Songs That You Wish You Wrote
”After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
Summer is fading fast. You find yourself tooling down the highway hoping to catch the last rays of the season with the top down on your spiffy new ride; that uber-cool little roadster which your family calls the mid-life-crisis-mobile. Forget the naysayers! They’re just jealous. But, before the flakes fly and old man winter freezes your flabby posterior into something closely resembling the backside of Frosty the Snowman, ya just gotta have one more cruise down that long lonesome highway….. (Clever reference to the late 60’s TV show “Then Came Bronson”)
The wind is whipping through your hair …….or what little hair you have left. Monsieur Soleil is beating down on your follicly challenged melon and you ask yourself…. “What the hell possessed me to buy a convertible?”
To take your mind off of your incinerated balding dome, you pop a disc into that overpriced Blaupunkt mounted in that ultra-fancy, walnut burl paneled dashboard. Ya gotta catch a few tunes. Song after song plays and it all just seems to be ambient noise laying down a rhythm as you negotiate in and around the seemingly endless parade of knuckleheaded drivers. That long lonesome highway just ain’t all that lonesome. It is all a matter of self-preservation. Then something in a song, which only seconds before was background noise, catches your ear and you say to yourself, “Damn! This is a great song. I wish I wrote that.”
So, I decided to compile my list of songs that I wish I wrote. If I was a better songwriter, I’d be scribbling down a few lyrics at this very moment on an old sandwich wrapper or a cocktail napkin rather than writing about them on a blog. After all, I’m not the word-smithiest wordsmith that ever smithed a word!
Songs tell stories and trigger emotions. Music stimulates memories of time, place, and people. Great songs are composed of hope, love and dreams by utilizing metaphors, symbolism and mental imagery. Lyrics and melody are the songwriter’s brushes and paints. Great songs are works of art caressed onto a canvas of harmony.
My list will be very different from anyone else’s list. The criteria for my choices are usually based upon something that I, as a musician, relate to within the song. A certain complicated chord progression, clever lyrics with double entendre, or simply just a song that impacts my emotions in a variety of ways. Music is personal; it is not a competition.
Although my best playin’ days are behind me, I’m still a I-IV-V, turn-it-up-to-10, former rock’n’roll guitar hero that just happens to be properly schooled in music theory and composition, most of which has long since been forgotten. Some may find it interesting that my list includes more than a few dark songs in minor keys and deeply introspective lyrics. BTW……..Nigel Tufnel was wrong to believe that D minor is the saddest of all keys….F# minor is really the saddest……(Note the thinly veiled Spinal Tap reference)……And a few of the songs on my list are just plain fun.
Songs with powerful dynamics grab my attention; the sort of tunes that seem to explode from subtle, soft moments into Everest-like peaks of pure intensity and power…..I love voices that are pushed to the breaking point with passion which cannot come from anywhere but somewhere deep inside the soul.
Many of the tunes that I wished that I wrote are Country songs from the early 90’s, which was a time that produced some great songs in Nashville. Disappointingly, much of today’s country has become homogenized template-based pop music with a fiddle and steel guitar added to the mix……It ain’t the style, kids…..It’s the substance.
I can’t list every song that I wished I had written, but this is my partial list……(in no particular order)
- It Feels Like Rain…………..John Hiatt
- Passionate Kisses……Mary Chapin-Carpenter…….Lucinda Williams
- Wichita Lineman….Glen Campbell……..Jimmy Webb 1968
- Gentle on My Mind…..John Hartford
- Drive South….Suzy Bogguss……John Hiatt
- Slow Turnin’….John Hiatt
- I Fall to Pieces…….Patsy Cline……Harlan Howard
- Take Five……….Dave Brubeck
- Carved in Stone…..The SubDudes
- Wild Horses…..Rolling Stones
- Outbound Plane…..Suzy Bogguss….Nanci Griffin…..Tom Russell
- All Over But the Cryin’….Georgia Satellites….Dan Baird
- North Dakota ….Lyle Lovett
- Straight Tequila Night…….John Anderson…….Debbie Hupp/Kent Robbins
- Maybe It Was Memphis….Pam Tillis….. Michael Anderson
- Heads Carolina, Tails California…..Jo Dee Messina….Tim Nichols/Mark D Sanders
- When You Say Nothing At All……Keith Whitley
- Almost Goodbye….Mark Chesnutt ….Billy Livsey
- Pocket Full of Gold…….Vince Gill
- Crazy….. Patsy Cline……..Willie Nelson
“It Feels Like Rain”
“It Feels Like Rain” is truly a great composition. It was written and performed by master song-smith John Hiatt and was showcased in the HBO series “Treme”. In the scene where “Rain” was featured, Harley (played by Steve Earle) is mentoring Annie T (Lucia Micarelli) in songwriting 101. Annie is trying to hone “her chops” to take her budding music career to the next level. In an earlier episode, Annie complains to Harley that songwriting is hard. Harley responds by saying…
”Yeah….. That’s why the world is full of players.”
Harley and Annie take a “field trip” to a John Hiatt show at the House of Blues to expose Annie to the brilliant songwriter. A quiz follows the show…….
ANNIE: That’s a good song
HARLEY: It’s a GREAT song…What’s great about it?
ANNIE: OK…For starters…..The melody is cool…..It’s simple, like the blues. It’s not locked into those chord changes.
HARLEY: Yeah, the music gives you what it can. Keep goin’.
ANNIE: The lyrics…..not so simple. I mean it starts off and he’s singing about the weather, the river, the sea and you realize its New Orleans. But then he isn’t singing about New Orleans. It’s really love he’s got on his mind.
ANNIE: And love is not simple. It’s a little dark sometimes and a little dangerous…..like New Orleans.
ANNIE: And he’s riding it out, no matter how rough it gets. He’s like us, now, after the storm.
HARLEY: Hiatt wrote that song 20 years ago darlin’. You still had training wheels on your bike and nobody had ever heard the name Katrina.
HARLEY: That is what makes it a great song.
Mary Chapin-Carpenter’s version of Lucinda William’s masterfully crafted song is an up-tempo and “happy” number, not to mention it possesses a most infectious chorus, which is where and how the song “grabs” you. It also has that 12 string Rickenbacher thing “goin’ on”….(guitar guys will know)……This guitar riff meanders just beneath the surface throughout the song, weaving a smooth rhythmic “undercurrent” which perfectly highlights and compliments the vocals………..You’ll be hummin’ this one all day!
Is it too much to demand?
I wanna full house and a rock’n’roll band.
Pens that won’t run out of ink
And cool quiet and time to think
I met Mary Chapin-Carpenter at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville years ago at about the time this song was high on the charts. Being a Western Pennsylvania dude, I’ve always had a theory that, somehow, everything leads back to Pittsburgh. At some point during our conversation, Mary asked where I was from and I said Pittsburgh……She then, candidly asked me if I knew her sister, Mackenzie Carpenter…….I couldn’t believe it! I’ve known Mackenzie for about 10 years and she never once mentioned that she had a famous sibling! Mackenzie Carpenter writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette!….All roads do indeed lead to Pittsburgh!
“Drive South” is another Hiatt composition. Suzy Bogguss brings it to life with a crystal clear voice of unparalleled purity. During the Country Music Seminar of 1991, Suzy and I kept passing each other in the hallways at the Opryland Hotel, just sayin’ “Hi”……Her album “Aces” was just released. We finally got a few minutes to chat at a “meet’n’greet” in the Opryland Ballroom one evening. I gotta tell ya…..If Suzy wasn’t married, I would have been takin’ her home to meet Mom!
We were always lookin’ for true north
With our heads in the clouds
Just a little off course
But I left that motor runnin’
Now, if you’re feelin’ down and out
C’mon, baby, drive south
“Maybe It Was Memphis”
This is one of those songs that never really got my attention until I heard the line….”Read about you in a Faulkner novel”. I mean really! Who makes reference to William Faulkner in a country song? ….I guess Michael Anderson does! Once it was on my radar, I wished I wrote it.
Read about you in a Faulkner novel
Met you once in a Williams play
Heard about you in a country love song,
Summer night beauty took my breath away
“Almost Goodbye” is an incredibly powerful song. Billy Livsey wrote it and Mark Chesnutt delivered a brilliant interpretation. “Almost Goodbye” is old school country at its best….They ain’t writin’ ‘em like this in today’s Nashville. What sold me on this song was the video. Gorgeous footage! I was told that Mark Chesnutt’s wife, Tracie, is the woman riding the horse in the video….I can’t be for certain of that, but what I can be certain of is the fact that Calamity Jane can ride just as well and is pretty damned handy with a “shootin’ iron”.
Sometimes the most important words
Are the ones that you leave unspoken
So…..What’s on your list?