Book Review: More Songwriters On Songwriting by Paul Zollo

51o7o-ad4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_For students of songwriting, there’s been an embarrassment of riches on the book front recently – in the last few years we’ve had the groundbreaking ‘Isle Of Noises’, entertaining ‘Complicated Game’, and lengthy autobiographies by the likes of Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, Chrissie Hynde, Neil Young, Brian Wilson and Phil Collins.

And now here comes Paul Zollo’s ‘More Songwriters On Songwriting’, the weighty sequel to his landmark 1991 volume, comprising new, indepth interviews with famous composers from the worlds of pop, rock, country, R’n’B and jazz.

When the book catches fire, tasty anecdotes come thick and fast: Kenny Gamble delivers a powerful statement on his hopes for America’s future; Joe Jackson discusses his love of Duke Ellington and Steely Dan; Bryan Ferry reveals that the lyrics for ‘Avalon’ (the song) were written in no less than four different countries.

Elvis Costello talks about trying (and failing) to collaborate with legendary lyricist Sammy Cahn; Rickie Lee Jones discusses how caring for her sick mother reignited her music mojo; Chrissie Hynde describes in visceral detail how her views on animal rights inform her songwriting.

Ringo talks about how George helped him write ‘Octopus’s Garden’; Dave Stewart recalls the thrill of writing ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ with Annie Lennox in double-quick time; James Taylor waxes lyrical about Paul McCartney; Don McLean reveals the unusual inspiration behind ‘American Pie’.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Zollo always knows the right questions to ask and the conversations flow unpredictably. Highly recommended.

‘More Songwriters On Songwriting’ is published by Da Capo Press.

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Good Lyrics Of The 1980s

Joni_Mitchell_2004It has to be said, it was a bit easier coming up with good ’80s lyrics than it was to come up with crap ones. I could probably have chosen three or four crackers from many of the artists featured below, but space permits only one.

Maybe it’s not surprising that it was a great decade for lyricists when it was surely one of the most ‘literary’ musical decades to date – it would have to be with people like Bob Dylan, Morrissey, Paddy McAloon, Andy Partridge, Green Gartside, Tracey Thorn, Lloyd Cole, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel and Springsteen around.

So here’s just a sprinkling of my favourites from the ’80s. Let me know yours.

I love you/You pay my rent‘.

PET SHOP BOYS: ‘Rent’

An ’80s manifesto?

 

‘If you ever feel the time/To drop me a loving line/Maybe you should just think twice/I don’t wait around on your advice’.

EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL: ‘Each And Every One’

How’s that for a statement to kick off a recording career?

 

I believe in love/I’ll believe in anything/That’s gonna get me what I want/And get me off my knees’.

LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS: ‘Forest Fire’

Less famous than Lloyd’s rhyming of ‘Mailer’ and ‘tailor’, but gains a lot from his passionate singing of the lines.

 

I want you/It’s the stupid details that my heart is breaking for/It’s the way your shoulders shake and what they’re shaking for’.

ELVIS COSTELLO: ‘I Want You’

Anyone who’s ever been in love (or lust) knows exactly what Mr MacManus means.

 

Hey Mikey/Whatever happened to the f***in’ “Duke Of Earl”?’

RANDY NEWMAN: ‘Mikey’s’

A few years before ‘Money For Nothing’, our protagonist is a bit ‘disillusioned’ with the state of modern music…

 

If you had that house, car, bottle, jar/Your lovers would look like movie stars’.

JONI MITCHELL: ‘The Reoccurring Dream’

Nails the rabid ’80s advertising industry pretty succinctly.

 

‘Lost my shape/Trying to act casual/Can’t stop/I might end up in the hospital’.

TALKING HEADS: ‘Crosseyed And Painless’

One of many brilliant David Byrne first-liners.

 

‘Once there was an angel/An angel and some friends/Who flew around from song to song/Making up the ends’.

DANNY WILSON: ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’

What a beautiful way of describing the songwriting process.

 

Burn down the disco/Hang the blessed DJ’.

THE SMITHS: ‘Panic’

One of many from Mr Morrissey, but I just love the fact that he could smuggle this into the charts.

 

‘Now the moon’s gone to hell/And the sun’s riding high/I must bid you farewell/Every man has to die/But it’s written in the starlight/And every line in your palm/We are fools to make war/On our brothers in arms’.

DIRE STRAITS: ‘Brothers In Arms’

Well, it’s a lot better than Culture Club’s ‘War Song’, isn’t it?

 

Out on the road today/I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac/A little voice inside my head said/Don’t look back, you can never look back…’

DON HENLEY: ‘Boys Of Summer’

The ultimate ’80s baby boomer lyric.

 

‘Hello Johnson/Your mother once gave me a lift back from school/There’s no reason to get so excited/I’d been playing football with the youngsters/Johnson says don’t dramatise/And you can’t even spell salacious’.

PREFAB SPROUT: ‘Horsechimes’

If JD Salinger had been born in County Durham…

 

‘I repeat myself when under stress/I repeat myself when under stress/I repeat…’

KING CRIMSON: ‘Indiscipline’

Adrian Belew almost outdoes Byrne in the ‘neurosis’ department.

 

‘Come back Mum and Dad/You’re growing apart/You know that I’m growing up sad/I need some attention/I shoot into the light’.

PETER GABRIEL: ‘Family Snapshot’

The flashback of a political assassin, daring the listener to sympathise, followed by his final, catastrophic action.

 

‘People say that I’m no good/Painting pictures and carving wood/Be a rich man if I could/But the only job I do well is here on the farm/And it’s breaking my back’.

XTC: ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’

What to say to the parents when they tell you to get a ‘real’ job…

 

So long, child/It’s awful dark’.

DAVID BOWIE: ‘When The Wind Blows’

Dickensian dread from the Dame.

 

I could have been someone/Well, so could anyone’.

THE POGUES/KIRSTY MACCOLL: ‘Fairytale Of New York’

The ultimate put-down. Kirsty is much missed.

Crap Lyrics Of The 1980s (Part One)

dynasty_wallpaper_by_mabmeddowsmercuryDuring an interview in 1981, Peter Gabriel said: ‘Many great songs have really appalling lyrics, but no great songs have had appalling music. If you’re going to write lyrics, you might as well make them try and communicate something.’ Sadly, it was a maxim ignored by many of his contemporaries in the ’80s pop pantheon…

But these sad wretches have our sympathies; anyone who’s ever tried to pen a song knows the potential pitfalls. Got a good melody? Great, but you’ve got to sustain the lyrical narrative across the whole song in a cogent way (just ask Coldplay and Keane). Words first? Handy, but it can be very tricky to fit a melody to ‘poetic’ ramblings. Basically, for every ‘Talking Scarlet‘, there’s a ‘With Or Without You’.

So join us as we take a trip through a collection of the sometimes inane, occasionally coarse, often totally meaningless ramblings of the 1980s. And don’t forget – sometimes these lexical disaster-areas didn’t detract from the quality of the song at all. But sometimes they did…

‘Sittin’ on a mountain, looking at the sun
Plastic fantastic lobster telephone’.

THE CULT: ‘Electric’

 

‘Heart of mine, sewing frenzies of steel to the sky
By night, a child in a harvest of virginal mines’.

IT BITES: ‘Midnight’

 

‘This morning there was joy in my heart cos I know that I loved you so
Scrambled eggs are so boring, for you’re all, all that I want to know’.

PRINCE: ‘Life Can Be So Nice’

 

‘She’s got eyes like saucers, oh you think she’s a dish
She is the blue chip that belongs to the big fish’.

ELVIS COSTELLO: ‘Big Sister’s Clothes’

 

‘I know that I must do what’s right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti’.

TOTO: ‘Africa’

 

‘Only time will tell if we can stand the test of time’.

VAN HALEN: ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’

 

‘I’m so bad I can suck my own d*ck’.

LL COOL J: ‘Clap Your Hands’

 

‘Late spring and you’re drifting off to sleep
With your teeth in your mouth’.

REM: ‘You Are The Everything’

 

‘Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts
Look for the purple banana til they put us in the truck’.

PRINCE: ‘Let’s Go Crazy’

 

‘You set my teeth on edge
You think you’re a vegetable, never come out of the fridge
C-c-c-cucumber! C-c-c-cabbage! C-c-c-cauliflower!’

ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: ‘Thorn Of Crowns’

 

‘Where does it go from here
Is it down to the lake I fear
Ay-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya/Ah-ya/Ah-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya’

HAIRCUT ONE HUNDRED: ‘Love Plus One’

 

‘Oh babe
I wanna put my log in your fireplace’.

KISS: ‘Burn Bitch Burn’

 

‘A stripping puppet on a liquid stick gets into it pretty thick
A butterfly drinks a turtle’s tears
But how do you know he really needs it?’

ELVIS COSTELLO: ‘Deep Dark Truthful Mirror’

 

‘Every second counts when I am with you
I think you are a pig, you should be in a zoo’.

NEW ORDER: ‘Every Second Counts’