I think about songwriting all day and night, when I listen to music I mentally sink my teeth into the construction of it and reflect on the writers inspirations. Some songs are just so amazing that I’m in awe and the experience transcends analyze though, songs I think are better than I could have written. But I believe if you can spot it you’ve got it so by listening to these songs I’m growing as a writer too.
Love, Ire, & Song – Frank Turner
The great thing bout Frank’s writing, in most of his songs really, is he’s never saccharine, he’s doesn’t bullshit about ‘holding on for one more day’ with no context or consequences, he acknowledges how easy, even desirable, to be jaded. In Love, Ire, & Song though he does it best. The song is about giving up, walking away from what you were fighting for and trying to move on. In the song hope is treated as an insidious thing that creeps up and grabs him when he lets his guard down and he’s ready to fight again, one more night. In the morning at the end of the song he’s hungover but that’s not as bad as the disappointment he feels for letting himself hope again. It’s a journey that every dreamer knows all too well and he captures it perfectly with humour, bravado, and conviction.
Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis – Tom Waits
Trying to find an excellent Tom Waits is like trying to find beer in a brewery, it’s like trying to find air – easy as breathing. Tom’s a songwriting god. This song stands above the rest for the tightness of the imagery, Tom can go a little esoteric with the visual metaphors in his later work but on Christmas Card the writing is brisk, linear, and it all builds to a singular conclusion that wraps up the song perfectly. The theme of a woman who’s had a hard life but still has hopes and dreams is delivered with a wry weary charm.
The River – Bruce Springsteen
I wouldn’t say this is my singular favourite by the Boss (it’s Jungleland) but as a story telling folk song it’s unbeatable and doesn’t fall into grandiose sentimentality like some Springsteen songs. The way he musically separates what’s happening now with what’s a memory is just great craftsmanship. The stark verses capture the quiet loneliness then the bigger, yearning chorus can really tug at the heartstrings.
Hero Of War – Rise Against
After the success of Swing Life Away everybody knew there would be another acoustic song down the road and my first feeling when I heard the song was relief that it wasn’t a nostalgic rehash of Swing. As I got thru the song and it gets darker and darker I was blown away. I was shivering when the song ended the first time, it’s a masterpiece and it really doesn’t pull punches without being exploitative or cliche. It doesn’t condemn the protagonist soldier either, that’s the real beauty of the song, there’s empathy for everybody involved. Again I don’t think this their best song overall or even a great representation of the band musically but it’s genius songwriting.
Green, Green Grass Of Home
I heard the song on Johny Cash’s Folsom Prison album but it’s been done a lot. It was written by Curly Putnam, Jr. and no, I have no idea who that is. I mention this song because I feel like it has the origins of what’s great about the other storytelling songs on the list and the storytelling songs that I’ve written. It’s wistful at first to set you up for the gut punch. Just like in The River the imagery doesn’t change but the meaning of it does as the context of the song shifts. That’s something I try to put in most of my songwriting, when I can sing the exact same words but the emotional impact has changed.
Well I’m sure I’ll think of a bragillion more after I post this but it’s a start and something to think about.