In December last year one of pop music’s most famous mysteries was (probably) solved. We now have a reliable and replicable method of playing the Hard Day’s Night chord, courtesy of Randy Bachman. Here’s my summary of his explanation, with added guitar fretboxes.
Guitar 1 (Rickenbacker 12-string)
This is a tricky chord to fret, but it can be done, with the thumb over the neck playing the bass note, then the third finger covering the third fret across the fifth and fourth strings, then the rest of the fingers playing one note each. The thumb explanation is pretty plausible – George Harrison is frequently pictured using his thumb to fret notes on the bass E string. It’s also important to remember that Rickenbacker 12-strings are strung ‘backwards’ in that the high octave strings (E, A, D and G) are underneath their respective low-octave partners in each pair (underneath, ie, nearer to the floor). Rickenbackers are different from every other 12-string guitar in this respect, and this obviously plays a big part of the sound of the Rickenbacker 360-12 – and therefore of the HDN chord.
Guitar 2 (Rickenbacker 6-string)
Much simpler – a Dsus4.
Bass (Hofner electric bass)
McCartney plays a D, probably at the 12th fret of the D string.
Mystery solved – or is it?
We should not discount Dominic Pedler’s assertion that resonant notes from George Martin’s piano may play a part. I am not completely convinced that Harrison would play such a difficult-to-fret chord – I think it is possible that he played just the top four strings of the chord (this is certainly the shape he uses in the outro), leaving the low-end G and C to be supplied by the piano as Pedler suggested. That said, it is hard to deny that Bachman’s live demo of the chord is pretty compelling.
And the name of the chord is…
I suggest the following two contenders, although the question is pretty irrelevant – giving the chord a name is gratuitous musicological reverse-engineering in which the Beatles would almost certainly not have indulged.
This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 218, September 2011. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Christian Ward. Click the image on the right to download a pdf of the article.
Guitarists who write songs can be reluctant lyricists. We all find it pretty easy to string some chords together; many of us have no problem humming a melody atop. But sooner or later every songwriter has to ask the question – what is my song about? (unhelpful answer – it’s about three-and-a–half minutes).
There are perhaps two reasons that we sometimes find lyric-writing a chore. Firstly, it’s not necessarily our first love, compared to the guitar itself – if we’d wanted to be poets we’d be hanging out in French cafés smoking cheroots and reading Sartre, right? Secondly, when we start out as songwriters we often try writing songs ‘in the right order’, strumming the intro chords and then hoping lyric inspiration will strike us in the 5th or 9th bar of music.
This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 217, August 2011. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Christian Ward. Click the image on the right to download a pdf of the article.
Guitar solos. We love them, of course, but don’t you always have a sneaking suspicion that the audience is just waiting for the singer to get on with the rest of the song? Our secret weapon in this attention war is the riff. These ‘mini-solos’ are easy to play, sound great, and perhaps most importantly, remind everyone that you’re the Most Important Person In The Band.
Riffs are almost always one, two or four bars in length and repeat at various points throughout the song. There are three broad types, defined by their function: solo riffs, call-and-response riffs and underscore riffs.
Solo riffs often form the intro of the song and typically reappear between vocal sections. Notable examples include Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water, Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back In Town and Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight. When you’re writing a solo riff, you can be as busy or melodic as you like, because anything you play won’t get in the way of the voice. Take Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years: its four-bar riff is filled with fast triplets. It would be near impossible to hear the vocal over such a detailed guitar part, so the band sensibly provides 16 bars of space to let the riff shine through.
Call-and-response riffs are used to fill the gaps between vocal phrases within a section. Examples include John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom and The Rolling Stones’ The Last Time, which start exactly one beat after the voice. Again, these riffs give you a lot of freedom to do whatever you want musically, as long as it’s the same each time, but you have to get in quick before the next vocal phrase. AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie uses call-and-response for the verses, then adapts the riff so that it becomes the accompaniment in the chorus.
This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 216, July 2011. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Christian Ward. Click the image to download a pdf.
If you build it, they will come
Most songs consist of a small number of basic building blocks, and the order of these defines the form. Some of the blocks themselves will be familiar to any music fan – intro, verse, chorus, bridge and so on, and each has its own particular characteristics.To state the obvious, a verse has the same melody and different lyrics each time it repeats; a chorus usually has identical lyrics and melody each time you hear it. Intros and outros can have their own original music, but are often just an instrumental version of another section (ever noticed how the intro chords for lots of chart hits are the same as those for the chorus? This is a psychological trick played on the listener so that when the ‘real’ chorus arrives, we feel like we already know it).
On the questions sheet (click on the image on the right to download pdf) you will find the lyrics for 12 Christmas UK number 1 hits, displayed as a Wordle. I’m looking for artist, year and title. No Googling allowed! I’ll post the answers here soon.
This article first appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 215, June 2011. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Christian Ward.
Six rules of (fingers and) thumb
There are no rules in songwriting. It’s your song, and you can do anything you like with it. But! There are principles that occur in a large number of successful songs, and many of the songwriters I teach find these ideas useful when writing new material. They are, in no particular order, Economy, Imagery, Prosody, Universality, Repetition and Originality.
Songs use word economy to communicate lyric ideas. The Beatles’ Yesterday tells an entire story of love, loss and regret in 84 words – and 125 seconds (and it holds the record for the most cover versions of any song in history). Many successful songs start with a killer first line that provides lots of information in a few words. When we hear “Stacey’s Mom has got it goin’ on” (Fountains of Wayne) we know (or guess) that the singer is an American teenager, that he is dating a girl called Stacey, that he’s in love with her mother, and that the mum knows nothing about it. Not bad in seven words.
Music fans listen with their imagination as well as their ears – and lyric imagery is one of the most useful tools we have in stimulating it. So if you say “I met a girl in a night club” you’re halfway to telling the story, but if you add detail you get “I met her in a club down in old Soho / where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola” (from the Kinks’ classic Lola – TG205). We see a picture in our minds when we hear this lyric. We also get an inkling of the narrator’s naivety – he’s never been to a bar and doesn’t know why the drinks taste funny.
You can write perfectly good lyrics without using imagery, but a few choice visuals can work wonders in helping fans to remember your song. And images can also be used as metaphor. In Biffy Clyro’s God & Satan, when Simon Neil sings “the see-saw snaps and splinters your hand”, he’s talking about life’s balance between good and evil, not about a children’s playground. But if he’d just sung “when your life doesn’t work out as you hoped” the lyric would have been much weaker.
Prosody is a catch-all term to describe music and lyric working together to give meaning for the listener. If your chorus says “I Predict A Riot” it’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to accompany it with delicate open-tuned fingerstyle guitar and a tempo of 60 beats per minute – the feeling of the lyric doesn’t go with the music. Conversely, “You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips” (from You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling) is such a tender image that you won’t want amps up to 11 and a Screamo vocal.
Some songwriters believe that melody and lyric are even more closely related – that positive lyrics go with rising melodies and negative ones with descending melodies. There are plenty of classics that disprove this theory, of course, but again it’s surprising how often you find really successful songs following the ‘rule’. And while we’re at it, have you noticed that the chorus melody is almost always higher-pitched than the verse? It makes people want to join in and tells them that this is the ‘point’ of your lyric.
To state the obvious, successful song lyrics appeal to lots of people – this is often described as Universality. It’s no accident that more than 80% of the biggest hits of all time are about love and relationships, because it’s something that all humans relate to. But it’s not all hearts and flowers. Elbow’s One Day Like This suggests that if we can all just feel good about ourselves for one day, we’ll put up with the rest of life’s troubles (and the chorus opens with the wonderful image “throw those curtains wide”). And listen to Lennon’s Imagine – who wouldn’t agree that there should be more love in the world?
Repetition! What is it good for? Absolutely everything! Say it again. It might not seem terribly ‘clever’ to simply repeat the title in your chorus, but it’s amazing how well this simple device can work.
Perhaps the most difficult part of songwriting is achieving originality. As listeners, we need to hear that quirky extra ingredient – the sound, riff, melody, chord pattern or lyric we haven’t heard before. Over to you.
I’ve updated the AABA form lecture to include YouTube clips and more detailed notes on the adaptations applied to the songs. This presentation should be useful to our MMus Songwriting students with whom we discussed these examples (and more) today at Corsham.
It could be said that songs (as distinct from recordings) consist of only three things – melody, lyric and chords. Today we’re going to focus on the use of guitar chord changes in the songwriting process, and how you can use them to make your songs communicate more powerfully.
When you’re adding chords to a new song, you get to decide on the chord root (C, G, Eb, F# or whatever), the chord type (major, minor, m7, 7flat9 etc) and when in the song each chord change should happen. The first two are pretty easy to explain and to use – every guitarist has a chord vocabulary, and if you want to use new and exotic chords, you can either consult a chord book or make up shapes by trial-and-error.
It’s the placement of each chord that sometimes takes a bit more work. Many new songwriters change the chords every bar, on the bar. They strum a chord for two or perhaps four beats, then move onto the next chord. Sometimes the whole song consists of the same four-chord loop over and over – well-trodden paths include Am-G-F-G, C-G-Am-F, Am-C-G-D or even the old 1950s staple C-Am-F-G. Using the same chord loop throughout is a perfectly good way of writing a song, and includes four-chord classics such as Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, U2’s With Or Without You, Ben E King’s Stand By Me and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, but it’s not the only option. The simplest change you can make is to vary the loops, using a different sequence for verse and chorus e.g. Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams uses (capo 1st fret) Em-G-D-A for the verse, then C-G-D-Em for the chorus.
And chords don’t always have to change on the barline – you can do it any beat of the bar. One method that songwriters use to spice up a sequence is to include an additional chord change on the half-bar i.e. beat 3 if you’re in 4/4 time. Say you’ve decided you’re going to write a 4/4 verse section that uses the chords of E, G, D and A. The most obvious starting point would be to strum each chord for a bar each, creating a four-bar loop that you’d then repeat. So let’s try a few variations. Strum the E for two bars, the G for one bar, then the D and A for two beats each. Not only is this less predictable, it’s more likely to encourage your brain to write a more interesting melody. Here’s another variation. Strum the E for three beats, then change to the G on the count of four and throughout the second bar (this is sometimes called a ‘push’ chord change). Then play the D chord from the start of bar 3, changing to the A only for the final two beats of bar 4.
The term we use to refer to how often the chords change is called ‘harmonic rhythm’, and it’s a very useful tool for the songwriter because it is one of the ways we control the listener’s sense of ‘pace’ and momentum in the song. To go back to Boulevard… as an example, both chord loops are played as half-bar changes, or two beats per chord. At the end of this chorus there’s a surprise for the audience as the song includes a B major chord for two whole bars – which adds to the drama of a melodic change combined with the emotionally powerful lyric “Til then I walk alone”.
Changing the harmonic rhythm at the start of a chorus can help to show the listener that they’re hearing a new section; typical techniques include moving from half-bars to whole-bar changes, or from whole-bar changes to two-bar changes, or vice versa. Clapton’s Tears In Heaven uses half-bar changes (with occasional whole bars) in the verses, then switches to whole-bar changes throughout the chorus, supporting the change of mood provided by the self-reflective lyric “I must be strong…”. This ‘gear-shift’ effect can be equally effective at the start of bridge section or even a guitar solo.
Generally, the faster the harmonic rhythm, the more momentum the section will have. For example, the Rolling Stones use 2-bar changes (verse) followed by 1-bar changes (chorus) in Satisfaction, but take the exact opposite approach in Sympathy For The Devil.
Every song has its own signature harmonic rhythm, and controlling it in your songwriting can add a powerful weapon to your arsenal of techniques. Ready… aim… strum!
This is an academic paper on the subject of collaborative songwriting in the studio. It was presented at the 6th Art of Record Production conference in Dec 2010 and appears in the Journal of the Art of Record Production Conference Proceedings – ISSN 1754-9892. Please feel free to download/cite it as you think fit. The correct citation is;
Bennett, J., 2011. Collaborative songwriting – the ontology of negotiated creativity in popular music studio practice. In Journal of the Art of Record Production 2010. Leeds, UK: Art of Record Production.
In keeping with my view that academics should make their research as freely available as possible, you can download the whole paper here.
Blog complete – if you’re reading this there’s no need to hit ‘refresh’ now.
21:58 All complete – my top 3
I’m going to stop updating this post now and watch the voting. I’ve not predicted the winner accurately for many years; my last success was Denmark’s Wings of Love in 2000 (I wasn’t blogging back then so you’ll have to take my word for it!) but at least my top few have never got ‘null points’.
So I’m going to commit to a top 3, and will leave this post up in its unedited form, so that my utter wrong-ness can be preserved for posterity.
In my academic research I’ve been investigating the ‘constraints of song’ – that is, what defines a song, and what creative decisions are likely to make it more (or less) successful. The simplest of these is track duration, not least because it’s easily measurable.
I couldn’t find any statistical study of track length over time, so did a quick analysis myself, finding the top 10 best-selling singles of each decade 1960s-2000s (from everyhit.com) and comparing them to the track runtime from the relevant iTunes download. The full spreadsheet of my data can be found here (rough paste below).
The mean average length of track rose from 2:43 in the 1960s to 4:03 in the 1970s but then (from the 1970s) fluctuated by no more than 0:18 per decade, maintaining an average length of around 4:00 over 40 years.
The median song length, from the 1970s, is even more conservative, with only 0:12 change (3:47 to 3:59) between the 1970s and 2000s.
Best-selling hit songs were shorter in duration during the 1960s (although this may have been dramatically affected by some very short early Beatles’ singles, five of these appearing in the decade’s top 10, all with a duration of less than 2:30).
The mean average duration of best-selling hit songs has not varied significantly by decade since the 1970s.
It’s impossible to own the copyright on a lyric concept. An immeasurable number of songs have been written about the songwriter’s favourite subject – romantic love – so it’s to be expected that from time to time lyrics feature similar ideas or even specific phrases. So when a well-known play on words appears in a song title – and in the main chorus hook – and then someone copies the lyric almost verbatim, there’s a dilemma for the listener, and perhaps for the songwriter.
Today’s example is Britney Spears’ song ‘Hold It Against Me‘, as contrasted with the Bellamy Brothers’ 1979 hit ‘If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)’. It is doubtful here whether a copyright has been infringed (as the lyrics are referencing a cheesy chat-up line which pre-dates both works) but I think you’ll agree that anyone familiar with the Bellamy Bros’ song would recognise it in the Britney one. This just goes to show that the ‘philosophical’ definition of musical plagiarism is not always the same as the legal one…
Here’s an advert soundalike track. They’ve even copied the Cuíca drum. Not a single note or chord is the same as Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, of course. But the arrangement and production clearly references the Paul Simon original – and the casual listener is left in no doubt of the source. This is the challenge of soundalike works in music publishing – technically copyright can subsist in any part of a musical work, but it tends to be interpreted (in law and in the making of the work) as only being based around musical notes i.e. if it can’t be notated, it isn’t copyright.
Of course, it is impossible to own the copyright in a musical technique, whether it be strummed semiquavers on an acoustic guitar or a Cuica ‘laughing’ drum. But if the combination of musical decisions in the original work is unique (strummed 16 acoustic, Cuica drum coming in a few bars later, fingerboard muting over a 3-chord/2-bar loop, all at the unusually fast tempo of 210BPM), it’s fair to say that the soundalike track is referencing a specific work rather than just a musical style. And if this is the case, it’s presumably been done so that the casual listener will ‘recognise’ the original; thus, the copyist is benefiting (in this case commercially) from the endeavours of the original artist – without licensing the track or asking permission.
Disclaimer – I make these observations only as an interested academic and musician. There is, as far as I know, no copyright infringement case associated with these works, and if there is I am unconnected with it. But if anyone connected with the publishing of ‘Julio’ is reading this, I hope you go after them!
I’ve just presented my own paper – seemed to go OK. I’ll post more about this later in the PhD section, but for now here’s the abstract;
Joe Bennett – Bath Spa University
Collaborative songwriting – the ontology of negotiated creativity in popular music studio practice
The relationship between songwriting practice and song product is an under-explored one in popular musicology, still less so in a studio-based environment. Our research sources are accordingly limited, drawing mainly on first-hand retrospective interviews with artist-songwriters, who may have an incentive for self-mythologising, or at least romanticising their songwriting methods to preserve fan perceptions of authenticity. There are no available real-time observations of the collaborative processes involved in creating popular song, despite the huge economic and artistic successes of songwriting partnerships throughout the history of our field. Sloboda (1985) identifies the reluctance displayed by composers of any sort to participate in detailed analysis of their processes; these difficulties are exacerbated further by some songwriters’ apparently-deliberate mystification of their craft. Attempts to analyse processes of musical composition generally have generally focused on single-composer models (Nash 1955); even studies relating to collaboration remain concerned with instrumental art music (Hayden & Windsor 2007)or educational-based observation subjects (Burnard & Younker 2002).
This paper will build on the single-songwriter research of McIntyre (2009) and the theoretical definitions of creativity provided by Csikszentmihalyi (1996). It will explore, through analysis of ‘hits’ and examples of emerging practitioner-based research, the inferences that can be made by comparing historical and current songwriting practice with the finished product, and will attempt to identify commonly-used collaborative models, including artist with ‘ghost-writer’, artist with artist, band-based ensembles, ‘factories’ e.g. Brill Building and Stock/Aitken/Waterman’s Hit Factory, and collaborative distance-writing. Established and emerging musical practices will be identified and analysed, including top-line writing, ‘Nashville’ co-writes, loop-based improvisation, lyric-first and music-first approaches, together with a discussion of the effect of the presence (or absence) of studio technologies as mediator of the songwriting process.
Burnard, P. & Younker, B.A., 2002. Mapping Pathways: fostering creativity in composition. Music Education Research, 4(2), 245-261.Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1996. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, New York: HarperCollins.
Hayden, S. & Windsor, L., 2007. COLLABORATION AND THE COMPOSER: CASE STUDIES FROM THE END OF THE 2OTH CENTURY. Tempo, 61(240), 28.
Mcintyre, P., 2009. ‘I’m Looking Through You’: An Historical Case Study of Systemic Creativity in the Partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In Collaborations: Creative Partnerships in Music. The Performance and Social Aesthetics Research Unit (PASA), Monash Conference Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.
Nash, D., 1955. Challenge and Response in the American Composer’s Career. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 14(1), 116-122.
Sloboda, J., 1985. The musical mind : the cognitive psychology of music, Oxford [Oxfordshire] ;New York: Clarendon Press ;;Oxford University Press.
The next presentation is by Maria Hanacek. This one is particularly fascinating for me because she is working on the analysis of ‘songwriters in the studio’ videos, and the notions of mediatised and mediated authenticity relating to songwriters.
Songwriting in the Studio or: The Idea of What Went into its Making
This year’s conference is concerned with change and continuity in the art of record production – I will argue that it is the rather old-fashioned idea of “songwriting” that creates coherence within the changing world of music production, and that this idea is indeed more important than ever for the success of large-scale commercial productions.
Thinking of record production as an art form or of the studio as a musical instrument already indicates that our models of thinking about music production stay pretty much the same, all debates about technological change or innovation aside. The idea of “songwriting” as a modern form of composition also correlates with a traditional notion of music as artistic self-expression, which still provides the conceptual framework for most records, and it is important to notice that apparent tensions between technology and artistry, between commerciality and authenticity result from this theoretical framework, not from the actual process of music production. In such instances we are ultimately dealing with the question what musicianship means in the age of studio production.
Authorship and intentionality are still such important concepts because it is the idea of what went into its making that gives meaning to a recording. The way popular music history works, songs need a history and an origin. According to this logic studio stories become part of a band’s or artist’s biography and discography, they contribute to the idea of an artist’s oeuvre that crystallises into a series of records. This idea is also replicated by “best of” albums, box sets and reissues – in short, the marketing of records always relied on the star persona for coherence and to personalize its products.
I will use the DVD ‘U2 and 3 Songs, A Documentary’ to illustrate this point. This “documentary” provides a retrospective on the songwriting process of the album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, for which the band and producer Steve Lillywhite received six Grammies in 2005. The affiliated Vertigo tour made the band the top grossing act that year according to Billboard – the eight concerts held in New York’s Madison Square garden alone sold 149,000 tickets. Although the purpose of promotional touring is to “authenticate” and personalize recorded performances in some way, attending one of these large-scale concerts wasn’t much of an “unmediated” or “live” experience of these songs and their authors.
This video, though, which came with several editions of the CD, tells us about human beings writing songs, about the development of creative ideas within a studio environment. It foregrounds the “raw material” of this record, whether by presenting a basic chord progression a song developed from or via an acoustic performance with slightly mistuned guitars. And this – in itself highly mediated – display of theunproduced or preproduced puts our picture of music making back in place.
Paul is up first and he plays us some of his film score music consisting almost entirely of programmed samples. He discusses why he took a ‘cover version’ approach rather than sampling original recordings, and the various copyright, aesthetic and technical parameters that led him through those creative decisions.
Like most of the panel, Phil (who as you’ll see from his biog worked extensively with Stock, Aitken and Waterman) sees little distinction between songwriting and production (in that songs are written in the studio), but he also interestingly describes producers as a ‘service industry’. He tells us of SAW’s shameless theft of titles (which of course is not illegal in any way!), in this case from the US hot 100 charts of the 1980s. If you’re interested to find out more I can recommend Phil’s book about the PWL days, available here in its new edition. Phil gives us a fascinating insight into the way SAW built tracks by analysing existing songs’ structure/form and other musical characteristics and then applying them to new works – a ‘hit factory’ in the literal sense! Phil plays us a song called I Need You by 90s pop band Deuce.
Phil tells us that the first melodic line of the chorus was shamelessly stolen from Cecilia by Paul Simon (he only infringes two notes actually so I’m not sure it’s theft in any legally meaningful sense – although when you know this is the source it’s very clear which part is the ‘tribute’). But like many of the papers at this conference connected with mashups/co-writes/sampling etc, it raises lots of interesting questions about ownership, creativity and originality that are simultaneously philosophical, legal and artistic.
Marco Pasquariello is talking about the Blue Roses track Doubtful Comforts, together with some lovely anecdotes about lo-fi recording, including grinding up 1/4 inch tape in the garden and buying an afternoon of time in a music shop in order to record all the pianos. He makes some equally interesting points about the deliberate constraints of some projects (for example, using eBows as the main instrumental pitch source).
Richard Formby starts with a ‘process piece’ called Tuning up for Piano which he created by running a recording several times while a piano tuner was working, then putting all the takes together as a multi-track – resulting in a very charming piece of chance-music. He admits to stealing small fragments of drums from bands in his studio (sometimes he tells them, sometimes not!) for use in his own music. There follows a discussion about out-takes (inevitably the Troggs tape is mentioned).
In the Q&A session, Paul makes the interesting point about the rebirth of the single; “since downloading […] very few people seem to like whole albums any more”. We also get briefly into the debate of ‘what is a song’ and whose creative contributions constitute ‘songwriting’.