SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 30: Last Day

We’ve made it. It’s the end of June.  Hopefully you know how to play more songs than you did in May.  Maybe you’ve got some originals to work on, too.

Why not learn one more cover?  You choose which one.  Let it be another song that you’ve liked for a long time.  Or maybe it will be the first song you ever said, “This might be my favorite song” about.

TODAY’S SUPER-PROMPT:  Look over the songs you know (maybe from this month!) and put together a 30 minute set.  Play it.

SONG OF THE DAY: Folsom Prison

The whole album. Because I am obsessed with it.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 25: About a Place

Romulus, Michigan

TODAY’S PROMPT: Write a song somehow inspired by a place.

This is inspired by Sufjan Stevens’s notion to try and make an album for every state in the union.  I’m not sure if he got past two, but one of the states he wrote about is Michigan and Michigan is my home state (and his home state. Whoo!);  I love that album because it’s full of songs about a bunch of places I recognize.

What makes his songs compelling, in my view, is that they are really about people. He names a place in the album title and many of the song titles but his albums or songs are really about people living there. Sometimes he directs them to a person living there.

SONG OF THE DAY: Romulus

Romulus is a suburb of Detroit–the city that holds the airport.  Who knows? Maybe it has a pretty downtown somewhere. If so, I haven’t seen it. If so, most people don’t know about it.  From my understanding, it’s pretty much an airport, a field, a bunch of gas stations and car rentals.

I tend to like sad, slow Sufjan over happy quick Sufjan, and when it comes to sad, well, Romulus just nails it.   It captures Romulus as a weary place, its people sorting through debris left by the car industry’s whirlwind tour through Southeast Michigan (and the United States).  I mean, this song would be great even if I knew nothing about Romulus, but because I do, because I’ve been there, it just means so much more. To me, this song IS Southeast Michigan.

Or part of it.  There is another part of Southeast Michigan that he doesn’t capture in this song, a part that might be better captured in a song called “Downtown While There’s a Tigers Game Going On,”  but for when there isn’t a Tigers game going on, this song really captures my impression of the region where I grew up.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 20: Pop Music

PROMPT: Learn a pop song.

I wrote this prompt in April (as that is when I brainstormed for these) and as I wrote it down today in this here blog template, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure what officially makes a song a pop song. So I went to Wikipedia, of course.

It derives from Rock and Roll.  It’s from the 1950s. I guess it has to have a catchy hook to be a pop song; it has to have a verse chorus structure.  It’s aimed at the youth market. Maybe everyone knows this already, but because I’m really out of the pop culture loop, I had to look it up.

Part of the reason I want to learn a pop song is because I am amused at the challenge of taking, say, a Madonna song and making it work on the guitar.  Or maybe a Michael Jackson song. Yes. A folky version of a Michael Jackson song sounds like a good project for today.

SONG OF THE DAY: Billie Jean

I had a fun time looking up people’s acoustic versions of MJ songs on Youtube.  This one impressed and amused me. PS: I have no idea who this dude is.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 16: Song for Someone Else

TODAY’S PROMPT: Learn a song someone else likes or that you associate with someone else.  If you get good at playing it, maybe you can play it for them some time.

TODAY’S SONG: We Won’t Get Fooled Again

There is a game I like to play where I ask people which 1960s band they like the most out of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks.  Apparently, says the friend who taught it to me, you can learn a lot about a person through their answer.  I choose the Who.  I haven’t listened to all of the Who’s stuff, but what I have heard moves and wows me more than any of the others.  They are the only band I can listen to jam out without getting bored.

My father also loves the Who–has loved the Who since way before me. It’s either a music preference gene or I just like the music my dad likes. One of the two. He claims they lived in Detroit for a while before they were famous.  He claims his brother saw them play in a high school around here.

Well, folks. It’s Father’s Day. Here’s my father’s favorite Who song.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 15: The Two Chorder

PROMPT: Write a song with two chords.

If you’ve seen me perform, you know I have one of these and you might also know that I usually use it to start my set because it’s less stressful to play.  Who knows, I may get another starter-song out of this prompt.

SONG OF THE DAY: Memphis Tennessee

This Chuck Berry song has two chords.  He does does a lot with those two chords, though.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 14: Another Language

Today’s prompt is inspired by the fact that I’m having lunch with my high school Spanish teacher today. Unfortunately, exposure to the Thai language has really confused my ability to speak Spanish. But hey! Maybe I’ll get some Spanish back today.

PROMPT: Learn a song in another language (besides the primary one you speak).

You get to choose the language.  I’m probably going to learn a song in Thai, probably a song that the Thai King wrote.

SONG OF THE DAY: ยามเย็น ~ Love at Sundown

This is an example of a song that the Thai King, Rama 9, wrote.  He’s got a lot of titles, including “The Agriculture King,” but my favorite thing about him is that he writes music and is sometimes called “The Jazzy King.” (See photo above!) He writes music, primarily jazz and blues. I love his music.

This song here (“Yam Yen” is how to pronounce the Thai title), is one I used to sing when I lived in Bangkok and performed with a choir made up primarily of Thai senior citizens. (LONG STORY, not as long as the cover band story though).  I was their magic farang they pulled out of a hat at concerts and things who could sing solos written by the Thai King.

This version of “Yam Yen” is kind of hokey, but the King’s music isn’t always performed in this hokey crowd-pleasing way.  I happen to love a bit of hoke, though, especially Thai hoke, but if you take a step back you can recognize that it has a gorgeous tune.

I recommend that you take a youtube tour of his music though–it’s good!

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 11: Smashed Expectations

TODAY’S PROMPT: Learn a song usually sung by someone who is not like you.

If you’re a black woman, learn a Rufus Wainwright song; if you’re a white woman, learn a John Legend song, if you’re a male of either race, sing an Aretha Franklin song, etc.

This prompt comes from my days in Bangkok singing in a cover band.   If you didn’t know I did this, well, now you do.  It’s a great story and hopefully it will be an essay one day, a famous essay, so you all can read it from some famously wonderful source.

When I first joined the band, the guitar player (named Lynchee) gave me a stack of 1990’s, early 2000s alternative/pop songs that were all sung by women.  “Don’t Speak” was in there, for instance. So was “Top of the World” and “Zombie.”  The whole covering other people’s music thing didn’t really click from me until I started singing U2 songs, or until I covered “Creep” by Radiohead.

The explanation was simple: I had more freedom with these songs.  As soon as the audience recognized the song and then understood that I, a not-bald man but curly haired white woman, was going to be singing “Losing My Religion,” they dropped their expectations about how the song was supposed to sound.  I think they liked that one the most because my version of it was, well, really different.

TODAY’S SONG: Always Be My Baby

David Cook knew exactly what I was talking about when he covered this song on American Idol years ago. For me it’s like, middle school meets whoa.