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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 02

Doing this today, as tomorrow, I am driving up into enemy territory to meet my adorable new nephew in person!

I'll say up front that I think of my song for this week as a pretty definite throw-away. That's ok. I learn by writing, and I would have learned more from this assignment if I'd taken more time with it. That's probably true of every assignment, but I can see quite obvious places that would have been strength building for me if I'd worked on them more.

The assignment was quite hate making (deliberate on the Kernel's part). He gave us a chart for Daniel Brad (not sure when I decided his name was Brad) Powter's "Bad Day." Yes, you do know it. No, really, I thought I didn't either.

This is a really terrible, wildly popular song. No, no, I've taken off my postmodern hat. My De Gustibus boots are off duty. I don't want to hear, "But it's so hooky!" Yes. Yes it is. It is hooky because it takes a 2-second melodic motif and beats it to death with putrid lyrics over the course of 4 agonizing minutes. Don't believe me? Here are the lyrics:

A section:
Where is the moment we needed the most ?
You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost [ed. — I'm no Jimmy Webb, but this does not rhyme even in Canadian]
You tell me your blue skies fade to grey
You tell me your passion's gone away and I don't need no carryin' on
[ed. — Dear Sir: This is the gerund form of the verb "carry." It has three syllables. It is not a woman's name.]

Repeat A section, make them wait for that chorus!

You stand in the line just to hit a new low
You're faking a smile with the coffee to go
You tell me your life's been way off line
You're falling to pieces every time and I don't need no carryin' on

Please note the douchey passive-aggressive, yet nonsensical content.

B section:

Because you had a bad day, you're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don't know, you tell me don't lie
You work at a smile and you go for a ride
You had a bad day, the camera don't lie
You're coming back down and you really don't mind
You had a bad day, you had a bad day

A' section (instrumental over first half of verse, lyrics over second):
Well, you need a blue sky holiday
The point is they laugh at what you say
And I don't need no carryin' on

Repeat B Section because you've had 15 seconds to miss that motif.

C Section (Bridge, modulates up a minor third):

Sometimes the system goes on the blink
And the whole thing turns out wrong
You might not make it back and you know
That you could be well oh that strong and I'm not wrong, ahhh...

Is this inspirational? More passive-aggressive dick-bagging? I JUST DON'T KNOW!!

A'' (Truncated verse):

So where is the passion when you need it the most ?
Oh, you and I, you kick up the leaves and the magic is lost

Yeah, 'cause the first verse was poetic gold, so I might as well basically repeat that shit!

Return to B section with very minor changes. Abusively repeat the end of the B section.

I hate this song. Its shoes interfere with my breathing.

Anyway, the assignment was to follow the song form exactly (A A B A' C A'' B BBBBBBBBBBB) and write a response song. Alternatively we were invited to write this as a song that did not suck.

I went with the response song, and like I said it's a throw away. On Sunday I worked on it for a while and ended up with nothing more than a single verse with a chord vamp and rhythm. I figured it would be in A or E, which always feel bright and pop-ish to me. I think at the end of Sunday I had:

[A] I [E] took a [D] number
[A] I [E] got in [D] line
[D] Would you [A] believe I [G] believed you
[D] After [A] all this [G] time you've kept me on hold

I liked the sound of the I-V-IV movement, as it seemed to be familiar enough in using direct-from-factory folky chords, but going to the V right away in a split measure, then ending the line on the IV had a slightly off-kilter sound to it. Rhythmically, I was picking the root on 1 and 3 for the split measure and then on the 1 of the next measure. In between I was doing quick single strums of I and V on beats 2 and 4. For the full measure it was still root, strum, and the measure finished out with slightly syncopated strums.

I think I didn't get any further lyrically on Sunday because the first verse did not end up leaving me much of anywhere to go. In fact, I ended up ditching the lyrics of the first verse and not modulating between A and D. So the only thing retained was the initial chord progression.

I had a real bitch of a time filling out the lyrics, even though the original covers so very little conceptual territory and recycles words and metaphors over and over. I wanted to capture the fury that comes from someone dismissing your genuine aggravation (especially if you've been bending over backward to keep calm, be fair, etc.), and I found myself thinking about the mother of a friend from High School. She was diabetic and sometimes had the behavioral swings that go with missteps in controlling blood sugar. I remember being at the friend's house one time when some member of the family started talking to her in slow, loud English during an argument, and suddenly her mom shouted, "If you tell me I need to eat something I am GOING TO TEAR YOUR EARS OFF!"

Anyway, the lyrics are shite, but here they are:

A section (the AED riff just repeats throughout the verse until the turnaround at the end of the 4th line going into the 5th where it's all down strums of A and then E):
[A] I [E] took a [D] deep breath
Counted from one to ten
Walked a mile in your shoes
Counted down to one again and [A] then
[E] You had to go and say

Repeat A section:
Thought I'd let it slide
Thought I might let this one go
Thought I'd be the bigger person
Enjoy the view from the high road, but no
You had to go and say

B section:
It's just a [A] bad [E] day, just like the [D] day before
Was just a [A] bad [E] day, [D] too
It's been a [A] bad [D] day for a [F#m] month of Sundays
It's been a [D] bad, bad [A] day for [E] me since I met you

I will say this for Powter's merciless repetition: You are so desperate for something, ANYTHING to change that any minor change (the I-IV-vi in the third line of the B section, complete with a high note in the melody that I reliably miss)sounds like super dramatic.

I set myself up for a problem in the A' section by having the chords repeat all the way through the verse. Powter does a I-IV-V over the first 2 lines, goes to the vi on line 3, and then I-ii-V at the end. Without that harmonic difference, my stubby verse suffers even more.

|A E| D repeated 4 times.
Don't treat me like a drama queen
I'm not saying it's a tragedy
But see, you had to go and say

Repeat B section and then into the Bridge/C section. Oh hellz. This is just awful. I lifted Powter's harmonic trick entirely by modulating up to C (the minor third up from A) and reproducing his chord progression exactly, which is just I-IV and then dropping down a half step from the IV to get back into the original key:

Bridge/C section:
[C] You don't want me [F]carrying on
You don't want me making a fuss
You wondering where the magic's gone
You're wondering why I can't see that it's just [E]

A'' (see above re: suffering stubby verses):
Not one more word
Not one more day

I could not stand repeating my crappy chorus one more time, so I changed up the words a bit and edited down the repeats.

B' section (same chords as B section until the repeats come in):
Not one more bad day, no not one more
All my bad days are through
No more bad days, I'm done with bad days
Done with [D] bad, bad, [A] bad, bad [E] days
Done with bad, bad, bad, bad days
Done with [A] bad, bad, [D] bad, bad [Bm] days
I'm done with you |A E| D repeat

I told myself that I would play around with arranging and recording this, given that the song itself is destined for the circular file. I DID play around with my bass a bit, but in the end, just getting the guitar and vocals synced up was challenging enough. I had recorded a bass track, but it just wasn't adding much. Felt good to get the Bad Badtz out, though. Crappy recording #2.

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