Some, er, music and poetry writing for a change

Recently someone pointed out that despite our having a category on HTWB for music and poetry, posts on these topics have been thin on the ground recently. Grovelling apologies.

Some, er, music and poetry writing for a change

This is dedicated to the victims of the UK’s Cumbria floods and I hope it might give you a small smile, despite the terrible experience you have had just before Christmas. xx

To make up for it I thought – given the time of year – I should re-write the lyrics to a few favorite Christmas songs which I think count as (basic) poetry and can be sung to these popular tunes. Having got started on these three I was longing to keep going, and I have to say I love writing funny poetry, but I stopped at this selection…  [Read more…]

Blogging-mas … Christmas songs with blogging lyrics to sing along to

Blogging,Christmas,writing,songs,

Don’t forget to blog this Christmas!

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not you can’t fail to have noticed the music around us at this time of the year.

Here are my interpretations of the lyrics for two popular Christmas songs, along with some live performances to which you can sing along… [Read more…]

Do Justin Bieber’s lyrics herald born-again purity?

After years of Gangsta Rap and other contemporary musical forms shouting out lyrics that do everything from narrating sex orgies to euphemizing shootings, stabbings and other unsavoury elements of today’s youth culture, I’m fascinated by the rip-roaring success of squeaky-clean Justin Bieber’s songs and lyrics.

This teenie lad from Stratford, Ontario – home of North America’s largest Shakespeare festival as well as being just up the road from where I was born and raised – has flashed his perfect teeth and grinned his way into the hearts of millions of tweenie and teen girls since he first was “discovered” by American talent manager Scooter Braun in 2008.

So he’s cute and can sing. But what does he say?

I’ve been looking at the lyrics of some of his most popular tracks and have to say I’m impressed, albeit with some reservations. Justin and his advisors obviously grasp his market and want to appeal to those impressionable adolescent girls who drool at the mere thought of young Justin and the effect he has on them. And this is where I have slightly mixed feelings about the messages he’s sending out. (NB: nothing to do with the current flurry of publicity about his alleged accidental fathering of a baby, either.)

Oh, yes – his lyrics are just suggestive enough to titivate a pubescent girl’s emerging sexual characteristics without causing a hormonal explosion, and that is understandably appropriate when you put yourself in the shoes of Justin and his colleagues in the music business. For example, from his song “Mistletoe,” in which he champions the Christmas holiday but with an agenda. Also please note the “I’mma…” an abbreviation of “I’m going to” which though a little “Gangsta” does help to sort out the meter of the line

I don’t want to miss out on the holiday

But I can’t stop staring at your face

I should be playing in the winter snow

But I’mma be under the mistletoe…

…Kiss me underneath the mistletoe

(Show me baby that you love me so)

And what’s this purity issue?

I’ve been looking through a lot of Justin Bieber’s lyrics and have been very intrigued by their way of encouraging young people (and let’s face it, 99 percent of them are young girls) to embrace traditional Christian values. For example:

Hey love

The wise men follow the star

They way I followed my heart

And it led me to a miracle

I’m also intrigued by his interest in and enthusiasm for fighting for the underdog, which is another trait admired by the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) community and expressed through these lyrics in the song “Never Say Never”:

I will never say never (I will fight)

I will fight till forever (make it right)

Whenever you knock me down

I will not stay on the ground

Pick it up, pick it up (etc.)

Now – what about “political correctness?”

This is where I wonder where Justin Bieber and his advisors are coming from. Much as I agree that Justin’s lyrics are pitched right where the thousands of WASP weenies are concerned, I wonder if the message he’s sending out with those lyrics is what we (as the parental generation) want our kids / daughters to move forward with?

Is it right to focus these very young WASP girls’ attention, through Justin’s music, on these relatively innocent and pure adolescent thoughts when the reality out there is so, so different? Could songs with lyrics that address the real issues within that age group perform a more socially helpful function than those of Justin Bieber?

I’m being honest here: I really don’t know the right answer to that question and I suspect many of you readers won’t know it either. However please comment, as I think the ultimate answers will be useful for our kids’ generation. (And might even be of interest to Justin and his “people,” too.)

Purely valuable writing help:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

Lady Gaga and Madonna: are they trying to tell us something in their song lyrics?

Recently I’ve been keeping a close eye on the phenomenal progress of the lovely Lady Gaga through the music charts as well as pretty much every other commercial/entertainment avenue. I marvel at her ability to charm millions not only with her, er, shall we say extravagant taste in dress/undress, but also her musical compositions. However, what exactly do her lyrics contribute to our current culture? And what difference did (and still do) the song lyrics of her cultural predecessor, Madonna, make to us over the last three decades or so?

Madonna and Lady Gaga compared?

Whether their management companies, publicists and other hangers-on agree, to an analytical old goat like me these two performers have quite a lot in common. Both come from USA-based Italian origins. Both are very talented musicians and songwriters. Both are unbelievably good performers. Both are incredibly good publicists. Both are amazingly good at re-inventing themselves every 10 minutes. And all this, despite a nearly 30-year age gap.

But as for hoping that the lyrics written by Lady Gaga may show some cultural moves forward beyond those written/co-written by Madonna up to 30 years earlier, I have to say I’m disappointed. Much as these two women express their individuality in their costumes, set designs and performances, such expressions are visual only. When it comes to their music and lyrics, it’s pop pulp every time. Or is it? Could we be missing something here?

Is there a personality in there?

Let’s face it; lyrics such as the following (excerpts only) do not immediately bring to mind anything other than a few words that conveniently rhyme and give the performers mouths something to do while they’re making their noises:

When you walked out my door

I knew you’d be back for more

Let’s leave the past behind

True love is so hard to find

(from “Stay” by Madonna and Steve Bray)

You know that I want you

And you know that I need you

(‘Cause I’m a freak bitch, baby!)

I want it bad

Your bad romance

(from “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga)

Then, we get the phonetics which really stretch that credibility gap if you’re looking for meaning of any kind:

Shoo bee doo bee doo ooh la la, come to me baby

Shoo bee doo bee doo ooh la la, don’t say maybe

Shoo bee doo bee doo ooh la la, come to me baby

Shoo bee doo bee doo ooh la la

(from, surprisingly, “Shoo-bee-doo” by Madonna)

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oooh!

Oh-oh-oh-oooh-oh-oh-oh!

Caught in a bad romance

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oooh!

Oh-oh-oh-oooh-oh-oh-oh!

Caught in a bad romance

Rah rah ah-ah-ah!

Ro mah ro-mah-mah

Gaga Ooh-la-la!

Want your bad romance

(from “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga)

I don’t want to be patronizing and I realize I have been by pulling out the examples above, which are not just put across by Madonna and Lady Gaga but are representative of much popular music going right back to songs like the intriguingly named “Jada, jada, jing, jing, jing,” written by Bob Carleton back in 1918. And I’d probably find more going back further in history.

There’s nothing new about “shooby-dooby-doo.” (Funny, that sounds like a good title for a song…) Similarly nonsensical lyrics have been sung by various very distinguished and talented artistes including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Dame Cleo Laine and many more … written by some very famous composers, too. It could be argued that lyrics like these are not garbage, but phonetics that permit the human voice to be used as a musical instrument. Yeah, well, maybe.

So can we find a glimmer of the real Madonna and Lady Gaga – somewhere?

Yes, I believe we can. Let’s start with Madonna. In this excerpt from “Over And Over” written by her and Steve Bray, we begin to see signs of her driving energy and ambition … hints of hyperactivity, and the possible reactions to it from someone close to her:

Hurry up, I just can’t wait

I gotta do it now I can’t be late

I know I’m not afraid I gotta get out the door

If I don’t do it now I won’t get any more

You try to criticize my drive

If I lose I don’t feel paralyzed

It’s not the game it’s how you play

And if I fall I get up again now

Lady Gaga, too, shows something of her own character here in this caring and socially conscious excerpt from “Born This Way:”

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen

Whether you’re broke or evergreen

You’re black, white, beige, Chola descent

You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient

Whether life’s disabilities

Left you outcast, bullied or teased

Rejoice and love yourself today

‘Cause baby you were born this way.

Obviously I’m aware that the very nature of pop music – of which Madonna and Lady Gaga are Queen and Princess respectively in my view – means that lyrics must never get beyond the fringes of intellectualism or they’ll scare off the fans who don’t want to think; they just want to boogie.

However, perhaps we can look forward to the day when both Madonna and Lady Gaga are older and have moved on into more intimate musical genres, where both would be free to write lyrics that give us a good look at the fascinating personalities both of them are hiding behind the glitzy costumes and expensive stagecraft.

What do you think?

Now – tell people what you  mean:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

Photo of Madonna gratefully borrowed from EOnline

Photo of Lady Gaga gratefully borrowed from her own website

Lyrics and music: songwriting masterclass part #3, advice

Having looked at what can inspire their lyrics and music and also how they take that inspiration forward into a finished song, our three experts in this final part of the masterclass series share their advice for people who need tips and encouragement for their own songwriting.

My grateful thanks to our three masterclass experts who have so kindly contributed to this series of articles: jazz vocalist Jacqui Dankworth, pianist/vocalist Charlie Wood, and South Sea Company vocalist/bassist James Miles.

So – what are the key points?

James Miles: “you’re free to write whatever you want”

“The most important thing to bear in mind is that you are free to write whatever you want. If you write about an issue and you want to really open up and start spilling your emotions, then feel free to do so. Equally if you just want to write funny lyrics or aren’t particularly interested in writing serious lyrics, then you should feel free to do so. Never feel constrained by anyone or anything, when it comes to writing,” says James.

“It is quite likely that to begin with, it won’t be as easy as some might think, but the trick is to persevere, and over time you will find that certain styles and topics will suit you more than others. To begin with, I found myself getting quite frustrated, because I couldn’t express myself in the way that I wanted to, and I couldn’t stop myself from using clichés. But nowadays I write a lot more comfortably, having learnt a few lessons along the way.”

Charlie Wood: “keep it simple”

I know some good guidelines for writing:

Don’t explain; describe

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Embrace randomness

Let your thoughts wander

Don’t allow your rational mind to limit your imagination

Let go of the steering wheel

Writing should be easy

Let the song decide

Jacqui Dankworth: “leave some elements open-ended”

“I agree with Charlie – keep it simple. Don’t feel you have to be too clever, especially as simplicity can be very, very effective. Work out what it is you’re trying to say, and don’t worry too much about messing around with words – they don’t necessarily need to be perfect in order to tell your story well,” says Jacqui.

“In fact I find it’s often effective to leave some elements open-ended, so your audience can place their own interpretation on your lyric. That brings them closer to your song, and to your performance; it makes them feel more deeply involved so they’re experiencing it on more than one level.”

“Finally, listen to the great writers’ music – to what they do, what you like about them, and gain inspiration from other people’s music that you’re really passionate about.”

 

Once again, my grateful thanks to our three masterclass experts who have so kindly contributed to this series of articles: jazz vocalist Jacqui Dankworth, pianist/vocalist Charlie Wood, and South Sea Company vocalist/bassist James Miles.

If you have any questions about songwriting, please leave them here as comments so when I next run some posts on the subject, I can be guided by what you want to know.

Until our next masterclass series!

This article is one of a series of three. Links are as follows:

Part one: inspiration

Part two: techniques

Part three: advice

Want to set your writing to music?

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

 

Photograph of James Miles – many thanks to Kristell Gathoye

Lyrics and music: songwriting masterclass part #2, techniques

In Part #1 we focused on how our interviewees find inspiration for their lyrics and music. Now that we have the inspiration, though the next requirement is that we, literally, “set it to music.”

My grateful thanks to our three masterclass experts who have so kindly contributed to this series of articles: jazz vocalist Jacqui Dankworth, pianist/vocalist Charlie Wood, and South Sea Company vocalist/bassist James Miles.

So what are key points to consider when taking a song onwards from the initial inspiration?

James Miles: “I begin with chord patterns”

“Most of the time, I begin with chord patterns and as I start to fuse these patterns together, I can usually start listening out for melodies (instrumental or vocal) which would suit the characteristics of the chords. The reason I usually start with chord patterns is because I tend to find that these lay the foundations for most songs, and if your foundations are sound, then it’s just a case of adding little ingredients as you go along,” says James.

“I have a great fondness for a lot of instrumental music, and I would say that at times that music can convey a lot more than words. We can interpret instrumentation in a million ways as it is not a rigorous language, and it is more often the case that it is a melody that ends up stuck in one’s head as opposed to anything else.”

Charlie Wood: “never try to force a lyric into an uncomfortable melody”

“I like to keep my mind pretty open and flexible when writing, so I’d say the best thing for me is not to impose any limits or preconceptions on myself. However, the songs I like best all display an awareness of the rhythm of spoken language and have a ring of truth about them,” says Charlie.

“I would never try to force a lyric into an uncomfortable melody (I’d change the melody first) and I’d try to be as truthful as possible – not necessarily honest, self-confessional, etc. (although that’s fine), but truthful about the human condition as I see it and about the behavior of human beings towards one another. A songwriter, like any writer, has to be a great many different characters and sympathize with all of them.”

Jacqui Dankworth: “the melody and the lyric should complement each other”

“I find a very good way to write songs is to work with other people, because this can lead to some very interesting and far-reaching ideas and combinations of melody and lyric. It doesn’t always work out, of course, and the only way you can find out if you can work well with someone else is to try it and see,” says Jacqui.

“As I mentioned before, I’m coming at the whole songwriting issue as a performer first and foremost, so as you can imagine when I’m writing a song – whether on my own or with someone else – I am most concerned that the music has to “sing” right. Also, I believe that the melody and the lyric should complement each other, although you can achieve some quite interesting effects by, say, writing a happy, upbeat melody and combine it with rather dark words.”

And the Big Question: should lyrics rhyme?

Jacqui Dankworth: “If, like me and many other jazz musicians, you follow what’s recommended in the Great American Songbook, then lyrics must rhyme. And that’s really hard to achieve without it all seeming gratuitous! However I have to admit that some of my best compositions don’t actually rhyme…”

Charlie Wood: “It isn’t important that lyrics rhyme, but they’re inherently poetic (even when unintentionally so). I think writers ignore the poetic or symbolic content of their work at their own peril.”

James Miles: “I think that this can sometimes be a way of making a chorus slightly catchier, or a verse fit well, but at the end of the day, it’s not worth sacrificing any significant meaning for.”

Phew, that’s a relief then. No more “moon in June…”

In Part #3 we’ll share our experts’ advice on how beginners can improve their approach to writing lyrics and music.

This article is one of a series of three. Links are as follows:

Part one: inspiration

Part two: techniques

Part three: advice

Now, set your  writing to music:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

 

Photograph of James Miles – many thanks to Kristell Gathoye

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