At The Coop

At The Coop

Monday, January 23, 2017

Send Us Your "Best" Song

     When someone asks for the "best song" off one of my albums, I never know what to give them.
Different people like different songs, and I like all of them, or else they wouldn't be on my album.
    For my appearance on "The Music Row Showcase" the other night on 650AM WSM ("Home Of The Grand Ol' Opry"), they asked me to bring a disc with three songs from my current release, which at this point in time is my three year old CD "One More Night In Nashville". It turns out that they already had the CD, and had three songs in mind, which were mostly different than the three that I had selected.
     I went for three songs with widely different themes and feels to them.
     My picks:
     "Dickel, Strait & Jones"
     "Inside That Box"
     "Better Hearts Than Yours"

     Their picks:
     "(A Man Can't Live On) Beer Alone"
     "Dickel, Strait & Jones"
     "You Done Done It Now"

     We settled on "Dickel, Strait & Jones", "Inside That Box", and "You Done Done It Now", which fall in that order on the CD, thus making it easier for the engineer. We used the intro and part of the first verse of "Better Hearts Than Yours" to come out of the commercial break, but by the time a bunch of talking, commercials, PSAs, and promos were done, and I did a live version of "My Dog Jesus", we only had time for "Dickel, Strait & Jones" in my half hour segment. Good thing it was a song that we all agreed on, although I would have loved to have played a couple more, their choice or mine.
     Have you got a favorite song (or three) on "One More Night In Nashville"?
     I'd love to hear about I can be even more confused.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Another True Story (That I Made Up)

     "Imagination running wild ever since I was a kid
       I could tell you crazy stories about things I never did
       Spinning tires, breathing fire, dancing on thin ice
       You'd have thought I'd done it all and seen most places twice..."

     There is a great debate (often more like an argument) between certain segments of the songwriting community over "authenticity". One camp espouses the notion that any song that is not written directly from the writer's personal life experience is somehow flawed and "fake". There is another side (where I reside) that believes that as long as you can make it "real", it is a true story, whether it actually happened to you (or anyone for that matter). If I truly lived all the songs I wrote, I would have already been dead many times over. I'm fairly certain that John Steinbeck didn't live every page of "The Grapes Of Wrath", although he did a masterful job of making them come alive.
       Sometimes a writer will create a song based on a story they've heard or read, fact or fiction. Take the song "Taneytown" by Steve Earle. It's a compelling story song about a young black man who went to town "to see what I could see", and got jumped by some white boys. He stabbed one, and left his knife behind where someone else found it. That person got lynched in a case of mistaken identity, because he was caught with the bloody knife. You can be certain that Steve didn't live that story, but it didn't keep him from writing a great song about it in the first person.
       I'm sure it can be confusing to the non-songwriting community. If they believe that the writer is telling the literal truth about an event from their own life in one song, how can they justify another song that is written from a different perspective? A lot of people don't seem to realize that a many country artists don't write all their own material. The listeners merely accept the character that is presented to them as realistic depiction of who the singer is, whether or not that depiction is based in factual reality. It seems to me that any serious songwriter should know better. I have written a dead Grandpa song called "Inside That Box" that would work for any number of different people to sing. It is not based on a true story that either my co-writer Dave Gibson or I have lived through, but it is colored by life experiences we have both had.
        A good novelist builds multiple good characters. I don't see why a good songwriter can't do the same. Presenting more than one point of view in a single song is problematic, but creating different characters to be the voices of different songs shouldn't be. Maybe I'm just trying to justify all of the different voices in my head, but I don't think there is anything wrong with writing songs that are not based on actual events in my life. I once had someone try to convince me that every song I wrote was about me in some way. I disagreed with that person, but there may have been a bit of truth in what they were saying. I'm sure that every song I write is colored by my feelings about the subject, but I don't think every song is about me or what I think.
     Don't get me wrong. I have written songs like 'The One Hundred Letter Word" and "(I Thank Jesus) I Married A Jew" that are based on my real life, but I have also written songs about things that I have not personally experienced. When I perform my song "I Recall My Daddy", people always feel sorry for me because my father died in the war...only he didn't. Somebody's (many somebodies') father(s) did, but not mine. If I can write a song well enough to convince people that he did, I feel like I have done my job.
       I have been sober for well over thirty years, but I can still write a drinking song like "(A Man Can't Live On) Beer Alone" or "Hard Times (Call For Hard Liquor)", because I did all that research. But because I did all that research, I can also write songs like "The Writing On The Floor", which is not a literal depiction of my battle with the bottle, but a true story nonetheless.
       I could go on and on with examples, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think a song can be valid whether or not the writer has experienced the events described in the story. And to anybody who would denigrate my writing as not being "authentic" because I make things up, I would truly say "I've got some nether regions you can osculate."
       Y'all have a nice day.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Where The Meat Is

     Yesterday I was at gathering of musicians and songwriters, a few who I knew, but mostly new faces. At one point, I was on the patio involved in a discussion about the pros and cons of music streaming services. One guy said "Nobody's going to buy an album unless they know they like it. I have to listen to an album all the way through about ten times before that sixth song becomes my favorite, because that's where the meat is."
     That's not the first time I've heard someone talk about artists only putting a couple of good songs on a record and rest just being fluff (or filler). I had someone tell me that when I was in the process of putting out "One More Night In Nashville". He said "Everyone knows that around tracks 7 and 8 is where you put the good songs." I told him that I had every intention of putting eleven (better than) good songs (out of eleven) on my record. He said "Nobody does that."
     Mind you, these were both performing singer/songwriters who have put out recordings of their own music. Either they: (A) have no faith in their own material, (B) don't mind putting out lackluster recordings, (C) have fallen into a trap of doing things the way they think they've always been done, or (D) all of those.
     Granted, I have always been an album cut kind of guy. The seemingly obvious pop hits either eluded me or bored me to tears. Sure, I like the Steppenwolf songs "Born To Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride", but I'd rather listen to "Desperation" or "Your Wall's Too High". The same goes for just about any album of rock or country music that I grew up listening to. I guess I've never been drawn to the least common denominator type of songs. I like to think I'm a more discerning listener than that. Maybe I'm just a closet hipster snob.
     It's no wonder that people aren't buying albums. If they think there are only going to be a couple of good songs on a record, and those songs are going to be buried closer to the end of the album, I don't blame them at all. I would feel like I was ripping people off if I only gave them two (or at maximum, three) songs worth listening to.
     When I write songs, I try to start with an opening line that will make the listener want to hear the next line...and then the next, and the next. I put my records together the same way. Give the listener a first song that makes not listening to the second song a hard thing to do. Repeat as necessary.
     Back when everybody had vinyl albums, a smart producer would make sure that the last song on the first side made the listener want to turn it over and listen to Side 2...and the last song on Side 2 would make the listener want to play the album again. Maybe I'm old-school, or deluded, but I believe that if you produce an album full of top-notch songs, and present them in the proper order, people will listen all the through...hopefully, more than once.
     So, I would prefer you listen to my whole albums, in the order that I put them together, but really you can start anywhere on them, because that's where the meat is.
     I hope you find it nourishing.