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Monday, January 3, 2011

It's The Song Not The Singer

According the popular '80's band, Survivor and who many call The Greatest Rock & Roll Band of all-time, The Rolling Stones, it's the singer not the song that matters. Survivor's 1984 song was called "It's The Singer Not The Song" and the Stones 1965 track was titled "The Singer Not The Song." I am sure that fans of the wildly popular cultural phenomenon American Idol would also likely argue that singing is the ultimate art.

But for me it has always been the songs themselves that stick. Songwriting is a craft that not many master. It takes music chops as well as lyrical prowess to create a great song. I am not deaf, however, and I do appreciate a great singing performances. But the song always comes first and my top ten list of favorite composers in no particular order stacks up like this:

1. Lennon & McCartney
2. Paul Simon
3. Brian Wilson
4. Bacharach & David
5. Holland/Dozier/Holland
6. Rodgers & Hammerstein
7. Irving Berlin
8. Cole Porter
9. Rodgers & Hart
10. Henry Mancini

Now here's where the fun comes in. I have done a little songwriting myself and since this blog is my very own I can mention a project called "More Songs About Cars And Girls" on which I co-wrote five of the original songs with my good friend, Marty Rudnick. I love the absurdity of the juxtaposition here. My songs mentioned in the same story with legends like Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, Lennon & McCartney etc. :-) BTW, Marty's album is chocked full of breezy pop that can brighten the gloomiest of days and instantly transport you directly to summer. It is available from all of the usual suspects like iTunes and cdbaby.

In a recent issue (RS 1119) of Rolling Stone Magazine the cover story was called "The Playlist Issue" and it featured top ten lists of 50 major artists in all categories of music. Being the list lover that I am I quickly grabbed a copy off the rack and was delighted at the wide cross section of artists and genres.

For songwriting they deferred to one of the best, Jimmy Webb. The title of his list was "Songs I Wish I Had Written" and here's how it stacked up:

1. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" - The Righteous Brothers, 1964
2. "Anyone Who Had A Heart" - Dionne Warwick, 1963
3. "Goin' Out of My Head" - Little Anthony & The Imperials, 1964
4. "Gentle On My Mind" - Glen Campbell, 1967
5. "Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" - The Four Tops, 1964
6. "Penny Lane" - The Beatles - 1967
7. "Crazy" - Willie Nelson - 1961
8. "The Boxer" - Simon & Garfunkel, 1969
9. "Let It Be Me" - The Everly Brothers, 1960
10. "These Dreams" - Heart, 1985

Jimmy Webb's sidebar on Paul Simon, "As a writer he's next to God" and I agree wholeheartedly.

So this little article got me thinking what are the songs I wish I had written. My list is based strictly on creativity and not commercial success. What songs continue to knock me out no matter how many times I have heard them? The interesting thing about my list is I came up with only five songs. Normally when I make music lists it is nearly impossible to limit them just to ten. In no particular order here is my list of the songs I wish I had written:

1. "Born To Run" - Bruce Springsteen
2. "God Only Knows" - Brian Wilson & Tony Asher
3. "The Sound of Silence" - Paul Simon
4. "Yesterday" - Lennon/McCartney
5."Get Together" - Chet Powers

I am not about to quit my day job anytime soon to become a songwriter. But the fantasy remains strong that someday when I'm long gone one of my tunes will still blare out of a jukebox somewhere in a dive bar deep in the heart of the San Joaquin Delta.


  1. All good choices Carl. But you left out Johnny Mercer!!!! (ok perhaps he only composed a few of his own tunes but his lyrics are worthy of adding him to anyone's list of greats!)