Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reflections on Songwriting, #1: Chatting Up a Bird, AKA The Ray Davies Songwriting Method

Whenever I'm working on one of my songs I'm often reminded of the way Ray Davies of the Kinks described his first major hit, "You Really Got Me." On more than one occasion he has likened the structure of "You Really Got Me" to the way someone tries to "chat up" a woman (or man) in a club or bar.

What did the head Kink mean by that? Well, simply put, when it comes to pop music, you quite often only have two or three minutes (if you're lucky!) to make a good impression on the listener, and you damn well better have a GREAT opening line.

That is exactly what "You Really Got Me" has - a punchy opening riff that demands your attention and makes you curious about what's coming next! Think of it as meeting an attractive member of the opposite sex and starting off with a great joke. You wouldn't launch into a long, rambling tale about where you grew up and how your parents didn't love you enough. That would be crazy!

There will be plenty of time for deep stories LATER if everything goes well. The same goes for songwriting, metaphorically speaking. If you have a song with a long, moody two-minute intro that you passionately feel needs to be heard, you can put it on your first full-length effort, because whoever's listening is probably already interested in what you have to say. (Just like your wife has to listen to all your ceaseless rambling about bullsh*t like your boss at work. She's trapped!)

However, when you're a relative unknown, you want to grab people's attention quick and give them a reason to STICK AROUND for the deeper stuff. And none of this is meant to suggest your "opening line" has to be goofy, shallow, slick, or stupid. There are many simple, direct jokes (and many simple, direct musical hooks) which belie their depth and hint at greater complexity to come. That's the type of opening salvo you want to strive for: something that "really gets" the listener going and hungry for more.

But you gotta get someone's attention first.

Friday, March 5, 2010

What's on the Menu?

Yesterday, a co-worker handed me a glossy take-out menu for the "healthy" cafe across the street from our office. The place has all kinds of low calorie dishes, like salads and grilled chicken. How thoughtful! I really appreciated the gesture, because now I have something colorful to pour french fries on that won't let grease seep through to my desk.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Coffee Grinds, Part 2

Some more tasty sludge scraped from the bottom of our constantly brewing blog-POTS.

• The internet: Helping local a-holes be globally annoying for over 15 years.

• I keep wondering about the street preachers handing out pamphlets and yelling incoherent gibberish at me as I walk through the subways. It seems like such an inefficient use of their time. What is the cost-benefit ratio of this behavior? Does anyone ever really stop dead in their tracks and go, "You know, that's actually a pretty good point - the one about how I'm going to burn for eternity because I wear neckties."

• Somewhere along the line I went from being "young" to being "relatively young." Boy, what a cop out that is, huhn? Anything can be "relatively" young. My great grandfather is "relatively young" when compared an old dead guy. Hell, even Larry King is "relatively young" when compared to, oh, I don't know, the sun.

• I love when the major networks start a news segment by saying things like, "People are talking about Tiger Woods a lot today…" This is basically shorthand for, "WE'RE talking about Tiger Woods a lot today, because it got easy ratings last time, and we're gonna keep talking about Tiger Woods so you can't possibly think too hard about stuff that really matters." It's also a great way of letting yourself off the hook for shirking your journalistic standards so you can pander to the lowest common denominator. Hell, people are "TALKING ABOUT IT!!!!" They HAVE to cover it, don't they? Well... don't they?

• I heard recently that Bernie Madoff was on suicide watch because he's "depressed" in prison. And LORD KNOWS we wouldn't want anyone to be depressed in prison.

• I have lots of idiosyncratic behaviors. For example, I like to listen to crappy songs on the radio while my car is warming up. Then, after the vehicle is nice and toasty, I turn on my favorite CD or my favorite song. Weird, huhn?

• I don't care if you're texting, first person in the elevator pushes the button! I ain't your "lift" operator, d-bag.

• Life's way too short for regrets. So be sure to jam in as many as you can.

• If you really took to heart every warning the nightly news gives you about "the thing in your medicine cabinet that might kill you" or the "one thing you need to know about car safety" you'd lose your freakin' mind. At a certain point, I'm gonna have to live on the edge and take a chance that the "secret killer" under my bed is gonna do me in, if only for the sake of my sanity.

• The internet has effectively turned "discuss" into "dis" and "cuss."