Archive for the ‘Song Reviews’ Category

This kind of thing is ALWAYS going in my head.

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

You know what’s been bugging me the last day or so? The opening lines to “The Way You Love Me” by Keith Follese & Michael Dulaney:

If I could grant
You one wish
I’d wish you could see the way you kiss

See it? See what I mean? If I’m going to grant you a wish, what does it matter what I’d wish?

Sorry. Little things like that in songs really grate on me.

The 100 Biggest Top 100 Hits

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

From Mi2N, the Music Industry News Network comes this release. Wondering how it was determined?

The list was compiled by Cashbox chart archivist Randy Price using a progressive inverse point system applied to the positions each record held on the weekly Top 100 charts. In addition, a compensation factor was calculated for each year to allow for more-meaningful comparisons among the chart performances of records from the earlier decades and those from more-recent years, when the average stay on the chart was much longer. Records that had two or more separate chart runs are ranked based on their combined point totals.

The first song from the ’90s that shows up is this:

4. END OF THE ROAD - Boyz II Men (Motown) - 1992

Really? Yikes.

The first one from the ’80s?

12. ENDLESS LOVE - Diana Ross & Lionel Richie (Motown) - 1981

Why do hit songs always seem so embarrassing in retrospect?

Thanks, Josh Ritter, for getting me ready for Monday

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Monday is the anniversary of my dad’s death, again. It was a reflective time for me last year and it’s looking like it will be the same this year.

I can tell because last night we went to see Josh Ritter (whom Jae has been talking about for years but I’m just catching up). There was a song he played with lyrics that said “tell me I got here at the right time” and it was bittersweet and melancholy and painted a picture of loving someone through illness, and it got me thinking about the process of caring for my dad while he was sick and the acceptance I had to come to about the possibility that in one of my trips back to Nashville, I would not be there when he died. And that’s basically how it worked out in the end — Karsten and I had just made it back to Chicago that evening and decided not to go by my parents’ house until the next morning since it was already pretty late. And my dad died that night.

Sometimes the loss hurts more because I know I could have seen him alive one more time, but more often I know I was there at the right times all the previous times.

Anyway, it’s funny how once you’re reminded of something difficult, you can see connections in the loosest ways. So all through the rest of Josh Ritter’s set, I was primed to reflect on all kinds of loss, but especially my dad. And then he played “Kathleen,” which is one of the few songs of his I knew before last night, and I like it but it’s a tough one for me, because it so heavily references the Irish standard “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and that’s one of the songs my dad used to sing when he was a nightclub performer and is the source of my name. Of course, Ritter’s song goes off in a different direction, but I think if you carry the connection over and think about his song in the context of its heritage, it makes his song even more intriguing. The Irish song is a plea to that song’s Kathleen to hold out hope in the narrator, to recognize that he sees she is unhappy and that he can once again bring her the happiness that she has lost. The Ritter song is a plea to its Kathleen to place some hope in the narrator, to recognize that he appreciates her and can see her clearly and can make her happy even if it’s just for one night. Each song is a kind of begging, but from nearly opposite ends of the lifecycle of a relationship — and, you could even say, nearly opposite ends of life itself.

Anyway, I thought about that while he was playing the song, but I was also just washed away in grief every time I heard the line “I’ll be the one to drive you home, Kathleen.”

And yet I walked away from the show feeling hopeful, and creatively inspired. I think there’s another post about that I need to write, because there are other factors at work there, but I definitely took away ideas from listening to Ritter’s brutal and beautiful honesty, and I intend to use them.

Purity vs. technique in songwriting

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Mark at This Guy Falls Down has some musings on songwriting and his “songwriting hacks” series (which can be found by riffling through the Creative Process category on his blog archives).

I just don’t think participating in the creative process is an area where you can find a clever workaround. The creative process is not one to be manipulated. I guess it works, if all you want to do is be a “hack”.

Now, I have a lot of respect for Mark, but hey, I’m willing to go toe-to-toe with a Grammy winner. Because I do think there are ways to manipulate the creative process, and I don’t think it necessarily makes the creator a “hack.”

Besides, most of what Mark wrote about in the “hacks” series weren’t manipulations to the songwriting process, but guidelines to make the process easier. Saying that you should read good material to be able to write well is hardly a controversial idea, as writing advice goes. Saying that you should work on one song at a time is a matter of preference and experience (I don’t write as well unless I can flit back and forth between multiple songs in progress). Of course, Mark did say at the beginning of the series that he was taking liberties with the word “hack” anyway:

I’m hoping to share some advice I’ve picked up along the way as a musician, particularly as it pertains to songwriting. I call this advice “hacks”, even though that’s probably not the proper use of the term, simply because we’re on the Internet here and it seems appropriate.

But I guess I’m arguing that you could talk about songwriting “hacks” in a way that’s closer to the “clever or elegant solution to a difficult problem” meaning of the word. I’ve even talked about some of those kinds of things here over the years. There are scads of books written about songwriting technique, and some of them get awfully clever with the difficult problems they tackle.

Creativity is a fickle mistress. Taking a purist approach to songwriting and letting raw emotion drip from your pen is usually the best way to get to the heart of a feeling or an experience. That’s the art of it. But once you have the raw material, there are definitely tricks and techniques that comprise the craft of songwriting, and knowing a little of Mark’s music, I know that he’s very capable with those tools and techniques. And I’m pretty firm about advocating that craft in creativity is nothing to be ashamed of.

I also think it’s very natural to go through phases where we vacillate from a more purist approach to a more crafted approach to creating. As long as we keep creating, the balance seems to restore itself eventually.

Prosody and God’s Will

Sunday, January 2nd, 2005

Something about that Martina McBride song “God’s Will” (written by Tom Douglas and Barry Dean) gives me chills, but it’s not the lyrics, interestingly enough. I find the lyrical story a bit of a turnoff, actually, since I’m not a believer. But that chorus melody and the cadence and internal rhyme resulting from the repetition of words like: “I’ve been searchin’, wonderin’, thinkin’, lost and lookin’ all my life” and “I’ve been wounded, jaded, loved and hated, I’ve wrestled wrong and right” — it just gets to me. I love well-placed prosody, and I love me some good-sounding words, even if what they mean as a whole doesn’t grab me.

Edit: the very end of the audio clip on Amazon.com has the very beginning of the section I’m talking about.

Lighten up!

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

How very amusing. I was trying to find information on when The Mattoid will be playing anywhere in town next, and I stumbled across this review of the “Hello” CD, which starts with the heading “Definitely Not Lionel Richie” and concludes with a question: is it a joke or isn’t it?

Um… hello?

What must be said about my experiences with The Mattoid is that, like perhaps a fair few Nashvillians, I first heard The Mattoid perform when he was using the name Urban Peasant and he played the open mic at the Bluebird Cafe.

Did you catch that? He was playing the Open Mic. At the Bluebird Cafe. Get it?

The Bluebird! Billed as “the legendary Bluebird Cafe.” Where all kinds of famous country singers have played. Where the biggest songwriters in town play every night.

Karsten and I were practically on our feet for his performance, it was so hilariously absurd and out-of-context. Meanwhile, the folks at the tables near ours were unrepentantly holding their mouths agape. Literally — jaws hanging wide open.

It was great. Performance art at its finest.

We’ve gone to see The Mattoid a few times since then, and he puts on a great show. If you don’t take it too seriously, you might just laugh out loud during the performance. And — hello! — that just might be the point.

Come Pick Me Up

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004

Every time I see that meme with all the “would you… go out with me? let me kiss you? etc” questions and how it ends with “would you come pick me up at 3 AM…”, I get an earworm of the Ryan Adams’ song “Come Pick Me Up.” I love that song, but with that simple melody repeating so many times through the chorus, it’s a damn sticky earworm.

Come pick me up
Take me out
Fuck me up
Steal my records
Screw all my friends
They’re all full of shit
With a smile on your face
And then do it again
I wish you would

Lessons in great songwriting

Saturday, July 24th, 2004
“Everybody always laughs at love
but what they want is to be proven wrong”
- Allen/Hall/Oates, “Did It in a Minute”

It isn’t just that this is a great lyric (though I certainly think it is). It’s the way they wrote the prechorus/build melody to go with it: drawn-out, punctuated, really driving home the meaning by making the listener wait for it. That must have been one hell of a cowriting session. I would love to have been a fly on the wall.

It’s tougher, in some ways, to write lyrics in a void. Sure, I always have a working melody while I’m writing lyrics, but it rarely ends up being anything like the melody we end up using for the song (thank goodness). Something like the Hall & Oates example above would be nearly impossible to achieve in the kind of writing arrangement we primarily use.

But there are advantages to our arrangement, of course: I’m unconstrained by any existing melody as I write the lyrics, which leaves me limitless room to move and turn around, change my mind, scrap whole sections, and invent new structures. Of course, when I do the latter, as I recently did, I make it very challenging for Karsten. But hey, that’s what he’s good at, so I’m comfortable leaving that to him.

And we do the real-time co-writing thing every once in a while. Enough to remind us that it’s not the way we prefer to work. I think we learn a lot from each other and from the experience whenever we do, and I hope we never stop doing it, but I never plan for it to be more than an occasional change of pace.

So perhaps the greatness of the above example of collaboration will forever elude us. Or maybe we’ll find our own ways to attain greatness. Maybe we’re already finding them, and they just need enough repetition to produce quality results. To paraphrase the line, everybody always laughs at Hall & Oates, but what they forget is the 6 #1 singles, more than a dozen top 40 singles, and 19 gold and platinum albums. I’d like to be that laughable.