I saw a recent SongTown blog post on The Songwriter’s Chord and it was quite interesting and informative, using samples of songs from Paul McCartney and Tracy Chapman, up to Katy Perry. Clay Mills, wearing a pretty cool Italia hat for some reason, goes through the benefits of using these moodier/simpler chords to add dynamics to your songs. I think I intuitively have done this in the past with some variations on chords to have more subdued sounds/tones and this video displays how it just works sometimes.
I can’t embed the video here due to Vimeo privacy settings, so please follow the link to the SongTown post and enjoy the video… and May the Muse be with you and your chords…
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…
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:
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):
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…
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…
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.