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A page for studying classic songs?
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 Posted: Sun Jun 4th, 2017 12:07 am
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fasstrack
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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?



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 Posted: Sun Jun 4th, 2017 01:15 am
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RainyDayMan
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Certainly possible. Let's see how much interest there is.

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 Posted: Sun Jun 4th, 2017 01:51 am
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fasstrack
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OK, let's...



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 Posted: Mon Jun 5th, 2017 01:03 am
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Troy33
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Hi... I see value in doing so and at one point was considering a special section just for it. I personally love sharing insights for successful and classic songs. There is so much to learn from the success and artistry of great writers.



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 Posted: Mon Jun 5th, 2017 02:29 am
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fasstrack
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Guess I'll be the 1st to 'hang the bell around the cat', starting with 3 tunes, 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-Syeeta 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 Syeeda 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 Mon Jun 5th, 2017 03:40 am by fasstrack



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 Posted: Thu Jun 8th, 2017 02:15 pm
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fasstrack
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79 views and no input other than mine.

Disapernted...



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 Posted: Mon Jun 12th, 2017 09:10 pm
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fasstrack
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I'm truly amazed at the lack of response---and dismayed.

Moderators, your call: Leave or delete.

Like Mammy Yokum, 'I has spoken'...



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 Posted: Mon Jun 12th, 2017 10:42 pm
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RainyDayMan
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No need to delete, but as yet no need for a dedicated section either. Being "classic" songs this post will be relevant for a long while yet.

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 Posted: Mon Jun 12th, 2017 11:53 pm
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fasstrack
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RainyDayMan wrote:
No need to delete, but as yet no need for a dedicated section either. Being "classic" songs this post will be relevant for a long while yet.OK. I'll hang in and wait...



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 Posted: Mon Jun 19th, 2017 04:47 am
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M.P. Shaudd
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I'm new here and FAR from a musical genius but I feel this is a very subjective idea. To be honest I'm not even sure I should be weighing in on this topic, but I enjoy subjective ideas and arguing my point if needed, so here goes. I am a classic country fan and maintain a bias for those that I favor. To me for a song to be great it only needs to hit its targeted audience. He stopped loving her today can be argued as the best country song of all times. George Jones didn't even want to sing it at first because he thought it was to sad. Is it the song itself that makes it so great? Not necessarily. I love it, but there are others by him that I like better. Bartenders Blues being my favorite. The emotion in He Stopped Loving Her Today is what I believe makes it what it is. His best albums, in my opinion, were produced under Billy Sherill. This was probably the lowest part of Jones' career as far as abuse goes, but some of his best as an artist. I love classic country, Twitty, Jones, Gosdin etc, and find it next to impossible to consider any of the new "pop" country as any good. In true country sacrilege form I have never been a fan of Johnny Cash. I just don't like the way he sang/spoke his songs. Does that make him subpar? To me yes, to pretty much everyone else, no. So I find it hard to discuss such a topic in some ways. I would be willing to guess that many don't consider country music good at all. For me, it's some of the most honest, pure, heartfelt music available. At least the classic stuff. To the behest of many I feel that David Allan Coe was a great song writer but was given a backseat due to his past and some of his controversial songs.
To be honest, I have an almost nonexistent knowledge of the terminology that is used in parts of this thread. I cannot read music, learned to play accordion and keyboard at 5 years old, and self taught myself pedal steel guitar from youtube. I played all of those by ear. I have a sincere passion for music but cannot compare to probably 99% of those on this site as far as lingo or proper knowledge of music is concerned. I'm just a guy that likes to put his feelings/life experiences into words. I don't consider myself a songwriter, though I wish I could. I'm a DWDM technician that views the world in a rather abstract way compared to most.
So, as a regular guy who enjoys, what I consider, great music, I feel that a song that people can relate with and one that stirs emotions is what I would consider as a possible classic. You may not be looking for such a "commoners" viewpoint, but hope you can respect or at least appreciate it.

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 Posted: Mon Jun 19th, 2017 12:06 pm
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fasstrack
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Well, there's no reason to put yourself down. Terminology--words---may not be adequate to describe the ultimate goal of reaching people emotionally, but when breaking things down in description or analysis it's all we've got. It's like taking apart a watch to see how it works, then describing it to others. The simpler the language and metaphors used, the more people will understand it. And, true, one doesn't have to KNOW how a watch works to tell time with it.

Making music or songs had its own 'watchmaking' elements: We tell stories with notes, rhythms, chords, words (in Western music. Other cultures don't use chords or use different scales or are polyrhythmic, etc.).

It's necessary to break things down to understand them and---more importantly see how they're done so we can INCORPORATE them into what WE do---develop our own voices through our influences put in the same funnel as our talents.

BTW: I like country, too. A LOT...



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 Posted: Sun Aug 13th, 2017 12:15 am
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fasstrack
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Still Crazy After All These Years:

I wanted to adopt this as a tongue-in-cheek 'theme song', because---well, just BECAUSE (LOL). It came to my attention again hearing Brad Mehldau playing it on a CD, and he does a really nice job w/the melody and changes.

I wanted to play it in 12/8, w/the gospel feel I'm sure Simon intended (It's implied, though the sheet music I've seen says 3/4). Mehldau plays it as a waltz. I started writing it in E, but it was wiser to learn the melody in the original key w/all the tricky rhythmic displacements.

So, as always, I went to the source to take it off---and found this to be an amazing, and amazingly tricky and clever tune rhythmically. And it sounds natural.

It has lots of interesting spots: like the 2nd A has (if we're thinking in 3, as I did after getting Brad's version in my head) what SEEMS LIKE a measure in 2/4, then one in 4/4, then back to 3. But it's really clever displacement: if you count in 3 and ride it out, it stays in 3/4 the whole time, with unexpected accents. (Note: edited after teeps pointed this out---I had said it was a measure of 2/4 and one of 4/4). (And I'm sure I'll have to put it all in 12/8 when I'm done transcribing, since that's where I was going from the jump). Also, harmonically, the way for example he puts an F# half-diminished in bar 4, to resolve to B7th b9---though it's a typical harmonic move to go to the III chord, the way it lays in the rhythmic scheme is really unusual. Logically, it's almost a measure early, but it's not, and sounds right. The sort of variation in the 2nd A, where he has a C in that 2/4-sounding measure is unexpected and clever, but sounds inevitable---as all good writers make us feel their decisions are. In that section, he has (I think) in bar 5 a half, quarter, then the next measure has two eights and (possibly---his phrasing is subtle) an eight note triplet tied to a quarter on the lyrics of those two bars ('I seem to lean on old familiar ways')---the way he places the lyric with harmonic rhythm across the bar line is very inventive. He starts the sentence on bar 4 (with the same rhythm, 3 8th notes, I just realized, as the pickups to the 2 A sections). Makes you think he changed meters, but he didn't. (Jimmy Raney called this across-the-line thinking the 'brush stroke'). In bar 8 he has quadruplet quarters, bar 10 the same (though they COULD be 8ths off the beat and tied). And the pickups to both sections are also very unusual and off the beaten path.

Then, leading to B, he has a bluesy 3 bars of G7 or G9 (a shorter transition than to A2, just sayin'), leading immediately to an almost jarring---because it doesn't 'modulate' in an expected way---to an A maj 7th-B/A. Then an E Major 7th (bar 3) to a stunning (to my ears anyway, and I'm not 100% sure it's augmented, trying to listen to the strings to get it) B augmented (bar 4), stunning b/c of where it goes: II-IV to F# Maj (2 bars). Then it's E Min7 th/B ('I never') to B C---B C ('worry---why should') to a 'normal' G 6 (notice he slyly came back to the mother key), G6 on 'I' (1 bar)--G7th (one bar)----then, after 'It's all gonna fade...', it DOES: a sort of fantasy starts w/o lyric: it repeats C-B Min (one bar each), a total 6 bars including the one w/the lyric ....all gonna fade, to a sudden A Min 7th (3 bars) to a sudden one bar of E Min. This orchestral interlude goes to a tenor solo (Mike Brecker?) in A major---on different changes, and definitely feels in 12/8---then modulates to get Simon back to G, but he modulates again (on another one-bar cadence w/E Maj 7th/E 7th) and the tune ends in A. The final A has no tricky pickups outside the form, and feels the most 'normal', even w/that one bar modulation.

(I still need to work on the bridge more, to be 100% sure of the changes. Think I'm pretty close, but wonder about that B 7 th Aug.)

The lyric has typical Simonesque wry humor, and what better attention-grabber than that title?


Gotta tell yiz, this is the hardest thing I've taken off in a LONG time. But I love composers, like Jobim and Bacharach, who have tricky metric design, like Jobim's Double Rainbow (English title) which has a bar of 2/4 in the middle of a waltz (he actually wrote his bossas in 2/4---I've seen his lead sheets. Us gringos 'Americanized' them---to his consternation), or Bacharach's 'over-the-bar-line phrasing of the last bars of the A of A House is Not a Home---makes you THINK it's changing meters. I guess I have to place Paul Simon on the mantel w/these masters based on this song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5Eoax6I-O4

Last edited on Sun Aug 13th, 2017 12:17 am by fasstrack



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