Archive for December, 2017

Music Tech – Project 2b – Loop Song

December 31, 2017

I decided to use Soundtrap to create my loop song.  I’ve been using this with my students since they all have Chromebooks as opposed to iPads.  I wanted to see what this program was capable of.

I went through Soundtrap’s free loops and chose “drums” as my first category.  After going through all of the free loops, I chose “Drums – Busy Basics” as my favorite because it reminded me somewhat of DMB’s “Crash” and also just sounded “groovy.”  It resonated with the mood that I was in at the time.

I then went to the “Piano” category to get tonality going.  The rhodes loop seemed to stick out to my ears as kind of trancelike, so I put that down.  I noticed that Ebm was picked as the key and I was happy with that key.

I went through the “guitar loops” and stumbled upon reverse guitar.  “Guitar – Sweet Reversed 1” sounded nice with the loops, but “Sweet – Reversed 2” sounded even better, so I went with that option!

I started going through basses.  The “808 2 bass” was interesting, but I wanted to see if there was any other vibe that I could create before I stuck with it.

I really liked “Bass – Dark Magic” but was not sure if I wanted to bring that in right from the beginning.  I did like the way “Bass- Dark Magic” sounded with “Bass – Dirty 1” but it  sounded like it would be better in a fully-formed section of the piece.

I went through a number of other bass sounds and “Bass – Get it Started Cubic” sounded excellent.  I also liked the simplicity of “Bass – Golden Feet.”

I finally settled on “Bass – Minxy.”  The melody of this bass part is just perfect for the groove.  I love it.  It’s bouncy and syncopated and just worked so well with the drum groove.

I began pulling out a lot of the other unnecessary bass parts or parts that didn’t work with the groove.  But I decided to keep “Bass – Dist 26” in for rhythmic complexity.  Also, “Bass – Dark Magic” has a great lead synth quality to it, so I kept that in in lieu of finding an actual lead synth part.

After picking six initial loops I was happy with together I decided to start modifying song sections before I played with individual loops to see if anything struck me.  I tried at first to extend each loop to make a 16-bar “chorus.”  As I listened to the loops by themselves, however, I decided it would be cool not to loop all of the instruments at once.  So I decided to have just the rhodes, synth and drums for 4 bars and then just the rhodes and synth together.

When I heard the the “auto looper” loop back to the full chorus, I thought it sounded great, so I decided to make that part of the arrangement.

I heard the reverse guitar by itself and felt that it would make an epic outro or intro.  So I  decided to make that part of the arrangement.

After listening to the reverse guitar by itself again, I felt that it could also be a very dreamy breakdown section and if I added a lift at the end of it (either a reverse cymbal or riser) that it would transition well back into a full chorus.  I decided to try it.

I couldn’t find a riser in the preset loops anywhere, so I had to think of what else to do.  I noticed that one of the options in Soundtrap is “import file” so I decided to look for a riser on my computer.  Being that I have Pro Tools I figured there would be some sound effects libraries that came with it.  I wasn’t wrong, but the search didn’t yield anything I was happy with.  I looked on the internet for free sound effects.  I went back to the Soundtrap library and found that the SFX – Crash 1 and SFX – Crash 2 had a riser going into a crash cymbal.

I loved the way SFX – Crash 2 made the transition from the Rhodes/Synth section back to a full chorus.  Then I had the idea to use “Grab” on my MacBook to take a screen shot.  Notice the two riser/crash waveforms on the bottom of the screen:

Screen Shot #1 - Use of Riser-Crash.jpg

At this point I felt that the song was desperately in need of a guitar type of rhythm element.  I went through the different guitar loops and found that I wasn’t happy with any of the Ebm ones but did like the Fm “Acoustic Finger” guitar.  So I decided to take the loop and chop it in half, then transpose the half that fell on bars 1 and 2 of the groove to Ebm:

Guitar - Acoustic Finger.jpg

Then I found out, to my chagrin, that the Ebm loop I thought I had created was the same as the Ebm loop in the loops section.  At this point I wanted the second half of this acoustic finger phrase to build to an Ebm7 in 3rd inversion (with a Bb ringing on top).

Not seeing any way to do this in the program, I soloed the guitar track and just selected the first bar of it:

Solo of Acoustic Guitar Track

I then selected “file… export as mp3” to see if I could import this into Pro Tools and transpose from there.  Couldn’t find out how to retrieve the file so I hit “save” and then the download button.  That worked.  Imported into Pro Tools.  I tried transposing from within Pro Tools and realized that there was no way to transpose this clip properly without Melodyne or some other plug-in that would change the basic intervals themselves.  So I decided to skip that and considered playing these pitches over the original loop on a separate track in Soundtrap.

Trying to Play Guitar Part

After playing it in I decided to quantize and balance it with the other guitar loop.  I also added an Fm chord at the end for continuity.

I tried reversing the “Minxy” bass loop and thought that was a really interesting melody.  So I decided to try a bridge around that melody. All the sudden as I was listening to this I thought of Led Zeppelin and some kind of overdriven guitar playing the same riff with a rocking-out Bonham drum part.  Maybe I’d even add some vocals on “lah” or “nah” in a really nasal voice.  So I decided to emulate that for a bridge.  Not the original direction of the song but I figured I’d go with it.

I guess my natural tendency in the middle of a trance is to wake up my listeners and possibly get a laugh in.  Here is a screen grab of me working just with the reverse bass and trying to find a suitable rock drum part:

Reverse Bass - Bridge Inspiration

Once I found suitable drums and was able to track a MIDI guitar part for this section I decided to build it gradually.

Bridge - Build of Bridge.jpg

At this point I felt that a significant restructuring of the song was needed.  Off-hand I figured I could do an introduction-build to a chorus, second verse, chorus, Led Zeppelin bridge, break down or drop out, final chorus, and then just have the reverse guitars as the outro.

After taking a little break away from the piece to listen to some other music and clear my head, I played the song again and decided that I would add a riser effect after the bridge and have that lead into a full chorus.  I decided to stick with this method of playing the song in a loop and just let the arrangement build organically.  It is amazing how much this songwriting process is in agreement with Ethan Hein’s “Repetition Defines Music” article.  It seems like it also is a huge tool in the songwriting process, quite possibly essential.

I also decided at this point to give the song a title and figured “Awakening” would be appropriate.

Here is a mix at this point:  Awakening 3.0

I noticed a phasing issue caused by copying the same cymbal sample twice, so I fixed the issue.

At this point I was thinking that the middle section of the song where just the reverse guitar is playing needed some ambient background sounds going on with it to keep the intensity from dropping too low.

I also decided there needed to be more of a “fade” to the reverse guitar at the end, so I thought it would be a good idea to start figuring out how to drop loops.

However without experimenting with any of this yet, I listened to the beginning of the song and realized that “Bass – Dist 26” should be brought in as a buildup of the main groove instead of right from the beginning.  So I decided to sculpt the beginning of the track instead.

I decided a great spot to bring that part in might be the transition between the first “chorus” and the second “chorus.”  Then keep it looping through the final two choruses.

Awakening 4.0

Here is a screen grab of the song so far:

Awakening 4.0.jpg

And then I began sculpting the beginning of the track.  I started by moving everything forward 8 measures in time.
I remembered liking the change in dynamic between the first “chorus” in the previous picture and the part where the drums drop out.  So I decided to create a buildup where there would be some dropout in the drums for a bar, serving as a “lift” before the first chorus.

I decided to start the piece with the drum loop, then bring in the keyboard slowly (after trying the reverse guitar, which I couldn’t “wrap my head around.”)

Awakening 5.0 intro.jpg

After listening to this mix, which I liked, I decided the next instrument should still be something in the upper end before dropping in the bass.  So I decided perhaps either the reverse or the acoustic.  I could also hear in my head a higher ambient string loop coming in later on in the piece.

After comparing the reverse guitar with the acoustic, I felt that the acoustic guitar was correct.  But I had to lower the volume of it to ease the transition.  I also realized that my choice of chord in the acoustic was wrong and that I was obscuring the beautiful Bbm7 chord in the rhodes part.  So I proceeded to transpose the 3rd loop in the acoustic guitar section to Bbm7.

I figured out what was also bothering me about the intro was that there was a cymbal hit at the beginning of every measure.  So I decided to cut up the loop and just have the drums going without the cymbal hit.

Edit of Drum Loop to Remove Cymbal.jpg

At this point I realized the third chord in the reverse guitar needed to be changed to mesh with the Bbm7 chord, so I went into the MIDI Piano roll and changed the bottom notes to Db and F:

Editing of Reverse Guitar

 

I could hear at this point that “Bass – Dist 26” needed some EQ on the low end (remove low end) so that it could act more as a lead part.  After some more balancing of the volume and sculpting of the loops to create a gradual transition I got to this point.

Awakening 6.1:

Awakening 6.0.jpg

I felt that perhaps the pedal Eb bass sounded too “Weather Channel,” and anyway I was personally feeling more emotional this morning, so I decided to try to splice up the Minxy loop and make it follow the chords of the rhodes piano.

I duplicated Minxy 4 times and then transposed each one to the 4 chords in the cycle: Ebm (already done), Fm, Bbm, Fm.  I did it this way to try to preserve the original performance of the loop as much as possible.

Splice of "Minxy".jpg

This sounded bad.  Minxy needed to be transposed diatonically, not chromatically.  So I needed to either try different loops in those keys or take Minxy into another program.  I started with trying different loops in those keys.  I decided the real issue was the two Fm loops.  So I proceeded to look for different loops that would sound better in that key.  I didn’t necessarily find another loop I was happy with, so I decided to splice up Minxy and see if that could help.  Specifically I tried to get rid of the major second interval at the beginning.

I couldn’t really get what I wanted but I settled up on this splice.  I transposed the initial note to F and then kept the rest of the Ebm lick as the loop on the Fm sections:

Splice of Minxy as of 1104 am

After a trip to the gym I came back and took a listen.  I’m still not a huge fan of this track overall, but I decided the next thing to do would be to change the tempo of it and make it faster.  I’ve gotta chip away at what the elements are that might really make this track more “moving.”  I sped the tempo up from 87 to 92.  This definitely provided some more energy to the track.

I went back also and changed the “Bass – Dist 26” part to reflect the new chord changes.  It seems like these changes are all helping with the new tonality.  I still feel I have to add some ambience behind it in the form of strings and also try to fix this meandering bass part which just sounds a mess.

Here’s a current render of the track.  The tempo change is growing on me with each listen:

Awakening 7.1

Definitely from this listen the “Bass – Dark Magic” has to change and reflect the chord progressions better.

I fixed that and was happy with the result.  Then I decided to get a string part in there for more emotion and more trance feel.  At first I tried traditional strings but then wanted to see if there was a synth string that would be just a little more trance-like.

“Punchy Dana” was pretty cool.  Stringy but also a little “synthy.”  I also heard “popcorn” and wanted to see if I could add a nice high staccato melodic part to go with this.  I also liked some of the pads – Square Church and Square Pad were very cool, giving me more of that “awakening,” spiritual type of vibe.  I decided to try including both at first.  I went for a layer, bringing the Square Pad in first, then Square Church 4 bars later.  I liked the result.  I also noticed that the pad solved my issue of needing an ambient sound in the middle section of the song to keep the energy from dropping to zero.

I like what the pads are doing to the song: Awakening 8.0

Now I have the idea to take those electric guitars and layer them at the end of the song, but they need to be mixed a little better than in the bridge.  I also noticed that they needed to be quantized.  So I went back and quantized them in the final chorus as well as the bridge.  I think I originally left the guitar unquantized because I wanted to create a chorus effect with the guitars.  May not be possible unless I play a real guitar.  Other option is to find two different lead guitar sounds and play the quantized guitar through both patches.  There was only one guitar patch available in Soundtrap so I decided to just leave the second guitar unquantized at a lower volume to try to create the chorus effect.

Awakening 9.0

Awakening 9.0

I’m definitely going to add a “nah-nah” part next in the bridge and maybe even have it loop over the final chorus.

I attempted to get my Focusright Scarlett going…

This was going to be easier to do in Pro Tools.  So I imported Awakening 9.0 bounce in to Pro Tools.  Now I could finally use that session I created earlier, except with a different purpose.

Working with the bounce inside of pro tools.  Decided to do some add-in layers of the same vocal:

Nah Vocal.jpg

I also felt like the guitar was going to need an extra when the “nah vocals” come in.  I also decided to add a harmony above in 3rds.

I’m not sure yet if I want to mix all this in Pro Tools, but would if I had the time.  At this point I decided to auto tune the vocals, add a small amount of EQ/Reverb and bring them back into Soundtrap.  I set the auto tune scale to only tune to the notes of the melody I was singing.  I threw a channel strip over the vocals and set the preset to male vocal.  Then I added a small amount of plate reverb.  I used D-Verb with the “Vocals Plate” preset and used 14% wetness.  This proved to be way too much reverb, so I decided to bus the verbs to a verb aux track.

Bussing the Reverb.jpg

I wasn’t sure whether to bounce this in Pro Tools or Soundtrap.  I decided to stay in Pro Tools and then duplicate these vocals at the end of the mix to go along with the loops at the end.

I made a mix group and lowered the vocals to -2.7 for now.  I consolidated the vocals to the same length and added them to the end of the track as well.  And then when I tried to duplicate them I realized that I am not working with a metronome or the grid in Pro Tools!  So I had to line things up by ear.  Not the best, but I didn’t think beforehand.  Oh well.  Clearly grid mode wasn’t going to help me here, so I changed to “Slip Mode” and did my best:

Slip Mode Vocals.jpg

After listening to the full mix again I decided to lower the vocal mix group volume down to -4.9 each.  Being back in Pro Tools I could use my Yamaha HM-50 monitors.  I decided to drop the vocals to -7.5 and let the instruments breathe a bit more.  I’m noticing a weird guitar glitch in the acoustic, but my ears are used to it.  I’m not sure whether to change it or not.  Wow, I didn’t know Pro Tools added the offline bounce in version 12.  Awesome!

Awakening 10.0

Now I’m thinking a shaker or hi-hat to provide some continuity through the bridge would sound great.  It would also give me an opportunity to go back into Soundtrap and see if can fix any of the loops and add that high guitar.  I think I’m going to do that and then bounce and bring the mix back into Pro Tools.  Maybe I’ll double the length of the final chorus and just make that moment a little more enjoyable where the loop and the reverse loop are put together.

Back in Soundtrap, “Just Raw Hats 2” sounded good.  I found the issues with the guitar loops.  Something must’ve gotten glitchy when I initially changed the tempo.  I changed the pitch of the guitar at the end and added the octave.  I also added two bars to the final chorus, but did not “square it off.” I left the bass where it was with glitches and brought the bounce back into Pro Tools for another mix.  I added Maxim to the master channel to boost the volume a bit.  Not sure how much that degrades the quality.

Awakening 11.0

Maybe record real electric guitar.   I’m not a good player so I reinstalled my Electricity library for Pro Tools.  There’s not enough space on my computer right now to install the library.  Gotta free up 8GB somehow.  Working on that.

Fix the bass, add an extra string for more background.  The bass is tricky.  I don’t understand why it is transposing weirdly.  I also have the Trillian library but I’m going to need to free up even more space for that.

I reduced the Maxim compression compression on the master fader.

Awakening 12.0

Awakening 12.0

I listened again this morning and noticed that the background track needs a riser before the guitar entrance.  I added a few more risers in places where I thought it was necessary.  I also decided to raise the strings 1db.  I don’t want them to be noticeable.  I’m looking for an effect more than anything.  But I’m not sure if I hear them enough yet.  I like the bounce but decided to raise the backup vocals .5 dB, including the “awake” vocal.

Awakening 12.2

Do you feel like creating music in this way is a legitimate form of musical creativity? If so, why? If not, why not?

One thing I found is to trust the process.  If you feel like the song isn’t really going anywhere, continue to make incremental changes instead of “ditching.”  This has always been key for me in my writing but I really found a connection to these totally foreign loops by sticking to it.

By looping over and over, you really start to hear the way things fit in your head.  I guess it’s the process of mental play with the music that causes the loops to gain legitimacy in your mind.  The reverse bass, through repetition, became a legitimate melody the more I heard it.  It evoked Led Zeppelin and Guns ‘n Roses.  What was also amazing was that rhythmically, it provided a perfect complement to the rhythms of the original bass and other underlying instruments in the groove for the very last chorus of the song.

I think it’s unquestionable that this is a legitimate form of musical creativity.  In fact, this may be the most legitimate form of musical creativity.  Mostly it’s the looping that is the most legitimate part about it.  The brain just “learns” the loop and then it becomes part of the mind and the heart and then one knows how to manipulate and combine it.  There is no “shortcut” to this process.  The song literally has to “bake” fully in your mind through looping before you can “finish the recipe.”

Song Structure Analysis – “Shape of You”

December 30, 2017

The song I am going to analyze is Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” 

The song consists of an intro section which consists of a synth keyboard loop playing a syncopated rhythm with the chord progression C#m-F#m-A-B and is quite groovy to listen to.  If you consider each loop as 2 bars, then this section is 8 bars long, starting at 0:06 and continuing until 0:16.  Halfway through the intro, a percussion loop kicks in to build the anticipation.  Although I’m not 100% sure, it sounds like the instruments in this section are a guitar tap and a guiro played together in a syncopated loop.  

Shape of You - Intro

The next section is the first verse, beginning from 0:16 and ending at 0:36.  This section is 8 bars long.  The voice comes in on the verse lyric and the same synth keyboard and percussion loop continues under the vocal.  A vocal hum response melody is also added and present throughout this section.  Shape of You - Intro in Verse 1-2

 

The next section of the song is the pre-chorus, beginning 0:36 and ending at 0:56.  This lengthy pre-chorus is 8 bars long, featuring a doubled lead vocal and then also an octave double of the lead vocal half-way through the pre-chorus  (without doing any additional research into context, it almost sounds to me like Ed originally wrote this as a duet with a female doubling him at the octave, which fell through somehow during the recording process).  The background instruments are still playing the same loop as before and this section is a 8-bar melody almost completely repeated twice (with the octave doubling the second time and a tag of the “come and now follow my lead” lyric and melody and a hum to add buildup to the music).  For the final bar of the pre-chorus, a “lift” is created by completely dropping out the background instruments under the vocals for just that final bar.

Shape of You - Intro Verse 1 Prechorus 1

The next section of the song, from 0:56 to 1:36 is the chorus.  This section is 16 bars long and is in an “A – B” format.  The first half of the chorus features a lyric starting with the title, “I’m in love with the shape of you…” and then the second half loops a chant-like melody of “Oh, I, Oh, I… I’m in love with your body.”  This section also features an overdubbed vocal singing the same melody as well as an additional vocal performing an octave above.  Instrumentally there is the addition of a bass drum on beats one and three of each measure.  For the second half of the chorus the bass drum takes on the syncopated rhythm of the synth and the snare drum is added as well as a chorus in the background of “oh, I, oh, I…”  All the while the song is looping the original syncopated synth rhythm.  The bass guitar and what sounds like a high guitar or stringed instrument is also added in the second half of this section.  The vocals in the “B part” of this section add a background chorus on the chant-like melody.  There is a drum fill in the snare drum for the very last bar of this section as a “lift” into the next section of the song.

Shape of You - Intro Verse 1 Prechorus 1 Chorus 1

 

 

The next section is the second verse.  This section runs from 1:36 to 1:56 and is the same length as the first verse, 8 bars long.  This verse brings back the background call-and-response style vocal singing a hum.  Instrumentally all the parts drop out except the percussion (guitar tap and guiro) coupled with the synth loop.  “Fill up your plate” is emphasized by dropping out all background instruments for two beats.

In the second pre-chorus, running from 1:56 to 2:16 and spanning 8 bars as well, we have the addition of the bass guitar playing along with the synth loop as well as bass drum doubling the first two notes of the synth riff.  There is also an addition of a syncopated hand clap in this section to add to the arrangement.  The vocal format is the same as the first pre-chorus.  

The second chorus enters from 2:16 and going until 2:56, spanning 16 bars like the first chorus and once again following an “A – B” format as in the first chorus.  What is notable about the second entrance of the chorus is that the bass guitar and bass drum drop out initially in this section.  The bass drum sounds like it is faded back in, and then the bass guitar and high string parts are added to the bass drum in the B section of the chorus along with the full background vocals.  However, to break up the monotony of the instrumentation, an acoustic guitar loop plucking a single note in a 16th-note, 2-bar long rhythm pattern (G#-F#-E-C#) is added as loop throughout this section.

Shape of You - Intro Verse Pre Cho V2 Pre2 Cho2

 

The next section of the song is the bridge.  It starts from 2:56 and goes until 3:16, or 8 bars.  It is a repeated (looped) vocal singing “C’mon, be my baby, c’mon.”  For the first four bars we simple hear Ed’s voice singing the melody repeatedly over what sounds like just the “hand clap” like snare in the background which was introduced during the second pre-chorus.  For the next four bars of the section, acoustic guitar and vocal harmony is added in the back of the lead vocal.  You can hear the addition of a guitar tap as a secondary snare drum sound and then finally all of the background instruments drop out for the last bar of the bridge to serve as a “lift” into the final chorus of the song.  

There is a 2-beat dropout that is not in the radio version I’m familiar with (I’m assuming it’s for the purposes of the video exclusively) from 3:16-3:17, with the final chorus of the song beginning on 3:17.

The final chorus of the song spans from 3:17-3:58, for 16 bars.  This final chorus features the entire chorus vocal both overdubbed in unison as well as matched at the octave above with the falsetto vocal.  Instrumentally, all loops are present except the response “hums.”  There is the staccato strings, (or is it an electric guitar?) there is the 16th-note guitar riff, bass drum, snare drum, bass guitar, percussion loop, and synth loop are all present.  Hand claps are continued in addition to all these elements for the “B” section of this chorus.  The “B” section of the final chorus also features the addition of the bridge vocal harmonies “C’mon, be my baby, c’mon” sung over the original “B” section, “Oh, I, oh I… I’m in love with your body.”

Shape of You - Complete Analysis.jpg

Overall, the song’s arrangement is notable for what it does and what it does not do.    Aside from the standard intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus song arrangement, 2017’s biggest track has a very sparse accompaniment that is based almost exclusively on loops and vocal layers that are added or subtracted subtly as the song progresses forward in time.  Usually only a few elements are either added or subtracted from section to section and lifts are usually created by dropping out instruments rather than adding them.  This creates a very sparse atmosphere for the lead vocal to live in while still being highly effective in building energy as the song progresses to the finish.  This song seems like a master class in what Ethan Hein talks about in this article, “Repetition Defines Music.”

Music Tech Blog Post – Most Favorite and Least Favorite (and Why)

December 23, 2017

Let me start this post that I often dislike the question of being asked what my “favorite” song is.  Not because I necessarily think it’s a bad question but rather because I find the idea very overwhelming given the large number of songs I’m exposed to even on a daily basis.  As a wedding band leader I’m paid on a regular basis to go knee deep and “figure out” how to play all kinds of requests and I find myself falling in love with new material every time this happens.  As a singer/songwriter myself, I know that someone’s blood, sweat, and tears have gone into a certain music composition and I like to give credit to all the creatives who put themselves on the line.  I find it difficult to criticize someone that heavily by deeming their original work my “least favorite of all time.”

With all of that said, I will attempt to analyze two different tracks and discuss (and perhaps persuade you) as to why these might be my favorite and least favorite songs and maybe should be yours as well.

 

With great hesitation I will posit that my favorite song is Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”  The main reason for this choice (and my corresponding choice has little to do with production values and much to do with the songwriting itself).  Starting from the song’s introduction, the piano sound and chords chosen are epic and contemplative.  After the initial A major chord, I love the D major to D minor initial chord progression, which sounds happy and resolved yet heavy and deep (emotionally) to my ears and thus very appropriate to the topic about to be addressed in the lyrics: finding one’s soulmate in life.

Chordally the song is complex.  Within the first 4 bars McCartney has already played 8 different chords.  While I don’t believe the sheer number of chords one writes in a composition determines its overall value, I do think musicians have a responsibility to write music that isn’t repetitive and bland.  McCartney doesn’t disappoint.  Even though the song basically uses two progressions, one for the verse and one for the chorus, those progressions in their own right are complex and interesting enough that the listener does not become bored.  (At least this listener doesn’t.)  The chords lead nicely into one another and are not jarring yet they take the listener to new places and with each passing beat elicit new emotions.

As soon as the lead vocal comes in the lyrics both assert and ask questions, causing the listener to both think and feel.  “Maybe I’m amazed by the way you love me all the time.”  Do I know why you are so special to me?  Does anyone really know what causes human love and emotion?  What is the reason I am so amazed by you?  What qualities or specific things make love work?  Is it something tangible and scientific or is it something we can never grasp as humans?  As the lyrics continue all of these questions unfold even as McCartney lists all of the wonderful things about his interaction and relationship with his lover.  To me this is a hallmark of a great lyric.  It touches upon the deepest questions in the human psyche.  At the same time the lyrics are simple and don’t elude the common listener.  I’ve heard a lot of pretentious lyrics in my life.  “Maybe I’m Amazed” is definitely not an example of that.  This may be the hardest thing for a songwriter to pull off – be deep without being overly showy.

Another thing McCartney is able to do successfully is write a love ballad that does not get sappy or boring.  One can hear the excitement and exhilaration in the chorus of the song, in which the vocal screams high above a neatly-moving chord progression in which you can feel the tangible excitement and bliss that the protagonist feels for his lover and his own amazement at his own luck.

The guitar solo is well-placed and has a very memorable melody to it, adding edge to the song, further bringing it out of the realm of a potentially sappy death.  McCartney seems to be able to straddle different lines of emotion simultaneously while keeping the listener’s excitement and interest, never becoming ponderous.  To my ears this one of the best-written rock ballads of all time.

 

With even greater hesitation I will assert that my least favorite song is “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons.  I think there were a number of songs that I could have picked for this category, including some of the new rap that I listened to from Spotify’s Billboard 100 chart yesterday.  But “On Top of the World” is certainly a contender in that category, and as in the example of the best song, the songwriting itself is the main reason for my choice.  On top of the world cycles through two chord progressions, one for the verse and one for the chorus.

Starting from the beginning, the song borrows too heavily from “Cecilia” by Paul Simon.  With “Cecilia” already being a track that I’m not particularly fond of, (sorry, Paul Simon fans) Imagine Dragons places themselves in an already precarious position by borrowing from this track.  I’m sorry but adding multi-layered hand claps does not make your boring song any more interesting, nor does African-style congas or tribal sounding melodic call and response lines.  All of this just adds a sort of “vibe” to a track that is boring melodically and harmonically. At least Paul Simon originated this kind of vibe.  At this point for Imagine Dragons in 2017, it’s been done before, ad nauseum.

Lyrically, “On Top of the World” is much less deep than “Maybe I’m Amazed.”  Here are a few verses of this masterpiece:

 If you love somebody
Better tell them why they’re here ’cause
They just may run away from you
You’ll never know what went well
Then again it just depends on
How long of time is left for you

Ah, the good old “if you love somebody, better let them know” cliche theme.  Personally I have trouble relating to this theme.  If I love someone, I usually let them know it and they know it well.  I guess personally I do not relate to this musical lyric very well.  Maybe this is for the “players” out there, which, if you listen to today’s pop music lyrics, especially rap music, seem to abound in today’s society.