This week we are going to talk about 5 great songs not be missed!

I could have chosen some glorious, old tunes that everybody knows, which became famous because they were played by a great band or became a successful film soundtrack, but that would have been quite predictable and perhaps boring. 
Instead I decided to pick 5 songs that many people may not know but that are interesting in many ways. You may also not usually listen to these music genres, but you’ll surely learn something new as you listen to them.


1) “Homesick” – Kings Of Convenience

This tune is an interesting blend of pop, indie and bossa nova, which is a kind of jazz music from Brazil and can be found in the rhythmic figure played by the guitar all throughout the song. And what is incredible is that this music duo comes from Norway, which is miles away from South America both geographically and culturally speaking!
Something you’ll notice during the very first minute of listening is that the two musicians sing different melody lines at the same time, but those lines sound incredibly nice together. That is what we call “harmonies”. Perhaps the Kings took inspiration by Simon & Garfunkel, who used to perform in the same way (check out their song “The Sound Of Silence” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zLfCnGVeL4 )


2) “Letter From Home” – Pat Metheny

Who said instrumentals can’t be communicative and moving? Mr. Metheny is considered one of the biggest guitarist of all times, who managed to beautifully blend jazz, fusion and world music without losing his personal style of playing, which got him 3 golden albums and 20 Grammy Awards. 
Even though the melody doesn’t seem to be too complex, the harmony and the chords underneath are a masterpiece in terms of music theory and creativity which you probably wouldn’t find in many pop or classic rock songs. That’s why I think this song is so beautiful and incredibly well-made. And it’s good to listen to something different sometimes!


3) “Blackout” – Anna Calvi

As the singer explains at the beginning of the video, the song is about an hypothetical blackout that happens while you’re alone at home and musically and lyrically describes what you would feel in that situation. I believe her introduction makes the performance even more interesting and explains very well the creative process behind the composition. 
It’s an interesting approach to music, where the author tries to picture the concept of the song not only through words but also using musical devices (major/minor keys, dynamic, effects, etc). And be honest: would you have expected such a powerful voice after having heard her quiet and shaky speaking voice? 
Singing in public has not been easy for her as she was incredibly shy and conscious of her voice, and I would recommend to have a quick read at her biography and interviews.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Calvi
http://www.theguardian.com/music/australia-culture-blog/2014/may/27/anna-calvi-i-learned-from-the-classics


4) “The Journey Man” – Iron Maiden

According to Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of the band, the song is about “the whole process of writing and being a musician”. However, they use such beautiful and evocative images to describe it and the lyrics remind me of an old Romantic poem:

“And the fragment remains of our memories
and the shadows we made with our hands
Deep grey, came to mourn
All the colours of the dawn
Will this journeyman’s day be his last?

”

Moreover, the chorus is catchy, easy to remember and perfect for the audience to sing aloud at a concert! That’s why I decided to link the live version of this tune rather than the studio version:


5) “Stop This Train” – John Mayer

Finally, a tune that is surely more popular than the others but just as inspiring. The song is about the fear of getting older, a song Peter Pan would have loved..! Every time I listen to this song I imagine being in John’s shoes, writing this song during a cold winter night, having a chat with daddy about getting older, feeling nostalgic and insecure. I think the song not only showcases John’s brilliant and inspiring songwriting, but also his superb guitar playing, which is why I decided to link the live version of this song too. Moreover, the “train” John talks about is a wonderful metaphor referring to the course of time (see my post “I can I write good lyrics?” https://www.songacademy.co.uk/can-write-good-lyrics/ ).

By definition, rhythm is the pattern of regular or irregular pulses caused in music by the occurrence of strong and weak melodic and harmonic beats.

Sounds complex? No worries, we’ll explain what it is through practical examples. However, if you’d like to know more about how rhythm works, you can watch this brilliant documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_jEkNiYFNc

Simply put, rhythm is that music component that makes us move, or even just tap the foot, when we listen to a song. As the presenter says in the video, “with rhythm music becomes hypnotic and sensuous”.

Listen to a metronome at 60bpm:

It’s static, boring, aseptic.

Now, listen to some African drumming:

It’s exciting, it moves us and even makes us want to dance!
This should make you understand (and feel) the importance of rhythm!

To continue with the same analogy, sound itself is not music. A simple single note doesn’t move us, it’s boring just as the metronome was. We need several notes to be put together in order to make up a song which we can enjoy.
Rhythm is the manifestation of time just as a melody is sound put into practice.

Here’s a selection of songs with great rhythms we can get inspired by:

Joss Stone – You Got The Love   

Even just the drums intro gives me energy and makes me tap my foot and move my head on time! Why is it though? It’s the mix of strong and weak accents on different beats, in particular what we call “pushes” (that is, accents on the off-beat). See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_(music)#On-beat_and_off-beat

Taylor Swift – Shake It Off

Taylor even talks about that “sick beat” at 2:26 minutes into the song!

Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends

It shows how a simple guitar playing a simple rhythmic figure can still catch our attention, but also that drums are the real “champions” in terms of rhythm: listen to the sudden change at min 1:28 when drums start playing!

Jack Johnson – Bubble Toes

The evidence that rhythm does bring songs to life! Check out the difference between the beginning of the song and the more rhythmic part starting at min 0:48 and then at min 1:24 when drums kick in. It’s a massive change! How does it make you feel?

The melody, that famous sequence of musical tones or notes, is the most important part of any song.

Even more important than lyrics?

Yes, because what we first hear in a song is its melody rather than words. Words are important too, but the brain needs to make sense of them, we need to “think of them”, whereas notes strike us straight away in a more instinctive way. Also, melodies alone convey emotions and feelings so that often we don’t need to hear any lyrics to say a certain song is happy or sad. To the extent that philosophers in the XIX century argued instrumental music was superior to sung music…! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_music)

Moreover, we often remember songs by their melody rather than their lyrics. That’s exactly what happens to performers when they forget lyrics on stage… but they remember how the melody goes and they manage to get through the song by singing some different words!

I’ll give you an example. Below is a list of famous songs with great or simply memorable melodies. Ask somebody to play them for you on the computer or your iPod while you keep your eyes closed. You’ll realise that you recognise pretty much all of them even if you don’t know any of the lyrics, or not even the title!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeodEwM4BGE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo4OnQpwjkc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laRyswIO_-g

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcNhDstL4-k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcBnJw-H2wQ

A good start to write good melodies is to just listen to good ones! Listen to the songs whose melodies you particularly like and get inspired. Perhaps, the melodies you’ll write at first will sound similar to those but don’t worry, that’s a natural process. The more you write, the more creative you will get.

You can also just sit at the piano and get inspired by playing few random notes on the keyboard, or by improvising over a melody you already know. Few melodies that I wrote myself originated from me making mistakes while playing a completely different song, which led to interesting combinations of notes!

Another good way to create melodies is to sing them, or whistling them, and then playing them on your instrument. That process will allow you to sing, whistle or hum a melody exactly the way you want it to be and create a sequence of note that you may have never come up with on your instrument. Remember: music comes form inside you, the instrument is just… an instrument!

I think Randy Newman is a brilliant songwriter as there is such breadth to what he does. Most well known these days is his work for pixar films such as the Toy Story films and Monster’s inc. But Randy is also well known for his vivid, satirical character songs. He treats his songs as if they were short stories, writing a lot of character songs and avoiding the typical love song mostly.

His songs as well as being lyrically strong are great harmonically too. Drawing from blues and music from new orleans where he grew up, as well as both jazz and classical harmony he writes really interesting songs, with beautifully simple  – yet groovy – piano parts.

I will go sailing no more from Toy Story is a brilliant song about losing faith in imagination and dreams, beginning to see harsher realities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2Y7Iz-ePOg

Beautiful and simple melody and chords to begin with, but with some key changes to add to the narration of the story. Poignant use of the ship and sailing imagery to tell the story.

Other great Randy Newman songs to check out:

Feels like home https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bcPgotwOaA

Losing you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qva9nTdESoQ

Sail away https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dT5CYATcm0

You’ve got a friend in me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy4uiiy0qgA

If I didn’t have you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfFepOnARFA

Study something you love:

For example; take one of your favourite songs and look at how it has been written.

Eg: what is the rhyme scheme?

Are there other devices being used (and how)? Alliteration, metaphors etc

Then copy the structure and write on a topic of your choosing, anything you like, but sticking to the structure from your favourite song!

Line swap:

Sometimes you already have all the material that you need, you may just need to rearrange it!

For example switching lines 2 and 3, or deciding to use what you had written for the chorus and as a verse.

Some examples of great lyrics to check out:

And the smell of the smoke and the lay of the land

and the feeling of finding one’s heart in one’s hand

From ‘On the 4th of July’ by James Taylor

You were the one who said forever from the start

And I’ve been drifting since you’ve gone

Out on a lonely sea that only you can chart

I’ve been going on, knowing that my heart will break,

With ev’ry breath I take.

From ‘With every breath I take’ lyric by David Zippel

We were married on a rainy day

The sky was yellow, and the grass was grey

We signed the papers and we drove away

I do it for your love

From ‘I do it for your love’ by Paul Simon

All the things I thought I’d be

All the brave things I’ve done

Vanish like a snowflake with the rising of the sun

From ‘I will go sailing no more’ by Randy Newman

But it don’t snow here, stays pretty green

I’m gonna make a lot of money and then I’m gonna quit this crazy scene.

From ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell

image
Jolie Holland is my favourite singer and musician of all time. I am delighted to be able to write about her music and even more delighted to have had the opportunity to play with her a few months ago. I can honestly say that’s it’s not true that you should never meet your heroes.

Jolie Holland was born in Houston Texas. She combines elements of folk, traditional, country, rock and jazz and was one of the founding members of the Gorgeous all female folk alt country group, The Be Good Tanyas. She is a multi instrumentalist, playing a staggering number of instruments mainly the guitar but also piano, banjo and fiddle.

I was introduced to her second album Escondida in my final year of university and I think little else returned to my CD player. If ever, I am to recommend a new album, I would always start with Escondida. You must buy it. Right now.

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=escondida+jolie+holland&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-gb&client=safari#imgrc=HKB9mXbOO7ctQM%3A

The first thing that strikes one about Jolie Holland is her incredible and distinctive voice. It’s unlike any other voice I have heard and can sound quite harsh at times whilst stunningly warble as well as strong and rammed with emotion. It’s rather difficult to describe without doing her an injustice. It’s an addictive sound.
Another wonderful thing about her music is the way that she plays with melody. Especially in the first track on the album ‘Sascha’. The melody dances over the music and sounds like it’s from another era.
One of her most popular songs ‘Old fashioned morphine’ has a most wonderful brass and muted trumpet section! It’s no wonder to see why the likes of Tom Waits is a fan of her work.

Gil Scott-Heron was an American poet, musician and author.

He wrote songs mainly in a soul, blues and jazz style with influences from African and Latin music.

He used his music to talk about social and political issues of the time, especially black oppression in America. The catchy and groovy music that he made meant that his message reached people all over the world.

Gil Scott-Heron would often speak poetry over his music and influenced many people that then went on to make rap music.

He has really inspired me as a writer because he used his lyrics to talk about issues that are important and real to so many people. He wanted to use his music to help things greater than himself.

He also had an amazing band….

Check them out:

Gil Scott-Heron – Winter In America (Live)

Gil Scott-Heron – The Bottle (Live)

 

 

 

 

Experience shows us that a great way of learning is imitation. A toddler learns to walk by looking at adults walking all around him and trying to copy them, without somebody telling them how to do it. Similarly, songwriters usually start writing their songs inspired by the artists they like and listen to, and the influence their favourite artists have on them will often be recognisable in their songs.

For example, Jimi Hendrix’s main influence as an artist and songwriter was notoriously Bob Dylan, who also inspired him to become a singer. That’s also why Jimi covered several of Dylan’s songs, such as “All Along the Watchtower” and “Like a Rolling Stone”.

So… who’s your favourite artist? Who do you think has an influence on your songwriting?

One of the artists and songwriters that inspired me the most, especially when I started writing songs as a solo artist, is Jon Gomm.

WHO is Jon Gomm?

Jon Gomm is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Blackpool, Lancashire.
He uses a single acoustic guitar to create drum sounds, bass lines and melodies simultaneously, an unusual way of playing that made him well-known, not only in the acoustic world (Steve Lukather from the famous rock band Toto very recently tweeted about how much he loves his music… WOW!).

What makes him stand out from other acoustic guitarists that use the same technique is the fact that he also writes lyrics and sings, despite the incredible technique and focus required to play such intricate and demanding guitar lines!

He became famous in 2012 after broadcaster Stephen Fry tweeted about the video of his song “Passionflower” (see bottom of this post), leading to articles on the Daily Mail and The Telegraph and several TV interviews, so.. remember to share your songs on social media! You just never know what may happen and who may spot you!

WHY Jon Gomm?

Not only is he an accomplished guitar player, but he is also a committed person who’s serious about his songwriting and writes moving and meaningful songs. During a masterclass he did in London in 2012, he reminded myself and the other thirty thrilled musicians present in the room that “it’s important to never lose sight of the concept of the song you’re writing”. It’s easy to write songs by putting together words that sound nice and rhyme, as well as designing a random catchy melody, but if both words and melody don’t fully and coherently relate to the topic of the song, the piece will be meaningless and won’t connect with people. And you will lose interest in it! You need a good topic, that inspires you and makes you want to write about! Ultimately, writing a song is like writing a story, and performing is telling that story to an audience.

Let’s then listen to Jon’s story about a beautiful flower grown in his garden, which inspired him so much to write the song that made him famous:

Tori-Kelly-Unbreakable-Smile-2015-1200x1200

Tori Kelly is a sensational breakout singer/songwriter who has captured the hearts of millions with her smooth Soul vocals and humble spirit. 2015 has definitely been her year. She’s appeared in every music award show including the VMA’S , Billboard and sang a beautiful rendition of “Who’s Lovin You” written by Smokey Robinson at the 2015 BET Awards show.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2vv8yi

Although Kelly is currently taking over the Pop charts with her two current singles “Nobody Love” and “Should’ve Been Us” , her musical journey began when she started posting video’s on youtube doing covers of Rnb and Soul hits such as Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” ( video below)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ANQl-Sbwpo

Tori Kelly has appeared on Star Search at the age of 10 and even made it to the final 24 on American Idol . Although she started singing at an early age, she knew that in order to be authentic and recognised, she had to create her own music and style. She decided to take a new approach by picking up the guitar in her early teens and teaching herself how to play. Kelly came from a very musical upbringing in her hometown of Southern California. Her father sang and played bass and her mother was a proficient saxophone and keys player. In her biography she discusses being greatly influenced by gospel and R&B acts such as Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott . In the article below she discusses her songwriting approach.

http://www.hungertv.com/feature/get-know-tori-kelly/

The wonderful thing about Tori’s musical journey is that she created her own fanbase using the internet and without the help of labels and management. She found her own voice through picking up her guitar and songwriting. She practiced her craft not only on the guitar but continued developing her vocal range abilities and learned a few other instruments along the way. While kids her age were going out, she preferred to stay indoors and practiced the one thing she loved the most. Once her youtube channel reached close to over 700,000 subscribers, she decided to start her own label and produced her debut album titled “Handmade songs by Tori Kelly”. She recorded the album herself, playing most of the instruments on her own.

Tori’s hard work paid off. Even at moments when she was rejected or turned away, her passion and determination kept her moving to her ultimate goal . Tori is now being managed by Scooter Braun ( Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen) one of the most prestigious music managers in the business . In 2014 -2015 he has helped Tori finally gain the full recognition that she deserves as a powerful and unique artist who created her own musical path. She is now hailed as an “Artist to Watch” by Rolling Stone, USA TODAY and is in talks of being nominated for a Grammy with her debut album Unbreakable Smile which was released just this year.

http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/bbma/6568810/tori-kelly-does-her-billboard-music-awards-slam-dunk-mean-grammy-on-the

Unbreakable Smile – Itunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/unbreakable-smile-bonus-track/id988591612

Or listen to the full album on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rleTKEnOc04

 

 

 

I first came across the band Goat on a compilation cd made for me and was totally in love with their song ‘Run to your Mama’, which is a heavily rhythmical and driving song that makes you move, shake and head bang and has a raw, passionate, aggressive punk vocal style from the two female singers….wailing chants almost… Goat are a Swedish band that wear masks and costumes during performances which make for a spectacular live show!

Their performative style is tribal and the smoke machine, costumes and dancing are theatrical. I saw them at Glastonbury this year and was blown away by their energy and originality- Like finding oneself in an anarchic tribal rock fire dance! They combine rhythms from world music (like Bhangra) and 70’s style rock guitar riffs exploding into experimental and exciting electric guitar solos. The rock guitarists are really the stars of this band… The repetitive and driving rhythm provides a solid foundation for the guitars to totally let rip! …And they do!! Nobody really knows who the band members are ( aside from Christian Johansson) and they remain masked in every performance. This not only brings mystery but disguises the musicians, reinforcing the collaborative spirit of this band rather than focussing on individuals!

A little more information…

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goat_(band)

If you would love to see them in action…

For reviews! …

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/sep/28/new-band-goat