Last week we started to detail why songwriting might be the easiest of the arts. Or at least the fastest.
Songwriting: The Easiest Of The Arts (Part 2)
Posted by Charlie Recksieck
Hear Me Out
With no further ado, here is the exciting conclusion.
* * *
Here's another view of how breezy songwriting can be. Elton John has routinely bragged about how fast he can compose (does anybody remember his appearance on "Inside The Actor's Studio" demonstrating this?).
On the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, they knocked out a song per day in this fashion. Lyricist Bernie Taupin would send lyrics in the morning from his country home (via some primitive fax). Elton would noodle with it in the studio for about 30-60 minutes and come up with the structure of the song. The band would run through it several times til they had something. Then around Noon the live track most of the song as best they could. Elton would record his lead vocal around 2 or 3. Then he'd head down to the pub while the band stayed behind and tracked the background vocals. Voila! By 5pm they'd have another classic track. They did this for about 20 straight days and came up with one of the most seminal albums of all time.
Seriously, watch the old VH1 Classic Albums documentary on this on Amazon Prime - It's incredible.
My Own Experience
I myself love the quick route for songs. Some of the best known and enduring Bigfellas songs "Moving Day" and "I Wish That I Were Gay" were each written in about 30 minutes. An hour total of effort has led to bows, compliments and thank yous for the 15 years since.
For years I wanted to write a well-researched magazine article on spec detailing all of the things that man has left on the moon during the Apollo lunar missions. Well, getting an in with magazine publishers, doing research and writing clean, exciting prose is hard. It was a lot easier to just write four dopey verses about space trash in our song "Stuff On The Moon".
Yes, some songs take painstaking songwriting efforts. Spud Davenport and I wrote the end of the world lyrics for "LawnChairs" over a long period of time to solve the lyrical puzzle and internal rhyme scheme. We are finally recording and releasing our faux Beach Boys epic "Senor Amor" next year after years of small steps. Some scraps words for potential songs sit in my notes file for years waiting to be plucked out, just as some of my phone voice memos of melodies and chords are just sitting around.
But almost always, the fastest-written songs are the best. You can't say that about any great novel.
While it’s not accurate to universally label songwriting as "easy", it can be "fast". You really don't need too many words to make up a song, and if you've got a great melody but no words to match it - it's the only form of expression where it's viable to just say "La la la la la"; even great songs do it - consider the chorus of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer."
You don't always have to tell a story. You don't have to have a beginning, middle and end. You can write what you feel, or write from a character's perspective, or you can just string dadaesque words together like Talking Heads or Beck. You can just express an emotion. Look at the words to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff". It's idiotic but the song is great.
Whoever wrote the words "Do the hustle" and "do it" in the Van McCoy and The Association's "The Hustle" actually wrote lyrics to a song. Not impressive on their own but they are lyrics.
Similarly, do you HAVE to have a bunch of chords to make a hit song. Listen to "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson, "Low Rider" by War, "Chain Of Fools" by Aretha Franklin or "Manning Boy" by Muddy Waters. There is nothing going on that you would recognize as great on the sheet music - yet they all sound terrific.