Category: song writing

What the Beatles Taught Me About the Value of a Second Draft

The Beatles, according to many, were the greatest songwriters of all time. I’m not here to argue that. The point is, great as they were, it did not always come easy to them.

The melody for “Yesterday” famously came to Paul McCartney in a dream. So he didn’t forget it, he shoved in the first words he thought of, which happened to be “Scrambled eggs/Oh, my baby, how I love your legs,” and so on.

I’m serious.

When McCartney and John Lennon first wrote “Drive My Car” it included the chorus “I can give you golden rings/I can give you anything/baby I love you.”

It’s trite, and it’s a massive cliche, and the Beatles knew it. But they liked the tune, so they went back to the drawing board. In the end, what they came away with was an anthem for women’s empowerment. The “girl” in the song was the VIP and the guy was her driver.

I think we can all agree that the final drafts of both songs were far superior.

Later, in “Paperback Writer” McCartney sang “I can make it longer if you like the style/I can change it ’round but I wanna be a paperback writer.” Clearly he understood that you aren’t always finished when you think you are, and it isn’t always brilliant when you think it is. Sometimes you just need to run a comb through it and tweak a few lines here and there. Sometimes you need to run your manuscript or lyric sheet or whatever through a shredder and start over. Either way a second draft can bring a freshness, a vitality to the piece.

And that’s just the writing process. When they got into the studio, they, like most recording artists, would do multiple takes of a song. The demo was the rough draft and each ensuing take was another “draft.”

In 1968, George Harrison brought a song to the sessions for the White album called “Not Guilty.” It is well documented that the Beatles recorded about 100 takes of the song. Literally. Many of them were partial or just false starts. But still they kept at it until they got it right. To top it off, after all that work they didn’t put it on the album!

It disappeared until 1979 when Harrison put it on his own album.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” began as a very different song than the one they eventually released. They tried countless variations, but it was missing something, particularly in the intro. Then one day Lennon walked into the studio, went straight to the piano and banged out what would become the song’s famous opening.

It took a lot of work, but in a moment of frustrations/inspiration, it morphed into one of their most beloved tunes.

In 1969, according to Lennon in typical hyperbolic form, the Beatles recorded “a hundred million” takes of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” yet another McCartney number that was not held in high esteem by Lennon or Harrison. McCartney was convinced it was strong enough to be a Beatles single.

In fact, not only did Lennon and Harrison not appreciate it, it is often cited by fans as one of their least favorite Beatles tracks.

That’s three very different outcomes for songs given multiple takes (drafts). But in every case, the result was appreciated by someone.

I’ll be honest. When I am writing on this blog, I don’t very often write a second draft. Especially with long posts like this, I edit and improve it as I go along. But I’m not letting it sit for a day or two and coming back to it with fresh eyes. I absolutely do that when I am writing for a client. Because they expect my best, for one thing, but also because I know that you can always improve a piece you’ve written. There is always going to be a more colorful, more insightful way of saying something.

But when it’s finished, you just know. And at some point you’ve got to release the album.

The Difference Between Christmas Songs and Winter Songs

I was going to wait until after Thanksgiving. But you know what? It’s snowing outside right now. And the whole point of this post is that, while you really ought to wait until after Thanksgiving to bust out the legitimate Christmas music, there are certain songs on which there should be no such restrictions. There are certain songs that have been labeled as “Christmas songs” for no other reason than they have winter themes.

If you do a Web search you’ll find lists of songs that don’t mention “Christmas” in them yet are clearly about Christmas. But here is a list of songs that make no mention of Christmas, Noel, Yule, or Santa Claus and have nothing to do with the religious aspect of the holiday.

And yet they are labeled as Christmas songs. It’s the equivalent of “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys being labeled an Independence Day song because it’s about summer.

So here we go.

5. Let It Snow – This is just a love song that takes place during a snow storm. That is all there is to it. A sweet romantic rendezvous that the weather is helping to extend. No funny business like in “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

4. Winter Wonderland – This, again, is simply a love song set in the winter. The difference is that in this one, the weather has not grown inclement and the lovers are out enjoying themselves, frolicking and playing in the snow and building a snowman. And…you know, making arrangements for said snowman to perform their future wedding ceremony. Nothing weird.

3. Jingle Bell Rock – I doubt very much that you’ve ever been to a Christmas party that was worth a damn at which you did not hear this song play at least once. It is definitely a song about a festive occasion, and references to the sleigh and “dancin’ and prancin'” are so close, but not, in and of themselves direct references to Santa Claus and his reindeer. And so, I say, this is not a Christmas song.

2. Frosty the Snowman – Growing up, I don’t remember ever having a school Christmas concert at which this song was not sung. It was probably one of the first songs I ever learned. But it makes no mention of anything essential to Christmas. That is, of course, if you disregard the theory that Frosty was an allegory for Jesus Christ. But we’re not going to go there, and even if we did, that scenario would make this more of an Easter song than anything. But I digress.

1. Jingle Bells – Yes! Jingle Bells, for crying out loud! It is pretty much the ultimate Christmas song except that it has absolutely nothing in it about Christmas whatsoever. Again, back in the days it was written, everyone used to ride around in sleighs pulled by animals. Not just the big, jolly red guy.

Crazy, huh? Well, now that you know, feel free to enjoy these songs any time you want to….PROVIDED THAT… it is at least technically winter, or if outside of the winter season, there is already/still snow on the ground. That is the one rule of winter songs. If there is but one solitary flake of snow on the ground, you’re golden.

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and have a great winter.

A Whole Batch o’ Satchmo: My Top 10 Favorite Louis Armstrong Songs.

This is a random post to demonstrate the kind of content Dailey Freelance might generate for you and your business. I mean if you’re a dog groomer, let’s say, then of course the subject matter would reasonably reflect that. And I look forward to writing about your dog groomer business.

But for the purposes of this post, I felt like writing about my favorite “Satchmo” songs.

I toyed with the idea of making #10 on this list a whole list of songs itself, just to demonstrate that when it comes to Louis, you can’t narrow it down to ten. But we’re going to stick to ten. And now you’ll never know what my also-ran songs were. You’ll be okay. So here we go.

10. Cornet Chop Suey – This is one of the early Louis Armstrong songs that were so mind-blowing when they came out for being almost impossible to put down in musical notation. It’s been done, but Louis put that whole undertaking to the test with this and various other songs (maybe those songs are the also-rans. Who knows?) There simply are not symbols to indicate what he’s doing on some of these songs.

9. Storyville Blues – The red-light district of New Orleans known as Storyville doesn’t exist anymore. In many ways its spirit still hangs in the air, lives on in the people of the city. This version by Armstrong has such a foggy, dreamlike quality to it, that listening to it today, it really does feel like a portal into another place and time. Building on that theme, unlike the other entries on this list, search as I may, I have no idea when it was recorded.

8. S.O.L. Blues – This is a gritty little ditty about bad luck. And yes, the S.O.L. stands for exactly what you think it stands for. There is no profanity in the song, but because of the title, along with the “out of luck” theme of the lyrics, Armstrong was made to re-record this later with a new title (Gully Low Blues) and different lyrics.

7. You Rascal, You – An ode to jealous rage, this song’s lyrics would probably not fly too well today. Lyrics aside, I’ve always heard this as a very early rock n’ roll song. That’s probably why the song has held up so well and there have been so many covers.

6. Ain’t Misbehavin’ – This one was made famous by Fats Waller. I myself became familiar with it through Leon Redbone, an artist who is not from New Orleans, but he should be. Anyway this one is a nice counterpart to the last one in that it is an ode to absolutely loyalty.

5. Riverside Blues – Much like Sidney Bechet’s “All of Me” it begins with a quite long tinkling piano intro, but like the Bechet tune, when Satch starts blowing his horn, he rips this song a new one.

4. A Kiss to Build A Dream On – This song has one of the most powerful solos he ever recorded. I always loved the way it seems to begin a beat or so before you expect it to. It’s almost like, per the lyrics, he’s saying what he has to say before his chance to do so expires.

3. On The Sunny Side Of The Street – Louis Armstrong is one of the only singers who could make such a gruff voice sound so warm, and this song is a prime example of him doing just that. He really does make you feel like you could “leave your worries.” In short, it’s one of those “everything’s gonna work out all right” songs.

2. When The Saints Go Marching In – Before Louis Armstrong recorded it in 1938, this was just a traditional, devotional song. He was the first to record it in a secular, popular music context. Eight decades later, it is practically synonymous with New Orleans. Now there are dozens of songs that are practically synonymous with New Orleans, but this was the first.

1. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? – I heard this song for the first time when I was about ten years old on a cassette tape of an Abbott and Costello radio broadcast. It was sung by Marilyn Maxwell. I didn’t learn till years later that Louis was the original artist. Maxwell and others sing “the moonlight on the bayou” in the song where Armstrong sang “Oh the Mardi Gras, the memories.” While the line Armstrong used immediately evokes images of the heart of New Orleans, to me “moonlight on the bayou” calls to mind more of a rural Louisiana feel.

The more I listened to this song over the years, though I’d never been there, eventually the song planted in my mind what I’d characterize as “reverse nostalgia” for the place. I did “miss” it, somehow. Now that I’ve been there, the sentiment has been confirmed.

When I Wrote “Songs” and Was a Legend in My Own Mind

It seems like I have always been writing, my whole life, in one form or another. There was a period in my life (my teens and early twenties) when I wrote “songs”. I started out writing rap songs, then when I moved away from my collaborator and best friend, I drifted off into writing what I heard in my head as rock “songs”.

What’s with the quotes?

Well, I never really mastered any musical instrument, and never bothered to work on anything digital, so the words I wrote were only ever songs inside my brain.

My passion is for words. Making them click. Making the message come through in a provocative (call to action) or at least amusing way.

I am a writer.

But that is not a limitation. If someone has illustrations for a book and needs something written, or if they have an idea but are just really good at the business end of getting it published, fine. I am their man. There is nothing wrong with being a piece of the puzzle in the creative process. It can really be inspiring and motivating. If you’ve ever watched the TV show Songland, you may know what I mean.

I am just a writer of words. And that’s okay.

I could have done something with my “songs” — I could have collaborated with some musicians. I didn’t, but I could have. I moved on to the various other, more productive phases of my writing career that you’ve already read about if you’ve followed this blog.

But the point is always, always know the value of the piece of the creative puzzle that you have to offer. It could be the piece someone else is looking for in their own puzzle.