Best Songwriting Book, Hands Down, That I’ve Ever Read

And it’s only about lyrics, but it’s still the best.  Better than Ira Gershwin’s Lyrics on Several Occasions, better than Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, better than The Poets of Tin Pan Alley, The Singer and the Song, The Song is Ended, or Fascinating Rhythm.

This is the third copy I’ve owned:

The other two were each leant to an aspiring songwriter with the words, “This is just a loan”.  Foolish, I know, but they were pretty.

Arrogantly, I thought for years that I need not buy this book again, that I had absorbed its knowledge and could now pursue my own Zen master path.  A quick look at the index shows how wrong I was. 

Wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off …

Underrated Song: Photographs (Me In Love With You)

Alec Wilder wrote a highly opinionated book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950. Gosh, it’s a good book.  He has the chutzpah to criticise Rodgers, Berlin, Kern – all of the greats – whenever he feels they’re not at their best.  Pfft, you might say – who’s Alec Wilder, apart from the writer of that lovely 1942 jazz standard I’ll Be Around?

Alec Wilder is the co-writer of this song, to a lyric by Fran Landesman.  Pfft, you might say – who’s Fran Landesman, apart from the co-writer of that lovely 1955 jazz standard Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most?

If you want a few laughs
Old photographs
Are fun to rummage through

Here’s our house in the snow
So long ago
And me in love with you.

Please, cabaret singers, start doing this one.  A tiny, modest little song, and it makes me ache with envy. Amongst other things.

A Fact-Checker? Why? And What’s a Sub-Editor?

Jimmy Webb’s Tunesmith is one of those songwriting books that gets better as it goes along.  It’s scrupulous about crediting songwriters whenever they’re quoted, and the Publishing Credits at the end are commendably anal.  Nevertheless, this, on page 133 of my 1998 paperback edition, where Webb is recommending that songwriters study unconventional structures:

If you are uncertain as to the labeling of a particular section, make up your own name for it.  As John Lennon wrote: “There’s nothing you can hear that can’t be heard” (“All You Need Is Love”, © 1967 Lennon and McCartney)

Now Webb wrote All I Know, and has probably survived more drugs than I ever will.  So I doff my hat, I do, but is that line even in “All You Need Is Love”?  Where?  Even if you didn’t know the song by heart, think about it:  what would Lennon have rhymed it with?

Nothing you can blur that isn’t blurred
Nothing you can fur that isn’t furred
Nothing you can poo that isn’t turd

Or the square root of two is a surd, a blooger’s a nerd, flip you the bird, Duchamp is absurd, Grease is the word. You can see why Lennon chose a different path.

The rest of the book, by the way, is very good.