Driving home tonight, I heard a song for perhaps the 10th or 12h time. I typed part of the lyrics into Google to find the title, and found out it was “Love You Like a Love Song,” by Selena Gomez.
This is a song I hear when my wife leaves the dance station on in my truck. I used to have a problem with this, kinda, but I don’t anymore. I think we are in a producer-driven golden age of dance music; I find many of the songs exciting and edgy.
“Love You Like a Love Song” isn’t one of these, but I did find something about the tune that caught my mind’s Rainman-like attention to patterns that sometimes manifest themselves in RTH posts.
It’s the lyrics. They’re mundane. But they are mundane in a way that has historical precedent in pop music. Take a look at the first two lines:
Every beautiful thought’s been already sung
And I guess right now here’s another one.
This is the sound of someone struggling to write a song, nay, write a HIT SONG. This is a very particular pattern in pop history. My mind leapt to dozens of songs that had this “guess it’s all been done but i need to write a song” genesis, that were then voiced that within the finished product.
I thought of a half-dozen right away. Most weren’t good, but some were very good.
How about great. “Strawberry Fields”
I live this style if sing. Traffic’s “Empty Pages” springs to mind.
Neil Young’s “Borrowed Tune” comes to mind. Admitting he’s too wasted to write his own song and stealing from the Stones. Not sure if this totally counts though …
Northvancoveman, how’ve you been!
And thank you for giving me a chance to push an old favorite song of mine, which I think fits the bill: “Rip It Up” by Orange Juice.
Fountains of Wayne on their last album had a knowing song about touring called Road Song which featured the lines
“I just wanted to say
I’ve been writing you a road song
It’s a cliché, but hey
That doesn’t make it so wrong”
The video features all the hallmarks of a tour video (backstage, on the bus, crowds, soundchecks). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltwoI5gstfY
I might be off the mark but is Silly Love Songs (ouch) one?
Is “This Song” by Harrison the exact opposite of what your looking for?
Hey guys. The Neil Young song and “Silly Love Songs” were both on my list.
What about “Your Song” by Elton John?
Writer’s block songs. “Here I am staring at this empty page trying to write a song for you.” I think they’re lame.
I’m singing this note ’cause it fits in well with the chords I’m playing.
2nd drafts, what a concept.
That’s a classic example, Cher
I was going to say “Your Song” which I heard a Peruvian pan flute band playing in Boston’s Copley Square last werkend. So so bad.
Adrian Belew “Oh Daddy”.
In the video his hair is long because, at the time, he told his daughter he wasn’t gonna cut it until he had a hit.
I read something about how hit dance songs are written for artists like Beyonce. Hers was the only example I remember, maybe because I knew the song, but they had scientifically (supposedly) dissected the song Single Ladies. The article talked about how long the song needed to be, where the dumb singalong part needed to go and how many times it needed to be in the song and a bunch of stuff like that. I don’t remember how to find it because I figured if they were right, every song would sound like that and we’d all be rich songwriters, but I also kind of agreed that those songs sound more manufactured rather than written.
It’s funny that Rock music in general can handle even the subject of not being able to write a song. I can’t think of anything to say, but I’m gonna say it anyway seems like a very Rock N Roll stance to take.
I don’t object to professional songwriting (I don’t enjoy a lot of it, but I don’t object). I object when phony artists aren’t completely honest about it. I would respect Aerosmith a lot more if they admitted that they share an approach with Celine Dion now. They have pros write their crappy power ballads, and make a mint off of them. Instead they seem to still pretend that they are writing these hits with just a little help. Does Taylor Swift really write all her megahits? If she does, I apologize. If she doesn’t, isn’t the gigantic superstardom enough? Why take the credit for the songwriting too? All I want is the truth, just give me some truth.
Adrian Belew puts this technique to great use on “Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With”.
“And when I have some words this is the way I’ll sing
Through a distortion box to make them menacing
And then I’m gonna have write a chorus
We’re gonna need to have a chorus
And this would seem to be as good as any other place to sing until I’m blue in the face
And for a second verse a terse economy
I’ll brew another pot of ambiguity”
I couldn’t really think of any examples, and then my car played a Jawbreaker song called Indictment. The first half is about writing a song, then the second half is an indictment of the music industry ing general. I think it’s one of my favorite jawbraker songs, and I didn’t even think of it.
I just wrote the dumbest song.
It’s gonna be a sing along.
All our friends will clap and sing.
Our enemies will laugh and be pointing.
It won’t bother me, what the thoughtless are thinking.
I am more concerned with what we’re drinking.
They’ll laugh about it at the warehouse,
saying I’m so lame. It wrote itself,
you can keep the blame.
It’ll be a happy song, not unlike some other ones.
While everyone’s depressed and broke,
I get high off your sick jokes.
They’re tousling all the worried hair. Stay up there.
So crazy it just might work.
Then we’ll quit our jobs.
We could be the next group that you rob.
There are times for being dumb.
This must be one of them.
I’d like to know what’s so wrong,
with a stupid happy song?
It says many things in its nothingness.
It gives me space to think, I guess.
To think less. And less.
Moving units and tracking charts.
Will they ever learn?
It isn’t who you know, it’s who you burn.
It means nothing. Selling kids to other kids.
If you think we changed our tune, I hope we did.
Here’s another one:
Sara Bareilles, “Love Song.” Blank page reference doesn’t come until the 2nd verse, perhaps on the cusp of a saving grace. There’s a mall somewhere with a Guitar Center next to a Pottery Barn, and this is the result.
Is it really easier to conjure a melody, write the music, write lyrics after formulating an acceptable rhyme scheme, book studio time, pay for studio time, select musicians, chart the instrumentation for all the musicians, pull off a good recording, produce and mix the recording, and press, market, and distribute the song rather than just friggin’ giving someone a hug while saying “I love you”?
“Cause every time I try to tell you,
The words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you, in a song” – JCroce
Van has several of these, no? Such as “I’d Love to Write Another Song” and others I can’t seem to think of right now….
Alanis Morrissette’s JAGGED LITTLE PILL album is the epitome of hit-by-the-numbers songwriting, including certain kinds of repetition that are so calculated that they make me want to smash my car when they come on the radio. “Head Over Feet” is the worst of all of them, but most of the songs on that album sound to me like they were 100% studied and created with that concept in mind. This may be off topic a bit since you’re specifically talking about lyrics, but this is the ultimate musical/production-style example of the phenomenon.
Traffic has a song called “Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired,” which is a bit of a twist on this concept, but lives up to its name.
This is making me think in an even more meta-type way of that awkwardly blunt Matthew Sweet song where he writes:
Why don’t you write your own song
If mine doesn’t do it for you
You might get it all wrong
Or you might create the hit
You wish that I would write for you
’cause I haven’t been able to do what you need
I’m not a big Alanis fan but in her defense most of the album was recorded bare bones with studio input and overdubs added afterword by Glen Ballard. To me the songs especially the lyrics always came across as naive and amateurish. I hear the calculation in her later stuff where she got all pretentious.
“It’s All Been Done” by Barenaked Ladies.
“If I put my fingers here
and if I say I love you, dear
and if I play the same 3 chords
will you just yawn and say …”
Does George’s “Only A Northern Song” fit in here?
Todd Rundgren, “Chain Letter”:
“This is how I thought I’d start my song
And it seems a little silly when I think of it
But now I’m so far along
And no one really wants to know that he’s wrong”
You’re right that most of the blame goes to her producers, but she did sing the songs in a certain calculated fashion. What find amusing is how completely she tried to hide her past, yet this stage of her career was in its own way even more of a commercial pander than her teenybopper stuff. You know what I would love? Some big star who actually embraces their somewhat embarassing pre-fame past.
Yes, we need more Robin Sparkles! (Cobie Smulder’s carefully hidden embarrassing child-pop alter ego on “How I Met Your Mother”)