A world of pure imagination

A world of pure imagination

After hearing of Gene Wilder’s passing, like most of my peers my imagination was instantly swept along on a whirlwind ride of memories from the countless roles the monumental actor had who shaped my childhood.  Perhaps one of the most iconic was his portrayal of the great Willy Wonka in the 1971 film adaptation of the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  In the film, Wilder performs an enchanting song, “Pure Imagination” specially written for the movie by songwriting legends  Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley..  Out of force of habit, I have notated a violin arrangement of the tune for students who may wish to honor the late actor with a bit of musical adoration.Willy_Wonka_Pure_Imagination

Johnny Cash’s “Million Dollar Songwriter Circle”

Johnny Cash’s “Million Dollar Songwriter Circle”

 

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You’ve all heard about the “Million Dollar Quartet”—the recording session at Memphis’s legendary Sun Studios on December 4th, 1956 that compiled the talent of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Well if there was an equivalent to the Million Dollar Quartet in the songwriting world, it would be the one night in January of 1969 when Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Shel Silverstein all spent an evening at Johnny Cash’s home in Hendersonville, TN on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, swapping songs and stories from their respective spheres of the music world. The music that was showcased for the first time ever at the intimate songwriter circle became the soundtrack for a generation, and the gathering would go down in history as one of the most potent assemblages of songs showcased for the first time in one place. Continue reading

Dozens Of Covers Later, ‘Hallelujah’ Endures

Dozens Of Covers Later, ‘Hallelujah’ Endures

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Rufus Wainwright performs in London earlier this year. His cover of "Hallelujah" is among the best-known versions of the oft-interpreted Leonard Cohen song.

Rufus Wainwright performs in London earlier this year. His cover of “Hallelujah” is among the best-known versions of the oft-interpreted Leonard Cohen song.

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There are songs, and then there are anthems.

One of those anthems is the subject of music journalist Alan Light’s new book, The Holy Or The Broken. Continue reading

Lyric Intelligence In Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis

Lyric Intelligence In Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis

Popular Music Main ImagePopular music lyrics are dumb. No really, I’m not just saying that. As easy as it is to mock the quality of lyrics today, there’s some real science behind looking at how dumb they truly are.That’s why I set out to answer the big questions. Which genre is the most sophisticated? (Prepare to be disappointed.) Which artists are the dumbest? (Prepare to be surprised.) And, can any hit songs be comfortably read by a 1st grader? (Yes, they can.) Continue reading

Crowdsourcing an entire song in 10 days through your phone!

Crowdsourcing an entire song in 10 days through your phone!

As we become more interconnected, as out mobile technology becomes more sophisticated, its becoming easier and easier to outsource tasks to qualified experts in a variety of fields at the touch of a button.  This is a story about how Alec Wiggs took his guitar riff, using Garage Band on his iPhone as a mobile recording and mixing interface, and fleshed out an entire song for minimal financial investment.

In the span of 10 days with $230, “Hydrangea” was made with five strangers spread out across the United States—all of whom love their craft enough to do it for an affordable price. Continue reading

Brian Wilson’s gift to Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell

Brian Wilson’s gift to Glen Campbell

In 1964, Glen Campbell joined the Beach Boys to replace Brian Wilson while he recovered from a nervous breakdown. Brian returned the favor with this gorgeous song.

Telling the truth—no matter how hard, how naked and deep—is what every great artist aspires to do. Glen Campbell has been such an American icon for so long, but it’s important not to forget the substance and self-reflection that has driven the bulk of his work. Even his megahit “Rhinestone Cowboy” was about someone small-time dreaming of the big time, and by singing it, Campbell humbled himself to what he used to be: a kid from Arkansas who came to Hollywood to play guitar and sing his songs. He hadn’t forgotten.

And that’s why his great act of bravery of saying his final goodbye to the world in song by way of a video—is exactly in line with who Glen Campbell is. But of course anyone who has loved him as a fan couldn’t help but be devastated by it, and think, “Well, I’ll miss you . . .”

Glen Campbell had the good sense to record Jimmy Webb’s songs like “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” giving the world hits that had lyrical beauty and intelligence, but still made us want to head out on the road and into a star-filled night. And early on, he cut this: a song  The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and songwriter Russ Titelman wrote for him. “Guess I’m Dumb” is nothing close to country; it’s a big masterful pop production produced by Wilson and recorded in Hollywood, U.S.A., with lots of horns, some strings, and backup singers. It sounds like a lost Burt Bacharach track, or like it would fit right in on the next year’s Pet Sounds. And he’s right in the middle of it: telling the truth.

A Study Found That The Lyrics Of Many No. 1 Songs Are At A Third-Grade Reading Level

A Study Found That The Lyrics Of Many No. 1 Songs Are At A Third-Grade Reading Level

Andrew Powell-Morse, a staffer at entertainment, sports, and ticket data blogger, just compiled information on pop music lyrics over the past 10 years, and the results are pretty interesting.

Andrew Powell-Morse, a staffer at entertainment, sports, and ticket data blog SeatSmart, just compiled information on pop music lyrics over the past 10 years, and the results are pretty interesting.

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(Though some of his conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt.)

He found that most of the lyrics from popular songs over the last decade average at around a third-grade reading level.

He found that most of the lyrics from popular songs over the last decade average at around a third-grade reading level.

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Powell-Morse analyzed 225 songs in four different music genres using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, which is used to determine how difficult a passage is to read and understand.

Powell-Morse analyzed 225 songs in four different music genres using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, which is used to determine how difficult a passage is to read and understand.

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The Flesch-Kincaid test uses a formula that takes into account the number of words and syllables used in a passage and assigns a number based on a grade so it’s easy to understand. Basically, if a song gets a score of 4.2, that means your average fourth-grader would be able to comprehend it.

Powell-Morse only measured songs that spent at least three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard music charts. For genres, he looked at pop, country, rock, and R&B/hip-hop. After giving the songs punctuation, he plugged them into Readability-Score.com, which analyzes text.

Country music had the highest reading level of the genres, at 3.3 — which means your average third-grader can read and understand the lyrics.

Country music had the highest reading level of the genres, at 3.3 — which means your average third-grader can read and understand the lyrics.

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Powell-Morse admitted that the study is partially flawed because it’s largely based on the way that artists in different genres write lyrics, with word length playing a big role:

Country is the only genre generally devoid of words like “oh” or “yeah” repeated 20 times in a row. Sorry everyone else, but if you say it in the song, it’s counted as a “lyric.”

But it’s also about the syllables. Country music is full of words like Hallelujah, cigarettes, hillbilly, and tacklebox. Add to that long place names like Cincinnati, Louisville, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and Country has a serious advantage over the competition.

Unfortunately for Pop and R&B/Hip-Hop, places like L.A. and New York just don’t score that many points. But take a song like Dani California, and you’ll see that throwing in the word “California” more than a dozen times can make a real difference.

The other genres’ reading level average was 2.9 for pop and rock, and 2.6 for R&B and hip-hop, all lower than a third-grade reading level.

The other genres' reading level average was 2.9 for pop and rock, and 2.6 for R&B and hip-hop, all lower than a third-grade reading level.

The study also broke down the lyrics based on the artists’ genders.

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It showed that on average male artists say more words, but female artists had smarter things to say, with a higher reading level average.

It showed that on average male artists say more words, but female artists had smarter things to say, with a higher reading level average.

Powell-Morse also broke down the lyrics based on the most popular artists, and the hip-hop results might make Beyoncé fans revolt.

Powell-Morse wrote that to get the results, he “picked 7 of the top artists based on their number of hit songs and how long those songs stayed at #1.”

He added:

This is probably a good time to reiterate that these are the numbers, plain and simple, and that all Beyoncé partisans should address their complaints to the people at the Readability Score. We can’t hide the facts: of these 7 top R&B and Hip Hop artists, she has the second smallest average word count and the least sophisticated lyrics.

For pop, Mariah Carey slayed the competition, while Kesha barely made it out of first grade.

For pop, Mariah Carey slayed the competition, while Kesha barely made it out of first grade.

In terms of singles, the top song of the past 10 years was Blake Shelton’s “All About Tonight,” with a reading level of 5.9, and the least intelligent lyrics were from “The Good Life” by Three Days Grace, with a score of 0.8.

In terms of singles, the top song of the past 10 years was Blake Shelton's "All About Tonight," with a reading level of 5.9, and the least intelligent lyrics were from "The Good Life" by Three Days Grace, with a score of 0.8.

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Other “dumb” songs include Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” and Kesha’s “Tik Tok.”

Overall, he found lyrical intelligence has been declining over the past 10 years.

Overall, he found lyrical intelligence has been declining over the past 10 years.

They may not be complex, but at least the songs are catchy.

A Study Found That The Lyrics Of Many No. 1 Songs Are At A Third-Grade Reading Level