Don McLean’s Outlook

I love working from my second base in London because I am fortunate enough to be able to view Sky between hitting the keyboard and making calls. Sky Arts has quickly become my new favourite channel over the past few weeks and the best personal discovery I’ve made for some time. I’ve already seen a programme on the full Beach Boys discography immediately followed by a Lennon/Yoko documentary. This showed John getting frustrated during solo studio recording sessions; the engineer sending through the wrong part repeatedly was priceless viewing. Despite finding it hilarious I really felt for the engineer when he became all thumbs – this was his moment working with a living legend and he was blowing it one second at a time. I spent the rest of that day in a 60’s/70’s haze wondering how things were allowed to go so wrong.

On Monday I tuned in again to see a programme I had seen advertised called Songbook. This was ‘a must see’ for any budding writers out there just to hear an established writers outlook on the creative process. It wasn’t pretentious and he didn’t claim to have all the answers. He just gave his opinion and explained his inspiration for a few songs. Now this is why popular music has lost so much soul in recent years – because it is so transparent. Nothing seems to be inspired by real emotion. These days you can see how it all fits together and “songs” are being written to make money and not to move people. Where is the mystique now in commercial music? Lady Ga Ga? Lady Superstar with very catchy pop songs that don’t mean a thing. In the 60’s people were writing from personal experience and not just to appeal to the people who print their bank notes.

The first Songbook I saw focused on Don McLean and was set up as an intimate live session on the sofa with him giving anecdotes about the how the songs found him. He actually went on to describe himself becoming a relic in the way that he writes and his realistic perception on the current state of the music industry and modern society was unnerving.

Ok so everyone knows American Pie as a timeless hit which will never leave us because of it’s incredible chorus. He told the story, sat down and played it in it’s raw beauty just him and an acoustic. He then went on to say how the single came out and didn’t fit in with any particular market folk/pop/rock. The irony being it has now been covered in all those genres and more, as the strength of the song alone has carried it.

He then came out with Vincent followed by Wonderful Baby sharing the story about how he wrote it for Fred Astaire who went on to record the song himself. He sang every note so effortlessly it was just satisfying and made you feel at ease. Going on to say how he had never during his career made music to fit in with any record company’s mould he just wrote the songs with business not being important. Who does this today? The ones we don’t get to hear about unfortunately.

Therefore, if you want a hit single in these times you have to conform. I’m afraid that’s the reality. You can at least partly do so by showing a little compromise but where do we draw the line? How do you know when you’ve gone too far?

I switched on last night to see Paul Simon give a step-by-step account on the making of Graceland! What a dream to witness that. To experience that blend of creativity coming from two very different cultures. Things jumped over to a live show where he came out with Bridge Over Troubled Water and the crowd just stopped and listened intently. Art Garfunkel sang on the original recording but how that song just hits the spot every time I hear it done with a genuine vocal.

Check out Sky Arts if you have the opportunity it will make you sing…

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