Reflections on Rock Music: How to Become a Songwriter…

Originally posted 2009-04-20 23:38:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Regardless of which genre of rock music you listen to, chances are that you are a fan of songwriters.  As recently as the fifties and even into the sixties, it was considered par for the course to have the songwriting separated from the performance.  For instance, consider Lieber and Stoller’s contributions to Elvis Presley’s catalog.  Johnny Cash wrote some of his songs, but he certainly covered more than he wrote.  And this was an understandable system.

Somewhere along the line, the singer/songwriter became a closely watched and more appreciated commodity.

It really began in the sixties, predominantly with Dylan and the Beatles.  Both acts began by playing traditional music and covers before they started writing their own music.  Whatever it was, something struck them, and from that point forward, it only made sense to record their own material.  This most likely contributed to the legendary heights that sixties rock music reached.  Consider Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, Dylan’s groundbreaking records that truly sounded like nothing that had come before.  Take Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles’ experimental and, in the case of the latter, concept albums that literally changed the texture of album making as we know it.

Meanwhile, don’t forget all the other singer/songwriters who emerged during that period and since.  Brian Wilson went so far in the mid-sixties as to stop touring and devote his attentions one hundred percent to songwriting and arranging lush, complicated — and, of course, beautiful — background tracks, perhaps best showcased on Pet Sounds and the finally-released SMiLE (the latter of which literally drove him crazy).

Since then, some of my personal favorite bands and individual artists have been, first and foremost, songwriters.  Take Warren Zevon’s unique brand of songwriting, particularly his dark humor and literary references.  Or R.E.M. and their contributions to the genre now known as “alternative rock,” wherein Michael Stipe purposely cut out electric guitar solos and — at least in the band’s early work — muffled the lyrics so that there was no single set of understood words for each song.  It was literally left up for interpretation.

Later acts have split off in a range of directions.  For instance, acts like Ben Folds, the Barenaked Ladies, and the Wallflowers have clearly taken their lead from classic sixties songwriters and then added their own unique lyrical and instrumental twists.  Other bands, such as Pearl Jam and Wilco (to name only a couple), continue to make music that stretches and redefines the boundaries that have previously been set for rock music and songwriting in general.  (This is a painfully short list of five contemporary bands that I love, but they are enough to provide fodder for conversation…)

So, based on this, how does one become a songwriter?

If you’ve always wanted to be a songwriter but were never sure how, or even if you’ve just been curious, then this list is for you…

1)  Rebel Against Something

This is a requisite coming-of-age process for all you prospective songwriters who hope to make it to the big time.  Whether you have grown up in suburbia or on the streets, there are always reasons to rebel.  For Bob Dylan, it was the dull realities of daily life in a dying mining town in Minnesota that caused him to see music as an escape.  He has described his exhilaration as he tuned his radio in to whatever distant stations he could pick up.  Others, such as Eddie Vedder, found music as a way to channel their emotional reactions to what they experienced and witnessed around them.  Vedder reflected on such experiences from young adulthood as abusive relationships, dysfunctional people, and secrets being kept from him.

2)  Show Your Distaste for Tradition and “The Man”

Once you’ve begun the process of rebelling (and perhaps even winning over the masses), it’s time to stick it to “the Man.”  The Beatles’ history epitomizes this development.  They certainly didn’t go from “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun” overnight, but one thing is certain: the more they rebelled, the more fans flocked to Beatlemania.  Bob Dylan brought a giant light bulb to a press conference, refused to communicate in a straightforward manner with any member of the press, and plugged in — full volume — at the Newport Folk Festival.  The Moody Blues promised they would record a classical album, then turned around and used the studio time alotted to them to record their own original material for Days of Future Passed.  Pearl Jam fought the good fight against the “convenience charges” implimented by Ticketmaster, and Eddie Vedder, after a fan threw a copy of Rolling Stone onstage during a concert, wiped his butt with the magazine, explaining to the crowd that RS printed a cover photo of him without the other members of his band in the shot.  When Trent Reznor tired of record label interference and corporate nonsense, the Nine Inch Nails frontman began releasing his music online — including his 2008 album The Slip — for free.

And the list goes on…

Perhaps the best example of the importance of this step in the successful songwriter’s career is found in the Beach Boys’ decision not to play at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival.  For the late 1960s and well into the 1970s, they were labeled as “them” instead of “us” by many music fans.  It is arguable that the Beach Boys’ clean cut image that skyrocketed them to success in the early sixties ultimately led to the band’s decline in popularity.  Ah, the irony…

3)  Go Through Rehab

This sounds like a terrible and heartless suggestion to make to you.  Yet, while there are some artists who have not gone through rehab, there are indeed many great musicians and songwriters who have had to face their addictions and other demons at some point in their careers.  Recently, Jeff Tweedy underwent rehabilitation to deal with an addiction to painkillers.  He, like many other artists in the past, was asked what the effect would be on his music.  (I was delighted with his reply — essentially, he said he was feeling better than ever and that his state of mind can only have a positive effect on Wilco’s music.)

Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle crash was asserted by many to be his way of stepping back from the spotlight after a wild tour overseas where he was known to take downers before the acoustic half of his show and then take uppers during the intermission before coming out with the Band.  He was quickly setting a precedent that no individual could survive.  Brian Wilson, of course, withdrew from music and life in general for decades after failing to release SMiLE; it is apparent to anyone who has seen him recently that he still battles with those personal demons.

If not rehab, then every songwriter certainly needs to undergo a period of reflection after a fall from grace.  Take the case of the Barenaked Ladies’ Steven Page, who recently left the band in the aftermath of his cocaine bust.  To read many so-called fans’ scathing rants against him online, you would think you had stepped back into Puritan times.

(Still, I can imagine that he will only be stronger for the experience, and I can’t wait to hear what his next album will be like…)

4)  Have a Family Period

As a songwriter, you may lead the life of a rock star for a matter of years, but eventually everyone has to bring it all back home.  This is the point at which you must find a wife, have one or more kids, and attempt (probably unsuccessfully) to live an ordinary, anonymous life for a while.  The most notable example of this truth is Paul McCartney whose utter failure to accomplish domestic normalcy has been given a name.  It’s called Wings, his band for much of the seventies.  The lineup, much to the chagrin of his earlier fans,  included his wife, Linda.  The lyrical content was often nonsensical enough to make even the most gullible, innocent three year old ask, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”  And yet this is a rite of passage for all music fans, as well.  We’ve all gone through a Wings phase.  Go on, you can admit it…

The Barenaked Ladies have been in a family phase for years, evidenced most recently by the masterful Snacktime.  Ben Folds briefly indulged in the “normalcy” of family life, recording such simple, touching songs as “Gracie,” but his 2008 album Way to Normal strongly suggests that he’ll be a bachelor for some time to come.  Dylan’s so-called family period lasted from the aforementioned motorcycle crash until about 1974 when he apparently got the itch to tour and record music again.  As he sings in the Planet Waves deep track “Something There Is About You,” “I can say that I’ll be faithful.  I can say it in one sweet, easy breath.  But to you that would be cruelty, and to me, it surely would be death.”

Pretty much speaks for itself…

5)  Um… Continue to Write Songs!

So, after all these steps, phases, and experiences, what’s a songwriter to do?

Continue to write songs, of course!

At this point, you can pretty much choose career paths from a plethora of options.  For instance, you could “find religion” and record a series of records devoted to expressing your spirituality.  You could get more personal and vulnerable by going acoustic for an album, or for that matter, turn to harder rock and roll to showcase your newfound rage over a breakup.  Why not record music for a different genre?  (I would recommend country music, as that seems to be the going trend these days.)  Oh, and don’t forget to release an album exclusively through Wal-Mart, although that’s probably best reserved for a planned reunion or comeback album.  In the meantime, you can always record four non-album tracks per release and split them up, offering one exclusively at iTunes, Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart respectively.  It may seem like you’re screwing the fans at the time, but don’t worry; you’ll eventually release a rarities CD that will contain all the non-album tracks.  Put your heart into those non-album tracks now, as there’s nothing more disappointing — and perhaps more predictable — than a sub-par rarities compilation.  Consider it an investment in the future… a future in which you may be writing songs more slowly than ever and yet still be in need of a record to satisfy your contract.

If none of that works, you can take a break from writing for a while to work on covers.  Record a traditional album?  Contribute to a compilation of covers for a famous artist?  Join a supergroup?

The opportunities and options are endless…

Whatever you do, don’t stop caring about what you’re writing and recording, because you’ll always have a fanbase out there that will buy whatever you put out, be it a masterpiece or a recording unworthy of serving even as a paperweight.

So, good luck, and we’re all counting on you!

Barenaked Ladies SET LIST – 8/06/2010 at Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT

Originally posted 2010-08-07 12:03:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Click HERE to read the review!

1)  “Who Needs Sleep?”
2)  “Old Apartment”
3)  “Falling for the First Time”
4)  Improv 1 – “At Mohegan Sun” rap / “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good”
5)  “Every Subway Car” (with Angel Taylor)
6)  “Told You So”
7)  “Easy”
8)  “Eraser”
9)  “Another Heartbreak”
10) “On the Lookout”
11) “Sound of Your Voice” (acoustic)
12) “It’s All Been Done”
13) “Too Little Too Late”
14) “Golden Boy”
15) “You Run Away”
16) “Four Seconds”
17) “Big Bang Theory Theme”
18) “One Week”
19) “Pinch Me”
20) “If I Had $1000000”
21) Improv 2 – “Oh, It’s Magic, You Know” / rap / dance number

22) “Alcohol”
23) “Watching the Northern Lights”
24) “Brian Wilson”

Wilco Summer 2009 REVIEW – Wappingers Falls, NY: Saturday, 7/18/2009

Originally posted 2009-07-19 02:14:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the Set List, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

As you walk in the gates at a Wilco concert this summer, your ticket is scanned and you are handed a free tour program.

That’s right; I said “FREE.”

And this is no cheap artifact thrown together for the sake of it.  This is a 34 page program, printed and bound as professionally as any other band’s tour program for which you would probably spend in the ballpark (pun intended) of $15 to $20.  Inside, you’ll find exclusive band photographs, the “Wilco Top 5-a-go-go” (a set of “Top 5” lists from the band members), interviews with Jeff Tweedy and Derek Welch (who designed the Wilco toys and the Nudie suits you see in the artwork for the new album), reproduced handwritten lyrics for “Country Disappeared,” a brief word from Glenn Kotche about a custom aspect of his drumset, a scorecard listing all the Wilco songs across the x-axis and all the locations for the summer tour down the y-axis, cartoons, and more…

I think you get the idea.

Although I didn’t know it when I entered the gates Saturday at Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls for my first Wilco concert, this is precisely the type of show the band was about to put on: one jam-packed with more effort, creative energy, and ability to impress than I ever thought possible.

Over two and a half hours — and that’s AFTER Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band left the stage — Wilco played a full set with two encores that added up to 29 songs.  The band entered by simply strolling through a gate on the first base line, walking across the outfield, and running up the steps to launch immediately into a rocking version of “Wilco (the song),” the opening track from their new album.

Throughout the night, Jeff Tweedy and the boys of Wilco played predominantly from their most recent four albums (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost is Born, Sky Blue Sky, and Wilco (the album) – six songs a piece, except for Sky Blue Sky‘s five), but they also played three songs from their third album Summerteeth and dusted off one each from their 1995 debut album A.M. (CLICK HERE to read a review of A.M.), its 1996 followup Being There, and the first Mermaid Avenue.

The first 22 songs — the main set — came at a rapid pace, as the band members somehow maintained the same soaring level of enthusiasm for recreating some of their best songs, as well as some deeper album cuts, onstage with either note-for-note perfection compared to the studio versions (“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Shot in the Arm,” & “Walken”) or by introducing interesting new rythyms, riffs, and other interesting aspects to their interpretations (“War on War,” “Too Far Apart,” & the by-now-classic concert version of “I’m the Man Who Loves You”).

Throughout the night, Tweedy interacted with the crowd in his characteristic way, the night’s main topics being the mosquitoes that were swarming the stage — “Does anyone have any DEET?” he asked — and the glow sticks that were being tossed around amongst the audience members at the foot of the stage — he mimed a set of “try to hit me, I dare you!” arm motions during one song, causing a volley of glow sticks to shower the stage, showing off the audience’s profoundly poor coordination.

“You guys have really bad aim,” Tweedy laughed at the end of the song.  That prompted a few more glow sticks to be launched in his direction, but he managed to duck each of them.

The first encore only included two songs, but it stretched on for more than twenty minutes.  The first song, “Poor Places,” was a heartfelt rendition of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s penultimate track.  It was followed by a scorching, more than full-length version of A Ghost is Born‘s “Spiders (Kidsmoke).”  The latter is one of the songs that showed off the considerable talent and electric stylings of the three guitarists — Tweedy, the incredible Nels Cline (who truly brought a distinctive guitar style to the band when he joined in early 2004), and Pat Sansone (who was really unleashed in the second encore when he engaged in a volley of solos that passed between him and Cline as though they were firing automatic weapons).

The encore ended with Tweedy calling for the audience to clap to the beat, raising their arms above their heads.  As the instrumentation dropped away, he issued a challenge; apparently, the Brooklyn, New York crowd at Keyspan Park couldn’t keep up the beat after the band stopped playing.  Instead, they sped up rapidly.

For a brief moment after they stopped playing, I thought this crowd would fare better… but it was not to be so.  The members of Wilco motioned for the crowd to slow down and Tweedy started laughing as they went back to their instruments for the final riff of “Spiders.”

“You guys were good,” he politely exaggerated after the song ended.

When they left the stage for the second time, I thought for certain that the show had ended.  After all, they had played 24 songs and it had been two hours since they took the stage at 8:30pm.

And yet they still returned for more!

The second encore kicked off with an upbeat rendition of “The Late Greats” that had the entire crowd moving — from foot-tapping to full-out dancing — and smiling.  Next came the first single off the new album, “You Never Know,” complete with note-for-note perfect George Harrison-esque slide guitar by Cline.

“You have time for a couple more?” Tweedy asked, to which he received the deafening screams of the crowd.

When they kick-started “Heavy Metal Drummer,” you would have thought this was Lynyrd Skynyrd about to play “Freebird” for the response that issued forth from the audience.  They played a great version, but nothing could have prepared me for their interpretation of “Hoodoo Voodoo.”  With lyrics that Woody Guthrie wrote for his children but was never able to record, this track appeared as one of the Tweedy leads on Mermaid Avenue. I’ve always liked this song, but I’ve never loved it the way I did for those five minutes they played it, complete with a new driving guitar riff, pitch-perfect vocals by Tweedy as though we were in the studio with him back in 1998, and outstanding guitar work by Cline and Sansone.

Even though Tweedy had only asked the crowd if they had time for “a couple more,” Wilco launched into one final song.  By this time, the concert had to end at some point.  “I’m A Wheel” was just as good a song to close with as any that remained unplayed from their catalog.

As the song ended, Tweedy said a brief farewell, and Wilco turned on the crowd and exited from whence they had come.

Walking to my car, I realized that this is a fifteen year old band that is somehow in their prime now.  I’m so accustomed to seeing bands that have been playing for decades, that I forget sometimes that it is a different experience to attend the concert of a band that still has something to prove to history — namely that they deserve a place in the memories of rock music fans for all time.  I entered Dutchess stadium a big fan of the band, but tonight, Wilco had me convinced that they deserve that aforementioned place.

All in all, this was by far the best $42 I have ever spent.  If you have the opportunity, get out there and see this band at the peak of their game (ballpark pun, this time, NOT intended…).

Ranking every Beach Boys album and song: “Surfin’ USA” LP (by Songwriter Jim Fusco)

Originally posted 2008-02-08 10:56:21. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:


Farmer’s Daughter – 6 (early promising song)
Surfin’ USA – 6 (catchy, but also a stolen melody, so it loses some points)
Lana – 5
Lonely Sea – 7
Shut Down – 7
(this is a great bluesy song)
Finders Keepers – 6 (endearing)
Let’s Go Trippin’ – 4 (filler)
Stoked – 3 (see last song)
Misirlou – 2 (because at this point in the album, I am sick of instrumentals!)
Noble Surfer – 6
Honky Tonk – 1 (why all the instrumentals!!)
*The Baker Man – 1 (probably the most ridiculous song they did next to Ding Dang)
Surf Jam – 1 (we get the idea)

** Here’s another album I like, but I think it’s a step back from their first. I know they were trying to make music people could dance to at parties, but the instrumentals don’t stand up now. They come across as a lack of effort. They have so much vocal talent- it’s a shame there’s not more songs with vocals! **