Monday, 13 October 2014

Under The Sea Is Music To Me

Sometime in late December last year my family and I went to see the movie "Saving Mr. Banks" which was basically the true story of how the movie Mary Poppins came to be.  The most memorable scenes for me were when the two songwriters would come up with these brilliant songs for the movie and performed them for author P.L. Travers, the writer of Mary Poppins.  Travers was a reluctant (that's an understatement) participant in the whole process, with Walt Disney actually having spent 20 years trying to convince her to let him do the movie around her book.  The songs were an integral part of their attempt to persuade her, and she was a tough customer!

Disney movies have always had wonderful songwriting, right out of the old world of the Brill Building in New York where songwriters would go to work every day doing nothing more than write and compose.  And even if most of the time these songs were directed more at children, there is nothing "dumbed down" about them.  A great example of this is the song "Under The Sea" from the animated Disney movie "The Little Mermaid".  "De seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake."

This song is a wonderful study in creative lyric writing.  For me, the bridge is especially brilliant;  imagine trying to rhyme all kinds of sea creatures with instruments and creating a whole band out of it!  "What do they got, a lot of sand? We got a great crustacean band!"  It's not often you see the word crustacean in a kid's song.  That's what is also great about this song, as I mentioned before, it doesn't talk down to kids.

Musically, the whole Caribbean feel is perfect.  The character Sebastian has a Jamaican accent, and the song's main musical phrase is all steel drums.   It's in the key of C with a pretty straight-forward chord progression, and in the last chorus, it modulates up for two lines, resolving back down to the original key in a splash (pun intended) of brilliance.

If you haven't heard it, or can't remember the last time you did, just listen again and enjoy (lyrics below):


The seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake 
You dream about going up there 
But that is a big mistake 
Just look at the world around you 
Right here on the ocean floor 
Such wonderful things surround you 
What more is you lookin' for? 

1st CHORUS:
Under the sea, under the sea 
Darling it's better down where it's wetter take it from me 
Up on the shore they work all day 
Out in the sun they slave away 
While we devotin' full time to floatin' under the sea 

Down here all the fish is happy 
As off through the waves they roll 
The fish on the land ain't happy 
They sad 'cause they in their bowl 
But fish in the bowl is lucky 
They in for a worser fate 
One day when the boss get hungry 
Guess who's gon' be on the plate 

2nd CHORUS:
Under the sea, under the sea 
Nobody beat us fry us and eat us in fricassee 
We what the land folks loves to cook 
Under the sea we off the hook 
We got no troubles, life is the bubbles, under the sea under the sea 
Since life is sweet here we got the beat here naturally 
Even the sturgeon an' the ray 
They get the urge 'n' start to play 
We got the spirit, you got to hear it, under the sea 

BRIDGE:
The newt play the flute, the carp play the harp 
The plaice play the bass and they soundin' sharp 
The bass play the brass, the chub play the tub 
The fluke is the duke of soul (Yeah) 
The ray he can play the lings on the strings 
The trout rockin' out, the blackfish she sings 
The smelt and the sprat they know where it's at 
An' oh that blowfish blow 

LAST CHORUS:
Under the sea, under the sea 
When the sardine begin the beguine 
It's music to me 
What do they got? A lot of sand 
We got a hot crustacean band 
Each little clam here know how to jam here under the sea 
Each little slug here cuttin' a rug here under the sea 
Each little snail here know how to wail here 
That's why it's hotter under the water 
Ya we in luck here down in the muck here 
Under the sea!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Other "I Saw The Light"

1972 was a memorable year for me, but not in a good way.  In May of that year, my mother died.  I was 14 and devastated, but one of the ways that I found to express my grief was by writing songs.

Whenever I see the song title "I Saw The Light" I'm reminded of the old bluegrass song, but there is actually another song that was a hit for Todd Rundgren in 1972 by the same name.

The other night I was in Vancouver watching Ringo and His All Star Band, and had the pleasure of seeing Rundgren perform his song live along with Ringo and members of Toto, Santana and Mr. Mister. Funny thing was that back in 1972, I didn't know it was Todd Rundgren who wrote it because I didn't pay as much attention to artists as I did to songs back then.  I do remember the song Hello It's Me being attributed to Rundgren, and he performed that one as well the other night.  But I can't say that I knew Bang On The Drum, It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference and Love Is The Answer were Rundgren songs either. They were all on the set list that night.

I Saw The Light and Love Is The Answer, which came later, definitely had an impact on my early songwriting, especially because of the major and minor seventh chords in each of them.  When I discovered those chords and moved between them on my guitar, I was utterly hooked and ended up writing quite a few songs with those chord combinations.  It wasn't until the other night, however, that I made that connection and realized those songs came from the same person.  So thanks, Todd, without question you inspired my songwriting.

The genre of I Saw The Light was called "soft rock", which was how I described my early songwriting.  You don't see references to that very much these days;  it was a 70's genre for sure. There was even a Soft Rock Cafe in Kitsilano, a suburb of Vancouver, where I occasionally performed in the late 70's and early 80's.

Whenever I'm meeting new guitar students, I inevitably ask them what kind of music they like.  It occurs to me that more often than not, the younger ones have more trouble defining a genre or an artist, and simply go by the song.  That's probably the truth of it;  songs by themselves stick with us and early on in our lives we don't pay much attention to anything else.

I Saw The Light is so very 70's :-).  Beyond that, I will just let it speak for itself!

 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Something About A Soul and a Body

I have no idea what this song is about, and so if you think this is just going to be another gush about another song -- it isn't.

I really don't like it when songwriters just meander on in their own minds and then put it out there for others to try and swallow.  I think it's selfish and lazy.  And so, with apologies to Deathcab for Cutie (another conundrum, what the heck does that mean??), I love/hate their song "Soul Meets Body".

Musically, it is great, it is fun to play on guitar and the production and arrangement are excellent.  Lyrically, it is none of these things.  It starts out promisingly enough.  But how did you go from this beautiful, earthy description to a greyhound station?  And then back to the dirt?  And then "roads left in both our shoes"?  And eventually to a "brown eyes" that you want to hold near?  Come on, man, obscurity is no excuse for laziness!

Here are the lyrics for those of you who don't know the song:


I want to live where soul meets body
And let the sun wrap its arms around me
And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing
And feel, feel what its like to be new

Cause in my head there’s a greyhound station
Where I send my thoughts to far off destinations
So they may have a chance of finding a place
where they’re far more suited than here

And I cannot guess what we'll discover
When we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels
But I know our filthy hands can wash one another’s
And not one speck will remain

And I do believe it’s true
That there are roads left in both of our shoes
But if the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too
So brown eyes I hold you near
Cause you’re the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere

Where soul meets body
Where soul meets body
Where soul meets body

And I do believe it’s true
That there are roads left in both of our shoes
But if the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too
So brown eyes I hold you near
Cause you’re the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere

Some of you may say "who cares?  It's a great song!"  Yes and no.  Some of you might think you know what it means.  Maybe you do.  And the songwriter is counting on you coming to his rescue that way.  "You see?  People know what my song is about!"

If songwriters actually spent more time thinking about what they're actually saying instead of throwing a few obscure lines out there like feed to fish, we'd actually have something worth singing!

Here is a video of it:



The "official" video for the song (which this isn't, by the way) doesn't go any further in explaining the song concept.

I still love the song :-)
IJ