Neil Young – Protest Songwriter

united kingdom   january 01  photo of neil young shot in a warner brothers rented house in chelsea, west london  photo by dick barnattredferns

And staying with Esquire, they also revisited “Ohio” by Neil Young on its 50th anniversary stemming from the Kent State University shooting and death of four anti-war protesters. It still resonates today. It’s an excellent read by Jon Friedman:

Fifty years ago this month, Neil Young changed the trajectory of his career and music history forever—catapulting himself from simple songwriter to iconic protest singer with one song. That song was “Ohio.”

Written and recorded in the aftermath of the massacre of four students on the campus of Kent State University, on May 4, 1970, “Ohio” resonated immediately and became identified as one of the anthems of the anti-Vietnam War movement. It has endured as a masterful, signature piece of political activism as songwriting.

Crosby had shown Young the famous photo of a young woman named Mary Ann Vecchio knelling over a fallen student named Jeffrey Miller during Vietnam War protests on the campus of Kent State University. Miller had been killed by a bullet fired by a member of the Ohio National Guard and the photo ran on the cover of Life magazine. Young saw the song, and as Crosby told Nash, “I saw Neil walk off with his guitar into the woods. And he comes back an hour later with this song.”

Crosby, Stills and Nash were blown away by Young’s burst of inspiration and decided not only to record the song at once, but to release it as quickly as possible, even though the band was making a sizable financial sacrifice in the process.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming

We’re finally on our own

This summer I hear the drumming

Four dead in Ohio

The Muse can strike quickly and make something that resonates 50 years later – kudos to Neil and CSNY and to protest songs… Video below.

35 Years and 45 Artists Ago – We Are The World Revisited

january 28, 2985   hollywood, california, united states the king of pop, michael jackson, has died at the age of 50 jackson suffered a cardiac arrest on june 25, 2009 at his los angeles home  and paramedics were unable to revive him jackson had been due to start a series of comeback concerts in london on july 13 running until march 2010 sam emersonpolaris  quincy jones conducts michael jackson front r and ensemble for the recording of "we are the world" at am studios

Written by Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson 35 years ago, Esquire magazine has published a Ryan D’Agostino article recently: The Inside Story of We Are The World.

This is an interesting look into how the song came together at the close of the American Music Awards earlier that evening. Here’s a snippet with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones discussing the chorus lyrics:

And so with forty-five huge stars due to arrive in an hour to record the song, Jackson was there, laying down the chorus, doing his own backing vocals, and still trying to decide on the words.

“I like ‘you and me,’ ” Jones said.

“’Kay,” Michael said, shifting his weight. “It’s much more soul.”

“Yeah, it’s more soulful. Country.”

Jackson shifted his slight frame from foot to foot.

“Country,” he said in his high voice.

And he sang.

We are the world, we are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving . . .

harry benson

Sheet music signed by the artists

And on that better/brighter note:

The lyrics, as written, read, “We are the ones that make a better day, so let’s start giving . . .”

But a lot of people seemed to be saying brighter instead of better.

Someone asked, “Is it brighter or better?”

“Whichever one feels good,” Richie said. “Better or brighterBrighter’s the one everybody’s leaning to, right?”

Everyone looked at their sheet music. Paul Simon, wearing a blazer over a checkered shirt buttoned to the neck, conferred with Tina Turner and Billy Joel. “Seems like they’re making a change,” he said.

“I think it should be brighter, all the way,” Joel said.

“Me too. It felt like everyone was singing brighter.”

Springsteen was looking at his music. “This is brighter?”

Huey Lewis leaned over his shoulder. “No—better, yeah, that’s gonna be brighter now.”

Springsteen: “Do I ever sing this?”

“No,” Lewis said. “It’s gonna be brighter. [Singing to Springsteen] ‘It’s true, we make a brighter day.’ ”

Wonder seemed to be the lone holdout. “Better has more bite,” he said.

Ah, even the ‘best and brightest’ struggle with a word here or there :). May the Muse stay with them and with us all…

Grammy Winner Gordie Sampson – High School Graduate

Gordie Sampson

Some news out of Nova Scotia reported the (30-years late) high school graduation of Gordie Sampson (keeping with the theme of Nashville Canadian songwriters today). Here’s a quote from the Journal Pioneer article that also includes a video of Gordie celebrating with his fellow 2020 graduates:

Sampson said he’s “honoured” to be getting his diploma 30 years after he left school.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to complete but didn’t get the chance,” he said. 

“I took one night school class after high school with the intent to take another one but when you’re traveling, it’s hard to do it because you can’t make class. It wasn’t very feasible.”

The pandemic, which forced much of the world to shut down, also had positive gain for songwriters, according to Sampson. Because they had no choice but to learn how to virtually write together, he said artists now can easily work together from cities around the world because they know the software to use and how to deal with issues like delays 

The last 10 summers, Sampson has been hosting young, up-and-coming songwriters for his workshop called Songcamp. Held in Ingonish, the artists are teamed up into groups of three, given a coach who is an established recording artist and taught how to co-write. 

Gordie is a very successful songwriter – co-writing tunes for the likes of Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert and winning a Grammy while doing it. And as the quote shows, he has given back to Nova Scotia songwriters with his Songcamp for the past 10 years now. May the Muse stay with Gordie and all his camp attendees/songwriters… Here’s a mini-doc on his Songcamp:

Tenille Townes – The Lemonade Stand

Tenille Townes

Nashville songwriter, and Canada’s own (Grand Prairie, Alberta), Tenille Townes has debuted her first full length album The Lemonade Stand.

Kudos to this fantastic postive, hopeful, inspiring songwriter – she’s conquered Nashville and our hearts with this fantastic, wonderful album. Jus the tonic we need in these times.

Catch her full Rolling Stone interview here (with some excerpts below):

Recorded with producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Ashley McBryde), The Lemonade Stand takes the keenly observational songwriting Townes displayed on her introductory EP The Living Room Worktapes and makes it into something cinematic and epic. “White Horse,” originally a strummy number with acoustic guitar and tambourine, sounds like shimmering indie rock with Joyce’s layered production and Townes’ distinctive voice.

“Every song was such a different adventure as we disappeared in there,” Townes says of the sessions with notorious experimenter Joyce. “It was like, ‘OK, this one needs a little bit of this and we’re going to bring in a band and jam on this song, catch the live vibe. This one, we’re just gonna sit down at the piano.’”

“My goal with this music is that people feel filled up by it,” she says. “I hope they have a little bit more hope in their tank when they finish listening to it.”

I just finished listening to it – it’s a tour de force and look for Tenille to garner some well-deserved awards for this fantastic debut. May the Muse continue to be with Tenille and us all… especially in these difficult times and keep the faith to get through this all. And The Most Beautiful Things that closes out the album follows (lovely piano ballad closer):

SongDoor 2020

SongDoor is open from June 15 to November 15 this year if you want to open this songwriting contest. From the website:

SongDoor is an annual worldwide songwriting competition that’s open to amateurs and professionals, ages 16 and older.

We are here to help you do two things: first, get your music heard by industry pros who have influence and connections. Second, to help you be a better songwriter. We give you 3 FREE songwriting tools ($220 worth) just for entering. No other competition does that because no other competition cares about their writers like we do. Here’s the proof.

We also have the lowest entry fee ($10), by far. That’s about a third of most other contests. It’s been $10 since we started in 2006. Our judges are Grammy®/Emmy/Dove award winners, million-selling writers and music icons. We want to put your best work in front of them and launch a few careers.

Our winners and finalists have gone on to big things. Andrea Speaks (frequent finalist) has cuts under consideration for The Blacklist , Narcos, and others. Juliette Reilly now has 175k subscribers on her YT channel. Debra Gussin (2012) is working with Brian Bell (Weezer) to write songs for The Relationship. We could go on … point is, we’d like to add you to the list.

Good luck to you if you enter and may the Muse be with you…

Behind “Scenes” with Billy Joel

artwork

One of my all-time favourites and right up there as one of my favourite Billy Joel songs. American Songwriter recently went behind the song Scenes from an Italian Restaurant off The Stranger album.

The song is a 3-in-1 mash up that simply works. After reviewing the background of the song, the article looks to Billy’s recounting of the lyric:

“When we were in high school, there were the people we thought who were so cool,” he continued. “I thought, ‘Man, I wish I was that guy. He had the perfect pompadour. He always had great clothes, the coolest shoes. He always went out with the coolest girl, and he was always the most popular guy. Then, I saw him at the 10-year union, and this guy was like a caved in ashtray…”

In piecing together the story, Joel questioned if the songwriting was “too preachy” in tone and soon came up with the “bottle of white” intro, which didn’t feel like a song in and of itself. “It’s a prelude to something,” he noted. He then took a cue from The Beatles’ iconic Abbey Road record, referencing “Golden Slumbers” from side two, specifically. Particular chords and other bits and pieces slowly came together to eventually culminate in one of Joel’s most enduring classics, produced by Phil Ramone.

Kudos to American Songwriter for reviewing this gem and for linking to a 1994 Billy Joel Masterclass given at Princeton that is embedded below that discusses this song. May the Muse stay with Billy, Brenda and Eddie, and you and me in our Italian Restaurant…

95-Year-Old First-Time Songwriter

Vera Coupal of Regina, a 95 year-old woman living in long-term care, turned to songwriting in her nineties and has written 57 songs. She had her song recorded at the facility with a producer, Ryan Hicks, taking his portable studio to her home to record on-site. The CBC reported the story here.

And you can listen to Vera and Ryan in their own voices (with the song) here.

May the Muse stay with Vera…

Fans Turn Into Songwriters

Bob Boilen of All Songs Considered on NPR had a recent interview with Evan Stephens Hall of the band Pinegrove. The band just released its latest album Marigold and had a wonderful experiment before the album’s release – they released the lyrics and guitar tabs in advance of any of their fans actually hearing the album. As a result, many of their fans interpreted the lyrics and tabs and created their own songs. A wonderful experiment!

You can hear the experiment and fan’s interpretations here on the All Songs Considered site or find it with your favourite podcast app.  May the Muse be with you (as it was with these fans)…

Sheryl Crow – A Karmic Truth

Sheryl Crow recently performed at a fantastic Tiny Desk concert and afterward participated in a wonderful interview by Ann Powers, music critic at NPR.  You can find that audio interview and article here.

Ms. Powers covers a particularly poignant part of the interview, in which Ms. Crow is discussing the craft of songwriting today, as follows:

Mentioning a report she’d heard on NPR about how social media has reduced the average attention span, she said “while the kids are all writing fast food — which is super cool ’cause it tastes great, super filling — we’re sort of still writing salmon. We’re the songwriters that are here to tax your attention span.”

I like that – let’s all tax our attention spans and listen to some substantial songs out there (including Sheryl’s new album Threads).

May the Muse continue to be with Sheryl…