Tuesday, 1 April 2014

My Top Ten Songs About Songwriters

Songwriting is an art form, but some of its most famous artists are more well known for the songs they wrote for other people. Which is why there are no songs in this list about John Lennon, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, et al. Just in case you were wondering...

Someone will still suggest a song about Lennon, you can guarantee it.

10. Nosferatu D2 - I Killed Burt Bacharach

I don't approve of the sentiment, but I love Ben Parker's songwriting, both here and in The Superman Revenge Squad.

9. A - I Love Lake Tahoe
Yeah, the trees are pretty wide
That's where Sonny Bono died.
A - not a great name for band, though I suppose it got them first place in the Bands section of the Yellow Pages.

8. Mercury Rev - Tonite It Shows

This gets in because it's the only song I can think of to mention Cole Porter in its lyrics. (There must be more.) Plus it's much better than Dinner With Gershwin by Donna Summer.

Don't get me wrong: I like Donna Summer, but having watched the video for that, my eyeballs have been scorched by some awful 80s dancing.

See also The Coal Porters, obviously. 

7. Super Furry Animals - The Very Best Of Neil Diamond

Long before the rhinestone-collared shirts and treacly voice made him a household name, Neil Diamond was just a jobbing songwriter in the Brill Building. There he wrote I'm A Believer for The Monkees, among many other gems.

6. The Boo Radleys - Jimmy Webb Is God

You won't get any argument from me on that one, Boos... which is why this isn't the last song about God in this Top Ten.
Wipe away this tear from my eye
Wash away this sadness from my heart
I'm not even fit to tune your guitar
Oh, Jimmy, make me happy...
5. Pulp - Bob Lind (The Only Way Is Down)

Jarvis pays homage to the Elusive Butterfly of 60s folk.
When you think you're treading water, but you're just learning how to drown.
And a song comes on the radio telling you that "The Only Way is Down".
You're out of luck, you're out of time, get out of here.
Your lover just traded you in for the very same model but a much more recent year.
It will not stop, it will get worse from day to day 'til you admit that you're a fuck-up; like the rest of us.
4. Prefab Sprout - The Songs of Danny Galway

From one of the best albums of 2013; and their career. Being a bit dim, I didn't realise that this was written about Jimmy until Miller pointed it out to me.
His melodies inspire whims, his chord changes like Baptist hymns
They lift your spirit til it soars, til you forget that spirit's yours
Sound and word in sweet communion, echoes of a better world
Where chivalry's not dead, we'll look for it instead in the songs of Danny Galway
3. Billy Bragg - Levi Stubbs' Tears

No, Levi Stubbs wasn't a songwriter: he was the lead singer of The Four Tops. Which is probably the only reason this track doesn't get to Number One with a bullet... in most other Top Tens, Billy's heartbreaking Motown tribute would be unstoppable.
Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
Are here to make right everything that's wrong
Holland & Holland, Lamont Dozier too
Are here to make it all OK with you
2. Ben Folds & Nick Hornby - Doc Pomus

Ben & Nick pay tribute to one half of the classic Pomus/Shuman songwriting team. This song made me want to read more about Doc Pomus's life. Stricken by polio as a young boy, Pomus refused to be "one of those happy cripples", pouring his heartache directly into the hits...
And out they pour
The hits and the misses
'Turn Me Loose', 'Lonely Avenue'
And down in Nashville, Elvis sings 'Suspicion':
Pomus / Shuman 1962
1. Rumer - P.F. Sloan

And so we return again, inevitably, to Jimmy Webb, with a classic example of his own songwriting, in tribute to a songwriting hero from his early days. Webb's recording of this record is beautiful... but Rumer took it to another level.

Yes, Jimmy Webb is god.

They wrote the songs that made the whole world sing. Which song gets you singing about songwriters?


  1. Rather appropriately, Kate Bush - "Delius".

    1. Stay tuned for My Top Ten Songs About Classical Composers, coming soon...

  2. I was going to send you an email about this but I think you could probably make a case for lots of Prefab Sprout songs (although the distinction between songwriter and artist would have to be blurred.

    Hallelujah - mentions Gershwin. Faron Young - obviously. There's the songs about 'Elvis' on Jordan, and finally

    The Old Magician is as blatant a piece of autobiography as any.

    Like I said, you'd have to bend the rules. Great list.

    1. Elvis wouldn't count as he never wrote his own songs. Colonel Parker just got him a songwriting credit on a lot of other people's compositions as a way of boosting income.

      I hadn't thought of The Old Magician as a metaphorical autobiography, so that's twice you've changed the way I hear that record.

    2. Well, I may have read an awful lot about that record. Its a truly marvellous thing (and I will return the USB, promise)

  3. forgive me Rol, for I have sinned. The first (and sadly only) song that came to mind beyond what you already had was this one....but hopefully I get some restoration of credibility because I chose the version below rather than the original cheese-fest...


    1. No forgiveness necessary, Deano... that'll crop up in my Top Ten Songs About SongWRITING... and I have no shame, so I'll probably go for the original.

  4. Was thinking Lilly Allen who'd have known but I think the video is more about Elton John than the lyrics so I offer you the Ballad of Climie Fisher :)

    1. "White Dolomite and Canterbury Spur."

      Top marks.


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