#6 We Can’t Let Them Win (“Better” track by track)

I did “behind the song” blog series for both of my last two albums, and some people seem to like them, so I thought I would do it again! “We Can’t Let Them Win” is the sixth track from my latest release, Better. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.

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What’s disappointing about this song (but it happens) is that it started out as a line I was really excited about, but the finished product ended up possibly being my least favorite on this release. I suppose I don’t despise it — I can play it with confidence, but it’s the last one I would think of adding to my set list out of all of them.

I suppose it’s mostly the last part of the song that I don’t like, so sometimes I just don’t play it and I like the song better that way, but even the verses and the chorus just feel somehow uninspired compared with some of my other songs.

The line I started with was the title, “we can’t let them win,” and I had the melody for it too. I had grandiose ideas for what the song could about, so that might be where I went wrong. That never works out too well.

It was also the fact that this was a song I consciously chose to finish, and writing it was a bit of a slog. The songs that I make myself finish, I’m not sure if other people can tell, but I feel like I can always hear the lack of inspiration in the final product. I definitely have to keep doing that if I want to be a professional songwriter (as they say, action often precedes inspiration). But I’m hoping that over time, I can understand more of what I’m doing differently when I’m “inspired” versus uninspired, and that will lead me to some tricks that can make the uninspired sound “inspired.”

In terms of writing, the first thing I did was come up with an outline, which I didn’t find too hard. Verse 1 would simply be about stubbornly negative people – we need to keep ourselves positive and not let them win in that sense. Then, verse 2 would intensify that by making it about something more serious and more to the point – not letting those people win who want to make the world a worse place and take away hard-won rights. I sat and played around with chords and melodies until I came up with something I liked, and actually, I will say I’m still pretty satisfied with what I came up with there.

I think most of my criticism of this song involves the lyrics. There are just a lot of lines I found a bit cheesy. If I’d had more time, I probably would have changed a lot of them. But because of deadlines I set for myself, I had less than a week from the time I finished writing to the time I recorded in studio. Not much time for finalizing and rehearsing the songs, let alone making major edits.

Phrases like “rainy day” or the lines I added to the chorus (“Give a smile while you can and reach out a helping hand”) just felt like clichés, too easy and obvious, and I know I could have come up with something more interesting if I’d taken the time. The last line of the second verse (“If they had their way we’d all be lonely”) doesn’t even make that much sense if you really think about it… what does having rights have to do with loneliness? But that was a situation  where I couldn’t come up with a line I was satisfied with, so after jotting down a handful of random ideas, I just wrote down the one I disliked the least. Also, technically, “lonely” doesn’t even near-rhyme with “need” because the emphasis is on the wrong syllable, but I’ve never been a stickler for rhymes. I notice their imperfections but accept them, just like I accept the imperfections in my life and myself.

Anyway, for me the bridge is even worse than cheesy lyrics because I just didn’t like how it turned out at all. Basically, I had no intention for the song to include a rant about corporations, and I felt like it weakened the song. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to say, I just felt like it wasn’t compelling enough and didn’t belong, which is why I usually don’t play that part.

Oh well. At the end of the day, I came up with something I found satisfactory, even if not great. I know that I’m going to come up with lots more ideas that excite me and finish lots more songs before I’m through, so I won’t grieve for any particular idea that disappoints me in its final form.

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LYRICS
There are people in this world
Who make every day a rainy day
They never smile at anyone
They only open their mouths to complain
They’ll take the joy that we allow them to take

We can’t let them win
Give a smile while you can
And reach out a helping hand
We can’t let them win

There are people in this world
Who want to take away the rights we’ve achieved
And they can’t accept us having more
Because they’ve already got all they need
If they had their way we’d all be lonely

But to tell the truth
It’s not right versus wrong or weak versus strong
Or progressives against conservatives
It’s big corporations controlling our minds
Controlling our data and controlling our lives
Divide and conquer against everybody else
So I say
We can’t let them win

#5 Give You All My Love (“Better” track by track)

I did “behind the song” blog series for both of my last two albums, and some people seem to like them, so I thought I would do it again! “Give You All My Love” is the fifth track from my latest release, Better. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.

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This is a weird one because it’s a nice, cautiously optimistic love song that kind of came out of left field. It represents nothing in my life. But my songwriting habits were partly shaped by a lifetime of hearing popular music, which is overwhelmingly about romantic relationships — I never understood why, as there is so much more emotional richness to life than just that. So I’ve noticed that whenever I start writing from a vague line or a musical idea without a particular topic in mind, I always end up on the subject of a relationship, even when it has nothing to do with me. Sometimes it’ll be positive, sometimes negative, depending on the material I’m starting with. I don’t choose the topic because I think it will have more popular appeal; it just comes natural to me as a product of my musical history. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

Like many of the songs I wrote this February, this one started with a vague line I had lying around for years. I loved these lines, I just never knew where to take them. It started with a very straightforward statement about myself: “I’m not afraid of death, I’m just afraid of pain and suffering.” Completely true. That line sat there for a year or two, and then at some point when I was going through song line ideas like this one, I randomly came up with the second part: “So don’t just make it quick, make it an instant, make it an instant.” It just came to me and I thought it really worked well, in terms of both sound and meaning. Then, the lines continued to sit there because I didn’t know where to go from there.

Well, for February Album Writing Month I finally dusted off these lines that I’d been wanting to use in a song for years, and as soon as I committed to it the rest of the song really kind of wrote itself. I wish all songwriting could be like that. It does make for a shorter songwriting blog, but a much easier and quicker songwriting process.

Obviously my first task was to decide where I wanted to take those lines about wanting to be killed quickly — an odd thing to proclaim in most contexts, haha. I thought, well, it has to be someone potentially breaking up with you, right? I couldn’t immediately even think of any other possibilities, so I just went with it.

I instinctively knew how I wanted the structure to be, and that those lines were going to be a pre-chorus, though at first, I was going to put it after the first verse. But after writing that first verse and realizing it didn’t link up too well to its pre-chorus (though I really liked what I’d written), I decided to split them up. And the first pre-chorus wrote itself, and the second verse wrote itself, and the chorus wrote itself – even the melodies did, which are usually harder for me to write well, but I’m satisfied with this one.

At the time I thought it was a first draft, but when I went back to it, I realized it was pretty damn good the way it was. I think the only part that really bothered me was the chorus. The whole “final descent” and “armrest” thing was actually meant to be a dummy lyric (something you just throw out there to hold the melody when you don’t know what you want the lyric to be yet), but I guess my subconscious came up with something pretty good without my help. I asked a few people and they said they liked it, and it was growing on me anyway, so it stayed.

And there you have it: a song! I’ve written at least a dozen of these blogs, at least 100 songs of highly variable quality, and I’ve even done a song analysis live set, and I honestly still feel like I have no idea what songwriting is all about. But I’m in love with it. (What if my subconscious wrote this song about songwriting?)

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LYRICS
Falling in love is serious
It’s not like we’re just taking a walk
This isn’t gonna be like your hobby that you gave up
You’re gonna have to give it your all

You can’t just promise love
You’ve gotta be there when I need you most
We’re not just getting close
This is the real thing, this is the real thing

And when the final descent of the flight is complete
I’ll cross my fingers and pick up the armrest and reach for you
And give you all my love
I’ll give you all my love

My head’s full of worries every day
And I don’t need another one
So if a quick goodbye was something you were gonna say
You’re gonna have to hurry it up

I’m not afraid of death
I’m just afraid of pain and suffering
So don’t just make it quick
Make it an instant, make it an instant