Friday, 27 March 2015

Best Idea Wins


There was no real musical ego problem. There were a lot of other ego problems, but whoever had the best idea got their way. No one really stood on the cliff saying, "F**k you, no."

Ringo Starr: Rolling Stone Magazine


70+ Songwriting Tips From The Beatles

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

FAWM 14, The Fab 4 And The Decisive 5


February Album Writing Month (FAWM) is just a warm memory now but I wanted to share a Beatles-flavoured spoken-word improv oddity from Paul Turrell (aka Hoopshank) - just like Yesterday it was inspired by a dream!

Enjoy The Decisive Five

Once upon a time, there were four red Mini Metros. 
[For those who don't know, the Mini Metro was a car made by the British manufacturer Austin intended to be a successor to the Mini. It was very popular in the UK but enjoyed nowhere near the international success of the original Mini]
In the first red Mini Metro were the four Beatles, all in a good mood. In the second red Mini Metro were the four Beatles, all slightly annoyed. In the third red Mini Metro were the four Beatles, all extremely angry. In the fourth red Mini Metro were one Beatle from each of the first three red Mini Metros. That's not to say that there were only three Beatles in each of the first three red Mini Metros - there were four. And there were four Beatles in the fourth red Mini Metro, even though there was only one Beatle from each of the first three red Mini Metros. The sixteen Beatles in the four red Mini Metros were having an argument which was eventually resolved. So who were the decisive five?

You can check out my FAWM songs here especially I Too Need Love - the Harrison/Beatles influenced song I wrote and recorded from scratch in 58 minutes


Monday, 23 March 2015

Yesterday And The Myth Of Inspiration


Songwriting is the closest thing to magic there is. No one understands it – even the people who do it. If you want to get theological, singing a song is the closest humans get to the divine act of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). Forget cleanliness, songwriting is next to godliness.

But if songwriting is a deep impenetrable mystery, what have I been doing here at Beatles Songwriting Academy for the last 5 years? If songs are things that just happen to songwriters why does anyone try to analyse it?

People who push the 'songwriting as alchemy' line usually wheel out this fact

Paul McCartney wrote Yesterday in a dream!

In a dream. In fact 'wrote' is often replaced by 'it came to him...'

Yesterday 'came to' Paul McCartney in a dream!

It might have 'come to' John Lennon or Keith Richards or Peter Asher or Mary Quant or Michael Caine or my Dad. But it came to Paul McCartney.

A message from the gods? A kiss from his muse? A belch from his subconscious? Who knows?

No one, that's who.

And if it came to him while he was snoring in the attic of Jane Asher's family how could Paul (or anyone else) make it happen again? It's magic. We might as well give up.


But I don't believe songwriting is magic. Inspiration is magic. Songwriting is a craft. Everyone, EVERYONE, gets inspired. But only a special kind of person can turn inspiration into a thing that can be shared with others. They're called artists. An artist who knows how to turn inspiration into a song is called a songwriter. The story of Yesterday proves it.

Because Paul McCartney didn't write Yesterday in a dream.

He wrote the melody in a dream. In fact he wrote the verse melody in a dream.

7 bars. 29 notes.

Dum dum dum
Dum dum dum dum dum dum
Dum dum dum
Dum dum dum dum dum dum
Dum dum dum
Dum dum dum dum
Dum dum dum dum

that's all.

What Really Happened


Rolling out of his bed he went to the piano and figured out the tune, and no doubt began harmonising it. But inspiration was already beginning to be replaced by perspiration. Though music theory remains a mystery to Macca he was bringing to bear a vast amount of practical experience in harmonisation.

Paul, unable to believe he hadn't subconsciously ripped off an old standard, played it to the Ashers, George Martin and anyone else who would listen asking if they recognised it.

Then came the dummy lyrics (the equally legendary “scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs”) and the bridge.

The bridge was pure craft – hammered away on piano during every break in the filming of Help! to the point of driving director Richard Lester nuts.

But still no lyrics. All McCartney knew was he wanted the opening phrase to have three syllable words. He started mulling them over driving to Portugal with Jane Asher. Staying at the villa of Shadows' guitarist Bruce Welch he fleshed out the lyrics. He didn't have a piano at his disposal - he didn't even have a left handed guitar - so playing a 'righty' upside down and Yesterday became a guitar tune. Rather than playing the song in F he detuned the guitar a tone and played it in G.

Back in London the song was ready to be presented to the band. But no one could think of anything to do on it, so it became the first Beatles 'solo number'. On the same day the band cut I’ve Just Seen A Face and I’m Down (14 June 1965) McCartney did two live takes and it seemed like the song was done, until George Martin suggested adding strings. Paul (thinking Mantovani) wasn't convinced but George (thinking Bach) won the day.

So here's a list of what 'came to' Paul in a dream

  • The verse melody
  • Some version of the verse chords

Here's what was the result of craft

  • The full verse chords
  • The bridge melody
  • The bridge chords
  • All the lyrics
  • The guitar arrangement
  • The string arrangement


The most recorded song in the world would never have been finished without craft.



Friday, 20 March 2015

Paul McCartney - Songwriter's Songwriter


The great thing about songwriting is we don't know how we do it, so you can't talk about it. 

Paul McCartney won the “Songwriter's Songwriter” award at the NME Awards in Texas. This is his speech in full

First of all, let's hear it for the NME. Got to give it up for the NME, man. Well, the NME for me brings back so many memories. It's been going longer than I have. I saw the very first picture of Elvis in the NME. Back page was an advert for 'Heartbreak Hotel.' We'd never seen him but we'd heard him. There he was. Buddy Holly, I saw all of that, the news coming in that he was visiting England. And it was really inspirational for us all because he sang and he wrote the songs and he did the solos as well, so it was very inspirational. And then finally, we got down to London and got to meet the people on the NME and that was another, wow!

One of the things we used to try and do was to plant a false story in the NME. And we actually got with George was Billy Fury's cousin, which he wasn't. Living on the edge, man. Anyway, come on, John Cooper Clarke (British performance poet). It's all there.

And so anyway, songwriting, the thing about songwriting, the great thing is we don't know how we do it, so you can't talk about it. Thank you!

Capturing Michelle



[Michelle was] very easy to mix. There were no decisions to make, we'd made them all in the writing and in the recording... we would mix [songs], and it would take half an hour, maybe. Then it would go up on a shelf, in a quarter-inch tape box. And that was it ... I advise young groups these days, write 'em great, rehearse them up so you know 'em, have a good relationship between yourselves and go in and record them the simplest possible way that you can, mix it that day and have done with it. I wish I could take my own advice.

Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (p.275)

Michelle was recorded in it's entirety on November 3rd 1965


70+ Songwriting Tips From The Beatles

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Reading List


I'm often asked if I've read a particular book on the Beatles. Here's what I've got waiting on the bookshelf

You Never Give Me Your Money - The murky story of fabs finance

All We Are Saying - Lennon's last interview

Tune In Vol 1 - The book I swore I'd never read. 800 pages and it only goes up to 1962

The Beatles As Musicians: Rubber Soul To Anthology - Super in depth music theory

In His Own Write/A Spaniard In The Works - Lennon channeling the Goons comedy prose


Any other MUST read recommendations?




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