Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Shot By Both Sides

I was reading an interesting thing the other day on how to write a hit single (which I obviously then copied out by hand, annotated and tucked away in my homework folder for reference to later on) especially regarding the bit where they talk about the structure of the common-or-garden boy band hit generally being “…verse, chorus, verse chorus, middle eight/bridge, double chorus with a possible key change…” which, as any fule kno, is how it’s supposed to be. I was reminded of this old saw during some online correspondence between myself, Mr Wendell and The Fragrant and Charming La Mulley regarding a get-together at someone’s house in order to do some songing, make a few tentative plans regarding public performances and generally act in private like a latter-day hipster Peter, Paul and Mary (although to be fair, they were pretty hip at the time, and I’m sure it won’t be long before Puff the Magic Dragon is the sound track to the consumption of a thousand skinny mocha lattes out of old marmalade pots in pop-up Wagon Wheel bars - but I digress).
We’ve written together before, the three of us, but this time I thought it might be nice if we just went into something pre-prepared so that we could get straight on with deciding which fret to capo up at and who was going to do the low harmony. ‘Twas then that I remembered the alternate version of Beartown Road. As regular correspondents will know, this was the opening track on Songs from The Blue House’s Tree album and secured our place in the cinematographic pantheon with its appearance in largely forgettable RomCom Coyote County Loser. When SftBH put out a Rarities compilation to help fund the release of our live album last year I was surprised to find that there was a version of the track with a whole, entirely different lyric, sung by Helen. Not only that, but the verses weren’t where the verse should be, the chorus was in a different place too, and as for the middle eight…  

As well as the two-stools-facing school of composition that the various combinations of writers in the band had long employed, we also favoured the bang-it-down-on-a-cassette*-and-hand-it-over-to-play-on-repeat-in-the-car method, by which means we had curated a great deal of the preceding Too album. The tracks Then There Was Sunshine and the award-winning Waste of Angels had clearly been cut from the same cloth and this re-lifed outtake was clearly also a result of the vehicle-bound creation process. Not since the alternate version of Racing in the Streets had turned up on The Promise had I been so astonished that you could take one whole slab of writing or composition and drop it almost seamlessly into something else. I was also intrigued that either I’d completely forgotten about this version's very existence or that I had completely blanked it from my mind – it had effectively been coldly Stalinised. With the forthcoming challenge of completely re-interpreting the song  foremost in my mind I considered how best to avoid what would effectively consist of playing the old version in new pyjamas. After some thought I concluded that this was clearly going to take more than eschewing counting bars in my head and an E flat-creating capo placement. Summoning my offspring and heir from his iPad-related avocation further up the sofa I adopted my best stentorian tone. “Fetch me the bouzouki…”   
*latterly superseded by the compact disc and then MP3. I understand that even as I write those Google guys are working on a literal earworm. Like in Star Trek II.


James Partridge said...

Nice Lipstick' reference. :-)

John Medd said...

And as Mike Batt would tell you, yes, that is the formula to write a hit single. However, dressing up as a mythical character that roams the local common in SW19 shifts more units than any key change/minor chord inversion ever has.