Friday 16 September 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 112 (Top Five): Postmodern songs 'about' songwriting

Hmm, ‘I’m just a songwriter’ – wonder where songwriter Justin Hayward got his inspiration for that track from?! Actually, songs about songwriters in action aren’t as rare as you might think – hence this week’s rather trendy postmodernist top five: songs all about the art of songwriting! (What are we going to have when we move on from postmodernism by the way? Post-postmodernism perhaps? Anyway, I digress...)

1)    Paul McCartney “Sitting At The Piano” (originally unreleased track from 1974, seen in the ‘One hand Clapping’ film included in the deluxe edition of ‘Band On The Run’): Not the most obvious choice to start off our chronological list – in fact you have to be a real Beatles anorak to know about it’s existence at all. But of course most of you reading this site will be Beatles anoraks anyway! Paul never technically finished this song, heard in the Wings/Band On The Run documentary ‘One Hand Clapping’ (with this unseen making of still the highlight of the first two batches of McCartney deluxes re-issues) in a medley with ‘All Of You’ and ‘Give Me A Ring’. ‘Well here I am’, sings Paul, ‘sitting at my piano – and I want to tell you all about it...’ and that’s about all. Still, the chance to hear the cogs working in a Beatle’s brain is a good incentive and the tune is a good one, even by Macca’s standards, one that like it’s words seems to pause for thought before deciding which chords to follow. I’d love to hear the finished version one day!


2)    Stephen Stills “My Favourite Changes” (a track from the ‘Stills’ album, 1975): For those who don’t know, ‘changes’ are the chord sequences musicians choose to run through when trying to make up a tune. Stills’ response in this overlooked song is to tell us what memories his favourite sequence of chords evokes for him, 'already good for a number of songs’ with fan-friendly references to past loves and inspirations and a second verse asking Stills’ pre-fame friends if they remember him, a ‘kid with a big white guitar’. Interestingly, despite being a very Stillsy kind of a song (bluesy, harmony-drenched and family orientated) the chord changes don’t actually sound that familiar, with only distant DNA to link them to past successes like ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ and ‘Helplessly Hoping’. Stills used the same trick again in another overlooked track, ‘Got To Keep (Open)’ from the 1990 CSN album ‘Live It Up’, where Stills is in the present looking towards the future with a new partner, sitting by the river and you’re sitting and I’m writing out these words’.

3)    Neil Young “Borrowed Tune” (a track from the ‘Tonight’s The Night’ album, 1975):Neil is so worn down by the death of his friends Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry on this loose concept album about death and failure that he can’t even sum up the strength to add imagination to the chords running through his head. ‘I’m hoping it matters, I’m having my doubts’ he sings at one point, with this understated song about what it really mean to live when others around you die before their time one of the most moving on Neil’s most bare-bones emotional record of all. In the rest of the song, Neil peers out the window, watching ice-skaters ‘fly by on the lake’, amazed at how humans can run their lives as normal when the ‘ice’ below their feet is so thin and mortality is so short. The tune really is ‘borrowed’ by the way – Neil himself admits in the last verse that this is a slightly slower version of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Lady Jane’ with Neil too emotional and ‘wasted’ to write his own.  

4)    The Who “Guitar And Pen” (a track from the ‘Who Are You’ album, 1978): The most OTT track about songwriting must be this late-period effort from Pete Townshend, caught at the crossroads of prog rock and punk and desperately trying to remember what made him want to write songs in the first place. Telling us that he felt he had ‘something important to say’, Pete (using Roger Daltrey’s voice) tries to remember what it was, coming up with a song that somehow manages to straddle the intellectual Who sound of the 70s with the punkish thrash of their early days. Alas Keith Moon in particular is too far past his best to do the song’s tricky time signature justice but this is still a fine song, with Pete telling all potential songwriters listening to this track not to ‘spend your guitar or your pen’ because in a cold harsh society they’re the only means of communication with the outside world we have. There’s also a great verse about the younger teenage Pete getting frustrated with trying to work out what he wants to say (he did write ‘I Can’t Explain’ at the age of 20 after all!), taking it out on the guitar he smashes at the end of his bed – only to return to the fascination of trying to write, sticking his guitar back together himself with glue!

5)    Paul Simon “Song About The Moon” (a track from the ‘Hearts and Bones’ album, 1983): When Paul Simon got writer’s block in the wake of the poor response unfairly dished out to the excellent ‘One Trick Pony’ film/record his therapist told him to go back to thinking about the things that used to inspire him to write. His mind invigorated, Paul got to thinking what made other poets and musicians across the ages write – and decided it was a the romance of subjects like ‘the ‘moon’. Rather than just writing ‘a song about the moon’, however, this is Paul writing about writing, informing his audience just as his therapist informed him that inspiration is everywhere if you’re prepared to look for it. The song’s lyrics really inspired, too, full of every jokey rhyme with ‘moon’ that’s ever been used in song, but the breezy tune leaves  a lot to be desired, sounding less than inspirational compared to Paul’s best work. Of course, this wasn’t the first time Paul used this songwriting trick – he first used it nearly 20 years before on a pair of songs from the ‘Sounds Of Silence’ album: ‘The Leaves That Are Green’ (‘I was 21 years when I wrote this song – I’m 22 now but I won’t be for long’) and ‘Homeward Bound’ (‘I’m sitting in the railway suitcase and guitar in hand’).

And that’s that for another issue! See you soon for issue 113 (hopefully!) when Lulu will be dancing, Pink Floyd will be prancing (thanks to a BBC4 theme night on Friday) and David Cameron will be glancing (over his shoulder – as his coalition cabinet stab in the back, again!)

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands
160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)
161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches
162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs
163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)
164) AAA Songs About Islands
165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended
167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock

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