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.
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 . . .
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 brighter? Brighter’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…
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 TheLiving 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):
One of my all-time favourites and right up there as one of my favourite Billy Joel songs. American Songwriter recently went behind the songScenes 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…
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)…
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).
Nick Lowe is featured in this Variety article after being honoured with the American Association of Independent Music’s Icon Award. A fascinating read from the Cruel to Be Kind songwriter/producer: a remembrance of Johnny Cash, working with Elvis Costello and the history of What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding…As for that song, Mr. Lowe opines: “The song is a standard. Whenever I hear people do it now it’s almost like I had nothing to do with it!”
Colorado College hosted a symposium this past weekend. I wish I had known about it before, I would have participated as it was open to the public… as per the symposium’s website:
“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” is a scholarly symposium on the music and lyrics of Billy Joel, the consummate singer-songwriter whose compositions translate larger cultural concerns into accessible and compelling musical narratives. In the spirit of Joel’s music, this public musicology conference aims to share academically oriented insights on this popular figure and his output in an accessible and approachable manner.
Thankfully, someone (Pianomanross) recorded the keynote event, which was actually a phone call with Billy Joel himself! Here’s the content of the call with Mr. Joel and it adds a heap of colour to the art and craft of songwriting… enjoy the listen and may the muse be with you…