Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wrote a Song for Everyone

Recently a writer I greatly respect wrote this about B.J. Thomas' rather pondersome, "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song": Goddamnit, another song about songs. It's not horrible, but please make this trend stop!

To an extent he's right. Writing a song about writing a song can be such a colossal example of self-flagellation that it can be hard to take. The song "If" by Bread ("If a picture paints a thousand words, why can't I paint you?") is Ipecac for the soul. "Just An Old-Fashioned Love Song" gets old...really old...after about 30 seconds. Donovan's "I Sing For You" is pretty and all, but it's just Donovan-y. And much as I love Barry Manilow (and I do...I do!!!) one of my only real problems with him is one of his biggest hits, "I Write the Songs," is a song he didn't write! (I know, I know, it's still a lovely song. And one Mr. Pincus sang a cajillion times better than author Bruce Johnston ever could). I'm just sayin'.

But then there's the other side of that tricky little coin. There are some songs about writing songs that are just, well, that are just so damn good. "Dancing in the Dark" certainly touches on the difficulty of writing a hit record, not to mention having the right image and a sense of being that can make one happy. Suzanne Vega's glowing "Gypsy" ends with a promise to write a song for an an old, lost love somewhere down the road, and it works so beautifully. And at the end of one of his finest solo tracks (1993's "Things" from 14 Songs), Paul Westerberg touches on the subject too ("Things I can never tell you, down the line someday, you'll be a song I sing, a thing I give away.")

Not only does the idea of a "song about a song" work in these instances and others, it works brilliantly. It depends on the artist, I suppose. And the reason the song is being written.

With that in mind, here's a song about writing a song. But also about so much more than that. Done to perfection. By someone who possessed such a classic American voice and was blessed with such wondrous songwriting abilities, it's a shame this song isn't better known. John Fogerty is great and CCR was great; I don't know if they were ever better than this track.

But amazingly enough, this flawless song almost gets an even better telling from Jeff Tweedy and the magnificent Mavis Staples. Watch and appreciate:

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