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 If so, Bob Dylan is superceded by Woody Guthrie as he was a great influence on Dylan, the Beatles are superceded  by Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones are superceded by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, etc.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: Dec 13, 2007
Posted on: August 14, 2009 5:18 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Plenty of interesting reading!
I enjoyed that Dave Marsh article on Jackson Browne.
I've been a big fan of Marsh's ever since I read his first book on Bruce Springsteen back in '79 called Born To Run. He has since become Bruce's semi-official biographer - writing 3 more books about him since. All very in depth - just like the Jackson Browne article.
I've got a friend who is as obseesed with Browne as I am with Springsteen. I've gone to a couple of Jackson Browne shows with this guy and he really does give a great performance. I like the fact that he doesn't just cater to the casual fan but likes to play a lot of his newer material and deeper cuts on albums.

Joni Mitcheel and carly Simon have been playing in our house ever since we got married 26 years ago. They are by far my wife's 2 favorite artists. I have grown to like both of them very much. They both are very talented songwriters but I tend to enjoy Carly's voice and music much more than Joni.



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 14, 2009 5:02 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

CLEAN, Thanks for your post and for bringing up Laura Nyro. She is an excellent songwwriter and definitely flies below my radar. I stated in the beginning that I tend to be pretty mainstream and would be grateful for people like you and ROCK among others to help me in the areas that I am lacking your knowledge. The singers/songwriters of the STAX/MOTOWN competition is another area that I feel very confident that you are more knowledgeable about than I and would love to see you expound upon a little bit. Having said that, I know that your time is precious and your internet access is a little more limited than mine own, so if you can't do this, I weill try to shortly. I really consider Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Otis Redding great songwriters, but they tend to be a little off my normal beaten path. I also appreciate your even visiting this b;log and leaving a popst behind. It's encouraging to know that people whose opinion I really respect, such as yours, do take the time out to come and read the drivle I lay out here.



Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: August 14, 2009 2:44 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Fans, I liked your listing of the ladies, who sure deserve their due. But I think you could have added a fifth - Laura Nyro. Unlike the other four you mentioned, she was more behind the scenes, and rarely gave live performances. There's a 2 CD set anthology set of hers that I've listened to, and here are of some of her hits that got airplay.

Wedding Bell Blues, Stoned Soul Picnic, Sweet Blindness, Blowing Away, Save the Country - Fifth Dimension
And When I Die - Blood Sweat and Tears
Stoney End - Barbara Streisand
Eli's Coming - 3 Dog Night

 



Since: Apr 15, 2008
Posted on: August 14, 2009 12:06 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

The laughing part is about my memory serving me correctly.  When you are 50+ and married with kids, the irony of this will be all too apparent.  Of course you'll be too old to remember this conversation by then!!!!!
And I really do enjoy talking music theory with you, but the forum for this particular blog is not really the place.
LOL!  And yeah, I may start my own blog to go for more the theory of it and maybe ask for some advice when writing my own songs.

I believe that another great female songwriter from more of the modern era is Michelle Branch.  She has produced some great albums, particularly The Spirit Room and Hotel Paper.



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 14, 2009 10:39 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

      
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p; PLEASE BE SEATED LADIES!!


This is about what I consider to be the four most significant female songwriters.

CARLY SIMON

Carly has had the longest career of this group and is probably the most talented and definitely he most introverted. Her career started in the late 60s with a hit single made with her sister. It continued into her most commercially successful period through the entire decade of the 70s where she made 5 gold record selling albums containing her best known songs. Simon has continued releasing albums and built a very successful career writing movie soundtracks that continued into this present century. I consider Carly Simon to be one of the most personal singer/songwriters of any gender. Perhaps it is the personal nature of these songs that are responsible for her notorious fear of concert performing and her lack of touring support to further her record sales. While I consider her a great songwriter and a personal favorite, her career does not have the depth of the very best songwriters or the influence on others that I deem necessary to make it into a ten best list.

CAROLE KING


King was a very successful songwriter long before she garnered commercial success with the historical album TAPESTRY, one of the best selling albums of all time. She co-wrote many of the biggest hits of the 60s with then husband Gerry Goffin, but they were all recorded by various artists at a time when songwriters themselves received little credit for their craft. King released several other good albums in the 70s, but could never again capture the success of TAPESTRY. She continues to perform benefit concerts to this day and her influence on other songwriters of her gender is too significant to just dismiss her for lack of commercial sales. I have to consider her as a great songwriter, maybe the best female songwriter ever when you include her early compositions made famous by others, but like Carly Simon, she fails to crack my ten best.

STEVIE NICKS


Nicks has had the most commercial success of any of these female songwriters. She is a prolific songwriter, was a profound influence on the success of FLEETWOOD MAC, and has had a long successful solo career as well. While I like much of her work, her best songs seem to be those on which she collaborates with others, be it Lindsey Buckingham while in Fleetwood Mac, or Tom Petty and Don Henley on her biggest hits from BELLA DONNA, her most successful solo album. Again giving her high marks as a gifted singer/songwriter, I consider her to have been influenced by the two singers listed above rather than being truly influential. No disrespect intended, but Stevie Nicks barely breaks into my top 20.

JONI MITCHELL

Joni has had quite a remarkable career going from wild success to total seclusion at various times. She is a talented musician playing piano and a variety of stringed instruments. Her voice has tremendous range, including an ear splitting ability to reach notes in the highest octaves. She is a prolific songwriter of intensely personal songs that truly peer into her sole. This ability to reveal her innermost self forces me to give her credit for artistry, but her eclectic choice of melodic styles and her singing style are confusing and hard to connect with at times. I consider her, as anybody I have the respect to write about in this blog to be a great talent and an important artist, but I can’t put her into my top ten when the spots are so precious and there are so many other artists who are more influential and historically significant. This, as with the other writers in this post is not a slight, merely my opinion and an observation as I have to rank her in the same group of songwriters occupying the 10-20 slots.




Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 14, 2009 9:35 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

      
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I don't really like to do this, but this article on Jackson Browne is so in tune with my feelings that I am going to paste it in here. the article is from the sing365.com website at

by Dave Marsh

It's tempting to say that Jackson Browne has had Bob Dylan's career inside out: He began as the most personal of songwriters and became intensely interested in the politics and society of his times. No one has written more eloquently of love lost and won, the perils and pleasures of the search for it, and few have been better rewarded with critical acclaim and commercial success. Yet, at the height of his fame as a romantic confessional balladeer, Jackson Browne did the absolutely unexpected. Rather than turning his back on the world with its "slow parade of fears," while waiting "to awaken from this dream" and "this feeling that it's later than it seems," he has refused to be "afraid to live the life I sing about in song," and steadily worked to integrate his personal vision, which no artist could abandon, with a vision of humanity and justice.

Yet all the quotes in the paragraph above come not from the years of Browne's direct social activism but from two of the first songs he ever wrote: "Doctor My Eyes" and "These Days." In this way, he is really more like Dylan than unlike him -- and I mean that as the highest of compliment -- in the way that his vision has always been integrated, able to see the world in a teardrop, even if it's trickling down his own face.

It's inevitable to write about Jackson Browne in terms of his lyrics but that's because his sense of language is itself so musical -- the way the lines twist and turn through unlikely metric shapes is one constant of his work from his debut album, Saturate Before Using, through his mid-'90s masterpiece, I'm Alive. The settings he uses range from the near-country rock of the early years, a sound reminiscent of his allies, The Eagles, through the straight-ahead rock'n'roll of The Pretender, Running On Empty, and their late '70s and early '80s successors, his period of greatest popularity, to the more eclectic material, including hints of the Caribbean, on his politicized albums of the mid- through late-'80s.

His records demand attention in a way that most contemporary records do not, and their musical rewards are not always obvious -- Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records famously couldn't hear it at all, even when David Geffen implored him to sign Browne because "there was a fortune to be made." "You start a label," Ahmet said, "you make the fortune." So Geffen started Asylum Records, and he not only made a fortune, his label, with Browne and the Eagles, became the center of California rock in the Seventies.

Although Jackson has written some of the most profound songs of our time -- including all those already mentioned, "Fountain of Sorrow," "For a Dancer," "Late for the Sky," "Lawyers in Love," "Before the Deluge," and more -- it's also inevitable to talk about him in terms of his albums. Unlike almost any other star still recording today -- Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen are probably the most obvious exceptions -- Browne's albums consist of suites of songs, each of which makes a statement that adds up to a greater whole. This sense of the wholeness that emerges from lovingly detailed individual pieces is exactly what links his artistic vision to his political idealism, just as the sense of potential introspective apocalypse that drives early albums like For Everyman and Late for the Sky leads directly to the courage it took to challenge the rightward drift of America's Reagan years, its secret wars in Central America, the entire apparatus of deceit that lies at the core of his culture's everyday public life.


If you look at it this way, the central song of Brown's career may well be "The Pretender," the title track of his 1976 album, The Pretender. It's arguably not the greatest song he's ever written, but it probably gets closer to the core of his vision than any other. And it was the key in his transition from looking at the world through eyes tinged with fear about his own life to the more open embrace of the world he was able to achieve over the next decade.

With someone so identified with the confessional lyric, it's important to note that "The Pretender" is not Jackson Browne, although there's some Jackson Browne in it -- but then, there is probably no one who lived through the '70s in America who could completely deny that within them there's a piece of this character, with his blasted ideals and devotion to the false facade that's all that holds him together psychologically. Jackson really sees The Pretender from a distance, and in a somewhat comical light. (Another problem with being stereotyped as a confessional writer is that your sense of humor sometimes goes right past people.

But who else in his generation has written songs as funny as "Redneck Friend," "Ready or Not," "Rosie," "My Problem is You" and, above all, "Lawyers in Love"?) In its way, "The Pretender" portrays the life and culture Jackson escaped when he left stultifyingly conservative Orange County to go up the road to Hollywood as a teenager: thus the veterans dreaming at the traffic light, the children waiting for the ice cream truck, here in the rockribbed heartland of the American dream "where the ads take aim and lay their claim / To the heart and soul of the spender." For this guy to declare himself a "happy idiot" is to restate what's obvious in every line of the song.

Yet Jackson can't view the scene with contempt. He knows what's missing here -- it's what he's looked for in every song he's written since he blew out of Orange County. It's expressed in the last lines of the final verse: "True love could have been a contender / Are you there? / Say a prayer for the Pretender." He sings this with immense personal passion, as if he can feel the bullshit he thought he had escaped creeping up Highway 101 to take over the sanctuary he and his comrades thought they had created. In fact, his very next record release after "The Pretender" was "Running on Empty" (from the album Running on Empty), which features he and his friends in flight, on 101 and in a dozen other ways: "I look around for the friends I used to turn to pull me through / Looking into their eyes, I see them running too."

These two songs encapsulate the crises that confronted the California soft-rock stars as the '80s developed their sometimes sinister cast and a crass materialism that made the '70s seem like an innocent paradise in contrast. Reagan, and what he represented, transformed the world in which these artists and their music had developed. There was no longer the slack in the system for purely personal work -- something was dying, while something else slouched into existence.

Browne may have tried to be a Hold Out on his 1980 album, but his albums of the mid '80s, Lawyers in Love, Lives in the Balance and World in Motion took on an angry, oppositional cast, best portrayed, perhaps, in the impassioned "Lives in the Balance," though there's a lot to be said for the satirism of "Lawyers" where the Reaganite obsession with Russia is satisfied by the disappearance of the Russian people from the face of the earth. Browne helped organize antinuclear rallies; he visited Nicaragua to help publicize the way the United States was subverting the revolution there, by staging the covert war later known as Contragate.

The albums he made in these years are more mixed in their accomplishments, and had fewer hit singles than Browne's early works, but then that figures: They are about struggle, about lives being torn apart by external forces too great for the greatest inner strength to completely survive. Yet within each of them, Jackson Browne finds a moment of peace and it is always discovered by pausing long enough to acknowledge love: "Tender is the Night" and "For a Rocker" (It was written for James Honeyman-Scott of the Pretenders), "In the Shape of a Heart," "Chasing You Into the Light." From 1989 to 1993, Browne made no albums. When he returned with I'm Alive, the focus had again turned inward, to an exploration of love lost, a direct reflection of his highly publicized (and grievously misreported) breakup with his longtime lover, Daryl Hannah.

Opening with the title track, a declaration of survival wrenched from a heart bereft ("I thought that it would kill me / But I'm alive!" he shouts while standing six inches from the trucks roaring by on 101), yet set to a backbeat with hits of reggae, the album peaks with one of the most beautiful love songs Browne -- or anyone else -- has ever written.

"And the heavens were rolling
Like a wheel on a track
And our sky was unfolding
And it'll never fold back
Sky blue and black"

This is one time Jackson Browne did his words profound justice as a singer -- it's simply a great piece of singing, stark, angry, pained and yet aching more than anything else with love that's proven yet again to be insufficient to hold a life together. The question while this music and the story unfold is not how the singer will survive -- he's already told us that -- but how the listener will keep his composure long enough to hear it through.

Since then, Browne's only album has been Looking East, which revisits much of the same emotional territory as I'm Alive. Yet it also begins to restore a concern with the rest of humanity, as well. It begins "standing in the ocean... at the edge of my country, my back to the sea, looking east... On the edge of my country, I pray for the ones with the least." And it ends with "It Is One," that takes a look at the situation from the vantage point of a man shot into outer space, from where one can see how all things are united but also a lonely man, this time in Africa, who's also shot but this time, shot down into the earth -- gunned down for daring to dream.

"It's not a world of our own choosing / We don't decide where we are born," Browne declares. "This life is a battleground between right and wrong/ One way or another we are torn." The beat is reggae; it feels as if the singer has turned around from the album's beginning, standing now to face the sun. But where he turns his gaze is less important than that he's still singing, still doing his best to tell the truth and chew up the lies, to give us the secrets he's paid so much to learn. To remind us to love. He succeeds. You can feel it in your heart.


END OF ARTICLE


I've seen Jackson Browne in concert several times and he is a multi-talented artist and musician, sometimes spending the entire concert playing piano and sometimes spending the entire concert on guitar. His choioce to write such politicized songs has definitely cost him a lot of potential fanbase, but like a true artist, fanbase is not his ultimate goal, the art of his music and its message is. The article I copied into this post is very insightful and lenghty and in my opinion very accurate in it's assessment of Jackson Browne's career. I can't put him on the same mountain as my four best songwriters but once again, I feel quite comfortable putting him on that first shelf right below them with Seger, Fogarty,and Joel.



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 13, 2009 7:27 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

MUFFIN, proof that self deprecating sarcasm doesn't translate to the written word:  if memory serves me correctly(stop laughing!!!!!   It could happen!!!!)
Hmm.  Maybe I will have to do that soon!  I'm not laughing, music is not something to laugh at.  Unless it's supposed to be funny. The laughing part is about my memory serving me correctly.  When you are 50+ and married with kids, the irony of this will be all too apparent.  Of course you'll be too old to remember this conversation by then!!!!!
And I really do enjoy talking music theory with you, but the forum for this particular blog is not really the place.

RHINO, I thought about mentioning all three of those songs, particularly NEW YORK STATE OF MIND and it's use at the 9/11 tribute along with THE RISING from Bruce, but I thought I had heaped enough praise on Mr. Joel.



Since: Dec 13, 2007
Posted on: August 13, 2009 7:03 pm
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

Well, sorry to disappoint you again Fans but I agree with you about Billy Joel.
I've been a huge fan of his forever. He definitely writes a lot of very interesting songs.
One of the ones that I really like that you didn't mention was You're Only Human (Second Wind). I love the lyrics, the music and heck I even like the backup vocals in that one. I especially like this line from it:

You're not the only one who's made mistakes

But they're the only thing that you can truly call your own

 

He's got a lot of really profound lyrics I think. Another one I like is New York State of Mind. The version he did on the 9/11 Fundraiser Telethon Concert was incredible! Really from the heart at such a difficult time.

And one more that I have to mention is Captain Jack. One of those great story songs with lots of weird, everyday life things going on.

Oh and Rosalinda's Eyes is another one that I have always enjoyed. It's got such a cool upbeat tempo. It just always puts me in a good mood when I hear it.

 

I'm really liking this top 10 list of yours Fans! Not a clunker in the bunch!





Since: Apr 15, 2008
Posted on: August 13, 2009 11:52 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

This is my reply to Fansince on the AM Gold thread.

Thank you MM.   Glad to see you are still visiting. I know it must be like ancient history to you, but still feel free to join in and contribute anytime you like.

It's fun and not like ancient history at all!  Rather, it's talking about music forgotten by most people my age, music that is mostly better than modern stuff.


I particularly like talking music theory with you. Have you considered starting a thread or blog of your own asking for conversation on how to write good songs. I would contribute regularly and I know there are several musician types on WAYLT that might be interested. DaFan is a guitar player that I have talked with before and Sidd is a drummer if memory serves me correctly(stop laughing!!!!!   It could happen!!!!) I know there were others who talked about playing instruments or particpating in bands over there. Just food for thought.

Hmm.  Maybe I will have to do that soon!  I'm not laughing, music is not something to laugh at.  Unless it's supposed to be funny.



Since: Mar 20, 2008
Posted on: August 13, 2009 10:59 am
 

THE ART OF GREAT SONGWRITING FORUM

      
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Like Neil Young, Billy Joel is an artist that has been treated harshly by critics at first only to have the same critics praise his works several years later. Learning to play classical piano at the age of four, Joel is the preeminent keyboardist of the best American songwriters we have discussed so far. His dedication to his musical talents have led to his recording of several classical music albums in the current decade.

Many people think of Billy Joel as the ultimate PIANO MAN, and while this song does indeed show his propensity for writing songs that are vignettes of life filled with amusing characters, I prefer to think of him as rock’s ANGRY YOUNG MAN. Beginning with the top selling THE STRANGER, Joel made a series of great albums that reflected his New York/New Jersey tough guy attitude. 52nd STREET, GLASS HOUSES and THE NYLON CURTAIN were all wildly successful achieving either gold or platinum status but more importantly, they all reflect that attitude in songs like BIG SHOT, YOU MAY BE RIGHT, MY LIFE and MOVING OUT(ANTHONY’S SONG.) Counterposing these songs are ballads like JUST THE WAY YOU ARE, songs filled with imagery like SCENES FROM AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT and ZANZIBAR with it‘s jazz inflected instrumental break, songs that comment on the changing state of the music scene like IT’S STILL ROCK AND ROLL TO ME, to songs on the social struggles of people in the economic downturn in the 80s such as ALLENTOWN and reflections on the Vietnam War with GOODNIGHT SAIGON.  During this period from 1977 to 1984, no other artist at Columbia records sold as many records or received as many Grammy nominations. This period was not only prolific, but Joel was at his artistic best experimenting with guitar driven hard rockers, jazzy shuffles with outstanding piano performances, and slower ballads which were all commercially successful. Joel followed this with a much more introspective album, AN INNOCENT MAN  containing a lot of songs in homage to his soon to be wife, CHRISTIE BRINKLEY. Within a couple of years, Joel became the first American to perform in Russia  since World War II with the live album KOHUEPT. After a down period in his life during which he divorced Brinkley, Joel returned to prominence with RIVER OF DREAMS and was rewarded with several Grammy nominations and awards. Since then, Joel’s career has been marked by his return to his classical roots and the recorded of several classical albums.

With world wide sales of over 100 million records, there is no disputing Joel’s commercial success. Having recorded over 17 albums, Joel; has also proved to be a prolific songwriter. His career spans the early 70s to the present giving him an extended tenure exceeded by only a handful of prominent performers. Joel’s songwriting style of telling stories rather than just consisting of catchy phrases approaches the class of Dylan and Springsteen while his musical prowess on the piano is the equal of the guitar virtuosity of Neil Young. This dual talent forces me to raise my opinion of Billy Joel to a higher state than the 6-10 slot but still a little short of the pinnacle of Mt Rushmore reserved for the most elite songwriters. I put him the same slot as John Fogarty, Bob Seger, and Warren Zevon, just below Tom Petty.



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