adventures in dysthymia

Sunday, March 29, 2009

HAVING LISTED the 25 writers who had influenced us most, there was some mention of song lyricists so I decided to try listing my 25 biggest influences there. If anything, it was even harder!

I'm sure that poets and fiction writers have helped shape my song writing and that lyricists have influenced my other writing (and life, for that matter). Again, there is a need to differentiate between those I simply like a lot (Jackson Browne or Janis Ian, e.g.) and those I feel have truly influenced me in a meaningful way. And also not to confuse any admiration for them as musicians with song writing influence.

These are not particularly in order but I guess the biggies are toward the top:

Donovan -- was hugely influential early on. A song like Colours is so simple yet so good, so moving (which is why it's a staple of my own repertoire). Donovan isn't, I suppose, particularly 'deep' nor difficult and his wit tends to be heavy handed (I mean, really, The Intergalactic Laxative?) but when he is earnest and honest, it's great stuff.

Hank Williams -- at it's best, Hank's writing was poetry; most of the rest is just plain good song writing. You could always feel Hank's hurt in the sad songs...and sometimes the upbeat ones as well.

Ray Davies -- pretty much invented headbanger-style hard rock in the mid-sixties and then turned around to create thoughtful and quirky pop songs. The renaissance man of song writers.

Sammy Cahn -- if only for All the Way, which I consider just about the perfect 'love song.' Simple, direct, meaningful.

Bob Dylan -- Dylan, of course, is not simple, even when it appears so. I was not a particularly big Dylan fan when young but have come more and more to appreciate his work and his sometimes rather opaque metaphors. Perhaps I'm more influenced by the Symbolist poets who influenced him than I am by Dylan himself.

Gordon Lightfoot -- one could teach a song writing class using just Gordon's lyrics.

Bruce Springsteen -- I'll admit that Bruce was not an early influence; I didn't particularly get Born to Run when it came out. Once I got into his stuff, though, it certainly impacted my own lyrics (I think The River is the song that finally hooked me).

Stephen Sondheim -- my older sister loved West Side Story and played the LP over and over (and over!) so I got an early lesson in Sondheim appreciation. Very emotional lyrics -- I'll admit it, some of those songs can make me mist up. I'm not nearly so fond of his more recent work but SS was definitely influential in showing me the power of a song, early on.

Dorothy Fields -- from the golden age of Astaire and Rogers movies right on into the 60s, she crafted witty and astute lyrics.

Mick Jagger/Keith Richards -- Not so much now but I suspect that the writing team of the Rolling Stones was the strongest influence on my earliest attempts at Rock, as well as the Blues.

John Mellencamp -- when I started writing songs seriously (I don't consider the stuff from my teens and twenties to be serious efforts, by and large), Mellencamp was a definite influence. A bit country, a bit punk rock -- right where I was wanting to go around then. His lyrics felt 'real' to me.

Johnny Burke -- lyricist on dozens of standards (Pennies from Heaven, Moonlight Becomes You, etc), I didn't actually know the name Burke until fairly recently but, of course, the songs were there. My former musical partner, Karen, and I named our duo for one of his songs, Shadows on the Swanee.

Roger Miller -- anyone willing to rhyme purple with maple syruple is right up there among my song writing heroes.

Hal David -- for some reason, Bacharach gets all the attention but I don't think much of his post-David work. Very well crafted pop lyrics.

Cole Porter -- So witty, so versatile, and sometimes meaningful in spite of himself. And he wrote good music, too.

John Denver -- I would have been hesitant to admit it at one time, but I've written my share of imitation Denver songs. He had a mastery of imagery that one doesn't usually get in song lyrics.

Patti Smith --As with Dylan, she drew early inspiration from Symbolist poetry, but took it in a more consciously 'arty' direction. A bit self-indulgent at times but there is plenty of good writing in her work. Certainly a big influence in my writing at a certain point and still there to some degree.

Lyle Lovett -- was sort of my song writing hero when I was into the whole alt country thing. I never particularly tried to write like him but I appreciated his approach and attitude.

Johnny Cash -- the early stuff, the middle stuff, the late stuff...it's all good. Johnny knew the right words to say exactly what he meant.

Sam Cooke -- when I started thinking of names, I realized what a big influence Cooke was. Early on, too -- I remember loving those songs as a very small Lad.

Neil Young -- okay, I said it. Even though his mangled usage and simplistic thinking occasionally bothers me, there are some wonderful songs. An early and lasting influence.

Big Bill Broonzy -- Broonzy could make poetry of the blues, and has probably been my biggest influence in that genre.

Peggy Lee -- how could I have seen Lady and the Tramp as a kid and NOT have been influenced? I'll tell you, Disney songs have gone way down hill since then.

Norman "Hurricane" Smith -- a respected recording engineer who worked with both the Beatles and Pink Floyd, Smith also wrote and recorded in the 70s. His Oh Babe, What Would You Say? opened my ears to a different sort of music.

Joey Errigo -- the only song writer I actually know personally that I think has influenced my own efforts. Not just because her writing is good but because of her willingness to occasionally display a somewhat warped sense of humor in her songs (and elsewhere).

Monday morning, March 30: Naturally, other names have come to me since posting this list. I suspect that Kris Kristofferson should bump some other writer here. Once we get past a handful of big influences, there are a very large number of those that have touched us in their way, leaving their mark. Buffy StMarie, perhaps. Miscellaneous Beatles, though I consider none of them major influences. Steve Goodman. Oh well, I could go on naming writers all day!

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