motown contract giving him complete artistic control of his recordings. Their success paved the way for others like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to negotiate similar deals and to reach their highest artistic achievements. Marvin released several more albums, some compilations and some live recordings that while very good, were not at the same high level as these three great albums. Gaye moved to Europe for a couple of years as he was getting divorced from his longtime wife, Anna Gordy, sister of Barry Gordy. Sadly, he developed a cocaine problem during  this period and accompanying financial problems. Trying to cope with these demons, Marvin came back to America, moving back into his parents house to try and sort his life out. Unfortunately, he had always had relationship problems with his father, who had beaten him regularly as a child. Tragically, he was shot to death during an argument with his father the day before his 45th birthday. Marvin Gaye was quite successful by many different criteria and who knows where his career would have taken him next. Sand while R&B is a genre that I am sorely lacking knowledge in, I know enough that had Gaye only recorded WHAT”S GOING ON, he would still deserve discussion as a great songwriter.  Couple that with all his other achievements and Marvin Gaye lands just outside my ten best.







Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 20, 2009 8:32 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Lou Reed is a personal favorite of mine, an exceptional guitarist and still making music today. His influence from the VELVET UNDERGROUND is substantial and he has become a good recording producer of others. I would rank him between 25-50 mostly becqause his musical audience is not as substantial as those I rank above him.  He would have been a good entry in my LUNATIC FRINGE post had I remembered him. Another good insight CLEAN.



Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: August 20, 2009 7:56 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Here's someone who started out in the 60s, who you never heard on AM Radio. His songs aren't lolipops and roses, in fact they're often graphically bleak and nihilistic. Now I can't say I know a lot about this guy's body of work, except for the "hits" or the songs that got lots of airplay on FM stations like "Rock and Roll" "Sweet Jane" and "Walk on the Wild Side." Where do you put Lou Reed, who like Neil Young, is still 'cool? 



Since: Apr 15, 2008
Posted on: August 20, 2009 11:12 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

More great posts!  JP, nice to see you around here!  I must agree with your statement that some of the best songs are not the ones released as singles, ones that you only know about if you have the whole album.




Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 20, 2009 10:50 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

I just want to say thank you to everybody who has come to this blog. 95 posts and still going is much better than I had anticpated. I was rereading JPS' and some of the things he said about judging a good song and it reminded me of something that Billy Bob Thorton, who's in the recording business now, said on Bill Maher that I found very profound. Paraphrasing his comment, he said that if you think of artists who have recorded songs that would be considered timeless in fifty years that started after 1980, you'd have a list of R.E.M. and U2 and not many others. If you took that same criteria and applied it to artists that started before 1980, you'd have a phone book. Many people don't realize that Springsteen, The Police, and most of the other great musicians ofd the 80s actually began their careers in the 70s and were influenced by the folkies of the 60s.



Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 20, 2009 12:19 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Thank you very much for your respose,sorry about Lennon and McCartney forgot that we were dealing with American songwriters.
It is a great sight and I will try and post some more,thanks again for the kind comments.



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 19, 2009 8:02 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

JPS, great to see an actual songwriter here!!!!  I see you are a Raider fan. I have been a Raider since they lost the 67 Super Bowl to the Packers, but I've gone underground the last decade or so as they have descended to, well you know where they are. You make excellent points about how many of the great songwriters have their roots in folk music. And your points about Brian Wilson are so valid and he is a great songwriter that I have overlooked so far. PET SOUNDS has to be included in any ten best American albums ever. Gene Clark is one of those behind the scene guys that few people know about but who contributed greatly in the formation of the rock and roll sound of the late 60s and 70s. I am a pretty good musician/guitarist who has written poetry but I lack that creative instinct that good songwriters possess. And while all songwriters borrow from the root influences, it is those that do evolve and grow beyond those influences to create their own style and persona. I so wish I could do this and I have tried, but anything I compose is just derivative of some other song I have already learned to play. Some significant figure in music whose name I can't identify said something to the effect that there were really only five or six different songs ever written and all the others are just offsprings of those.

Regarding Lennon/McCartney, right now I am trying to concentrate on American individual songwriters and excluding Brits and collaborators. As this blog wraps up, I will start a new one for that catagory and they will figure prominantly(although you will see me argue that they were merely sharing songwriting credits and not real collaborators.)

Regarding Brian Wilson, if you would like to contribute something more in depth, please do as I invite people who are more knowledgeable about specific artists than I to contribute whenever possible.  Personally, I think that the discussion of best starts and ends wiuth Bob Dylan even though he is far from my favorite artist. I have deliberately avoided posting something about him so far as a frequenter of the music threads I hang out on is much better qualified to expound on his virtues. Unfortunately, said poster takes breaks from the boards and he hasn't visited since I started this blog. I will compose my own Dylan post before time runs out(right now I plan to continue this blog thru the end of August) though if you consider yourself conversent enough in Dylan, and you sound pretty well informed, feel free to post your own. Again, thanks for your post and kind words. Great to see new blood and opinions here and you're always welcome.


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