Dec 202011

I’d like to propose a new RTH Glossary entry, the Retirement Fund Song (aka Rock IRA). Now I would never dare think that artists as idiosyncratic and with as much integrity as Van Morrison and Lou Reed would ever consciously write a song with the goal of funding their retirement, but by chance they have succeeded wildly with “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” and “Perfect Day,” respectively. Think of all the special occasions folks will attach to those songs. Think of all the times those songs will be covered by a diverse set of artists. Think of the royalties those covers will generate.

Perhaps the original rock ‘n roll Retirement Fund Song was The Beatles‘ “Yesterday,” written and performed almost solely by Paul McCartney but powerful enough to fund the planned retirement of his songwriting partner John Lennon. Again, I have no reason to believe Paul consciously wrote “Yesterday” with retirement in mind, but in these tough economic times I can imagine today’s rockers feeling more apt to plan ahead.

To help a future generations of retired rockers, can we define the makings of a Retirement Fund Song (as opposed to any old “hit song”)? For instance, it would seem obvious that the song must be easy for other artists to cover and be romantic and/or nostalgic in lyrical content, but let’s get down to brass tacks. Let’s map out a rock ‘n roll retirement strategy around a legacy-making song that should be a part of the catalog of any artist with an eye toward a second vacation home.


  59 Responses to “The Makings of a Retirement Fund Song (aka Rock IRA)”

  1. “To Make You Feel My Love,” by Bob Dylan. Covered by Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Trisha Yearwood, Bryan Ferry, Adele and Joan Osborne.

  2. So yeah, it should be a love ballad that can be performed with either restraint or bombast. The song should be able to cross over to more MOR genres.

  3. Good one. God, I can’t get enough of Adele. Only 21 yet a voice that rings with experience, pain, weight gain, and all that other shit that no one old enough to have actually experienced it really feels that good about!–Ng

    Now how would we explain to a young musician the path this song sets toward his or her own retirement fund?

  4. How about when a long-running cult performer has a fluke hit that never goes away? I’ve been thinking that Kimberly Rew has probably seen more money from “Walking on Sunshine” than Robyn Hitchcock has for any of his songs. Does that count?

  5. Mmm…I don’t think so. That’s more like striking gold with one major hit song. I don’t think an artist can consciously write a peppy song that’s that successful. More importantly, I don’t know how many dads can dance with their daughter on her wedding day with everyone gathered around and wiping away lone teardrops. The father-daughter dance capabilities of the song, that strong symbol of a song’s ability to span generations, may be part of the formula.

  6. My Way. Paul Anka took a French song, added his own lyrics and it was covered by Elvis, Sid and Frank among many many others. That’s a pretty sweet nest egg. Also, his theme for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson had to be a decent back up retirement plan.

  7. I think another qualification is that at least one or two of the covers have to be more famous to a big chunk of the population than the original. I think a lot of people heard “I Have I Told You Lately” by Rod first, and I’m sure all those folks buying Susan Boyle albums have no idea who Lou Reed is. On the other hand, Wikipedia tells me songs like Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” have been covered a lot. But I don’t think any of those covers have out-famoused the originals.

  8. On the other hand, nothing has ever out-famoused the Beatles’ version of “Yesterday.”

  9. That’s a GREAT point! So there’s an element of generosity that the songwriter must commit to, he or she must not expect all the glory. Clearly it’s no time for putting one’s foot down about a challenging arrangement idea.

  10. I’ve never heard Paul Anka’s version of My Way, if one even exists.

  11. diskojoe

    I heard that Leonard Cohen has a song called “Hallelujah” that gets plenty of covers.

    Wouldn’t “Louie, Louie” also count as a Retirement Fund Song? I know that Richard Berry got screwed out of the rights, but he got them back before he died.

  12. There is still some question as to whether or not the copyright to Happy Birthday has expired.

  13. cherguevara

    I think the romantic nature of the song is key, especially if it is one that is appropriate for big-deal events like weddings or large anniversary parties, etc. “Wonderful Tonight” comes to mind. Or set aside the romance and just go with “Celebration.”

  14. tonyola

    “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” – originally written by Teddy Pendergrass and a hit by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, it’s been widely covered to this day and Simply Red’s version was a huge smash. Sadly, Teddy’s no longer around to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

  15. “In Your Eyes” for Peter Gabriel. Tons of covers, passes the father-daughter dance test…

  16. “Without You”, the Badfinger penned classic that Nillson had a huge hit with from his Nillson Schmillson album. For God’s sake even Terry Bradshaw covered that song! That song has one of the best melodies I’ve ever heard.

  17. Good one! I should note, I’m hoping after we have identified the key components to one of these songs that we can take this thread to the point where we craft our own Retirement Fund Song.

  18. hrrundivbakshi

    You correctly identify “nostalgia” as a key component of the Rock IRA — but there’s a critically important, clearly identifiable subset of that characteristic that bears examining: manly bonding nostalgia, as perfected by Springsteen (“Glory Days,” among many others) and, more uniquely, Thin Lizzy (“Boys Are Back In Town”). I’m sure there are other examples, but surely “Boys Are Back…” deserves acknowledgement.

  19. mockcarr

    I feel like the late 60s, the Easybeats had some songs that could be fulfilled by a bombastic singer with a full brass orchestra. I don’t know why Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, or whoever passed on them, but Falling Off The Edge Of The World could be one of those.

  20. tonyola

    “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – originally written and performed by the late Robert Hazard but we all know what Cyndi Lauper did with the song. For better or worse, you just can’t have a proper 1980s party without Cyndi’s version.

  21. How about these two examples from jazz that may be crucial foundations for the genre: Louis Armstrong “It’s A Wonderful World” and Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” I don’t really know though whether they wrote those songs themselves, and didn’t look it up before posting this.

  22. hrrundivbakshi

    Another example: “Centerfield” by John Fogerty. Dude has written a million songs that have gone on to become classic rock classics — but his Rock IRA has just one song in it, and it’s that one.

  23. misterioso

    Eeesh. Yeah, no question about it. That song merely bugged me until it became clear that not only did he write a pretty crappy song that others covered (which doesn’t bother me all that much) but also he included it on a very good record (Time Out of Mind) in place of other tremendous songs which only saw the light of day later on the Bootleg Series. Most unfortunate.

  24. Happiness Stan

    I was going to suggest Hallelujah, which took off when Jeff Buckley covered it on “Grace” and now everyone on those ghastly telly talent shows seems to have to have a crack at it.

    Our daughter is learning ukulele at her saturday morning performing arts group and the Junior Ukuleles were threatening to perform it at the Christmas concert the weekend before last. The weekend before the concert they dropped it in favour of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which has a lot fewer chords and is more forgiving of ten year olds losing their place, with the added attraction of having a rather more cheerful lyric than Len tends towards.

  25. Happiness Stan

    As a sidenote, there is really serious money to be had from TV theme tunes. I used to know a guy who had bought a house and a fancy car, collected guitars previously owned by Hendrix and lived quite comfortably thank you very much solely through having arranged the theme for a long-running kids telly programme which ran through the late sixties and most of the seventies. He was a lovely bloke, played in a local pub band to keep his hand in, and was always very encouraging to spotty kids like us who insisted on playing guitar in public without necessarily even being able to tune the things.

  26. Happiness Stan

    Cue the popular urban myth about Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” being requested as the Robin Hood Theme at weddings, and the bride walking down the aisle to ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen…”

  27. ladymisskirroyale

    Oh my goodness: Today I was listening to NPR and on some show (Neil Conan’s Talk of the Nation?) there was an interview with a Hawaiian dude on the ukulele and he played “Hallelujah.” And it was pretty nifty. Here ’tis.

  28. ladymisskirroyale

    For optimum performance, the lyrics have to have an easy rhyming scheme (blue moon june) so that all the teary drinkers can recall the words and sing along.

  29. Happiness Stan

    Aha! Like that thing MrLadyM posted earlier?

  30. cactustree69

    2 horrible ones come to mind both with a country flair: “I Hope you Dance” by LeeAnn Womack and “Amazed” by Lonestar (I had to look the artist up on the 2nd). Both reared their ugly heads at multiple weddings I attended and seem to be enduring.There were 2 versions of Amazed, 1 country and 1 pop both horrible.

  31. Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses

    Dylan All Along The Watchtower or Knockin On Heaven’s Door

    u2 – One

    Neil Young – Rockin’ In The Free World

  32. Agreed on the song, though I’d hardly consider Ham and Evans’ tragic stories a good template for how to retire on publishing royalties.

  33. This was meant to be a reply to rexjupiter re: “Without You”. Somehow it ended up at the end of the comments.

  34. Ooh yeah, songs extolling the virtues of the world as we know it! I’m telling you, Townspeeps, when we work through this stuff we need to put our heads together a write one of these bad boys.

  35. That song brings out the Rock IRA’s kiss-ass nature. People love to have their asses kissed; I know I do.

  36. “Glory Days” qualifies, but I can’t say the same for “Boys Are Back in Town.” I know what you’re getting at, but I think that eligibility for enrollment in a Rock IRA (great term, by the way – and since added to the title of this thread/definition) requires the artist to first have a string of hit songs. Those hit songs (or even really good songs, which I’m not sure Thin Lizzy has beside their lone smash) carry the artist through his or her working years. The Retirement Fund Song is written and performed (and covered) to provide a nest egg for those golden years. Does that make sense?

    Speaking of golden years, has Bowie managed to pile up 30 great songs without ever investing in a Rock IRA? Let’s Dance is popular and all that, but it’s not personal and emotional in that universal way that is safe to share with others because it’s all so vague. I think this song needs to allow for universal sharing of an unspecific positive feeling.

  37. Yes, Philly’s own Hazard – if local rock mythology is to be believed – bought an island or something with the money he made from that song. Sadly, like Teddy Pendergrass, he’s no longer here to enjoy it.

  38. I was unfamiliar with those songs, but I just checked out “I Hope You Dance” and the hundreds of versions posted on YouTube all begin with the person who posted the clip mentioning how “inspiring” the song is. Inspiration certainly factors into a Rock IRA.

  39. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” made me think of “Forever Young.” I guess Dylan was playing this market earlier than I’d realized.

    Young’s broad “political” rallying cry is an interesting take on this investment policy. There must be others that fit this bill, like those Toby Keith kind of cash-in on patriotism numbers.

  40. Happiness Stan

    Thin Lizzy had a pretty healthy run of hits over here, although I’d agree “Boys are Back in Town” isn’t a ‘rock IRA song’, more a blokes at the end of a karaoke session demonstrating that they can prevent one another from falling over bonding exercise.

    The initials IRA have some fairly unfortunate connotations over here, at the risk of seeming a bit glum and taking it all rather too seriously, might the Hall consider changing them to something else?

  41. Ah yes, so the alternate term for a Rock Retirement Fund does have some unfortunate alternate connotations. We are aware of that IRA, and the Hall takes no official stand on its cause and means.

  42. alexmagic

    I think there’s a sense that, if the writer is in an existing band, the song must be capable of being performed without any of the other band members.

    Using “Yesterday” or the entire catalog of Van Morrison as templates, you want to make sure that the song is filled with instrumentation that can be handled by ringers (a horn section, a string section) and doesn’t require the Rock Superpowers of your lead guitarist or drummer or anything like that. This provides three key benefits that the savvy rock investor should be targeting:

    -Encourages other performers, especially band free vocalists who can’t write their own Legacy Songs, to perform your song with their own team of all-star schmaltz musicians musicians. This makes anyone who does a cover into one of your Shareholders. And it plays strongly into the vanity of your new Shareholding Vocalist, who will want to be the focus of the audience, because the faceless mercenaries can be kept safely in the background while they emote all the powerful emotional stuff you built into the song.

    -Cuts the rest of your band out of as much return-on-investment yield as you can get away with, especially if you don’t have a profit-share agreement where everyone gets songwriting credit. Paul’s brief attempts to get the “McCartney/Lennon” credit into play speaks to a curious thought I just had, that Paul probably got less out of the “Lennon/McCartney” accounting agreement if you consider “Yesterday” their most “profitable” song.

    -Allows you to borrow against your own Retirement Fund Song Account in later years when you, the songwriter, finally “get your due” by performing the song with your own group of faceless horn/string players in a big live performance/live album. And you are free to hide your diminishing vocal capabilities by not hitting any of the soaring high notes if you simply claim this was the way you always intended for the song to be performed.

  43. See, it’s stuff like this for which the world owes us great thanks.

  44. ladymisskirroyale

    Years and years ago, I saw John Sebastian play solo and his encore was the Welcome Back Kotter theme song, “Welcome Back.” He introduced the song by saying, “This song is really big in my house. In fact, this song paid for my house.” At least he was honest about it being his retirement song.

  45. 2000 Man

    I think Chuck Berry got boned on a lot of royalties, but hasn’t everything on The Great 28 been covered by everyone?

  46. cliff sovinsanity

    It could be argued that Somewhere Over The Rainbow was the first retirement song in the modern pop era, but hardly Rock IRA.

    We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters is certainly a contender.

    Might I also suggest, Atlantic Starr’s Always as the most blatant attempt at writing a wedding song.

  47. The story I heard was Cindi wanted co-writer credit to put it on her album. Hazard said take it or leave it and said that was his best business decision ever.

  48. Ability to set your own (possibly dirty) lyrics to the tune like “Sweet Caroline”.

    Association with sporting events doesn’t hurt either, which leads me to “We Will Rock You / We are the Champions”.

  49. plasticsun

    Have I Told You Lately reminded me of another one – You are So Beautiful, which was much to my surprise, written by Billy Preston, Bruce Fisher and Dennis Wilson? I hope Bruce Fisher is profiting. It strikes me that Oats is correct – it must be able to cross over to MOR.

  50. jeangray

    Not that he’s had a string of hits per se, but Todd Rundgren’s “Bang on the Drum” has certainly constituted a big share of his retirement fund. It also make me wonder how involved he was in the song’s sporting events usage.

    One of his biggest money makers was his production royalty from “Bat Out of Hell.” Production work also should be considered as part of the retirement fund.

  51. BigSteve

    I wonder how much money has flowed into Bob Mould’s IRA because of his Daily Show theme song.

  52. Man, rock investors surely look back fondly at the windfall from that song. Good one!

  53. That is an awesome story. I’d never heard that before.

  54. Although he didn’t get to enjoy much of it, Alex Chilton scored with the theme from that 70’s Show.

  55. cliff sovinsanity

    Didn’t Nick Lowe make dumptruck full of money because of the Bodyguard soundtrack.

  56. hrrundivbakshi

    For the record, as somebody who’s written more than a few TV themes and other scores — you gotta get REAL lucky to make a million doing that for a living. One of our better pieces (we thought) was the theme for a show called “Total Wrecklamation,” on Planet Green It lasted one season. We made a few grand, maybe. Conversely, if you tune in a creepy show on Discovery ID called “Mainstreet Mysteries,” that’s mostly our music as well, and it’s the show that keeps on giving — because they keep re-upping it. The fact that it’s on a second-tier cable network keeps the payments low, but every quarter, I get a nice check I wasn’t expecting. Feast or famine!

  57. Happiness Stan

    Having just spent an evening wrapping presents in the company of BBC4’s “Country Night”, (which had the desired effect of removing the family from the sitting room with the bonus of at last being familiar with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys), I’m now going to spend the next couple of days trying to get Her Dolliness’ “I Will Always Love You” out of my head…

  58. shawnkilroy

    i love this story!

  59. shawnkilroy

    Love Song-The Cure.
    The song has also been covered by the bands 311 (who scored a #1 hit on the Modern Rock Tracks chart with their version, which outperformed the original #2 song on the same chart), A Perfect Circle, Good Charlotte, The Deluxtone Rockets, Jack Off Jill, Snake River Conspiracy, Azam Ali/Niyaz, Ira Losco, Death Cab for Cutie, Anberlin, Seafood, Fordirelifesake, Voltaire, Tori Amos, and many others.

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