Belle & Sebastian – If You Find Yourself Caught in Love

Belle & Sebastian, chords, chord progressions, melody, lyrics, songwriting

I’ve always thought Stuart Murdoch was a very “mature” songwriter – because he takes whatever he comes up with lyric-wise or chord-wise and makes it into a good song. He doesn’t rely on arrangement or production trends to give his music the appearance that he’s being creative, he just crafts the song into something that is thoroughly enjoyable. In a way, that is the classical way of songwriting – to work with the structure of the song, the chords, the melody and the form, so that the song is timelessly good regardless of what the prevailing aesthetic of the day is when it  comes to overall sound.

That’s why I wanted to write about a song which is from his later album, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, which, one could argue is overproduced, but still demonstrates the solid skill that Murdoch has when it comes to crafting a beautiful song. The focus of this entry also comes by way of one of the readers of indie songwriting, who wanted to see how lyrics interact with and inform the choices made in writing the melody, chords and structuring the form of the song.

When I looked up the lyrics to If You Find Yourself Caught in Love, I was pretty surprised to find that the lyrics followed an AABB rhyme scheme almost consistently throughout the song. Now, I thought, and still do think, that varying the rhyme scheme of the lyrics is extremely beneficial to distinguish your choruses from the verses, and vice verse. However, Stuart Murdoch makes it work in spite of writing almost the entire song in a series of rhymed couplets (AA BB CC DD etc.).
I would like you to read the lyrics and just say the words out loud – spoken, not sung.

Lyrics

[excerpt]
If you find yourself caught in love            
Say a prayer to the man above
Thank him for everything you know
You should thank him for every breath you blow
If you find yourself caught in love
Say a prayer to the man above
Thank him for every day you pass
You should Thank him for saving your sorry ass
If you’re single, but looking out
You must raise your prayer to a shout
Another partner must be found
Someone to take your life beyond
Another TV “I Love 1999”
Just one more box of cheapo wine

Continue reading


The New Pornographers – All The Old Showstoppers

New Pornographers Challengers All the Old Showstoppers Lyrics Chords Melody Songwriting

The New Pornographers - Challengers

Last post, I wrote about how Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel uses melodic phrasing, among other things, as part of his songwriting choices in The King of Carrot Flowers. Building upon that, I would like to write about a song that bears some similarities in songwriting but results in a totally different sounding song.

Today’s song is All the Old Showstoppers by The New Pornographers – a band whose songwriters, including the primary songwriter of this song, Carl Newman, are highly skilled at using irregularities and the breaking of traditional songwriting conventions to yield some truly well-written indie pop.

I really adore this band and learn a lot from analyzing their songs. Each one seems to touch upon something unique. I have a feeling that there’s going to be a lot more New Pornographers songs featured in this blog.

So on to the song. I’m going to use a similar approach I used last time. I’m going to ignore the lyrics, ignore the production and arrangement and try and get to what I consider to be the core of the song – the Chords, the Melody and the Form. Continue reading


Neutral Milk Hotel – The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One

in the airplane over the sea, chords, chord progressions, lyrics, melody, songwriting

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane over the Sea


When you were young you were the King of Carrot Flowers.

And how you built a tower tumbling through the trees

In holy rattlesnakes that fell all around your feet.

And your Mom would stick a fork right into Daddy’s shoulder.

And Dad would throw the garbage all across the floor

As we would lay and learn what each others bodies were for.

And this is the room one afternoon I knew I could love you.

And from above you how I sank into your soul

Into that secret place where no one dares to go.

And your Mom would drink until she was no longer speaking.

And Dad would dream of all the different ways to die

Each one a little more than he could dare to try.

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I figured I would start off with a simple yet wonderful song off of a classic indie album – Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1998 album In the Aeroplane over the Sea.

Now, a good part of what strikes me initially about this song is 1) The lyrics and 2) The overall sound of song; the instruments used, the rhythm of the acoustic guitar, the singer’s voice, the low-fi production, etc. I’ll just call 2) The Arrangement and Production.

To understand this song, I could talk about the lyrics. But I don’t feel that the entire weight of the song rests on the words. In other words, if someone who didn’t speak English listened to this song, I’m fairly sure they could appreciate it as well. I could talk about the arrangement and production but, to a certain extent, that is somewhat superficial when it comes to the core of the song – the part that you as a songwriter would create before you showed it to your band or a producer. If you played the song on acoustic guitar and sang along with it, i.e. stripped away the arrangement and production, the song shouldn’t really lose it’s impact. If it did, it would probably not be a very well-written song.

So, apart from 1) and 2), I want to know if there’s anything else going on in the song that is as adventurous, unique and as striking as the lyrics and the arrangement, yet which forms the essence of the song from a songwriting point of view. To do that, I’m going to explore a) The Chords b) The Melody c) The Form.

Continue reading


Welcome!

I am not an expert songwriter nor is this blog meant to teach people step-by-step how to write a song (WAIT! Don’t leave just yet). There are plenty of books that teach aspiring songwriters the basics of songwriting – how to come up with chord progressions, melodies, lyrics, the different forms of popular music, and so on. I’ve read some of them before, but most of what I’ve learned about songwriting has been from listening to music I like and trying to write songs that sound like something I would want to listen to.

One thing I have noticed with people who write books about songwriting, blog about it, talk about it and teach it, is that they always talk about things like writing a “hit” song, or writing songs the way classic artists like the Beatles or the Brill Building songwriters or the professional songwriters in Nashville. Nobody really mentions ‘indie’ music.

Now all that is fine, but I’m sure there are plenty of songwriters like me who listen to indie music and who want to write songs that sound like what we listen to. But what makes a song sound contemporary and exciting like the indie music of the past 10-15 years? That’s something that I’ve been trying to figure out by looking at songs I like, that I think are “good” and by trying to find the little things that make them sound new, interesting and different.

So, in this blog of mine, I am going to be taking songs at my own whim and fancy and breaking them down to find a few things that make it sound cool and hopefully gain a few ideas to implement in my own songwriting. I hope that anybody reading this blog will be able to benefit from this activity, and possibly start doing this with music that you (that’s right, YOU) listen to and enjoy.

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A note about indie music: I don’t really think of “indie” as a genre because indie means independent (for those of you who didn’t know…) and any kind of music can be made by independent musicians. That’s why we end up with indie rock, indie pop, indie folk, indie rap, indie electronica. Whatever that constant is, and I take it to be songwriters who try and make their music sound different from what’s been done and don’t compromise on creativity, there is a general sense of when something sounds ‘indie’. The songs I’m going to write about are probably going to be from the pop, rock, and folk genres of the indie spectrum because that’s the kind of music I listen to and try to write.