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It's about the raw material - isn't it?


oldgitplayer

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There are obviously many different approaches to songwriting that can end up with a good song. But the raw material surely needs to have a good title, an interesting or emotive subject, and an original, pleasing vocal melody. Without these, can a good song be achieved?

 

I listen to so much material that sounds accomplished, but its not doing anything for me musically or lyrically. And it always tends to come back to the fact that the concept is weak. The musicianship, the arrangement, and the production are layered over a weak concept - and often the market seems to accept it. (I guess that well known saying: 'Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public' comes into play at every turn)

 

So if you have one, I'd like to hear your opinion on the title premise : It's about the raw material - isn't it?

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I think it was Tom Petty who said, "A song doesn't have to be good to be great".

 

Alternately, how about, "The customer is always right"? It doesn't matter if you don't think a song is strong. Most of us are "pop" songwriters, and the intent of a pop song is to be liked by the "the market"--the listening public. If it does that, then it doesn't matter how good it is.

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I say, yes, if you want a song that will be remembered and stand the test of time, strong lyrics, melody has the best chance of making it bullet proof. But there are a lot of songs that became hugely successful despite lacking in such elements, and usually it comes down to the charisma, style, or popularity of the performer.

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Most of us are "pop" songwriters, and the intent of a pop song is to be liked by the "the market"--the listening public. If it does that, then it doesn't matter how good it is.

 

 

OK - this takes the discussion into the arena of songwriting expediency vs songwriting integrity.

The public like and buy good songs, mediocre songs, and bad songs.

I'm asking about good songs - songs that last and are recorded by numerous artists over the years.

I'll cite one example - 'Something' by George Harrison. It's a good song. If you listen to his demo with voice and acoustic guitar, you can hear its all there in the raw material. It's a strong idea lyrically and musically.

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But there are a lot of songs that became hugely successful despite lacking in such elements, and usually it comes down to the charisma, style, or popularity of the performer.

 

 

You are right of course - but as songwriters generally have no control over charisma, style and popularity, I guess the best avenue to success available to us, is to produce strong raw material that can be augmented by the singer's qualities.

 

A popular singer also needs to be attracted to a song in the first place. And I guess the songwriter has a better chance of a having that happen with strong raw material.

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OK - this takes the discussion into the arena of songwriting expediency vs songwriting integrity.

The public like and buy good songs, mediocre songs, and bad songs.

I'm asking about good songs - songs that last and are recorded by numerous artists over the years.

I'll cite one example - 'Something' by George Harrison. It's a good song. If you listen to his demo with voice and acoustic guitar, you can hear its all there in the raw material. It's a strong idea lyrically and musically.

 

 

This discussion comes up with regularity here. While record sales are an objective measure, "goodness" is not. There are tons of people who have recorded "How Much is that Doggie in the Window", and people still know that song today. Good song? Conversely, there are tons of songs that are buried in songbooks and on albums that, at least to me, seem to have a good melody and a great lyrical idea. "Good Girls Don't" by The Knack fits that bill, and it hasn't been on pop radio in twenty years. "Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)" was the first dance at my wedding, has a beautiful melody, and a strong lyrical concept, and only Tom Waits geeks know it.

 

So, why do we need to quantify what makes a "good" song? Why don't we, as writers, just keep doing our best to make work that we're proud of, and, as listeners, keep digging what we like without dissecting the frog?

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I think I sort of understand. I hear a lot of songs that are impeccably written; the hook is imminently "hookie", the harmonies are all very harmonicle, and the bridge has enough structural integrity as to be used as an evacuation route for a major metropolis in the case of zombie apocalypse. Lyrically the song may contain vivid imagery and even some embedded runic glyphs that, if deciphered, give me "sight beyond sight" (via Thundercats). Still, these songs don't do anything for me.

 

There's got to be something beyond the nuts and bolts of a song to grab my attention. Most of the music that I absolutely love doesn't fit at all into the "proper songwriting" paradigm. There's this unexplainable thing that has to be present. And I don't think it has anything to do solely with songwriting as much as what's being communicated and the person doing the communicating.

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You are right of course - but as songwriters generally have no control over charisma, style and popularity, I guess the best avenue to success available to us, is to produce strong raw material that can be augmented by the singer's qualities.

 

 

I would agree, and I believe that's the approach most songwriters take who aim to get their songs recorded by other artists.

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There are obviously many different approaches to songwriting that can end up with a good song. But the raw material surely needs to have a good title, an interesting or emotive subject, and an original, pleasing vocal melody. Without these, can a good song be achieved?


I listen to so much material that sounds accomplished, but its not doing anything for me musically or lyrically. And it always tends to come back to the fact that the concept is weak. The musicianship, the arrangement, and the production are layered over a weak concept - and often the market seems to accept it. (I guess that well known saying:
'Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public'
comes into play at every turn)


So if you have one, I'd like to hear your opinion on the title premise :
It's about the raw material - isn't it?

I think I know exactly what you mean. When I was active engineering, I heard a lot of perfectly accomplished, nicely polished material that just laid there. You couldn't even figure out why people were bothering to record it.

But I also think I know what Petty meant with the doesn't have to be good to be great comment. (Depending on your definition of great, maybe. I mean great like, say, "Dirty Water" or "Hand on Sloopy." Which, if you think about it too hard, probably isn't too great. (And, of course, most of you under the age of 50 probably don't even know those songs. But they were huge hits in the 60s.)

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Several years ago Recording Magazine had an orchestral piece contest. When it came down to the 10 finalists I remember one judge saying that the production of these tracks we're fantastic. However, he then said "but where's the melody". Out of the ten finalists there were no memorable melodies. All production and no substance.

 

John:cool:

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I've already asked a songwriting buddy here in Adelaide to watch out for a female vocalist who might want to sing on some of our demos. When I heard your voice and the type of material you like, I thought that you would be perfect.


My buddy here is a great musician and player of a similar vintage to me. We both have our strengths and weaknesses so are are currently exploring our potential as a songwriting team. We enjoy improvising together so much that we tend to end up playing for fun and not doing the work.

He toured with numerous big overseas acts visiting Australia back in the early 70's. Acts as big as the Stones - so yes, he has jammed with Mick Taylor. (Keith was a bit out of it at that stage).

 

 

Wow, thanks man! :) I'd be very interested in singing on anything you have to offer whenever or if ever that may eventuate. :) Your buddy sounds impressive...Mick Taylor. Wow. :) :)

 

Adelaide, eh? I actually really like Adelaide. I've only been twice in my life, once when I was 14 and again a few years ago. We stayed in the city, right near Rundle Mall, and saw this singer/songwriter Jane Siberry perform...was an excellent 4 day weekend. It was FREEZING. I want to go back there and explore more...we didn't leave the city. I want to see Glenelg, it looks pretty.

 

Anyway, I natter too. I am the natterer extraordinaire of this wondrous forum. lol

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It's an interesting topic. If you start out with great words and a great melody, you have a better chance of ending up with a great song. Sometimes though it's the arrangement and the delivery that make a song something special. I'm racking my brains trying to come up with a more modern example (as some of the younger crowd might not know this one) but let's take King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man"; lyrically it's pretty silly and pretentious and the melody really doesn't amount to much at all. Try playing it pared down to just chords and melody and it's almost nothing. The way it's delivered though - well, sure it's not to everyone's taste but it works. Some might even call it great - or at least a great example of early prog-rock.

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I am the natterer extraordinaire

 

I am the walrus.:cool:

 

The good songs seem to always start with raw material that flows freely and is easily captured. I also think that a good song can be crafted to be such.

 

But, for me, it has always been those imperfect gems that brought the most personal satisfaction and, as I look back, also met with the most acclaim.:wave:

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I am the hedgehog.

 

I totally agree with the OP. The raw material has to be there. Even if that raw material is just a spark of a feeling. Sometimes I get a feeling and want to get that to come out of a song. Like The La's "There She Goes". That is a feeling. He nailed it for those 3 minutes. Those lyrics aren't really good, but they are great for getting that spark across to the listener.

 

Sometimes the raw material is a fleshed out poetic concept that seems to be hitting it's subject's bullseye. Or a melody that you get against a chord, and you know... I'm taking this ball and running with it.

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