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  • Deborah Straszheim

When I first heard “Work from Home,” by Fifth Harmony, featuring hip hop artist Ty Dolla $ign, I asked myself, “Why is this a hit?”

I realize I’m in the minority here, but the song doesn’t stand out musically or lyrically on the radio. There’s no overwhelmingly catchy beat, building funk or base drum. The producers tossed in unnecessary, distracting and gross high-pitched female squeals in the second verse.

The lyrics repeating, “work, work, work, work,” could almost be viewed as a rip off of Rihanna’s “Work,” or Britney Spears’ “Work, B----,” even though they reference a different topic.

For the few who haven’t heard this song, the message of “Work from Home,” is basically this: Ditch that job, come home and work on my body. The band members sing that they’re sending pictures of themselves to get their man fired, they’re tired of him working the night shift, and he can be the boss at home (wink, wink).

Just to be clear, since the group has been criticized for song’s, ‘you don’t need a job, just come home and have sex with me’ message, “Work from Home” was written by men, men, men. Five to be exact. This is clearly a male fantasy.

Having said that, the women of Fifth Harmony own this song. All you have to do to understand this is watch the video, like 352 million other people.

It opens with a body builder-type guy in a white tank top showing off his oiled, overly tanned muscles hauling a bag of cement. Then it quickly diverts to the lead singer, tossing a shovel on the ground and slithering around his cement mixer.

I find this video hilarious. Each of of band members, dressed in various construction work attire (modified to show off cleavage, thighs and butts) take turns shaking it on the work site.

The stars of the video are not really the women, but the women’s rear ends.

The costume designers cleverly added tan pouches (usually used to hold tools and rags) and tied them around the singers’ waists, so they sit on their butts and flip up and down with each gyration.

The band members shake it on a bulldozer, a cement foundation and on the wooden stairs of an unfinished building frame. If you didn’t think “Work from Home” had a beat, the butt-swinging alone in the video is so prominent you can’t help but jam to it. You almost don’t even notice the high-pitched squeaks.

Never mind the lust-inspired message or crude (and no doubt deliberate) double-meaning of lyrics like, “Ain’t no getting off early.” They’re outrageous and gross, but hey, in the oversexed world of pop, they’re fair game.

Might as well have fun with them. And the ladies do, probably laughing all the way to the bank.

Work from Home ~ Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign

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  • Deborah Straszheim

I have a favorite story from this couple about their most embarrassing moment with their four-year-old son.

It was Thanksgiving, all the relatives were seated at the table, everything was festively decorated for the occasion and the boy got crabby and tired. His parents, realizing he was not going to sit nicely with the guests, suggested, “Honey, don’t you think it’s time for a nap?”

With no warning at all, he replied (in front of the grandparents): “I ain’t taking no (expletive) nap.”

One of the best things about songwriting is just that; the ability to say totally unacceptable things in a way you would never say them in public.

Yet songwriters get away with this, and even revel in it, in all genres. Perhaps this explains the liberal use of the ‘F’ word by rap artists. It’s so freeing to speak unedited, they can hardly stand it.

Cheated on your spouse? Songwriting material. Walked out on the job? Songwriting material. Spent a month in the fetal position? Songwriting material.

You don’t have to say it nicely, either.

“Quit my job, flipped off the boss, took my name off the payroll. Screw you, man.” (First few lines of “Johnny Cash,” Jason Aldean).

But perhaps the best thing about the freedom to speak unfiltered is the ability, through music, to discuss nearly every situation and emotion people feel.

Remember the Dixie Chicks’ song “Goodbye Earl,” in which two women plot to kill an abusive boyfriend? The band cheerfully sings about poisoning a guy, wrapping his body in a tarp and stuffing it in the trunk of their car.

The song caused controversy at the time, and many people really objected to it. Yet even in that situation, the band still recorded, performed and sold it.

But back to the many unacceptable dinner party topics (yet acceptable song topics):

“I just got a sexually transmitted disease.” AC/DC, “The Jack”

“I have so many problems my parents think I’m on drugs, and they want to lock me in an institution so I don’t hurt myself.” Suicidal Tendencies, “Institutionalized”

“My girlfriend and I get loud in bed and everyone hears us get it on.” Trey Songz, “Neighbors Know My Name”

Whether the lyrics make you laugh or wince because they’re so over the top, that honesty, whether it’s preposterous, crude or dark, can be so refreshing in a politically-correct world.

It’s as if, for the three minutes of that song, we can be like the boy at the holiday table, and say something totally unreasonable like, “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

Goodbye Earl ~ Dixie Chicks

Institutionalized ~Suicidal Tendencies

Neighbors Know My Name ~ Trey Songz

#treysongz #suicidaltendencies #goodbyeearl #institionalized #songwriting #genre #music #musicblog #musicbloggers #material #JasonAldean #freedom #screwyou #unacceptable #ACDC #blog #musicblogger #topic #DixieChicks

  • Deborah Straszheim

My daughter and I tend to get into songwriting grooves. We’re either banging them out, or we’re stuck on a song.

We write one song at a time. I’m sure other people write more than one at once, but we don’t. Sometimes, we get in a rut and can't finish a song.

About two months ago, I was feeling flat, blue and a bit dead-ended. I asked her, “Got any sad melodies?”

She sent me one; a beautiful melody with simple guitar picking. I don’t know how long she had it, but she filed it away, as she does such things, with the title, “sad.”

“I wrote it when I was really depressed,” she said.

It was perfect. I got this melody, listened to it probably 30 times before I went to bed, then woke three nights in a row at 4 a.m. and sang the lyrics back to her over the cell phone mic.

I always know when my lyrics work and when they don’t, based on when she replies. If she answers right away, they work. If she doesn’t, they don’t. I know that if I don’t hear back immediately, I’m likely to get, an “Eh. Not feeling it.” I’m not offended. We’re very straight with each other.

We named the song “Carousel” after a line in the chorus, about feeling like you’ve lost your highs and lows, that your life’s going round and round like a carousel, that you've stopped wishing for something more. I realize that’s terribly depressing, but it’s where I was at. I thought people would relate to it.

The song was so easy to write at first.

Then for some reason we started debating: Is the chorus too short? It just kind of ends. But if we extend it, it doesn’t fit with the verse. Does the second verse work? Maybe the song needs a bridge? And so on and so on.

She sent melodies of bridges and extended choruses and transitions. This time, I was doing the, “Eh. Not liking it.” I sent version after version of the second and third verses. We were getting exasperated.

“Dude, I’m so sick of this song,” she said.

Anyway, I have a theory about this: If you get stuck on a song, you’re dealing with one of four problems.

1. You’re not in the right state for it.

You can’t write an angry song with cutting lyrics when you’re happy, the same way you can’t write an upbeat song with carefree lyrics when you’re depressed. Songs are so internal you have to feel them.

2. You don’t know what you want the song to say.

I realize this seems incredibly elementary, but I believe it happens fairly often. You get so wrapped up in measures, timing or rhymes, you don’t realize that the real problem is, you don’t know what your message is.

3. You’re using the wrong melody for the song.

When my daughter and I first started writing “She Can Have Him,” we were working with a melancholy, slow melody. We didn’t get far. Now, looking back, I know why. The message of “She Can Have Him” is basically, “Screw you. Have a nice life.” It’s not melancholy at all.

Which brings me to my final reason. If you feel the song, believe the melody works and know what your message is, you get stuck because...

4. You’re not listening to your gut.

Instead, you’re worrying too much about following rules: Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge. Lyrics that makes sense. Melodies with perfect transitions.

I think this is what happened to us with “Carousel.” We worried so much about making sense, musically and otherwise, that we couldn’t step back and listen to our guts.

Songs don’t always have to make sense. They don’t have to rhyme. They don’t have to have a bridge; they don’t even have to have a chorus. While it’s not easy, the next time we’re stuck, I’m going to try to think Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.” He just rants for six verses.

They just have to resonate.

Positively 4th Street ~ Bob Dylan

She Can Have Him ~ Cassie Urbany

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