Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Can you write a hit song after age 50. Losing the writing touch

 Can you write a hit song  after age 50?

A long ago correspondent of mine, Richard Freeman, had an interesting theory. His theory was that popular songwriters, have only  a limited period of time before their songwriting abilities deteriorate.  They are just like sports stars in that regard. Freeman was referring mainly to their ability to connect with the zeitgeist of the marketplace, but also to their  ability  to write hit tunes, to avoid repeating oneself, and to continue to do so in a prolific manner. I argued the point at first, but I soon realized that for the most part he was  correct.  Usually most songwriters can't write their own hits  for  more than a decade.  In the second and third decade their work is very unlikely  to be among their best work, but occasionally they will produce an interesting album.

The great songwriters go longer,  but their later work is also always  weaker. It   is rare for even the best  melody writers  to still be able to write hits after say 25 years.  Think of Paul McCartney,  the most successful  songwriter, of the last half century. His  last top fifteen hit on the  American top 40 was in 1985.  He has recorded some excellent albums since then, but no big hits. The 1989 songs , "Veronica" and "My Brave Face" written with  Elvis Costello were his last top 40 hits  He had hits for 25 years on the American top 40. Bottom line: it's doubtful that McCartney has written any classic songs since the 1970's. (2015 Update: McCartney finally had a hit-"Four Five Seconds" in collaboration  with Rihanna and Kanye West.)

Only a handful of songwriters have been able to write hits over a longer period of time.
 Elton John wrote the melodies for songs  that hit the top 40 every year between 1970 and 1997, he's had  a few British hits since but nothing in America. Madonna has now gone 29 years between her first hit and her most recent hit,  but she usually brings in somebody to write or help write the melody. Madonna appears to be the oldest major artist to write a new hit song.    The Bee Gees went 30 years, but rarely had a hit in the last 15 of those years.   Eric Clapton, might have gone the longest he had self written hits between 1967  ("Sunshine of Your Love") and 1998 ( "My Father's Eyes"). This is odd in that Clapton is only an occasional songwriter. What of more recent artists?  Bon Jovi has written hits since 1983.   Mariah Carey has gone since 1988 or 23Plus  years,  but she always has brought in outside writers, and her  last decade has been less successful.   

Most songwriters slow down well before twenty year mark,  and stop having hits or bring in outside writers to help them write hits, some good examples of the "I need help" phenomena are Rod Stewart, Heart, Aerosmith, Train, Lionel Ritchie, Michael Jackson, Stevie Nicks.

The  Rolling Stones' only radio airplay hit of the past few years was ripped off from  K.D. Lang, they have not had an American Top 40 hit since 1989.   U2 no longer has  big hit singles  in the US, though they still have them in the UK. Springsteen had 22 years of  hits.  Jimmy Page  has not really written much of significance after the demise of Led Zeppelin, Most most mature  artists just simply don't write new music that gets played on the radio after a certain point in their careers.
Some artists just stop recording -Garth Brooks (who often used outside songwriters) , and Billy Joel have  effectively stopped recording new material altogether.

With the advent of American Idol, the era of singer-songwriter ended and a majority of the hits on the American 40  are written in collaboration with / or totally by writers  who are  not the  actual artist on the recording.

The phenomena doesn't necessarily apply to writers of classical music or musicals.  Beethoven wrote his classic ninth symphony  at age 54, and Richard Rogers composed the music for  Sound of Music at age 57. 

2 Children 1 Horse 1 lighthouse

Stevie with the 18 year old mare, Zara at Hatch Hollow Farm  on Cape Cod.  The barn is run by Denise Tailby.  The first time I heard Stevie refer to himself by his own name, was when he was talking to one of the horses and said, "Hi I am Stevie".

Below  is Stevie and his older brother
at, Nobska  a famous Cape Cod lighthouse. It has wonderful 270 degree view of the surrounding waters...

Stevie is also famous for portraying the character of Felpin in a bunny suit!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Random things I learned part one ..

Random things ...Pennies, President's Day, Daguerreotypes 

Daguerreotypes actually had something good about them.

Daguerreotypes were the   first commercially successful  photographic  process. There were   widely used in the mid 1800's. The process was  cumbersome, expensive & inefficient. Eventually,  they were superseded in the marketplace by other methods of photography.  What was good about them? Well apparently, the  image quality of a  Daguerreotype is so high that one can use a microscope to find hidden detail on them.  This article in Wired Magazine has more about them....
1848 Daguerreotypes bring past to light

 Canadian Pennies 
That the Canadians are about to stop making the Canadian penny,  apparently, in the future  Canadians  will be expected to either round up or round down, though the old stock of pennies are still in circulation. It costs more to make a penny than it is worth.  We Americans  would get rid  it  over here too, but for the fact, that it would require actually making a decision. 

Presidents Day 

President's Day is a sort of a  misnomer. This February holiday  is still  officially called Washington's Birthday. In recent decades it has come to be known as Presidents Day, but it was never changed to that. Some states officially call it Presidents' Day, to make note of the fact that the beloved President Lincoln, was also born in February.

Roy Rogers Restaurants back in the day

Roy Rogers Congressional Plaza -1960's

In the mid-1970's my family and I used to go every Sunday to Roy Rogers Restaurant.. It was one of the  bonding activities, that my father chose to do to  keep us together after my mother died.   We usually went to a midday Sunday  mass, and then  we would drive to the Congressional Plaza in Rockville, MD to the Roy Rogers there. I would always  have a Coke, Fries and a burger. My brother would always get the Roast Beef Sandwich. I don't remember what my sister would get. Originally, the chain had girls in fancy cowgirl  miniskirts out on the floor, cleaning the tables, that was kind of cool.

Vintage  Roy Roger Commercial from Youtube

The 1970's and 1980's  were the golden age of Roy Rogers Restaurants. Their food was a cut above other fast food chains, and I think that  was true of most of the food I ate there, though the chicken was not as good as KFC.   Roy Rogers  were owned by the Marriott Corporation, which at the time was known primarily for it's restaurants until it sold or shut  them all down to focus on providing mediocre food for airlines.   In 1990, Marriott sold Roy's to Hardee's, a lower quality fast food restaurant, that excelled at breakfast and little else. 

Hardee's  quickly switched most of the Roy Rogers Restaurants to  the Hardee's brand name, which was greeted with wide disdain, to the point where many of the switched Hardee's had to be switched back to the Roy Rogers nameplate.  But the damage was done, and eventually most of the Roy  Rogers leases  were sold off to other restaurant chains.  Surprisingly, today, Roy Rogers  still exists in a much smaller chain, it is now owned by the sons of one of the men who created the chain.

Posted originally April 2012 by J.C. Bernhardt

Mary Margaret O'Hara and "Dark Dear Heart"

Mary Margaret O'Hara at her prettiest.

Long ago, when I was teenager, and a young adult, I had a fairly substantial  interest in music and recordings.  My tastes in music  usually leaned to pop music, ABBA, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Top 40 in general, but I did have a few more esoteric interests, especially in women singers. In the  1970's and 1980's  I was especially  interested  in singers  like the Roches, Kate Bush, Jane Siberry, the Pretenders, Sandy Denny, The Bangles and the 10,000 Manics (before the latter two  were popular).

Well in recent years,'s unusual that I have the experience of discovering (as it were) new talents. In fact, I find it easier to go back in time, and learn about artists from the past who are well regarded  and see what the fuss was all about. A few weeks ago, it was the fairly obscure, but well admired, Canadian singer/songwriter , Mary Margaret O'Hara.  Mary is the younger, prettier sister of SCTV /Home Alone  actress, Catherine O'Hara. Mary released a critically acclaimed solo album called Miss America in 1988. It is  the only album with her name on it, to date.  She  has also worked with other artists and recorded a movie soundtrack album.   For more about her career go to  Ectophiles Guide -Mary Margaret O'Hara .

M2OH (as she is known)  is regarded as a talented but mannered  singer with  an eccentric stage manner.  Her angelic voice seems to be almost a cross  between Doris Day and Bjork.  I am not sure I have really  loved much of what  I heard from her, but I did find one song she wrote  particularly touching. The song  is  called " Dark Dear Heart", she performed the song at the funeral of the legendary actor ,  John Candy in 1994.  She seems to be channeling Patsy Cline on this performance , and she was  so overcome with emotion that she lost her voice.  (That's the video above)   She had  originally recorded the song with The Henry's and did an excellent live version with them on  Canadian TV. (That's the video below which  keeps being removed from YouTube-so you might not see it.)

The Henry's version can also be found here....Dark Dear Heart
Another article about this song and Mary Margaret O'Hara.
Shannon Tharp's Blog

This article was originally posted April 2012.