Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I weeded out what I thought was bullshit..which was a LOT! Here's the best of the rest...

Lone Wolf Sullivan

Irving Berlin: "Listen kid, take my advice, never hate a song that has sold half a million copies."

George Gershwin: "Out of my entire annual output of songs, perhaps two, or at the most three, came as a result of inspiration. We can never rely on inspiration. When we most want it, it does not come."

Cole Porter: "My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a director."

Richard Rodgers: "It took about as long to compose it as to play it." (said about "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning", the opening song in "Oklahoma!")

Oscar Hammerstein II: "I hand him a lyric and get out of his way."

Alan Jay Lerner: "You write a hit the same way you write a flop.”

Hal David: "I tended not to be concerned about whether a song was going to be a hit when I wrote it. Because it became evident that none of us knew what was a hit and what wasn't. So I thought if I just write what I like, why shouldn't people like what I like?"

Leonard Cohen: "I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I'm not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is. I am working most of the time."

Hank Williams: "If a song can't be written in 20 minutes, it ain't worth writing."

Donovan: "With songwriting, it all comes out in one flash. Then you work it, then you craft it."

Willie Dixon: "People have been brainwashed into believing that it's got to be down or it wouldn't be blues. But it's not so. It's got to be a fact or it wouldn't be blues."

Dolly Parton: "Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams...all of them are different styles, but those are the songs that make the times...they're the songs that last through time."

Johnny Cash: "I start a lot more songs than I finish, because I realize when I get into them, they're no good. I don't throw them away, I just put them away, store them, get them out of sight...When I record somebody else's song, I have to make it my own or it doesn't feel right. I'll say to myself, I wrote this and he doesn't know it."

Kris Kristofferson: "Johnny Cash's face belongs on Mount Rushmore...I don't write as much as I did back when I was writing songs every day. I've come to know when I've got a good one, although sometimes it takes the world awhile to catch up with me...If you're in it because you love it and you have to do it, that's the right reason. If you're in it because you want to get rich or famous, don't do it."

Sheryl Crow: "A song that sounds simple is just not that easy to write. One of the objectives of this record was to try and write melodies that continue to resonate...Everything that happens to you influences your writing...The writing process for me is pretty much always the same--it's a solitary experience...I have yet to write that one song that defines my career...Beck said he didn't believe in the theory of a song coming through you as if you were an open vessel. I agree with him to a certain extent."

Stevie Nicks: "It was my 16th birthday--my mom and dad gave me my Goya classical guitar that day. I sat down, wrote this song, and I just knew that that was the only thing I could ever really do--write songs and sing them to people."

Ozzy Osbourne: "I didn't think anything we did was spectacular. I remember we thought, 'Let's just write some scary music.'"

Paul Anka: "I had this talent for these stupid little teenage songs. I just couldn't get anyone to sing my songs, so I had to sing my own tunes."

Smokey Robinson: "I always try to write a song, I never just want to write a record. Originally I was not writing songs for myself. Songwriting is my gift from God."

Lamont Dozier: "I don't think about commercial concerns when I first come up with something. When I sit down at the piano, I try to come up with something that moves me."

John Lennon: "I'd spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then, "Nowhere Man" came, words and music, the whole damn thing, as I lay down...Song writing is about getting the demon out of me. It's like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won't let you. So you have to get up and make it into something, and then you're allowed sleep. "

Paul McCartney: "Somebody said to me, But the Beatles were anti-materialistic. That's a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, Now, let's write a swimming pool."

George Harrison: "We worked the medley on side two of "Abbey Road" out carefully in advance. All of those mini songs were partly completed tunes; some were written while we were in India a year before. So there was just a bit of chorus here and a verse there. We welded them all together into a routine."

Stevie Wonder: “I really do seek to create music that is timeless, ... Each project takes on its own life, and the songs from "A Time To Love" are the most appropriate for the statement I wanted to make...The most important thing is, when I do give the music, I'm satisfied with it, that it speaks for what I want to do...It is a different kind of lyric; it's very picturesque. I can see everything that I'm writing, I can visualize all those things happening.”

Janis Ian: "I write a lot from instinct. But as you're writing out of instinct, once you reach a certain level as a songwriter, the craft is always there talking to you in the back of your head...that tells you when it's time to go to the chorus, when it's time to rhyme. Real basic craft... it's second nature."

Freddie Mercury: "People are always asking me what my lyrics mean. Does it mean this, does it mean that, that's all anybody wants to know. F**k them, darling. I say what any decent poet would say if you dared ask him to analyze his work: If you see it, dear, then it's there."

Johnny Mercer: "I could eat alphabet soup and s**t better lyrics." (musta been talking’ about Lenny Kravitz!)

James Brown: "I've outdone anyone you can name: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Strauss. Irving Berlin, he wrote 1,001 tunes. I wrote 5,500."

Van Morrison: "I write songs. Then I record them. And later, maybe I perform them on stage. That's what I do. That's my job. Simple. I don't feel comfortable doing interviews. My profession is music, and writing songs. I like to do it, but I hate to talk about it...Music is spiritual. The music business is not. Being famous was extremely disappointing for me. When I became famous it was a complete drag and it is still a complete drag.”

Billy Joel: "I consider myself to be an inept pianist, a bad singer, and a merely competent songwriter." (me too!)

Randy Newman: "If getting on the radio was a major motivation, I'd be one of the worst writers of all time. I admire people who do it, and I think it's a nice way to work, but I try to do the best I can and write what I like. I don't worry about it."

Harry Nilsson: "It happens so quickly it seems like it's coming from somewhere else. It's not. It just means that you're in sync with yourself. And whatever your goal is, in terms of hearing a melody or a lyric, the closer you get to it, the faster it comes out and the easier it is to "spit it out", as it were."

Little Richard: "I was washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station at the time and I said, 'Awap bop a lup bop a wop bam boom, take 'em out!'"

Tom Petty: "You're dealing in magic--it's this intangible thing that has to happen. And to seek it out too much might not be a good idea. Because, you know, it's very shy, too. But once you've got the essence of them, you can work songs and improve them. You see if there's a better word, or a better change."

Jimmy Buffet: "You know, as a writer, I'm more of a listener than a writer, cuz if I hear something I will write it down. And you find as a writer there are certain spots on the planet where you write better than others, and I believe in that. And New Orleans is one of them."

Angus Young: "I'm sick to death of people saying we've made 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we've made 12 albums that sound exactly the same!”

Pete Seeger: "I write a song because I want to. I think the moment you start writing it to make money, you're starting to kill yourself artistically."

Paul Simon: "It's very helpful to start with something that's true. If you start with something that's false, you're always covering your tracks. Something simple and true, that has a lot of possibilities, is a nice way to begin."

James Taylor: "I started being a songwriter pretending I could do it, and it turned out I could...To be a musician, especially a singer/songwriter--well, you don't do that if you have a thriving social life. You do it because there's an element of alienation in your life...I wish I could say, 'Oh, that would be great to write a song about.' But what I'm doing is assembling and minimally directing what is sort of unconsciously coming out. It's not something I can direct or control. I just end up being the first person to hear these songs. That's what it feels like...that I don't feel as though I write them. Then there's a phase when you button it up and finish it. But it all starts with a lightning strike. A melody will suggest itself in the context of whatever I'm playing, and then the cadence will suggest words. And those words don't come from a conscious place. I typically will work on a lyric in a three-ring binder. On the right side, I'll write the lyric, and on the left side, I put in alternate things."

Tracy Chapman: "Songwriting is a very mysterious process. It feels like creating something from nothing. It's something I don't feel like I really control."

Peter Townshend: "What I took back, because of my exposure to the Jewish music of the 30s and the 40s in my upbringing with my father, was that kind of theatrical songwriting. It was always a part of my character. This desire to make people laugh...Songwriting is best. It's the hardest--finest--tightest. It also requires the most discipline."

Todd Rundgren: "I don't have the same restrictions that other people do because I never painted myself into a corner. I've always done things that didn't necessarily fit the form. I've never felt limited in that respect in terms of songwriting."

Brian Wilson: "The idea of taking a song, envisioning the overall sound in my head and then bringing the arrangement to life in the studio...well, that gives me satisfaction like nothing else...My state of being has been elevated, because I've been exercising, writing songs...No masterpiece ever came overnight. A person's masterpiece is something that you nurture along."

Cab Calloway: "You don't think it was because a white man wrote it, a black man wrote it, a green man wrote it. What--doesn't make a difference!"

Carole King: "I'm a songwriter first...In my career I have never felt that my being a woman was an obstacle or an advantage. I guess I've been oblivious...Sensitive, humbug. Everybody thinks I'm sensitive...There is a downside to having one of the biggest-selling albums ever."

Willie Nelson: "I like myself better when I'm writing regularly...I was influenced a lot by those around me--there was a lot of singing that went on in the cotton fields."

Prince: "I try not to repeat myself. It's the hardest thing in the world to do--there are only so many notes one human being can master...One of the reasons we’re going out on the road and why we’re titling this tour as "Musicology" is because we want to bring that back. We want to teach the kids and musicians of the future the art of song writing, the art of real musicianship.”

John Prine: “I just tried to come up with some honest songs. What I was writing about was real plain stuff that I wasn't sure was going to be interesting to other people. But I guess it was...I've never had any discipline whatsoever. I just wait on a song like I was waiting for lightning to strike. And eventually--usually sometime around 3 in the morning--I'll have a good idea. By the time the sun comes up, hopefully, I'll have a decent song.”

Neil Young: "I don't force it. If you don't have an idea and you don't hear anything going over and over in your head, don't sit down and try to write a song. You know, go mow the lawn...My songs speak for themselves."

Boudleaux Bryant: "As far as my creative urge is concerned, I do sit down and write my own music...I'll tell you a writer who I think is a genius: Ray Stevens. He comes up with some of the most fantastic novelty ideas. Dolly Parton also writes well. I like a lot of songs, a lot of writers."

Chrissie Hynde: "I've done lots of songs for film soundtracks and things like that--stuff I'm not ashamed of, but that doesn't represent my legacy with the Pretenders...I think domesticity certainly doesn't make it easy to write, you know, because you've got a lot of distractions and I think a writer is always looking for distractions."

Steve Earle: "Townes van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that."

Townes Van Zandt: "I don't think you can ever do your best. Doing your best is a process of trying to do your best."

Loretta Lynn: "I don't know what it's like for a book writer or a doctor or a teacher as they work to get established in their jobs. But for a singer, you've got to continue to grow or else you're just like last night's cornbread--stale and dry."

Jimmy Webb: "I usually know what kind of song I'm after. I know what I'm trying to do when I start. I don't always get there. But I try to visualize what it's actually going to be."

Kid Rock: "I've just really been into melody and lyrics and songwriting. Writing a rap, to me, is easy. I could write a rap like that. But writing songs and melodies and s**t that's hopefully going to stick around for 30, 40 years is f**king hard...If you have good songs and you're talented, people will eventually come to your shows, people will buy your music."

Otis Blackwell: "I'd hate to be a songwriter starting a career today...Al Stanton walked in one day and said, 'Otis, I've got an idea. Why don't you write a song called "All Shook Up"?' Two days later I brought the song in and said, 'Look, man, I did something with it.'"
Peter Tosh: "I don't have to say I'm going to make a song. A song is always there. I just have to open my mouth and a song comes out."

John Mellencamp: "It's my responsibility as a singer/songwriter to report the news."

Bono: "I have never tried to write this thing called a song that's played on radios all around the world, that window-cleaners hum, that people listen to in traffic jams. I was never interested in song: U2 came about through a sound."

Sting: "Songwriting is a kind of therapy for both the writer and the listener if you choose to use it that way. When you see that stuff help other people that's great and wonderful confirmation that you're doing the right thing."

Bruce Springsteen: "I didn't know if it would be a successful one, or what the stages would be, but I always saw myself as a lifetime musician and songwriter...I was always concerned with writing to my age at a particular moment. That was the way I would keep faith with the audience that supported me as I went along...I'm a synthesist. I'm always making music. And I make a lot of different kinds of music all the time. Some of it gets finished and some of it doesn't...The best music is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with."
Jim Morrison: "Listen, real poetry doesn't say anything; it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through any one that suits you...I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown...I like any reaction I can get with my music. Just anything to get people to think."

Mick Jagger: "A lot of times songs are very much of a moment, that you just encapsulate. They come to you, you write them, you feel good that day, or bad that day."

Keith Richards: "I don't think rock n' roll songwriters should worry about art. I don't think it comes into it...as far as I'm concerned, Art is just short for Arthur..."... I don't like to go into the studio with all the songs worked out and planned before hand...you've got to give the band something to use its imagination on as well."

Billy Gibbons: "My discussion with Keith Richards about the creative process led me to believe that there's an invisible presence of a stream of ever-flowing creativity that we overhear--all you have to do is pull up the antenna and dial it in. This presence allows you to maintain your sense of origin and move forward."

Jimi Hendrix: "Imagination is the key to my lyrics. The rest is painted with a little science fiction...All I'm writing is just what I feel, that's all. I just keep it almost naked. And probably the words are so bland...I just hate to be in one corner. I hate to be put as only a guitar player, or either only as a songwriter, or only as a tap dancer. I like to move around...Music doesn't lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music."

Eric Clapton: "The writing of the song is the therapy. The toughness is doing nothing. It's very dependent on your state of mind. And your emotional state as well. And a lot of it comes pouring out, you don't really have that much control with it. I've felt that the only way to survive was with dignity, pride and courage."

Bob Dylan: "My best songs were written very quickly. Just about as much time as it takes to write it down is about as long as it takes to write it...In writing songs I've learned as much from Cezanne as I have from Woody Guthrie...It's not me, it's the songs. I'm just the postman, I deliver the songs...I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet."

Chuck Berry: "For many years I've been reluctant to make new songs. There has been a great laziness in my soul...All those m- words and f- words, don't blame me for that. I'd rather hear Tommy Dorsey or Artie Shaw any day...Look, I ain't no big s**t, all right? My music, it is very simple stuff. I told you all this before. I wanted to play blues. But I wasn't blue enough. I wasn't like Muddy Waters...I was in Australia, and I found out they wouldn't even let a black man become a citizen there. That's why I wrote that song. You know 'Back in the USA,' don't you?" don't you?"


Javi said...

Never push it too much. Actually... never push it a bit.

Nate said...

Loved this post but one GLARING omission: what does TA have to say about writing songs?

Mike Elliott said...

Wonderful stuff here. Had heard some of these before, but most I hadn't. Interesting mix of ideas and thoughts. I think my favorite's gotta be the Mercer comment!