The music of great songwriters
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one…”
Our favorite Beatle, of the Lennon-McCartney writing duo fame, won over millions with songwriting skill and panache. Many will always stand in admiration of his way with music and the written word, despite his passing.
We hold in esteem musicians,like Lennon, whose lyrics have a way of reaching the core of hearts.
They play a definite role in society, having the ability to extend a hand to a vast majority. Being one who makes such an impact certainly means meeting a few prerequisites.
The role of songwriters
Those who write good songs have a great impact on society by virtue of the sheer volume of their outreach. What they say has immeasurable effect on the minds of countless who hear them.
Marketing of ideas
Though their main premise would be entertainment, songwriters are essentially called upon to create songs to be used for marketing video games, movies, plays, operas, ballets and for their own specific purposes as well.
To write a good song, they need to understand the context in which it will be used.
Spreading social messages
Artists like Woody Guthrie, his son Ario, Joan Baez and the great Bob Dylan all wrote songs that highlight important social messages regarding civil rights, human rights and the environment. Baez herself was instrumental in founding the United States section of Amnesty International, An organization focused on the establishment of Human Rights.
The messages in their songs are taken to heart to this day.
What it takes to be a successful songwriter
Songwriting does not, by any means, require just creativity. The ones who are the most successful possess a host of qualities that have positioned them well on the entertainment map.
A Polished Skill Set
Great ones in the business, like the Lennon-McCartney duo, possessed the touch that enabled their songs to come alive.
That touch refers to a host of skills that give meaning and energy to their music. Being merely a good musician is not enough; songwriters have preferably got to be good lyricists and possess great empathetic and relational skills that enable them to connect with others.
Presence and popularity
A good songwriter makes himself felt. His songs stay in the mind a long time after they are written. If they are also performers, that presence should also make itself felt on stage, allowing audiences to feel that they are there.
We still remember Imagine to this day, although John Lennon has long since passed.
A good songwriter understands how and why a song is to be used. He knows then how to write it such that it sells, either a product, movie, or just itself.
Being a good salesperson is essential for the songwriting business.
A songwriter has outstanding qualities that let everyone know it is his or her writing and no one else’s. Paul Simon, for example, always writes songs that tell a story, giving them an ethereal feel. Boxer and Richard Cory both told stories, the first being about a boxer who struggles to overcome loneliness and poverty in New York City and the second the opposite - about a rich man who eventually kills himself because he is depressed. Though not the most positive tales, they were certainly poignant and stood out as Simon’s music.
Everyone is tired of the ‘same old, same old,” so a songwriter’s duty is to bring something new and fresh to the table. Queen certainly did so with songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, bringing a fresh sound and perspective on rock to listeners. The Beatles too, wrote songs that encompassed a wide range of genres and were always willing to embrace change through the decades. Their later pieces bore traces of Indian music, with George Harrison wanting to learn the Sitar.
La Vie En Rose Louis Armstrong
Your favorite songwriters
Who is your favorite songwriter or songwriting duo?
Great songwriters and songwriting duos
Who qualifies as a great songwriter or songwriting duo is always subjective, but here are a few who,many would agree are, or have been among great songwriters. The fact that we know some of the lyrics to their songs by heart is testament to their popularity, although there are many more who should make this list.
I try hard in an article about music to avoid giving old “Satchmo” mention because I always end up doing so. And I give up trying! As it is, I am listening to Spotify while I write this and he is totally dominating the jazz radio playlist.
For a great songwriter he certainly was. Jazz would not be what it is without him. Born in 1900, he gained prominence in the 1920a as an inventive trumpetist and cornet player,mentored by Peter Davis and Joe “King” Oliver.His gravelly voice would not let him run away from popularity either. Together with jazz queen Ella Fitzgerald, he was a foundational inventor of scat singing (singing and vocalizing in syllables rather than words). An activist, he also took a very public stand against desegregation.
Yesterday The Beatles
Again, I cannot compile a list of great songwriters without mentioning this duo. They,in large part,helped to lay the foundation for the Beatles, Beatlemania and hence, the music and culture of the 1960s.
From the Abbey Road studios in Liverpool, they helped to give the music of the Fabulous Four its lyrical, melodic quality. Yesterday has spawned 2200 versions and was voted the best song of the 20th Century by BBC radio. Progressive, their style altered with the decades, fusing rock together with the elements of Indian music. They even composed pre-metal pieces like Helter Skelter.
Woman in Love
The Bee Gees
The boys of Falsetto were not contributors to merely their own pieces, but gave an edge to the music of Barbra Streisand and Dionne Warwick. Barry Gibb, in particular, collaborated with Streisand on her 1980 album Guilty. Woman in Love became one of the most successful songs of Streisand’s music career.
Candle In the Wind Elton John
Sir Elton Hercules John.Yes, Hercules, I kid you not, and aptly so. One of the best selling music singer-songwriters of all time, he has touched the hearts of over 300 million people, for that is the number of albums he has managed to sell in his career, which has spanned five decades. With more than fifty Top 40 hits and 6 Grammys to boot, he is well qualified as one of the world’s most prolific songwriters. My favorite, Candle in the Wind, written in honor of Princess Diana, sold 33 million copies, becoming “the best selling single of all time” owing to its melodic, metaphorical and lyrical quality.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
The music of the 1970s would not be the same without this prolific lady. Her career began in the 1960s when she and her then husband Gerry Goffin wrote numerous hits for artists which have become standards.
That being said, her greatest songwriting achievement has got to be WIll You Still Love Me Tomorrow. Her success became apparent in the 1970s, when she began singing and accompanying herself on the piano. Her album Tapestry topped Billboard for 15 weeks in 1971.
Honesty Billy Joel
Another prolific songwriter of the seventies, Joel has made waves through the decades with such hits as Piano Man. In particular, Honesty has a lyrical quality that rings true with me.
Joel has come into his with albums like Storm Front and has experimented successfully with genres like Acapella in songs like For the Longest Time. He has achieved 33 Top 40 hits in the 1970s, 80s and 90s and, as a testimony to his songwriting skills, has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Hotel California The Eagles
Don Henley and Glen Frey
Where would 1970s music be without the Eagles? Don Henley and Glen Frey, with Don Felder, formed one of the greatest songwriting partnerships of the decade.
Hotel California is one of the best known AOR or album oriented rock tracks, AOR being an FM Radio format focusing on the music of rock artists. Truly, anyone who has tried to ‘rock it’ has begun with Hotel California, and the 13 minuite guitar intro still rings in my head.
"Little" Stevie Wonder with Fingertips
Stevland Hardaway Morris was a child prodigy who later became one of the best loved musical figures of the 20th century, prolific with the harmonica, piano and vocally.He signed with Motowns Tamla label at age 11, with his first hit being Figerttips. He later became well known in the seventies for You Are The Sunshine of My Life. I Just Called To Say I Love You became one of the greatest hits of the eighties and is still a popular wedding piece today.
Heal the World Michael Jackson
Asking a roomful of people who does not know Michael Jackson to raise their hands would be easier than asking who does know, because it facilitates faster counting. A child prodigy like Stevie Wonder, he first made waves with his brothers as part of the Jackson Five, finally coming into his own as a songwriter in the 1980s with albums like Thriller.
His popularity soared, with songs that literally touched hearts. The singer-dancer-songwriter has himself said that Heal The World is the song he is most proud of to have created and has created the Heal The World Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to improving the lives of children.
Scarborough Fair Simon and Garfunkel
The singer-songwriter’s early success first came with his partnership with Art Garfunkel. The prolific, talented artist has true musical and lyrical panache, seen in the way he tells stories through song. Richard Cory and The Boxer tell sad, poignant stories of men facing difficult problems of esteem and poverty.
Simon’s love songs have their own uniqueness. Anyone who has listened to Scarborough Fair would attest to that, and the melodic harmonies performed by the Simon and Garfunkel duo ring in the head till this day.
Eric Clapton Change The World
Nicknamed “Slowhand”, the blues would not be what it is today without the English artist. He is the only three time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist and as a member of the Yardbirds and Cream.
One of the most influential blues guitarists of the century, he has improvised blues with elements of reggae and psychedelic pop. The recipient of 17 Grammys was knighted in 2004 at the Buckingham Palace for his services to music.
The world would not be shaped without song, and certainly, great songwriters.