Songwriting. Ever since Buddy Holly became the first major pop/rock artist to write much of his own material (and the first to openly hiccup on his records) it has become the norm for people to write their own songs. Actually, not that many people would admit to being influenced by Buddy Holly any more except maybe Elvis Costello so let’s make that sound cooler and claim that it’s all down to The Beatles.
Anyway, wherever the genesis of this lies, it is true that performers who play other people’s music are likely to be playing on Wednesday nights in spit ‘n’ sawdust establishments whereas “artists” who do their own variation of the ‘choose some chords, sing over the top’ process will be headlining the Omaha Enormodome and making plenty cash.
So when you’re sitting at the bottom of rock’s pyramid you have to address the thorny question of how to write a song of your own – especially if you’re after a shag. Approaching a girl and saying “hey baby, I just played a version of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al on my acoustic guitar at open mic night at The Dog on a String” is not a valid approach. Unless she’s retarded, in which case more less painful than just buying her some Smarties.
So, here are the various methods you can use to write a song:
1: Be a Frigging Genius
If you’re, say, Paul McCartney or Stevie Wonder you can actually compose entire tunes in your head. Macca *dreamt* ‘Yesterday’ , which is pretty fucking insane. I’ve no idea how you’d actually go about doing that unless you just go about doing that. To offer a counterpart, I once saw the faggotty guy with the piercing eyes out of 5ive claiming that he “heard symphonies in my head” so maybe it’s a more common gift than I’m imagining. I wonder if the Berlin Philharmonic have played any of his stuff yet?
Actually – here’s a song writing secret: once you’ve written a couple of tunes, you might actually find yourself creating them in your head – the real trick is getting them down before you forget them. Hence the invention of the dictaphone.
2: Using Other People’s Songs as “Inspiration”
Books of other people’s songs are freely available in most good bookshops. You can normally get a bit of paper with the chords and lyrics written down and strum along thereupon. If you’re too tight to do that, then you can just spend a painstaking hour or two figuring out the chords yourself – playing along with a CD if you’re a bit literal, or working them out through inference if you are all clever and shit. But – when you’re playing along, you might find that the song moves a little bit. Maybe you hit a wrong chord and like the sound of it… or perhaps you stumble over a lyric that changes the feel of the song…
Anyway, if you do it well you’ll get away with your light-tonsilled thievery. George Harrison got away with stealing the opening chord change and lyric to “Something In The Way She Moves” by James Taylor (Harrison’s first line was… er… ‘something in way she moves’) but free love and hippie ideology presumably stopped Taylor from royally sueing his arse. Later on though he was sued for ‘subconsciously’ stealing the Chiffons “He’s So Fine” for My Sweet Lord, so Harrison’s belief in Karma played out pretty well.
Led Zeppelin were always in hot water for nicking stuff. Shriekingly permed frontman Robert Plant would cheerfully lift entire lyrics from old blues songs (something which is a live issue for obsessives), which handily leads us to…
3. The Blues
Ah – the mythical Yggdrasil (look it up – who said you couldn’t learn something from a shitty blog) of popular music. Originally conceived by down-at-heel black folks back in days when things really were black and white and people could only afford minimal equipment such as a 3/4 scale acoustic guitar. Oh, hold on.
Anyway, the blues is the simplest musical format you could choose. Mostly, you only need to know three chords – though just the one will be absolutely dandy in case you’re feeling lethargic. Choosing the blues as a songwriting device also gives you lots of lyrical leeway. You can stick to time-honoured themes such as love, betrayal, death, unemployment, sex, being gay, Napoleon, being alone, owning a dead dog, sperm, your wife leaving you, shagging someone else’s wife, anal sex, the price of chillis and no-one will bat an eyelid.
You’ll also get bonus points for being ‘authentic’ and maybe end up on any Levi’s ad from the 80s.
This has already reached quite a length (fnarr, fnarr) so we’ll look at other songwriting methods in further additions to this post as and when I can be arsed.