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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 If so, Bob Dylan is superceded by Woody Guthrie as he was a great influence on Dylan, the Beatles are superceded  by Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones are superceded by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, etc.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 19, 2009 7:38 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

CLEAN, as always thank you for your insightful posts and your ability to fill in the spaces that I am lacking in. Smokey Robinson is/was a great songwriter and someone better versed in the R&B and motown genre than I would have to agree with you. Did you know that TRACKS OF MY TEARS, the biggest hit Smokey and the Miracles ever recorded, was co-written by Stevie Wonder/henry cosby/ smokey robinson. That's why I have such a hard time with songwriters of the early 60s and motown/Stax.  Many of the biggest hits by the most famous performers were written by people behind the scenes who received no credit, such as Neil Sadaka, Carole King, Brian Holland, Smokey Robinson, Booker T Washington, etc. The whole vault of the genre of music is full of great unknown songwriters, just as I encountered when I tried to research country music songwriters. I would put Smokey in my top 20, but I'm sure he deserves a higher ranking than that based on compositions I am not familar with. And I very much like your criteria for judging the worth of many songwriters by how eager other artists were to record their songs.



Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: August 19, 2009 6:27 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Just to add - one way of measuring a songwriter's worth is how many other singers want to cover his/her stuff. I'm not going to go down the list, but I recall quite a few prominent voaclists covering Smokey songs. Linda Ronstadt comes to mind.

The there was that group ABC Band (oh yeah Fans, just youre style - not) that did a song When Smokey Sings



Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: August 19, 2009 6:16 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Hi Fans. I know what you mean about what to do with Ray Charles? No doubt he was one of the most influential musicians and pretty much put soul music on the map, but as a songwriter, it seems most of his big hits were covers: I Can't Stop Loving You, Georgia on My Mind, You Don't Know Me. His originals would include I Got a Woman and What I'd Say. 
If you've ever heard his really early recordings, they were raw, earthy blues. But then the record companies mainstreamed him (can we say whitened him up?) with Modern Sounds and others. But either way you look at it, a true legend.

But do you remember the songwriter whom Bob Dylan (the master himself) called America's greatest poet? It was Smokey Robinson. He had great hits with the Miracles (Tracks of my Tears, Shop Around, Going to a Go-Go, Ooh Baby Baby, Tears of a Clown,). But he penned most of the Temptations greatest hits (My Girl, The Way You Do the Things You Do, Get Ready.
Here are some of others: My Guy, Ain't That Peculiar, The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game, Two Lovers, Don't Mess With Bill. What major contributor he was to the soundtrack of the early 60s.  



Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 19, 2009 4:03 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

I will post more on this topic when i have the time but i would be remiss if a didn't list Lennon and McCartney as the best collaboraters in my opinion.



Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: August 19, 2009 3:48 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

This is a great post.I will start by saying that i was a songwriter and played in a band and have some persoal experience with the topic.
Great song writer's I have known tended to be folksingers fron the 60's and 70's, most of their inspiration for writing comes from personal experiences.I know that mine did, i would play a show and find myself writing songs at 3 in the morning.

Great songwriters evolve as their experiences and musical tastes evolve,everyone is influenced by someone as you said Dylan by Guthrie,but Dylan evolved into a beautiful writer..Forever Young,Sad eyed lady of the lowlands,and Sarah were all introspective looks into his life.

Brian Wilson, forget the Fun,Fun Fun genre also wrote introspective songs the first being In my room which was an early glimpse of his future,later he wrote I just wasn't made for these times,..which probably explained the depression he was going through.A lot of people shrug off the Beach Boys as fluff but in 1970-71 they tried to change that by going to Holland and producing the Holland album,.there were beautiful songs such as California Sage by Mike love and Al Jardine..Leaving this town by Carl Wilson and Only with You by Denis Wilson...who also wrote a beautiful song called Forever. The public wouldn't buy it as it wasn't surf,cars and girls..but they could write.

In my experience the best songs are often found on the albums and not released as singles.

I could write on this topic for the rest of my life i think.

The Byrds are famous for covering Dylan but Gene Clarke wrote nice songs while with the Byrds,the Gosdin Brothers and the Dillards, Feel a whole lot better was covered by Tom Petty.
,
Some of my favourites and i believe the best are Dylan,Brian Wilson,John Sebastien,Neil Youngand Paul Simon.

My criteria for a great song is isimple ..is it timeless..is it catchy,does it say something meaningful.

Anyone can write a song and anything can be recorded but that doesn't mean its great.
I will write more later.





Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 19, 2009 2:48 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

      
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;  I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW


      
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nbsp;     RAY CHARLES

What to do with Ray Charles?  He predates many of the earliest rock stars with the majority of his success being achieved BEFORE the Beatles ever appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and changed popular music forever. He achieved phenomenal success at a time when there were definitely two America’s, one whit and one black, but he was able to bridge that gap and reach people of all colors. His archive of songs and hits are staggering, his creativity was completely in his own control once he achieved real success, and his influences are immeasurable. Piano players throughout popular music have been inspired Ray’s styles and his unique soulful vocals have been imitated by soul singers from Steve Winwood to Van Morrison. Ray Charles’ best talent may have been as an arranger. His use of horns to contrast the sounds of his piano was copied by any band in the 70s that chose to use a saxophone to upgrade their sound, notably Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen. At the peak of his popularity, Charles suddenly switched from the gospel based blues and boogie woogie people were used to by recording MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC, a risky move that was possibly his best recording ever. While his creative productivity dropped off considerably after the mid 60s, his willingness to open new doors for black artists and musicians of every genre are simply too great to be dismissed. Even being in my mid 50s caused me to miss the majority of Ray Charles popular genius, so I wouldn’t expect anyone younger than me to really appreciate just what he overcame to be the success that he was.

      
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bsp;    STEVIE WONDER

A childhood prodigy and a star of Motown in the 60s, Stevie Wonder took control of his career and art after reaching adulthood at 21. He was already a successful recording artist and burgeoning songwriter, but the level of creativity and social relevance that he achieved on albums like TALKING BOOK, INNERVISIONS, and SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE is almost unrivaled. Wonder was first packaged as a Ray Charles clone for obvious reasons and the influences of Ray Charles permeated much of his work. But just as Ray Charles had pioneered piano playing and crossed over from R&B to country, Stevie Wonder broke new ground with his synthesizer playing and recorded songs from ballads like YESTER -ME, YESTER-YOU, YESTERDAY to the futuristic sounds of SUPERSTITION to the socially conscious LIVING FOR THE CITY, to the jazzy SIR DUKE. It’s difficult to find three more artistically great successive albums than those I named earlier. Wonder was such an accomplished musician that he played all of the instruments on several of the songs, a feat unheard of at that time. It’s hard to believe that the same person could write YOU ARE THE SUNSHINE OF MY LIFE and SUPERSTITION and put them on the same album. While it may be more impressive that Ray Charles achieved such crossover success in a segregated America making it possible for Stevie Wonder to achieve his greatness and acceptance by all people, Wonder’s music is edgier and blacker(if I can say that in a politically correct fashion) the Charles’ with its tales of inner city life and struggles. As with Ray Charles, his creativity tapered off substantially after reaching such lofty heights(I mean there’s no need for EBONY & IVORY) but his success, creativity and influences on R&B and popular music are to massive to dismiss.

OK, having said all this, I must confess that this area of music is one I am lacking in. But I’d like to think I’ve paid my respects as gracefully as possible to these two great artists and their immense contributions to rock and roll. While I wouldn’t personally rank either of these artists in my ten best, I’m sure there is a substantial audience out there that would rank them as top five. I recognize that and respect their right to express that opinion. But no matter where you want to rank these two, it is undeniable that the music world would be vastly different without either of them.




Since: Apr 15, 2008
Posted on: August 19, 2009 2:47 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

maybe the reason your judgement on Steve Miller wasn't clouded is that you are more musically astute than you give yourself credit for
Hmm maybe...

I will mention one classical composer, or rather one classical album?  I don't know whether it's appropriate to call it an "album"...Anyways, Gustav Holst's "The Planets" has always been my favorite classical music.  From the loud, violent "Mars" to the quiet, eerie "Neptune" and all of the others in between.  Great stuff.



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 19, 2009 12:38 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

MSU, thanks for your input. Always glad to see new blood in here. You're in the same band as MUFFIN!!!      Sorry about your luck!!    LOL!!!
I agree with much of what you said, particularly about the current state of music in general. And I truly admire the musical chops of jazz players, but I never really got into jazz, although I like the rock fusion groups like Steely Dan and Sting who use jazz musicians. I am a baby boomer in my fifties and a pretty good guitarist. I judge a lot of musicians by how hard it is to play their material. Try playing a Steely Dan song with just a guitar and your voice and make it recognizable. That's the difference betwweeen composing and writing a 12 bar blues song using basic power chords as many bands are prone to do. Also the ability to make a song that is actually simple sound complex is a talent that I admire, ala Neil Young.

MUFFIN, you are welcome to write whatever you want to, though I am sticking mostly with what I know best in my posts which would be considered classic rock by most. I simply don't have the knowledge of jazz musicians to make any real intelligent comments on them. And maybe the reason your judgement on Steve Miller wasn't clouded is that you are more musically astute than you give yourself credit for.



Since: Apr 15, 2008
Posted on: August 19, 2009 10:58 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Hey dude how's it going?  MSUalltheway is my friend (like in real life) and also part of the band I am in.

Angels and Airwaves is one of the modern groups I forgot to mention.  Personally I don't find most of the songs on their debut album, We Don't Need to Whisper, to be that great, but I-Empire, their second and most recent effort, is definitely worth listening to.  The best song in my opinion is Heaven, the last one on the CD.  Good stuff!

MSU also mentioned songwriters outside the rock genre.  I had assumed that we were keeping the blog in the rock genre, but if we aren't, I do have a few comments in the jazz and classical genres that I could write.



Since: Apr 4, 2008
Posted on: August 19, 2009 9:46 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Ok, first off my musical standpoint is likeing a little bit of everything. My favorite band is Angels and Airwaves, their message is about what life would be like in a perfect euphoria, it's really moving, and very out there from main stream. Also Santana of course is porobably one of the greatest musicians of all time (I have almost all of his albums, some of the new stuff is ok, but the old stuff is great). U2 is very good (I'm talking older U2 like 80's and 90's, not the stuff now), and I love Dave Matthews Band because of their unique sond. I also enjoy a lot of classical music and jazz. I believe Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman are the best Jazz writters. For Classical I love Dvorak, Bernstein, and Copland (just to name a few). I'm somewhat dissapointed though with all the new mainstream music (with an exception to a few groups) it's watered down trash (sorry for those who enjoy it) and in my opinion playing power chords and auto tunning, or rapping about whatever they are talking about these days is not music. This is a great thread thanks.


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