I’ve written songs for as long as I can remember. Not that I’d ever play any of those earliest tunes now. Or even be able to recall how they went. After scoring my first blond Kay acoustic from my older sister’s surfer boyfriend, and struggling to pick out the notes to Norwegian Wood, I soon shifted gears to penning my own Jagger/Richards soaked tunes. I’m sure the way I write and what I write is refracted through the lens of those 6 strings tuned just so. Luckily I’ve been able to learn a few different chords over the years.
Growing up on Long Island I had the most unpopular band in high school. This may have been the result of playing only songs that I wrote, which of course no one recognized, while all the other bands were playing Led Zep and Tull and The Byrds. Oblivious to this failing, I kept writing my own songs. And somewhere there’s a wooden box full of reels of disintegrating 7″ audio tapes. Scary.
Now for some reason I’m in the midst of the most fruitful period in my writing life that I can
remember. Not quite prolific, but songs are coming easily and quickly. Five years ago I thought for a time that I might never write anything worthwhile again. Weird how these things shift and are re-formed and re-invigorated. How does this happen? Beats me.
A LIST of SONGS I LOVE? You mean the ONES at the top of my brain pan THIS WEEK? A concept both absurd and COMPELLING. I’m eager to start my list but NEVER to finish it…
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Pino Donaggio channeled through Dusty Springfield
Eight Men, Four Women, by OV Wright (“found me guilty of loving you”)
One Red Rose That I Mean, by Captain Beefheart et al.
Moaning at Midnight, by Howlin’ Wolf
Molly Malone, traditional. Alive alive o…
Just Another Reason, written by Curtis Mayfield, performed by The Fascinations, recorded by Curtis Mayfield and released on Mayfield Records…
Time, by Tom Waits
Waterloo Sunset, by Ray Davies
If You Need Me, by Wilson Pickett
Someone To Watch Over Me, George and Ira Gershwin
If You Go Away, as sung by Dusty Springfield (when she starts speakin’ French I begin to weep…)
Nearer To You, by Allen Toussaint, as sung by Betty Harris
The Lantern, by Jagger/Richards
Let Me Down Easy, by “King” Curtis Ousley, as sung by Alvin Robinson……and for that matter
Let The Good Times Roll, by Earl “King” Johnson, also sung by Alvin Robinson
Skylark, by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. Aretha’s version is pretty great.
Caroline, No, Wilson/Asher
Days, by Ray Davies
Some notes on the songs I’ve contributed to date:
Ghosts & the Grey
Not my usual gloom and doom. Kate was surprised (pleasantly?) by the cheerful, downright romantic, gist of the lyric. I suppose one reading could have it my own version of Our House, but more familial.
As for the recording, unfortunately it’s all me. When there’s more than just a single voice and a guitar or piano I’d always rather there be other personalities involved. To generate difference and perspective and produce THE UNEXPECTED. But what can ya do. This one’ll serve. I think perhaps a future version might come to life with a small combo all playing live to 2-track. We’ll see. Also it might be a bit slower, this version sometimes seems breakneck. Sometimes not.
Hearts and Diamonds
A rough mix of a song that will end up on a new record we’re in the midst of. An unexpected combination of hasty first take and later re-engineering. Fact is, we recorded this song before I finished writing it. Odd, yes. So the verses were all there but we had kind of a drum placeholder for the chorus. Strangely, the chorus I ended up writing fit exactly into the feel and space of that first take. So there must have been a design already in my head which we followed unconsciously. And as seemingly artificial as the process of recording/finishing the song became, it all fell together right quick in the end and I’m pleased as punch with the outcome.
Something Went Wrong
A different approach to the message in Captain Beefheart’s Space Age Couple. This one more a lament than an admonishment.
Here’s this odd little song about, on the face of it, climbing Mt. Everest. Something I have not done, of course, it’s an insane endeavor, but something I have lately read about, watched about. The most dangerous bit is apparently the descent, the return home. One reaches one’s goal with great effort only to find that now comes the hard part. Heartbreaking, actually.
Sometimes the setting or arrangement of a song makes all the difference in the telling, I think. I tried to get a little bit of the texture of a barely turning music box into it, to mimic the breakdown of the human body, the slowing down of every motion, every step. The vocal is impaired as well but that’s just the common cold….
Your Father Said
Fascinatin’ where a song might lead you. First a bit of melody, a word, and you’re off. But take a left turn rather than a right and you end up someplace else. Your Father Said is the left turn I made when revisiting the seed of a song called And Still. You can search out Laura’s fab version of And Still to hear the right turn, recorded with myself and the Calexico gang for her record Humming By the Flowered Vine. Or, if you’re game, you can listen to my original demo that I played for Laura way back when….And Still (demo version).
What do you say when someone you love loves a song you hate? Well, you speak the truth, usually. But what about if a song you love gets mixed up in your mind with something you hate? Whatever.
Play it loud, please.
Long Story Short
At sea until that snippet of a phrase presented itself (the title), after which it all came tumbling out fast as can be. But I suppose that’s a pretty normal course of events. The melody borrows the first 6 or 7 notes from another song Good Youth (recorded by The Schramms but as yet unreleased) then departs for parts unknown.
Third Time a Charm
Something soulful this time. Piano-driven. Thanks, Ted, for schlepping down from Beantown and playing wonderful things.
You don’t always know all that much about your own songs until you actually perform or record them. Like next time I sing this it’ll be up at least a whole step. A more comfortable place. Ahem.
Thanks to the All-Stars for making it all come together so easy. I really dig David’s mandolin solo that takes us out to the last hook.
I had Holsapple Syndrome after penning this one. Felt like I had lifted something wholesale from some well-known 60′s pop tune….I suppose the arrangement reinforces that impression. No matter.
So damn tired of being beeped and dinged by every machine I encounter. And even more dehumanizing to walk down the street and be bludgeoned with music and sound that is merely extraneous, ancillary, incidental, irrelevant, unpurposed, fashion accessory, sales lure. Certainly not possible to actually pay attention to. Get outta my face, man!
Slip and a Fall
I have tried to condense something of The Magic Mountain down to fill the soup can of the 3 minute song (err….5 minute?) I seem to have left out all the political discussion, but no matter.
And this is yet another languid melancholic waltz. I guess it’s the year of languid melancholy for me. And there are probably more coming.
I’ll try and work on something peppier for next year. Or not.
Time, time, time. We’ll have the time of our lives when the timing is right.
Recorded this when I had a wicked head cold. But there was some quality about the vocal that I liked and couldn’t recapture when my head cleared. So what the hell, leave well enough alone.
Been There, Done That
The lyrics for this grew out of a conversation I had with Andy Taub recently where we were both bemoaning the demise of “old school” recording techniques. Not analog tape vs. Pro Tools or some such frivolity, but how the performances are captured. How people would just all sit down in a room together and play and that would be the record, rather than carefully laying down a rhythm section and then layer after layer of separate instruments and voices. Of course Andy still does a lot of recording that “old” way, mostly for jazz sessions. He suggested I write my song about “What We’ve Lost”.
What have we lost? Well, we may have lost some spark of spontaneity and reality. Musicians playing together in the moment sounds different than those same musicians playing separately at different moments. But the song had it’s own plan I guess, because it ended up being about way more than music and recording, and in fact it turns out that it means exactly the opposite of what those two grumbling old farts meant. Gotta shed your skin once in a while or fade into the undergrowth.
And I think there is a whole beautiful world of music out there that may not have been able to come into existence in that “old school” way. So that’s a plus. But wait…that being said, “old school” isn’t really old, is it? I will always rather go sit in a room with a group of people and play together, generating heat and beauty.