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Anatomy of a Song

Mark Myers

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When Phil Specter recorded Righteous Brothers You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' it was 3:54 long and he was worried that the pop stations wouldn't play it for that reason. So he just changed the time to 3:05 on the label. When the duo heard it, they weren't in love : "It's a great song - for the Everly Brothers". Some friction bc Specter wanted Bill Medley, who had a deeper voice, to sing the verses alone, with Bobby Hatfield just joining in for the chorus. "What am I supposed to do while the big guy's singing?" says Hatfield. "You can go to the bank" retorts Specter.

Grace Slick wrote White Rabbit aimed at (her) parents who drank but told their kids not to do drugs. "I felt they were full of shit, but to write a good song, you need a few more words than that ... alcohol is a much more dangerous drug. Many people turn into assholes when they use it." She wrote WR and Somebody To Love while she and her husband played in a pro/am band called The Great Society. That band broke up and Jefferson Airplane asked her to become their lead singer. She pointed out the drug undercurrents in kids' lit - Peter Pan's fairy dust, the poppy field in Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and friends get stoned and fall asleep, and of course the magic pills and food in Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. She's come to accept that WR is actually quite a good song, especially for something she banged out in an hour. "My only complaint is that the lyrics could have been stronger. If I had done it right, more people would have been annoyed."

Linda Ronstadt Different Drum written by (pre-Monkees) Mike Nesmith.

FM radio had been around since the 1930's, but usual vicious circle - no music for it so nobody broadcast in it so no market for music, and no reason to sell FM radio receivers. Then in late 60's, Japan started sending solid state stereo systems to US, which stimulated demand for stereo records, And they sent transistors that were AM/FM which encouraged FM broadcasts, particularly around colleges. But little advertising demand, so stations had a lot of spare airspace which they filled with longer album tracks, and so suddenly there was a market for those.

That suited groups such as Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had been session musicians for most of the sixties, and were heartily sick of the abbreviated 3 minute canned pop song.

Aerosmith's Walk This Way flopped when first released in 1975, but after the album (Rocks) became popular, it was re-re;eased and went to No 10 on Billboard charts. Ten years later, hip-hop group Run-DMC covered it (with Steve Tyler and Joe Perry guesting), and had a cross-over hit which went to No 4.

Pink Floyd's The Wall - concept grew out of Roger Waters' hostility towards over-enthusiastic fans. Alienation between audience and what band was trying to do. And from that he started thinking about the emotional barriers we build around ourselves as individuals. Waters said he wrote most of Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 (the band's only US No 1) in less than 5 minutes. The words "just flowed out of me" when I recalled my 12 yo self at Cambridgeshire High School For Boys with schoolmasters who thought education was about controlling kids with sarcasm and brute force. Then decided to get schoolkids to sing chorus - originally just as backing for the group - but they sounded so good that left them in by themselves, and with a guitar solo the song became a full 4 minute track.

Brick 1 is "Daddy's flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory", Brick 2 is the education thing and Brick 3 is "I don't need no arms around me" the reaction to relationship betrayal/breakdown. Much later, in 2011, Waters added a Brick 4 as a homage to a Brazilian student mistakenly killed by police in 2005 after the London Tube bombings.

MTV provided a new vehicle for exposure - before only radio or TV - and British bands took full advantage, with bold fashion statements and entertaining videos. Bands such as Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were able to bypass radio and get a wide spread of fans just with clever, arty videos.

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