Song lyrics are funny things, aren't they? In most cases, they have the potential to make a person feel good about themselves, shed a few tears, and dance the night away.
I'd like to think that most songs have the potential to really be masterpieces. Grammy award winning, even. Although, given how the quality of the Grammy awards has decreased consistently since 1997 (at least in this blogger's opinion anyway), that might not be such a good thing.
I think that in order to have a good song, you really have to have song lyrics that can strike a chord in someone. With really meaningful lyrics and a message.
And what do some singer/songwriters do to bring forth such feelings? They write songs about what they know. Sometimes songs are inspired by a romance. Other times, they can be influenced by a break-up. Some songs are written in response to a national tragedy. Some are written in memory of famous people who have passed on. Some are even written as a social commentary, or as a response to the times of the era. I think that for the most part, the more personal a song is, the better chance it has to evoke emotion.
So, when you have a song that is deemed a so-called novelty song, it's a bit hard to get much emotion from it. Examples being 'Conga', 'Barbie Girl', 'Thong Song', 'Who Let The Dogs Out?', 'The Ketchup Song'...although, I suppose laughter can be an emotion.
But you know the songs I mean. Songs that are written without much purpose, or have lyrics that sound as if a first grader wrote them. Songs that you listen to on the radio and they make you go...'this was a single'?
There have been many popular artists that have released songs that seem to stand out from the body of work that they have done over the course of their career, simply because the lyrics are wildly different from songs that they have written before. A perfect example would be Madonna. Everyone who has heard one of her songs knows that she likes to push the envelope and release songs that appear polished and sophisticated while simultaneously seeing just how far she can go. But in 1989, she included a song on the 'Like A Prayer' album called 'Dear Jessie', which sounded more like a children's lullaby. The reason? It was a children's lullaby, written for one of the children of the man who helped produce the album.
But this entry isn't about Madonna...just one example I wanted to provide to illustrate my point.
This question is going to come across as being one that may be classified as a stupid question, but I'll come right out and say it.
Have you ever heard of a group known as the Beatles?
Yeah, I know...stupid question, right?
Of course everybody has heard of the Beatles! They were one of the most dominant groups that came out of the 1960s, and have had well over twenty-five number one hit singles in both their native England, as well as North America. Even after the band broke up in 1970, the individual members all released solo albums, their popularity still ranks high. Some people even have referred to them as one of the greatest bands of all time.
Yes, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr were four of the most well-known and popular men to ever grace the music industry. While I wasn't old enough to witness the whole phenomenon known as 'BeatleMania', those who were around during that time know exactly what it was like. Screaming teenage girls shouting so loud, it almost made it hard to appreciate the music that the Beatles were performing. The Beatles having their photos plastered all over magazines, newspapers, and books. Appearing on dozens of television programs. Performing thousands of concerts all over the world. And of course, the hundreds of singles that the band released over their career.
Today, it seems hard to believe that half of the Beatles are no longer with us. George Harrison passed away in November 2001. And anybody who lived through December 8, 1980 knows all about the tragic fate that befell John Lennon. But both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have released lots of solo projects over the years, and are still highly looked up to in the world of music (though these days McCartney seems to get as much press on his relationships as he does his music).
But one thing I'll say about the Beatles, looking back through their huge catalog, their songs can range from absolutely brilliant to just plain silly!
Of course, everyone knows that the Beatles have had some really awesome songs. 'Hey Jude' is always a classic. 'Can't Buy Me Love' is a song that I have sort of adopted as a little personal motto. And, of course 'Let It Be' is a song that evokes a lot of emotion.
But for every classic Beatles song, there are songs that range from unique, to just plain bizarre. For every 'Hey Jude', there was a 'I Am The Walrus'. For every 'Can't Buy Me Love', there was a 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'. And, for every 'Let It Be', there was a 'Yellow Submarine'.
And, then there's today's song...released in 1966.
ARTIST: The Beatles
SONG: Paperback Writer
DATE RELEASED: May 30, 1966 (UK release June 10, 1966)
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #1 for 2 weeks
Now, 'Paperback Writer' was one of those rare singles that managed a two week run on the top of the charts, but not consecutively. It first hit the #1 spot on June 25, 1966, was dethroned one week later by Frank Sinatra's 'Strangers In The Night', and returned to the #1 spot for an additional week on July 9.
And the way that 'Paperback Writer' came about being written was an unusual tale in itself.
According to legendary disc jockey and original 'Top Of The Pops' host Jimmy Savile (in an excerpt from the book 'A Hard Day's Write: The Story Behind Every Beatles Song'), the song was written at a time in which the Beatles were experiencing a bit of a broken record in their recording career. Certainly by 1966, the band were just as popular as ever, but their prior song releases all had to do with the same subject. They were all considered to be love songs. And one of McCartney's aunts had asked him if he was capable of writing a single that was not about 'love'.
So, McCartney thought about the strange request, and thought, and thought. And then one day, it hit him.
When he gazed upon his bandmate Ringo Starr sitting on a chair reading a book, the answer came to McCartney.
He would write a song about a book.
Sounds like a real crazy idea, doesn't it?
In a 2007 interview that was done with McCartney, he confirmed that he wrote the song 'Paperback Writer' with an aspiring author in mind, after reading a story in the 'Daily Mail' about one.
The song's lyrics in itself are in the form of a letter to a publishing company about a book an author is looking to get published. Now, I know what you're thinking...how can the song become a hit with lyrics in the form of a letter. It'd be like someone trying to record a pop hit singing off a resume, or trying to put the works of Shakespeare to a disco beat, or recording a pop hit about how everyone has the freedom to wear sunscreen.
Oh...wait...that last one was done already, wasn't it?
But you know...as weird and as unique as the song lyrics to 'Paperback Writer' are, I reckon that the song is one of my favourites. Of course, being one who wants to make a name for himself in the writing world, and who wants to actually get paid for his services one day, I guess the lyrics of 'Paperback Writer' are kind of like my unofficial theme song, so to speak.
But what made 'Paperback Writer' so popular was the fact that the track represented a number of firsts for the band.
Did you know that it was the first time that the band used a 'boosted bass guitar'? How it was achieved was by having Paul McCartney change the bass he usually played to a Rickenbacker, and used a loudspeaker as a microphone, to give it the amplified sound.
The song was also cut louder than any other Beatles release at the time using a brand new piece of equipment known as 'Automatic Transient Overload Control', developed by the maintenance department at EMI Studios
The song also has a bit of sampling incorporated into it as well...but it's not exactly sampling, since John Lennon and George Harrison sang just the song title...but if you listen really closely to the melody at the beginning of the third chorus, you can hear Lennon and Harrison singing the song title of the French classic Frère Jacques in several slow incantations.
The song is also one of the first songs ever that was recorded with a promotional video made specifically for the single. Fifteen years before the popularity of music videos were made possible with MTV. But then they always did seem to be a revolutionary band, didn't they?
So, yes, you had a song that by all accounts shouldn't have been a hit. Writing a letter to a publishing company, and setting it to music might not be the smartest move for a hit single, yet somehow the Beatles managed to turn it into musical gold. And, why wouldn't it have done so well? It's a great song, with a great beat, and a lot of new techniques. And, I think one lesson we can learn from the band is that they weren't afraid to try new things, and take risks with their career. I think we should probably do the same with our own lives, wouldn't you say?
I guess in closing, I'll actually admit that 'Paperback Writer' is my favourite Beatles song for a number of reasons, many of which I've stated up above.
In many ways though, the song kind of describes my dream. One day, I'd love to be able to have something, anything ready for publication...to show it off to an editor of a publishing company, ask them to read it, and then let them decide if it is worth printing.
And maybe this goal that I have of being a published author who makes a lot of money doing what I love doing will someday become a reality. For now...well, at least I have the perfect soundtrack to listen to while my dreams remain dreams.