Could we have a page where we discuss and analyze great songs, and why they work?

 
       
 
Jun 11, 2017, 05:28 PM

I posted this on another songwriting forum, and, other than from the 2 moderators, got zilch response.

How can we grow if we don’t study the masters——their tendencies, strategies, even their mistakes?

Here’s what I wrote, followed by a post discussing three great songs which are direct, clear and also don’t modulate much—-to start simply: one blues, one ASM ballad, one Stevie Wonder-Syreeta Wright collaboration:


Would it be possible to have a place in this forum where pro or aspiring writers could discuss and analyze what they consider to be great songs, and why they work?

I was a member of the Songwriter’s Guild and am an ASCAP member. Both (especially the SG) used to have such discussion spaces, and no longer do. I think it would be very useful.

I take my craft seriously, and study the great melodists and lyricists, from Porter, Rodgers/Hammerstein/Hart/Berlin/Sondheim to Lennon-McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Johnny Cash—-etc., etc. Also, I’ve found books by Sheila Davis very helpful, as well as interview books such as They’re Playing Our Song (Wilk), and Songwriters on Songwriting (Zolla, I THINK). Alec Wilder’s American Song is indispensable, though it ends at 1950.

But this is the day of interactive online communication, and this forum is the ideal spot for this.

What say yiz?

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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Jun 11, 2017, 05:30 PM

Here is my take on 3 tunes that succeed, simple ones that don’t modulate much and have simple forms and clear, direct lyrics—-and from different eras and areas of American music. I’m picking St. Louis Blues (W.C.Handy); Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye (Cole Porter); Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer (Stevie Wonder-Syreeta Wright). I will provide lyrics and links for all 3:

St. Louis Blues has roots in Black Vaudeville, and is unusual b/c it adds 8 bars to what would become the standard 12-bar form popularized in Chicago (interestingly, many blues singers felt lyrics differently and extended or shortened the form—-there are many 11 or 13 bar blues). This adds dimension to the story, a more interesting harmony, and IMO gives the tune a theatrical quality. Here’s the 8-bar section, as recorded by Louis Armstrong:

Saint Louis woman wid her diamon’ rings
Pulls dat man ‘roun’ by her apron strings.
‘Twant for powder an’ for store-bought hair,
De man ah love would not gone nowhere, nowhere.

That leads neatly into the 12 bar sections, and interestingly is NOT a verse, but occurs in the body of the song. Here’s the opening, with standard blues changes (the 8-bar section is in the parallel minor key—-also the rhythm changes from a straight swing 4/4 to a Latin-based one):

I hate to see de evenin’ sun go down,
Hate to see de evenin’ sun go down
‘Cause ma baby, she done lef’ dis town.
Feelin’ tomorrow like I feel today,
Feel tomorrow like I feel today,
I’ll pack my trunk, make ma git away.

Handy starts with what became common blues practice of a line stated, then repeated and followed by a ‘punchline’.


More on this tune and blues generally later. They, along with other ethnic (folk) musics, music from the Black Church, Appalachia, theater, Tin Pan Alley and film composers of the golden age (mostly Jewish-American) set the stage for what we have now. They are the plasma of American Music.

Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye gets off to a strong start lyrically:

Ev’ry time——we say goodbye
I die a little…

If that’s not an attention-getter, what is?

Porter, later in the song uses what could be called a ‘composer’s trick’ by changing the harmony with the lyric
(How strange the change from)
Major to MINOR…
By changing the chords from, well, major to (F) minor (he sets this up cleverly earlier by having F minor {in C Major} under the words {I wonder} ‘WHY—-a little’,——setting our ears up for dramatic development, and forging a perfect marriage of harmony, melody and lyric). It may have been an inside joke. He then REVERSES the procedure, having now an F MAJOR under (‘Begin to) SING about it’...

The harmonic structure never leaves the key and rarely deviates from a simple I-II-III, or I-II-bIII, etc. diatonic progression. There is a b3 diminished chord and a II-V set up to the IV chord (F if we are in C Major), but that’s IT. Simplicity was all that was needed and allows us to focus on his poignant lyric:

Ev’ry time we say goodbye
I die a little
Ev’ry time we say goodbye
I wonder why a little

Why the Gods above me
Who must be in the know
Think so little of me
They allow you to go

When you’re near
There’s such an air of spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere
Begin to sing about it

There’s no love song finer
But how strange the change
From major to minor
Ev’ry time we say goodbye

Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer is one of many Stevie Wonder songs using leaving and the much-used seasonal metaphor (Another being the 2nd section of Superwoman: Where Were You When I Needed You (last winter)?

IMO SW did his best lyric writing with ex-wife Syreeta Wright. This one is plain-spoken and makes the point simply, telling the story season by season, and not modulating in the usual sense of changing keys for a B section, but effectively taking the same harmony and moving it a whole step up, from C to D,as the plot develops and wraps up. Here’s the lyric:
(C Major)
I never dreamed you’d leave in summer
I thought you would go then come back home
I thought the cold would leave by summer
But my quiet nights will be spent alone

You said there would be warm love in springtime
That was when you started to be cold
I never dreamed you’d leave in summer
But now I find myself all alone

(D Major)
You said then you’d be the life in autumn
Said you’d be the one to see the way
I never dreamed you’d leave in summer
But now I find my love has gone away

Why didn’t you stay?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJRGynQG2sI (Ev’ry Time—-Ray Charles-Betty Carter)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2TUlUwa3_o (St. Louis Blues—-Louis Armstrong, Velma Middleton)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxPtkwhsaOI (Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer—-Stevie Wonder)
Last edited on Sun Jun 4th, 2017 11:40 pm by fasstrack

[ Edited: 11 June 2017 05:34 PM by joel fass]

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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Jun 12, 2017, 05:18 PM

Nobody? Not 1 comment on ANY tune? From SONGWRITERS?

Guess it’s not a good idea after all. Floated it on another forum and also received nada response.

Oh, well…

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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Jun 12, 2017, 06:33 PM

Now, young fella. You young fellas are always so impatient!

It’s a good topic, a lesson here on the campus of Songwriter101, and I hope not everyone was sleeping. Most don’t say much right away but they’ll come back later with a comment that shows they were awake.

The first Song I did an analysis of was “Something” by George Harrison. It modulates (changes keys for those of us not edumacated regarding music theory) from Key of C I think to Key of A. The effect is dramatic. Frank Sinatra said “Something” was his favorite Lennon-McCartney Song, for which George, who wrote it, was thankful. Incidentally, George said he felt John and Paul didn’t give his Songs the attention they did their own, but then, one day, listening to Paul’s bass on “Something” he concluded that Paul must have gone home and worked on it.

What I learned in my analysis was ‘Structure’. A Song must have enough repetition to supply Structure, and enough ‘Change’ to keep it interesting. I’m told that one of the most common rejection notes by Publishers is, “Not enough contrast between Verse and Chorus.” That contrast would be the ‘Change’ that renews listener interest. The vocal delivery gets more Rhythmic or dynamic or emotionally urgent. That’s generally the Chorus, where the good Songs make the point of what the Verse Lyric has been building up to.

A recent PBS special had a guy analyzing “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and noted that 12 of the 15 Songs (he included “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields”, which management got antsy and released before the album was finished) ...so anyway…12 of the 15 modulate. I had no idea. I’ll have to listen anew and see if my untrained ear can spot those. The effect certainly worked in keeping me listening.

Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” and “Innervisions” are great masterworks, educations in themselves for the studious listener.

I recommend a ‘lesson’ for aspiring Songwriters, even those with an extensive catalog, of analyzing the Structure of 3 or 5 or 10 Songs to see why they work, or why they don’t, in their own opinion. It should be educational in creating one’s own Songs. It should help with the ‘enough’ concept. How much Exposition in a Verse is ‘enough’ before it’s ‘time’ to get on to the Chorus and renew listener interest with that Change? How much repetition? One Verse? Or two, before the Chorus? How many times do they ‘hit’ THE Hook, the title line? Does it strike you as the appropriate title, and is the number of hits on it enough, too much, or not enough.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? http://www.garyeandrews.com

 
     
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Gary E. Andrews Joined Apr 12, 2005
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Jun 12, 2017, 07:05 PM

Thank you for that—-and I freely admit I didn’t write the book on patience.

AND FWIW—-this ‘young fella’ turns 63 next month.

Thank you for THAT…

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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Jun 12, 2017, 07:08 PM

I play Something (on guitar) every day, for tips in Philly. Yeah, that modulation underlines/frames the lyric perfectly. And it holds up even w/o the lyric.

That Sinatra bit always cracked me up…

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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Jun 12, 2017, 10:01 PM

Yes, that was a joke. I visited some of your links and read your stories. I knew you were a man of maturity.

Once a girl came on here, I think it was here, some site, and I got a message from her ‘blessing’ me up and down for not responding. Then I realized there were earlier messages from a few minutes and about an hour earlier. She had posted something, waited about an hour, complained of no response, and waited a few minutes and complained again, deleting the original post in her ire so I had no idea what it had begun with. Funny.

I just wanted to tease you. Folks here are reticent, shy, and many seem to feel they can’t discuss matters intelligently. But you see by views that they are reading, and of necessity, thinking about what they read. So if we get a conversation going it benefits everyone.

Not belabor The Beatles as the ones to study, I remember seeing McCartney say that often he and John would be searching for the Change of dynamics for what they called The Middle Eight, the Chorus or a Bridge, I presume. He said he would strike a chord on the piano as John paced the floor. He’d strike another chord. And another. Finally he’d hit one and John would whirl around and say, “That’s it!” His ear knew the sound when he heard it. So it seems it wasn’t formulaic, or music theory dictate, but some intrinsic cognition that ‘informed’ their arrangements.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? http://www.garyeandrews.com

 
     
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Gary E. Andrews Joined Apr 12, 2005
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Jun 13, 2017, 10:36 AM

‘A man of maturity’ who still does childish things. Don’t ask…

Yeah, (re: the Beatles, etc) the pop world is still largely the province of people who IMO believe that studying music will somehow kill their natural talent. What a self-limiting crock! Frank Zappa wrote the simplest surfer songs (they may have been parodies, b/c of the sneering lyrics) and instrumental music for orchestra, difficult as hell. Knowledge is power, ignorance slavery.

I like a statement Bill Evans made re this stuff:

‘Intuition should LEAD knowledge, but if it’s out there on its own you’re gonna flounder at some point’.

Even jazz world geniuses like Charlie Parker and Wes Montgomery expressed in interviews their frustration with their lack of formal training—-and felt trapped by it. Montgomery couldn’t read notes (nor could his pianist-vibist Buddy, who I played with, or other brother bassist Monk). But the Montgomery brothers had a world of talent—-as the Beatles did—-and, as trumpeter Red Rodney said of Parker:

‘It’s not how you got it, its WHAT you got’.

I think we need both dimensions…

[ Edited: 14 June 2017 05:02 PM by joel fass]

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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Jun 13, 2017, 04:14 PM
joel fass - 12 June 2017 05:18 PM

Nobody? Not 1 comment on ANY tune? From SONGWRITERS?

Guess it’s not a good idea after all. Floated it on another forum and also received nada response.

Oh, well…


Dude! My apologies! I wrote a big, long post on the subject but deleted it as a little too in the weeds. My point was that I appreciate it when others offer up songs I feel no attraction to as a opportunity to learn something, to get to hear what someone else hears, what appeals to THEM in order to expand my own ability to appreciate.

I just couldn’t write it out very well but I DO think it’s a great topic. Just, for me, those 3 did nothing for me, so, hard to discuss appreciation for them.

 
     
Larry Gude Joined May 23, 2017
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Jun 13, 2017, 04:21 PM
Gary E. Andrews - 12 June 2017 06:33 PM

What I learned in my analysis was ‘Structure’. A Song must have enough repetition to supply Structure, and enough ‘Change’ to keep it interesting. I’m told that one of the most common rejection notes by Publishers is, “Not enough contrast between Verse and Chorus.” That contrast would be the ‘Change’ that renews listener interest. The vocal delivery gets more Rhythmic or dynamic or emotionally urgent. That’s generally the Chorus, where the good Songs make the point of what the Verse Lyric has been building up to. .

And that is part of what is fascinating to me! Example I’d throw up is this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V94pBlA4n7U

Simple, repetitive, the verse and chorus are the same thing, exactly other than releasing to the A. Same tempo.
Now, the lyrics are ALL time, killer. But, the song SHOULD be labeled “not enough contrast” but not this one.

I mean, Blue on black just makes me so high. D….....little roll into C, out on G….lather, rinse, repeat. Little tiny bridge at the end of the solo. So sultry, so freaking smooth, the whole thing.

Noah’s voice…so common, in a good way, in blues rock yet so perfect and unique for THIS tune. Kenny Wayne doesn’t even go off, great example of less being more once in awhile.

This song works because it is ALL feel and so minimalist. 3 legs on a stool. That’s all you really need. (THAT’S a song!)

 
     
Larry Gude Joined May 23, 2017
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Jun 13, 2017, 04:24 PM

Oh, and another thing; Blue on black is total bleh without the drums. THAT beat, again, minimalist, is the backbone the whole thing rests on.
When they do it just Noah and KWS, acoustic, it’s not the same song. Not even close. THAT drum line. Man….goose bumps.

 
     
Larry Gude Joined May 23, 2017
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Jun 13, 2017, 04:26 PM

Night falls and I’m alone
Skin, yeah, chilled me to the bone
You turned and you ran, oh yeah
Oh, slipped right from my hand

Hey, blue on black
Tears on a river
Push on a shove
It don’t mean much
Joker on jack
Match on a fire
Cold on ice
A dead man’s touch
Whisper on a scream
Doesn’t change a thing
Don’t bring you back
Blue on black
Oh yeah, blue on black

Blind, oh, now I see
Truth, lies and in between
Wrong, can’t be undone
Oh, slipped from the tip of your tongue

Hey, blue on black
Tears on a river
Push on a shove
It don’t mean much
Joker on jack
Match on a fire
Cold on ice
A dead man’s touch
Whisper on a scream
Doesn’t change a thing
Doesn’t bring you back, yeah
Blue on black
Oh, blue on black
Oh, yeah

Blue on black
Tears on a river
Push on a shove
It don’t mean much
Joker on jack
Match on a fire
Cold on ice
Is a dead man’s touch
Whisper on a scream
Doesn’t change a thing
Don’t bring you back
Blue on black
Oh yeah, blue on black

Hey, blue on black
Tears on a river
Push on a shove


http://lyrics.wikia.com/wiki/Kenny_Wayne_Shepherd:Blue_On_Black


It don’t mean much
Joker on jack
Match on a fire
Cold on ice
It’s a dead man’s touch
Whisper on a scream
Doesn’t change a thing
Doesn’t bring you back
Blue on black
Oh, blue on black
Oh whoa, blue on black
Oh, blue on black

 
     
Larry Gude Joined May 23, 2017
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Jun 14, 2017, 05:00 PM

I’m a little confused: Whose song is Blue on Black?

Also, sorry those songs did nothing for you, Larry. They sure did for thousands of people, and taught me plenty.

But ‘that’s show business’...

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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Jun 14, 2017, 09:35 PM
joel fass - 14 June 2017 05:00 PM

I’m a little confused: Whose song is Blue on Black?

Also, sorry those songs did nothing for you, Larry. They sure did for thousands of people, and taught me plenty.

But ‘that’s show business’...

Hi Joel, I hope to not come off crass or unappreciative. I mean to say that I think I am lesser for it when I don’t ‘get’ a song and I DO enjoy the views of folks who DO get it. I seek for that to broaden my understanding.


Blue and Black is a Kenny Wayne Shepard hit, his biggest, and I was hoping to use it as a counterpoint to more complex songs, like those you listed.

 
     
Larry Gude Joined May 23, 2017
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Jun 15, 2017, 12:07 AM

Quote:  the verse and chorus are the same thing, exactly ??

The Introductory Movement of “Blue On Black” takes about 13 seconds, just ‘enough’ to serve the function.

There is plenty of contrast between the Melody and dynamics of the Verse and the Melody and dynamics of the Chorus.

The slower ‘hit’ of the vocal dynamics on the beat in the Verse is increased in frequency in the Chorus.

The Melody in the Verse is slow, single words/notes, followed by rests, then sustained notes, gliding over the Chords. The Introductory Movement and those four lines take a full minute to execute.

It arrives at the Chorus in about 1:01. To have delayed any further would be to risk monotony that might lose listeners. It’s that judgment call of ‘enough’.

The Chorus is shorter lines, hitting with increased emphasis on the beat of the Chord changes. The ‘B’ alliteration has that percussive effect. The Chorus only requires about 38 seconds to execute.

The harmony voices in the Chorus add contrast to the solo voice in the Verse.

By 1:40 the composition is ready to repeat the Melody and dynamics of the Verse.

That sets up to repeat the Chorus at 2:28, keeping the listener tuned in, attuned, paying attention.

About 3:00 the guitar begins to solo, an instrumental Bridge to sustain interest. To repeat another Verse or Chorus at this point would be ‘too much’ Repetition.

Since there isn’t a clear story there isn’t a need for a third Verse. The solo Bridge extends to 3:57, where the Chorus CAN repeat without risking monotony. Verse, Chorus, repeat Verse, repeat Chorus, Instrumental Bridge/solo, Chorus, Chorus and done at 5:30.

Radio likes them shorter, leaving more room for commercial ads which pay the bills. I wonder how this plays on radio. I remember noticing as Songs got ‘older’ Disc Jockeys would start cutting them down toward the end, talking and fading the music and getting on to the next commercial ad, and the next Song, which kept us listening. Now they ‘can’ a lot of radio so there’s no judgment call on the part of a DJ.

I doubt this is a good cover Song for a lone guitar player, lacking the percussion, lacking the vocal harmonies, lacking interest renewal of the lead guitar to Bridge a space enabling repeat of the Chorus to end.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? http://www.garyeandrews.com

 
     
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Gary E. Andrews Joined Apr 12, 2005
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Jun 15, 2017, 12:41 AM
Larry Gude - 14 June 2017 09:35 PM
joel fass - 14 June 2017 05:00 PM

I’m a little confused: Whose song is Blue on Black?

Also, sorry those songs did nothing for you, Larry. They sure did for thousands of people, and taught me plenty.

But ‘that’s show business’...

Hi Joel, I hope to not come off crass or unappreciative. I mean to say that I think I am lesser for it when I don’t ‘get’ a song and I DO enjoy the views of folks who DO get it. I seek for that to broaden my understanding.


Blue and Black is a Kenny Wayne Shepard hit, his biggest, and I was hoping to use it as a counterpoint to more complex songs, like those you listed.

NP, man—-and thanks…

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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