Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Hit Factory

During a discussion around the art of songwriting (or craft, or pastime, or however it is you prefer to refer) at The Blue House last night, we were trying to come up with a suitable simile for the process and preferably one which didn’t involve ‘evacuation’. After a tiresome day – the highlight of which had been an innuendo-strewn thread on her Facebook page regarding how much work she had to do – I had asked if anyone wanted to try and get a song together and so Mr. Wendell, Helen and I had assembled in order to knock one out. As it were.
I’d been inspired by a ‘Dangerous Building’ sign hanging on the outside of a house of someone we used to know, and an offhand remark made by The Artist formerly known as Our Glorious Leader as a police car drove by with its siren wailing as we passed it. I made a few notes, had a scrap of a melody and anxiously mailed Helen to ask if she knew of any songs called “This Property is Condemned”#, as it seemed too good a metaphor to have remained unused so far thus in popular song. I knew that there was already Love’s The Only House, and When It Was Ours based broadly in the same post code, however she suggested that this ground may previously have been adequately covered by Shakin’ Stevens. I did a bit of digging and it turns out This Ole House is quite the death ballad when it comes down to it, and about as lyrically cheery as You Are My Sunshine. This in turn reminded me of Gregson’s first tenet of song writing; Cheery words – maudlin tune / Downbeat lyrics – happy dance chords. Having mucked about with a Neil Young chord progression* at our last rehearsal (who doesn’t?) and, ahem, borrowed a couple of turnarounds I now had a traditional structure, a big chorus (which had a tendency to morph into Meatloaf’s Paradise By The Dashboard Light if I didn’t keep a close eye on it) and a middle eight. Which is where the guys came in.
As I say, we were all a bit tired, we all have inviting-looking sofas, and were of necessity making a late start on things due to domestic commitments in combination with that Helen lives about a forty minute drive away from where we do. And on a school night. On my morning commute, a chance selection of some Art Blakey (of all people) popping up in the mobile listening station had put the idea of making the song a kind of shuffle and so I gamely tuned up, ran through the structure for them and waited for the resulting opprobrium to manifest itself. “Hmm – that’s got something” I heard one of them say. Mr. Wendell attached a capo to his trusty Gibson acoustic and started transposing chord shapes. Helen hummed a harmony line. Twenty minutes later she suggested that the instrumental section not be the same as the verse, chorus or middle-eight but “…go somewhere else”. Accordingly we went somewhere else which, it turned out, meant that we’d effected an accidental key change which manifested itself when we got back to the chorus. Wendell smiled as he realised the new chords fit perfectly simply within his be-capo’d inversions. Helen hummed a solo, we counted in an ending, Wendell and I figured a little harmony intro riff which lent itself to an echo of Crazy Little Thing Called Love. All these little influences and hidden mind cupboards being opened up and rooted through in search of that elusive last ingredient to just finish off the dish before us. We played it through, then played it through again. Sated, we returned to our discussion about the process. “It’s like swimming” said Hel. “You never want to go, but afterwards you feel great”.
As Wendell drove home, we listened to XTC and talked about the writing process. Knowing I was going to post something up I wondered if there was an inspirational Andy Partridge quote I could use to illustrate and illuminate it further. And that’s where I found this.

*At least that's what I say. Wendell reckons it's from Headstart for Happiness.

# Update; Friend of the band and recording mentor Fenton Steve points out that Maria McKee was indeed way ahead of us. I should have known that as I own this album. Ironically, it's the one where she looks a bit like Helen on the cover.

1 comment:

PhilB said...

"I put it to you, Mr Kirk, that you own this album. No further questions Your Honour...we rest the case for Ms McKee.."