Thursday 20 June 2024

Ticket 76: The School Hymn Intro

Because all pop songs are modular - built from discrete sections like verses, choruses and bridges - it’s possible to create an intro from the end of a section which naturally proceeds your first section. For song starting with a chorus, the end of the pre-chorus can make a short and effective intro.

As used in Let It Be, Michelle and Merry Xmas Everybody (Slade).

One Minute Theory Lesson

In more traditional Anglican (Episcopalian) churches it’s standard practice for the organist to play the last few bars of a hymn’s verse (as most hymns are in AAA structure) as an introduction for the congregation. This practice carried over into other instances of community singing, like school assemblies and pub singalongs. Though somewhat overused this approach became commonplace because it was so effective, and the Beatles had no qualms about utilising it.

Beatles Application

Let It Be may be the closest thing to a secular hymn the Beatles ever wrote, so Paul was certainly justified in crafting an instrumental intro from the end of the verse as any organist worth his salt would. Unlike many hymns, Let It Be has a completely independent chorus but the last four bars of verse and chorus are practically identical [0:00, 0:32, 0:45].

Misery ends each verse with a refrain (“the world is treating me bad - misery”) which the Beatles sing in free time as an intro [0:02, 0:17] and they mine another end of verse on Another Girl [0:00, 0:21]. George’s songs got similar treatment twice in quick succession with intros being built from the verse-end guitar riffs of 1965’s If I Needed Someone [0:00, 0:19] and 1966’s I Want To Tell You [0:00, 0:32]. On the latter the band stretch the material, fading in on guitar then adding piano, drums and, finally, tambourine. The methodology is obvious when the band are harvesting instrumental hooks as they did here and in Michelle [0:00, 0:45] and In My Life [0:00, 0:46], but it’s easy to miss when they use such a tiny portion from the bridge of Hold Me Tight [0:00, 1:08] and You Won’t See Me’s chorus sounds very different shorn of vocals [0:00, 0:36]. This approach reaches it’s zenith with the intro of I Want to Hold Your Hand, which sounding like a specially written fanfare, when it is merely a vocal-less fragment of the bridge [0:00, 1:03].

Featured Guest Song: Wouldn't It Be Nice

The Beach Boys’ Wouldn't It Be Nice features one of the most intriguing intros in the history of pop. Two electric guitars one playing arpeggios, the second a counter melody both parts unremarkable save for being played very high up the neck. But after only three bars in the key of A major they immediately pivot, via a C major 6 chord, into the verse in the key of F major (0:06).

A | Bm7 | A | C6 | F [1]

Opening a pop song running under two and a half minutes with such a sudden and violent change of tonality seems inexplicable but for the whim of genius or madness. But a closer listen reveals these guitar parts are taken from the end of the bridge (1:22). The bridge introduces a fresh perspective via a key change into D major, a new groove and different instrumentation. It ends with F#m7 | Bm7 | F#m7 before using a suspiciously familiar C6 to pivot back to the key of F. The high guitar parts are right there, arpeggiating the upper part of the F#m7 chord - A C# E - but omitting the root which is handled by the bass and other instruments. In fact they’re playing right from the start of the bridge (1:23) over the Dmaj7 and Gmaj7 chords. So, from the vantage point of the bridge, we realise the intro was actually in D major all along. We assumed it was in A major because of the limited information provided by the A and Bm7 chords. Furthermore, the ‘A major’ is not just part of the F#m7 but the top of the Dmaj9 (D F# A C# E) that opens the section, just as the ‘Bm7’ is the top of Gmaj9 (G B D F# A).[2] The major key of A and D differ by just one note - G# in the former, G natural in the latter. The intro has neither. So when we hear the notes that centres around an A major triad our brains assume that’s the key. It’s a splendid bit of misdirection.

Reader Application

  • The first section of your song will almost certainly be the verse or the chorus. Go through your song and check which sections lead back to the first section (verses and choruses usually lead back to the verse. Pre-choruses, choruses and bridges usually lead back to the chorus, and if your song doesn’t have a pre-chorus the verse should too).
  • Choose a section that naturally leads into your first section.
  • Experiment with different lengths for your intro. Start with just the last two bars of the section, then four bars, then six or eight.
  • Try the intro with and without vocals.
  • If there’s a distinctive instrumental component or hook in the section consider using just that.

Extended Playlist

End of verse and/or chorus (with vocals)

1969 Let It Be - The Beatles [0:00, 0:32, 0:45]

End of verse (with vocals)

1963 Misery - The Beatles [0:02, 0:17]

1965 Another Girl - The Beatles [0:00, 0:21]

End of verse (without vocals)

1965 If I Needed Someone - The Beatles [0:00, 0:19]

1966 I Want To Tell You - The Beatles [0:00, 0:32]

1985 Between The Wars – Billy Bragg [0:00, 0:40]

End of chorus (with vocals)

1969 Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday - Stevie Wonder [0:00, 0:28]

End of chorus (without vocals)

1965 You Won’t See Me - The Beatles [0:00, 0:36]

1965 In My Life - The Beatles [0:00, 0:46]

1973 Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade [0:00, 0:49]

1993 Truganini - Midnight Oil [0:07, 2:02]

End of bridge (with vocals)

1963 Hold Me Tight - The Beatles [0:00, 1:08]

End of bridge (without vocals)

1963 Ask Me Why - The Beatles [0:00, 1:11]

1964 I Want to Hold Your Hand - The Beatles [0:00, 1:03]

1965 Michelle - The Beatles [0:00, 0:45]

1966 Wouldn't It Be Nice - The Beach Boys [0:00, 1:22]

1983 Let’s Dance - David Bowie [0:00, 1:21 single, 1:38 LP]

Further Study

Ticket 2: Put Your Song On A Diet

Ticket 4: Recycle Your Os

Ticket 53: Write A 'Jazz-Style Intro' Verse

Ticket 61: Introduce Your Song's Most Unique Feature Early

Get In Touch

This page is always under construction. Suggestions? Errors? Typos? Heartwarming praise? Let me know!

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(Writers: You may quote this article but please clearly credit me as author and include a link back to or If you are planning to quote a large portion please contact me first).

[1] The aggregation of both guitar parts suggest an overall progression of A F#m | Bm D | A F#m | C6 | F .

[2] On the bonus track Wouldn’t It Be Nice - Instrumental Stereo Mix on the Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Edition you can clearly hear both guitar parts playing over the Dmaj7 and Gmaj7 starting at 1:23 as well as a bum note at 1:27 uncorrected (though barely audible) in the final mix.

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Ticket 78: Play the Vocal Melody

Melody is the essence of music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart [1]

The vocal melody is usually the central element of the song and playing it on an instrument can focus more attention on it. This can work either by doubling the vocals (playing at the same time) or reprising the melody as an instrumental section in it's own right.

One Minute Theory Lesson

Songs generally benefit from a contrasting melodic section (like a guitar solo) that provides variation, but sometimes a completely new section isn’t needed. Reusing a song’s melody as the basis for an instrumental section can strengthen how memorable the song is whilst playing it together with the vocals can help to solidify the melody by weeding out extraneous variations.

Beatles Application

Norwegian Wood opens with the melody embedded within the acoustic guitar part [0:00]. The sitar then doubles the melody [0:08] before being replaced by the lead vocals [0:16].[2] George Harrison embeds the “little darling” part of the melody in Here Comes the Sun in several ways: preceding the vocals [0:00, 0:10], doubling them [0:28] and echoing them with the vocalising “doo doo doo doo” [0:46]. In She Loves You he plays with this idea again in exactly the same manner the playing the “yeah, yeah, yeah” tune in a chord melody style mimicking it as a kind of ‘call back’ [0:52, 0:55] as an echo [2:07] and finally in unison with the backing vocals [2:10]. Once again in Please Please Me he takes the “Last night I said these words to” part of the melody to create a separate melodic intro and interlude played in unison with John’s harmonica [0:01, 0:32].

Featured Artist

Nottingham musician Phil Grafton is a master at embedding the vocal line instrumentally. On his 2019 LP Too Hard to Please he uses piano to doubles the vocal melody on Have You Got a Match [0:46]; piano and acoustic guitar on Night Times for Livin’ [0:13, 0:35, 1:19], Moonshine [0:11] and Blizzard [0:37, 2:48]; piano and electric guitar on Kill the Monster [0:22]; synth on They Went Home [1:22], and violin on Too Hard to Please [0:57, 2:57].

Reader Application

Melodies can be created vocally or on an instrument. Writing vocally, as Paul did on Get Back can help a melody to flow in a very natural way. Writing on an instrument can cause you to push into more adventurous territory, incorporate wider intervals and use bigger patterns. Whatever the starting point singing instrumental melodies and transcribing vocal melodies on your instrument will make you a better musician. Experiment with playing the melodies on different instruments (or combinations of instruments); in different octaves; and (during solos) with small variations in rhythms and phrasing.

Extended Playlist

1963 Please Please Me - The Beatles [0:01, 0:32]

1964 She Loves You - The Beatles [0:52, 0:55, 2:07, 2:10]

1965 Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) - The Beatles [0:00, 0:08, 0:16]

1969 Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles [0:00, 0:10, 0:28, 0:46]

1975 Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen [3:07, 3:20]

1978 Bicycle Race - Queen [0:40]

1984 Don Quixote - Nik Kershaw [0:41]

1984 The Riddle - Nik Kershaw [0:08, 2:36]

1991 Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana [2:54]

2019 Too Hard to Please - Phil Grafton [0:57, 2:57]

2019 Kill the Monster - Phil Grafton [0:22]

2019 Night Times for Livin’ - Phil Grafton [0:13, 0:35, 1:19]

2019 Moonshine - Phil Grafton [0:11]

2019 Have You Got a Match - Phil Grafton [0:46]

2019 They Went Home - Phil Grafton [1:22]

2019 Blizzard - Phil Grafton [0:37, 2:48]

Further Study

Ticket 11: Play The Vocal Rhythm

Check out Too Hard to Please by Phil Grafton on Youtube and Amazon Music.

Get In Touch

This page is always under construction. Suggestions? Errors? Typos? Heartwarming praise? Let me know!

Want to support this project? Leave a tip! (via PayPal).

Want to stay up to date with new content? Join the mailing list.

Writers: You may quote this article but you must clearly credit me as author and include a link back to or If you are planning to quote a large portion
please contact me first.

[1] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Michael Kelly: Reminiscences of Michael Kelly, vol. I (London, Henry Colburn, 1826) (p. 225)

[2] In the case of Norwegian Wood it’s probable that the guitar part was written first, meaning John is singing a guitar part, rather than playing a vocal line.

Monday 23 November 2020

How To Co-write Virtually


 I've not been able to post here for a while as I've been working on a book about Lennon and McCartney. Reviewing the first draft I've had to cull a number of parts that don't really belong in the book and I'll be posting some of them here in the weeks to come. Here's one that that seems very timely.

John and I would sit down and by then it might be one or two o'clock, and by four or five o'clock we'd be done. Three hours is about right, you start to fray at the edges after that. But that's good too because you think, "We've got to get this done!" … We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day. And after that I'd pack up and drive back home and go out for the evening and that was it.
Paul McCartney in Barry Miles: Many Years From Now (p.171)
The last verse was no problem "Two hours is up! C'mon, just put "Repeat 1". That's how a lot of our songs end, "Repeat 1". We'd number the verses, one, two, so we'd write a couple of verses, middle, the chorus, then pretty much repeat verse one. Which was good if it was hooky, it meant that you've heard those lyrics twice, so we'd rammed 'em home, and it saved us having to think of a third verse.

Paul McCartney in Barry Miles: Many Years From Now (p.152)

Though they often started ideas separately John and Paul wrote together in the same room “eyeball to eyeball” “singing into each other's noses” as Lennon memorably put it. But in Covid-ravaged 2020 that's not been possible for many.

Here are some tips for songwriters struggling to co-write remotely. 

Decide the method

Broadly speaking you can collaborate remotely in real time, you can tag-team (taking it in turns to progress the song) or you can divide the song up and work on different parts interdependently, assembling the parts at the end. 

Choose your tools 

Emailing files back and forth? - Audio, Lyrics? What format? Mp3, Word? Uploading to the cloud? Virtual documents you both edit?

Whatever options you have always go for the simplest, dumbed down option that will suit your needs. John and Paul started with an old school exercise book. If the system doesn't break down (and it probably will) you still want to remove as much drag as possible. Once you've got your tools get used to them, meaning learn workarounds for the things that don't function as they should or as you'd like them to.

Set a time limit

If you're collaborating in real time using conferencing software (Zoom, Teams, FaceTime) give yourself a limited window. John and Paul kept sessions to a three hour limit. After that you can just get too brain-fried.

Agree waiting etiquette

Writing by tag team method, i.e. one of you move the song on so far and then stopping is another way to do it. But make sure you need to agree when the tag point will be. What are you going to do before you hand off to your partner? Communicate!

Split microtasks

You can get rid of some of the waiting around by dividing up some of the more mundane jobs. Fix a problem lyric line, write a guitar solo, come up with three possible intros. If you're handing off the job though it's important to give the person a free hand and accept you can't have 100% input into 100% of the song as you might if you were both in the room. If it's a part you must have a say in then write it together.

Communicate literally and unambiguously

If you're writing live via video conference remember a lot of body language vibes type communication is going to be lost. Even more so if you're emailing or texting. Emojis are not the most nuanced communication tools. So try to say clearly and unambiguously what you feel. “I really like that chord pattern”. “The rhythm feels a little awkward”. “These lyrics aren't grabbing me. Can we brainstorm lines for five minutes and pick the best ones?” Follow up the session with a quick debrief and then set up home work assignments and/or future sessions. This can be directly at the end of a session or after sleeping on the song for a few days. The debrief is simply assessing 'where we're up to' - “I think we have verse one and two. The chorus hook needs work. We need to rethink the bridge”.

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Friday 17 July 2020

Under The Influence: Kurt Cobain

I like the Beatles, but I hate Paul McCartney.
Rolling Stone

I loved Paul McCartney … He meant more to me than my own parents.
Sandford: McCartney*

The Beatles were a early and formative influence on Cobain. A video survives of him singing Hey Jude at the age of two and he remembers walking around the neighbourhood singing Beatles songs while playing a toy bass drum. He wrote he was "forever grateful" to his Aunt Mari for giving him three Beatles albums and heartbroken when he learned in 1976 that the band had split up years before.

In high-school Kurt wrote a 2000 word essay on Give My Regards To Broad Street after he spent much of the winter of 1984-5 listening to the soundtrack*.

About a Girl was written after Kurt spent three hours listening to Meet The Beatles on repeat to get in the mood and the In Bloom video is a parody of the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

In my Life was played at his funeral.

Here are a few quotes.

I don’t value music much. I like the Beatles, but I hate Paul McCartney. I like Led Zeppelin, but I hate Robert Plant. I like the Who, but I hate Roger Daltrey.

John Lennon was definitely my favourite Beatle, hands down. I don’t know who wrote what parts of what Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney embarrasses me. Lennon was obviously disturbed [laughs]. So I could relate to that. And from the books I’ve read - and I’m so sceptical of anything I read, especially in rock books - I just felt really sorry for him. To be locked up in that apartment. Although he was totally in love with Yoko and his child, his life was a prison.

John Lennon has been my idol all my life but he’s dead wrong about revolution… find a representative of gluttony or oppression and blow the motherf***er's head off.

Even in Nirvana — the Beatles [were] such a huge influence. Kurt loved The Beatles because it was just so simple. Well, it seemed simple… they sound easy to play, but you know what? They’re f**cking hard!
Dave Grohl: Access Online

Everyone talks about Kurt's love affair with ... the whole punk scene, but he was also a huge Beatles fan, and the more time we spent together the more obvious their influence on his songwriting became.
Butch Vig: NME

Here is Cobain covering McCartney twice (without embarrassment!) And I Love Her (extra links here and here) ...

And Hey Jude (aged 2).


*I loved Paul McCartney … He meant more to me than my own parents.
Christopher Sandford: McCartney (p.297) - I can find no sources for Sandford's quotes, which seem to be at odds with other quotes. If you can confirm or deny let me know!
Rolling Stone 
Access Online 
NME interview 2004
Charles R. Cross: Heavier Than Heaven


Dave Grohl on the Beatles

Thursday 2 July 2020

10:69 Good Night

King of Sleep

Good Night was written by John for Julian Lennon, probably during May/June 1968*. You could call it part of John's sleep trilogy with I'm Only Sleeping and I'm So Tired, or a bookend with Good Morning, Good Morning. Either way sleep was a reoccurring theme in Lennon's work – appropriate for some one once dubbed “the laziest man in England”.

The rehearsal tracks on 50th Anniversary reveal Lennon wrote the song using the fingerpicking pattern Donovan taught him in Rishikesh (ticket 59) – making this a brother-song to Julia and Prudence (and Warm Gun).This guitar version with John, Paul and George adding complex vocal harmonies somewhere between 'Because' and 'barbershop quartet' (Take 10 - 0:26) was abandoned* leaving Ringo to rehearse with piano accompaniment from George Martin* in preparation for the orchestral backing (Take 22).

For the second time on a Ringo track the band attempted (then rejected) a spoken intro. Yellow Submarine kicked off with “And we will march to free the day to see them gathered there, from Land O’Groats to John O’Green, from Stepney to Utrecht, to see a yellow submarine, we love it!”. Here Ringo improvises lines like “Put all those toys away. Yes, Daddy will sing a song for you!” or “Cover yourself up, Charlie*. Pull those covers up and off you go to dreamland!”

The finished record has George Martin's fingerprints all over it but it's possible that some of the most 'Martin' moments originated with John. The wonderful instrumental interlude (1:50) is rather baroque in style and the only non-diatonic moment in the song (ticket 28). But the chord movement is clearly there when John is accompanying Ringo on the guitar (Take 10 – 1:32) and less clear when George is on the piano (Take 22 – 2:26). And the backing vocals recorded by the Mike Sammes Singers are well on their way to being 'overlush' in the hands (mouths) of John, Paul and George. None of this disproves 'Big George' having his finger in the pie but we have to credit John with being fully involved, as were the others. It's heart-warming to hear the whole band coaching Ringo as he become the third Beatles to record a 'solo track'*.

Ditching the piano to play celesta (2:14) George arranged the song for a string section (12 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, 1 double bass) 8 singers, 3 flutes, a clarinet, a french horn, a vibraphone and a harp. Sappy or not, it's a beautiful arrangement and totally right for the song*.

Hey Jools, Please Go To Bed

Everything great about this song hinges on it being an 'occasional' song (Ticket 66) - in this case a lullaby. Beyond entertainment or passive listening an occasional song serves a purpose – a national anthem, a birthday song, a football team chant, learning your times-tables. How 'good' it is depends to a large extent on how well it serves that purpose. This song is designed to lull a little loved one to sleep and John makes lyrical and melodic choices that might be bad for your average pop song but are perfect here*.

Lyrically it's incredibly simple. John uses only 30 different words (Ticket 23) and they are all one syllable*. Perfect for a song written for a five year old child.

Small children love repetition. We have the same phrase in lines 2 and 4 (good night, sleep tight) and a wholesale repeat of verse 2 after the instrumental section (Ticket 67). There's also repetition via parallel lyrics (Ticket 24) dream sweet dreams for me / for you and the lovely rhyming concept of sun/moon - Now the moon begins to shine (v1) and Now the sun turns out his light (v2). All this repetition is very comforting.

Simplicity defines the structure too. The only distinct section is a verse with a refrain (the term 'chorus' seems a bit grand for 'dream sweet dreams...' and the title is in the other section). For analysis sake we'll call the verse A and the refrain B. The brief instrumental interlude is a variation on the B section, and so is the intro/outro (ticket 4).

Tune out

The modest vocal range of less than an octave (ticket 40) is another thing that marks it out as a 'children's song'.

The A section finds Lennon at his most melodic, though he doesn't leap around as athletically as McCartney, using 3rds, 4ths and 5ths. The B section is typically horizontal using two notes in the first phrase (dream sweet dreams for me) and only one in the second (dream sweet dreams for you). But the lush chords make it sound clever because every note is supported (doubled) by rich chords – major sevens and slash chords (D7/G) implying 11th and 13ths.

Far more important though is the shape of the melody. The melody feels so wonderfully light and 'sing-song' because it constantly goes up and down and sticks to the same lazy 1 / +3 / +1 / +3 rhythm. Notice the rhythmic similarity between close / your eyes / and I'll /close mine and dream / sweet dreams / for me.

There are three subtle contrasts between the A and B sections that prevent things becoming monotonous. First, as already mentioned, the range in the A section is a 6th (C - A) but only a semitone in the B (F# - G). Second, the melodies move in the opposite direction. Up-down-up-down-up-down-up in the A section and down-up-down-up-down in the B. Finally, the vocal rhythm is broken up on lines 2 and 4 of the A section (good night, sleep tight) by having the chords change on every word (ticket 36) instead of two words per chord in the rest of the song.

That said, many things that make a great Beatles song are missing here – the only out of key chords (ticket 28) are the G7 and A7 implied in the instrumental section. In fact there's very little chord movement at all – a short jump from G to Bm7 followed by a walk back down to Am7 and G is about as daring as it gets. There's a descant (ticket 58) at 0:55 but the backing vocals are in the background, smothered in strings. The whole effect is a soothing comfort blanket of sound with the opening and closing string melody rocking you to sleep. The only 'drama' is the ascending scales in the 'solo' but even that section ends with the cellos drifting down into the land of nod. In short there is no drama because drama is not what you need in a lullaby.

John (and the team) show such restraint in this recording and to me that's what makes it such a successful song in it's own right.

The wonderful thing about writing an occasional song is that the competition is so limited (Christmas songs aside). So even your poor attempt at a bar mitzvah, pancake day, university graduation or coming out song is probably going to be in the All Time Top 20.

I mean how many great rock lullabies* can you name?


Probably during May/June 1968*
The song is unlikely to predate Rishikesh as Lennon is using the fingerpicking technique learned in India and it wasn't demoed at Esher in May, so it was probably written afterwards.

Also abandoned was a crazy-sounding octave-higher guitar effect achieved by double-tracking the guitar part at half-speed (Good Night Take 10).

Piano played by George Martin
Of the three suspects – the pianist is clearly not John. The rehearsal tapes (Take 22) reveal he's in the control room using the talkback mic. George and Paul are in the studio with Ringo but seem to be there for moral support and click track duties. George Martin is also on the 'production floor' and the piano playing is both accomplished and similar to the string parts in a way that suggests he's fleshing out the arrangement. In short Paul would play more like a piano player, this person is playing like an arranger/accompanist – so George gets my vote.

Cover yourself up, Charlie
I'm not the first person to wonder what Charles Manson would have made of getting a name check on the White Album.

The third Beatles to record a 'solo track'
Paul had recorded Yesterday, without the others and George, Within You Without You. John would complete the set with Julia, coached through his performance by Paul in the control room.

Totally right for the song
As is Giles Martin's remix which sparkles, gives the arrangement a kick at 1:05 and 1:34 and removes the nasty thump from Ringo's whispered outro (2:53).

John makes lyrical and melodic choices [that] are perfect
Certainly more effectively than Paul's screamer of a lullaby Golden Slumbers written six months later!

One syllable
Ringo says 'everybody' in the coda but that's a spoken ad-lib rather than a part of the song.

Rock lullabies
Though it's NOT a lullaby I'm convinced that Queen's We Will Rock You was inspired by the Czech lullaby Little Jesus, Sweetly Sleep aka The Rocking Carol translated by Percy Dearmer. 

Ticket 66: Write An Occasional Song

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Golden Ticket: Embrace Your Mistakes (Ticket 72)

Every artist needs fresh inspiration and sometimes mistakes can be a source of new sounds and ideas. Now, more than ever, musicians and producers have the tools to scrub every error from a recording but the end result can be flat, dehumanised and boring. Whether we screw up when the tape is rolling or mess up in rehearsal and then decide to keep the results, sometimes throwing a spanner in the works is the smart thing to do.

Or at least leaving the spanner where you dropped it.

Mistakes can make the listener feel they are really THERE or that the vibe is laid back or 'real' and not cleaning up your tracks is a great way to achieve this. Keeping count-ins, or even flying them in from other takes: I Saw Her Standing There, Taxman, Revolution 1, or catching snippets of conversation: Revolution 1 (0:00), Level With Yourself (0:53), Little Wonder (0:39). It's the equivalent of professionally lighting your 'no make up selfie'.

Keeping mistakes and retakes (e.g. the start of Bob Dylan's 115th Dream) help to humanise the artist; doubly so if they end up swearing in frustration: Hey Jude (2:58), Louie Louie (0:53), Good Riddance (0:00).

Vocals entering early is another common 'keeper'. Robert Plant comes in a whole four bars early on the second verse of Stairway To Heaven (1:32)* and James Blunt's premature arrival in You're Beautiful (0:23) is so obvious it warranted it's own parody.*

Singers sometimes struggle to get the words out and that stuttering can be serendipitous if your song is about barely containable teenage rage (My Generation) or accepting your failings (You're Only Human – 3:19).

Mistakes in the recording process itself can be useful. Both Revolution 1 (3:23) and Let Me Roll It (4:22) have extra beats caused by bad tape editing. Flying In a Blue Dream opens with other-worldly voices (0:02) – the result of picking up radio interference during recording. My own cover of River of Suffering catches the sound of a police car passing outside the studio (3:09).

The Right Time For Mistakes

To conclude – mistakes should be embraced when you're looking for fresh inspiration, want to bring the listener closer, humanise the artist, or just communicate a sense of fun and not taking yourself too seriously. If the nature of the mistake reflects the subject material of the song that's even better. And who knows? They may even advance your career.

When Ella Fitzgerald performed Mack the Knife in Germany for a live album, she forgot the lyrics to one of the many verses. Undaunted, she started freestyling lyrics (1:55, 2:50, 3:44, 4:00) throwing in a killer Louis Armstrong impersonation along the way (3:16). That performance won her, not one but, two Grammys*.

Revolution 1 – The Beatles (0:00, 3:23)
Level With Yourself - David Bazan (0:53)
Little Wonder - David Bowie (0:39)
Bob Dylan's 115th Dream – Bob Dylan (0:00)
Louie Louie – The Kingsmen (0:53)
Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) – Green Day (0:00)
My Generation – The Who (0:05, 0:16, 0:30, 0:36, 0:41, 0:45, 1:20, 1:25, 1:58, 2:04).
You're Only Human (Second Wind) – Billy Joel (3:19)
Let Me Roll It - Paul McCartney and Wings (4:22)
Flying In a Blue Dream – Joe Satriani (0:02)
The River of Suffering – Matt Blick (3:09)

For an expanded playlist for this songwriting tip – go here

See also


Second verse of Stairway To Heaven
This is far from obvious but compare the chord sequences on 'verse 1' (0:52) and 'verse 2' (1:32) it's clear that Plant sings 'chorus 1' (1:19) once but Page plays it twice. Plant then sings verse 2 over one chorus progression and one verse progression then runs out of lyrics, leaving Page an extra four bars to fill in with some nifty fingerpicking. This 'mistake' would have been clearly obvious to all involved at once the reason it remained is – it's kind of cool!

Warranted it's own parody
You're Pitiful - "Weird Al" Yankovic (0:12) mercilessly mocks Blunt's entrance. In a similar way, someone on Sting's version of Shadows In The Rain (0:00) pays homage to bassist Joe Swift on Fingertips - Part 2 by Stevie Wonder (2:22) by repeated asking what key they're playing in.

Two Grammys
Ella Fitzgerald won Best Female Vocal Performance (Single) and Best Female Vocal Performance (Album) for Mack The Knife at the1960 Grammy Awards.

Monday 8 June 2020

Under The Influence: Elliott Smith

At what age did you realise you wanted to become a musician?
Probably five, as soon as I heard The White Album. It was pretty much my inspiration, that and AC/DC.
Elliott Smith: NME (2000)

My friends and I were just starting to teach ourselves guitar in 1980. I was 11 and really into Beatles songs like Julia and Sexy Sadie— cool, kaleidoscopic chord changes. I was totally immersed in trying to figure it all out, and it was slowly happening when some madman gunned down the guide. At first, kids at school acted like it was a hoax. It didn’t seem real at the time, and to be honest, I rarely think of John Lennon as dead. There’s too much life in his music to think of him as gone. For some reason when I think of him now, I usually picture him the way he looked and sounded during the 'hairy and scary' phase, around the time of Abbey Road. Definitely on his own trip. It’s neat when you’re a kid to see people who aren’t scared to change.

My folks were Beatles fans and supposedly played Sgt. Pepper’s for me before I was born. In junior high I thought that A Day in the Life was probably my favourite song ever. Of course, now I have many, many favourite songs, but a lot of them are still Lennon songs. For example:

I’m Only Sleeping

Most songs that bring up wanting to be left alone in some way or another don’t do it as gracefully as this one. It’s cool to express and defend your own interior space without getting all hostile about it; this song makes it seem easy. I also like the way it feels as if it’s pulling itself along with its own momentum instead of being pushed forward heavily with the kick drum.

Tomorrow Never Knows

The first line kinda says it all, really. Again, it’s like he’s describing a solid internal state you can maintain without doing battle with the outside world. Sometimes the most amazing thing to me about Lennon is that he kept a positive identity despite such a cracked upbringing and crazy fame.

Cold Turkey and Jealous Guy

Being this honest can be risky, which, of course, is an excellent idea. It’ll either be sappy or brave. Or both. He chanced it and won. Other people have to write this way all the time. Lennon had access to all floors. Didn’t he also write:

I Am the Walrus

It’s dark, complicated, funny, and popular; it rocks; and it contains the phrase “goo goo g’joob.” Lyrics all over the place. I like songs like this because they activate my imagination. Coherence is fine and all, but it’s not the measure of interesting lyrics. Sonically, this song seems to be coming from a person who just busted out of incarceration somewhere.

Across the Universe

This song is fluid and musical in a way that, to me, overarches all the cultural and political commentary that surrounds his life. A really cool song can sometimes make a dream and reality trade places, maybe for the better.
Elliott Smith: SPIN (Jan 2001)

Five Beatles Cover Version by Elliott Smith