Chiming In

  • Deborah Straszheim

OK, who wants to admit they’re jamming to, “ah-ya-ya-ya-ya I keep on hoping, we’ll eat cake by the ocean?”

Not the most inspiring lyric. But the song by DNCE ranked ninth on the billboard singles chart last week.

How can this be? It’s what we call a melody or beat-driven song. The tune is so catchy, you can toss in ya-ya-yas and rhyme “hot damn” with whatever you’ve got and it’s all good.

Songs, for whatever reason, tend to fall into one of these two categories: Melody-driven or lyric-driven.

By melody-driven, we mean the beat or music is so instantly recognizable or catchy that the lyrics become almost secondary to the song. That’s not to say “Cake by the Ocean” has no decent lyrics, but it’s not what makes people crank it up in their cars.

Since we’re talking top-ten pop, compare that to “Stressed Out” by “Twenty One Pilots,” ranked third on the singles chart.

The verse has little melody, the lead singer speaks more than he sings through the verse, and if you haven't heard it before, you’d probably have to listen several times to hum it.

But the lyrics speak to an audience. The band sings about wishing they could “turn back time to the good old days” when they were rocked to sleep, “but now we’re stressed out.”

“Used to dream of outer space, but now they’re laughing in our face, saying, ‘Wake up, you need to make money.”

How many 20-somethings can relate to that? Even if they don’t like the reference to “Blurryface,” or their parents hate it.

Of course, the best songs have a strong melody and relatable lyrics.

Then there are those mystery songs where you wonder, how on earth did this become a hit? Just so we don’t discriminate based on genre, among country our pick is “Red Solo Cup.” Even singer Toby Keith said it was one of the stupidest songs he’d ever heard.

Our nominee from the top ten pop singles chart, with accompanying awful video goes to “My House” by Flo Rida. We’ll concede it has a tune, but that’s about it. Video features his “house” with a woman sucking booze out of someone’s belly button, flame-thrower in the kitchen and people eating sushi (no hands!) off a half-naked woman’s body.

Is it a corpse? We realize she’s alive, but what were they thinking? Ew.

Cake By The Ocean ~ DNCE

Stressed Out ~ Twenty One Pilots

Red Solo Cup ~ Toby Keith

My House ~ Flo Rida

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  • Deborah Straszheim

I interviewed a politician years ago, who brokered big deals.

His office was a cloud of smoke, and he leaned back in his chair, feet propped up in loafers with no socks, and complained to me one day, "Nothing drives me crazier than people who take credit for other people's work."

He obviously wasn't in the music business. Because, let's face it, if you're a songwriter and only a songwriter, this is bound to take place at some point, on some level.

How does it happen? Most songwriters start out with "the dream:" They will record and perform their own song before a large audience. But as time goes by, many decide it's more important to simply have their music and words heard. So they graciously accept a place in the fine print.

Songwriters, even award-winning ones, remain relatively unknown by the general public, even if they earn the recognition in the industry as gifted writers.Their main goal becomes crafting the song and finding the right voice for it.

You wouldn't think it would be that hard to get a song heard; the average song is probably about three minutes long.

But the average attention span is more like 12 seconds. As an aspiring songwriter then, you find yourself almost begging for someone to listen; as in. "It's really short...Just listen for three minutes..."

But back to the matter of credit. If you're all about having your music heard, you can't care too much about this. Just to illustrate, would you know, for example (without looking it up) that Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas wrote, "The House That Built Me" by Miranda Lambert? It's almost surprising to someone outside the industry, since the song is so associated with Lambert. And then, in our still sexist world, some don't expect a man to write, "I know they say, you can't go home again; I just had to come back one last time..."

Perhaps the gifted writers don't mind at all. Maybe they even wrote the song for Lambert. I don't know. But I'd guess they've come to view their artists as partners of sorts.

What matters most then, is creating and giving voice to a song. Even if it's not your own.

Maybe that would satisfy people like my politician friend. Don't know who wrote, "Blame It On Your Heart" by Patty Loveless? Read the fine print. It's there.

That's just the way the business is. It's not going to change. "Blame it on your lyin', cheatin', cold, dead-beating, two-timing, double-dealing, mean, mistreating, lovin' heart." -song co-written by Harlan Howard and Kostas Lazarides.

The House That Built Me ~ Miranda Lambert

Blame It on Your Heart ~ Patty Loveless

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  • Deborah Straszheim

Perhaps the only surprising thing about the fact that Lionel Richie wrote the lyrics to the love song “Lady” while “in the toilet,” is that he actually admitted it.

Apparently, on the day of the recording, Kenny Rogers was in the studio looking at the lyric sheet, and realized he only had the one verse he'd finished.

“And I said, ‘Wait a minute. Where’s Lionel?” Rogers said. “I swear to God, he’s in the toilet, writing the second verse.”

Anyone who writes songs understands this. Maybe that’s because most us write during the course of our everyday lives.

Of course, it would be nice if we had time to quietly ponder the universe, uninterrupted, with only the company of a guitar or pen and paper, and get it all down. But most of us are starving artists. We work regular jobs, pay bills (to the extent possible), go about our daily lives and write in our heads.

My daughter has heard the “do-do-dos” while showering, chopping carrots and listening to the beep, beep, beep, of the Washington, D.C. Metro, signaling that it’s broken down yet again.

Since she sends me different guitar riffs to choose from via text message, I tend to listen to them at least 20 times, until they’re permanently in my brain, right before bed. Then I wake, usually between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., to go to the bathroom or because I’ve had a dream. And I’ll have what I call “a revelation.”

I’ve got the “do-do-dos.” Lyrics are suddenly in my head. I’ll pace back and forth, turn on the cell phone microphone, and sing them to her (while in the bathroom) so I don’t wake the children.

It’s like a form of insanity. Maybe writing a song is a little bit like falling in love. You can’t control when it happens, but you recognize it right away. You also know it might not be there tomorrow, or even a half hour later. So you feel compelled to run from the shower, head still in a towel, and get it down right then.

Of course, I’m not always pacing in the middle of the night, and she’s not always showering. Maybe I’m vacuuming. And she’s on her way to work. But we’re not living the glamorous life while we write, and yet that doesn’t seem to matter.

For my birthday, my sister gave me a set of pencils with inappropriate sayings, which I keep by my bedside for this purpose. One of my favorites speaks to this perfectly. No matter what the situation, (OK, so I’m in the bathroom at 3 a.m.) I know when it's time to pick it up. It says, “Write that sh-t down.”

Lionel Richie And Kenny Rogers ~ Lady

#LionelRichie #KennyRogers #songwriting #blog #writing #strangeplaces #studio #recording #studiolife #lady #verse #brainstorming #penandpaper #idea #musician #musicblog #countrymusic #lyrics #hit #lyric #guitar #riffs

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