Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Wish I'd Written That (#20-16)


There are songs all around us. As a songwriter, I've written songs about seeing a girl "sitting on a park bench, stringy hair and buckled knees." I've seen two people walking in the mall wearing Kurt Cobain and Pillsbury Doughboy t-shirts, which yielded the line "If it came down to hanging with Kurt Cobain or the Pillsbury Doughboy, / I'd take the Doughboy every time!" I came up with a melody based on the rythm and intervals of the constantly-churning printer at a "day job" I once had. You get the idea.

Not only are there songs all around us waiting to be written, there are also A LOT of great songs already written. This doesn't prevent me, however, from wishing I'd been the one to write them. These are not necessarily the most popular representations of a specific songwriter or era, just that blend of lyric and music that perfectly captures a mood. (Be warned, that mood for me is most often melancholy.) I don't know if non-songwriters think this way, but I think we can all imagine the joy of being onstage wind-milling across a guitar or twirling a mic stand with thousands of watts of energy around us.

This started as I was driving with my wife on a weekend getaway recently. We were listening to Don Henley's greatest hits, I was thinking during his masterful "Sunset Grill" that I wish I'd written that, then "The Boys of Summer" came on and I said, "Damn! That guy can write a song!" And on it went through "The Heart of the Matter," "End of the Innocence," "Dirty Laundry," the lesser-known but awesome sequel to "Hotel California"--"The Garden of Allah," etc.

So here, without further adieu and in no particular order, are the first five of twenty songs I wish I'd written. Others will be posted in coming days. I hope giving bite sizes will encourage some to check out the songs (some are linked to videos), and maybe even purchase a few. The joys of iTunes.

20) "Boys of Summer"--Don Henley
*(Figured I'd get it out of the way.) Perfectly yet realistically articulates the coming of age of a generation ("Thought I knew what love was.../what did I know?"), but also wonderfully expresses that end of summer romance we all know.

19) "Sweet Baby James"--James Taylor
*JT is one of the best ever, but this one is textbook craftsmanship. If I were teaching a course on songwriting, I would use this to teach about lyric structure. Masterful use of internal rhymes:

There is a young cowboy who lives on the range.
His horse and his cattle are his only companions,
he works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyons,
Waiting for summer, his pastures to change.

Look at that! "range/change, cattle/saddle, companions/canyons" and on it goes, verse after verse of perfection.

18) "Kashmir"--Led Zeppelin
*Talk about capturing a sense of space! In both lyric and music this song transports you to a whole other place. Someone will say "Stairway" or "Whole Lotta Love," but "Kashmir" is the one that most gets to me. Led Zep definitely did their own thing.

17) "Synchronicity II"--The Police
*You've got to be pretty amazing to write a top 40 song based on Jungian psychology. But Sting is always up to the task. This song effortlessly moves between a musically upbeat day in the life of a suburban family ("grandmother screaming at the wall. / We have to shout above the din of our Rice Krispies."), and the haunt of something crawling from the slime of a dark Scottish lake. Synchronicity indeed!

16) "Bittersweet Symphony"--The Verve
*This is a beautiful, haunting mixture of strings, huge production and rock n' roll attitude. Because of industry and band struggles, The Verve had trouble really breaking through. But this song was enough of a statement for a whole career. "'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life. / Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to money then you die... / I'm a million different people from one day to the next, / I can't change my mold, no, no, no..." That's powerful stuff! And the video with the lead singer just walking down the street past people is an equally fine piece of art.

Take time to enjoy and digest. More to come...

5 comments:

Lance said...

I agree Robert, Kashmir is probably Zepplin's greatest triumph, but it's neck and neck with When the Levee Breaks for me. But here's a few songs I really wish I had written.

Sweet and Low- Augustana
This is one of those songs that is forever tied to a moment for me. Early last spring when I was really on the fence about wether moving to TN was the right choice for me, I heard this song for the first time with a group of friends and got that feeling that I was where I needed to be.

Here's a short list of others that really touch me that I wish I could have written.

In Your Atmosphere- John Mayer
Love, Come and Save Me- Right Away! Great Captain
The Alamo is No Place For Dancing- The Scene Aesthetic
Hymn- Karl Ruch
and last but not least
Don't Stop Believing- Journey

Now, I fully expect you to listen to the songs you don't know and get back with me. I will do the same to number one.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Good stuff, Lance. I certainly identify with the power of music to do what "Sweet and Low" did for you. You're right, I've got some listening to do, and I'll get back with you. Also, even if it took The Sopranos to do it, I'm glad "Don't Stop Believing" made a comeback...great tune!

Anonymous said...

I predict that you will not select a song that I do not like.

If I don't like it, it'll just be cause I haven't heard it. Yet.

Bryan

Monty said...

I predict that you won't select a song I'll be able to recognize by title! But, you are whetting my appetite to take one more step toward becoming cultured! Good stuff.

robert c. pelfrey said...

Yes, Bryan has traveled the path for many moons and we share a brotherhood of aural enlightenment.

The four winds rejoice that Monty has taken his first steps onto the path. His red beard frames an enlightened face that is but still a babe in the deep woods of pop-cultural exploration. Walk with us, Montgomery, and you will behold the city of blinding lights. (FYI, "The City of Blinding Lights" is a U2 song...bonus points!)

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