A Song Writing Lesson

I’m sat here listening to Keith Green. I used to listen to Keith Green all the time, I knew the words to every song and I’d play the tapes in my truck all day as I made my deliveries to health food shops around the country. Listening takes me back to those pre-CD days where “fast-forward” was the clunky version of “skip” that hopefully took you to the track you liked.

I learnt more than the songs listening to Keith Green. I’d crank up the volume in the cab and sing my lungs out, trying to match his range and control. I also learned a lot about songwriting.

In those days, unlike today, it seemed there was less of a formula to writing songs, particularly Christian songs. I can’t say I liked all of Keith’s songs. There were a few I thought sounded like the type of tracks that would be used on TV ads for life insurance. Saying that, one of those songs just came on and Mrs H said “That’s quite an amazing song really, isn’t it?”

Each to their own I guess, but she was right. It was.

But just check out the incredible “Prodigal Son Suite” or “Love With Me”. The genius of some of the songs is the holistic way they were written. The music sings the song as much as the lyrics or even the vocal. And I think it’s more than just thought that’s gone into the arrangement. In “Love With Me” the music frames the lyrics like nothing else I’ve heard.

Its easy when you write or play a song to use the same progressions as the verse or chorus and think of some instrumental riff to fill them out.  A good introduction will set the scene. It’s not always obvious and it doesn’t rob the song of it’s purpose. That principle follows through a good song.

A song is a community of melody, lyrics and performance, the three things fining themselves in liminality together. When one of the three becomes more important you loose the completeness of a good song.

 

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