Monday, July 20, 2009

Leiber & Stoller on Music Legacy

Jerry Leiber (lyrics) and Mike Stoller (music) have written so many standards that one simply cannot choose a favourite... So I won't even try...

I will reproduce for you some thoughts on songwriting and their musical legacy that the pair shared with the San Francisco Chronicle in a recent article here:

"With all the great pop songs, nothing can be added or subtracted on either an emotional or musical level," [Leiber] says. "They're absolutes. The most automatic efforts come from a spring that has the earmarks of time and meaning to them. If you can translate those into a tune and marry that to something that can be easily deduced, you have a chance for a standard.

"Of course, we thought all the standards had been written already," he adds. "How could there be more standards when you had Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin?"

He closes his eyes and hums to himself, fixing the tune in his head, and softly starts to sing.

"The old wolf sniffs the summer breeze and dreams about his youth," he whispers, the opening lines to Leiber and Stoller's "The Girls I Never Kissed," a song recorded by Frank Sinatra.

Leiber went to see Sinatra sing the song at Carnegie Hall, a richly rewarding moment for the songwriter. Sinatra introduced the song. "This was written by a couple of kids who write nothing but that rock 'n' roll crap," he said.

It's not something Leiber hasn't heard before. After he wrote "Is That All There Is?" Johnny Mercer invited Leiber to sit beside him at the head of the table at the Songwriter's Hall of Fame dinner. "You know why you're here?" he asked Leiber. "Because you finally wrote a good song."

Good song? I wish I had written some of the "bad" Leiber & Stoller songs ("Jailhouse Rock" or "Hound Dog" or "Fools Fall in Love")... May the Muse be with you.

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Special Songbook Collection - Songwriters Hall of Fame + Hal Leonard Publishing

The Songwriters Hall of Fame (SongHall) has announced a partnership with Hal Leonard Publishing, a world leader in the music print industry. The partnership with the legendary music publisher includes the creation of a series of branded songbooks for the Hall of Fame, and and innovative link between the Hall of Fame's digital Virtual Museum and Hal Leonard's vast library of song sheets and folios.

"We are excited about this new partnership," said Hal David, "because it permits us to extend our mission of honoring the world's great songwriters, by offering sheet music, both in print and online, to the public. The partnership also will result in direct financial support for the Hall of Fame by Hal Leonard, permitting us to continue our many educational activities."

Hal Leonard has created the first in a forthcoming series of Songwriters Hall of Fame songbooks highlighting the songwriting gems of 38 inductees from 2003 - 2009, including Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora ("You Give Love A Bad Name"); Desmond Child ("Livin' On A Prayer"); Loretta Lynn ("Coal Miner's Daughter"); David Bowie ("Fame"); Queen ("We Are The Champions"); Van Morrison ("Brown Eyed Girl") and many more. This premier Songwriters Hall of Fame Songbook features bios and photos of each artist, along with an introduction by SongHall Chairman/CEO Hal David, and is being sold at music and bookstores nationwide.

Hal Leonard's has now been made available as a SongHall online affiliate. Options to download sheet music from Hal Leonard's SMD are available on hundreds of inductee web pages within the Virtual Museum. This new feature enables links to hundreds of thousands of pages of digital sheet music and song folios by everyone from Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein to Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Hal David and Burt Bacharach. The Hal Leonard SMD program is easily accessible and user-friendly, loads quickly, and takes customer service to a new level, customize viewing experiences with a variety of options on every page.

About Hal Leonard Corporation
Founded in 1947, Hal Leonard Corporation is the world's largest music print publisher, producing songbooks, sheet music, educational publications, reference books, DVDs, CD-ROMs, children's music products and more. In its more than 120,000 available publications, the company represents in print some of the world's best known and most respected publishers, artists, songwriters and arrangers. The Hal Leonard Corporation has been a formidable presence on the Web since 1997, the year it launched (SMD), a worldwide website for downloading legal and accurate sheet music. For more than a decade, SMD has been and remains a leading online destination for musicians seeking printed music.

About The Songwriters Hall of Fame:
The Songwriters Hall of Fame celebrates songwriters, educates the public with regard to their achievements, and produces a spectrum of professional programs devoted to the development of new songwriting talent through workshops, showcases and scholarships. Over the course of the past 40 years, some key Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees have included Desmond Child, Dolly Parton, John Fogerty, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, Steve Cropper, Richard and Robert Sherman, Bill Withers, Carole King, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Sir Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Brian Wilson, James Taylor, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Jim Croce, Phil Collins, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Jimmy Webb, Van Morrison and Cy Coleman among many, many others. The Songwriters Hall of Fame was founded in 1969 by songwriter Johnny Mercer and publishers Abe Olman and Howie Richmond.

Full biographies and a complete list of inductees are available at the Songwriters Hall of Fame's Virtual Museum at

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Billy Joel on Songwriting

Hey, he's one of my all-time favourites... I think of Billy Joel as a tunesmith... He can write wonderful melodies with fantastic hooks and that's why he's written the "hits" but also the wonderful gems that aren't hits and that listeners feel they aren't sharing with the whole world and that only they know about them (Where's The Orchestra? or And So It Goes spring to mind as a couple of my favourites in that category). Anywho, here's an article from the Chicago Sun-Times that captures Billy Joel on songwriting:

Those who know Billy Joel say he's in a good place now, although that may not always have been the case.

"It's a different Billy I'm seeing on this tour, a very happy and contented one," says Elton John, whose Face 2 Face tour with Joel comes to Wrigley Field for shows tonight and Tuesday. "He's always been funny, always been razor-sharp, but this is a very happy and contented Billy, and I'm very happy that he's found that space to be in."

John is a longtime admirer of Joel's compositions, especially "Just the Way You Are."

"It's a standard people will be singing long after Billy and I are dead and buried," John says. "He's a proper songwriter in the old tradition of songwriting. And he writes about issues that are very close to his heart, like 'Allentown,' and that's why I really admire him. If he believes in something, he'll write about it."

Joel grew up in New York's Long Island suburbs and turned 60 in May.

Q.When did you start writing songs?

A. I was writing songs since I was a little kid. They were kind of like ersatz Beatles tunes, kind of Merseybeat British pop tunes. Then when I was in [the band] the Hassles I was writing stuff that was more R&B-influenced, more like soul music, like Sam & Dave songs, stuff like what the Rascals were doing, that was a big influence on me. I wrote all the stuff for Attila [a short-lived duo], then I got the rock 'n' roll star stuff out of me. I just wanted to be a songwriter and have other people do my stuff. But the advice I got from the music industry was, "Make your own album." This is the beginning of the era of the singer-songwriter.

Q.It's been a while since you went into the studio. Are you writing or planning on recording?

A. Well, I never stopped writing music. I'm just writing a different kind of music now. I'm writing instrumental music and thematic music. To what end, I really don't know. It may end up being a movie score, some of it could be symphonic, it could end up being songs. I'm writing themes. I'm just not writing songs like I used to.

Q.When you wrote songs, did you write the music first?

A. Always. I think the one time I didn't write the music first was "We Didn't Start the Fire" and I think it shows, because it's terrible musically. It's like a mosquito buzzing around your head.

Q.What do you take the most pride in: singer, songwriter, performer, musician?

A. The hardest part of the job is to write. That's what it all comes down to as far as taking the most pride in, the composing of the music. And then the next thing would be as a piano player. I think being a good musician is very important. As a singer, I've never thought much of my own voice.

And as a performer I take a great amount of professional pride in delivering a good performance. I still can't believe I'm 60 years old this year and I'm still able to do this crazy-ass job. I thought there was a mandatory retirement: When you're 40, get out.

Q.Dating to the '70s, you always ended shows saying, "Don't take any s---from anybody." What does that say about you?

A. I don't know, maybe I got a chip on my shoulder or something. That may be a Long Island thing, too, because people in the city always tend to look down on Long Island. We're the country bumpkins. So you sort of have a defensive attitude. And sometimes that's OK, it's a motivator. It kind of keeps you going, keeps you edgy. "Don't take any s--- from anybody." I still believe that.

Q.Do you see a time when you'll quit?

A. I don't think there will ever be a time when I stop being a musician. Possibly not being a performer, possibly not recording anymore, but I will always be a musician.

May the Muse be with you Billy... thanks for all the great tunes and more to come...

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