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-   -   Does it ever seem to you that songwriters get more credit than they deserve? (https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=601563)

mc1 12-20-2020 07:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mandobart (Post 6581269)
One way I look at it is sure, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney and John Lennon have been lionized in popular culture for the past 50 some years.

But look at other great songwriters who have devoted, but smaller followings/accolades: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, John Prine, Steve Goodman to name just some of the better known ones. Many of these didn't get much attention until after they died.

And there are other awesome current songwriters you'll never hear or hear of:
Slaid Cleaves, Joe Pug, Jeffrey Martin, Chris Knight....

Its like when I was in the service and we'd roll our eyes at getting medals just for doing our job. The Chief would say "this isn't just for you - its also for all the other squids who work hard everyday and never get any recognition."

IMO the "superstars" help keep it alive for everyone else, though Dylan et al do deserve credit, too.

You are correct that I haven't heard of the songwriters on your lesser known list, but I'll enjoy checking their songs out.

mc1 12-20-2020 07:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DukeX (Post 6581298)
Combine them and you get something mewsical, like Cats.

My girlfriend and I went and saw cats many, many years ago in Toronto.

My reaction was kind of, "Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat's-tongue, bull's-pizzle, you stock-fish!"

Ok, not really, but also not really for me. I liked your pun.

KevWind 12-20-2020 07:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mc1 (Post 6581487)
I must say that was a tough read of high diction (like a Joseph Conrad reply, and not a Johnny Cash reply). But if I get you correctly, you are saying that because it's prose put to music, it's harder.

If that is correct, my reply would be that song lyrics generally fall short of prose, and the addition of a musical requirement doesn't make up the gap.

High diction hey ? That's a first :D.

Your reply that song lyrics fall short of ordinary language ,,, is a tough read . Honestly is a bit baffling and certainly went right over my head , considering prose is the use of ordinary language :confused:

So no, you are not getting me correctly. I said nothing about putting "prose to music". Let me see if can use less high diction and be more clear

What I said (Or perhaps , what I was trying to say was)
Achieving "Prosody"........ not "Prose" (two very different things ) that evokes the intended emotion and actually works in context , involves twice the complexity in songwriting, as it does in poetry, simply because it involves twice the elements, language and music, as opposed to just language (note I said language not "prose" ) Simple math, 1 is 50% less than 2. .....Hope that is more clear

mc1 12-20-2020 07:18 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Feste (Post 6581322)
All this comparison is a bit premature ... if any of these writers, regardless of the genre, form, etc. are still being read and/or listened to as Shakespeare still is today, then, I’d say we have room to say they are of all time. Then again. We’ll never know. If it means something to you, that is the true measure today. I know there are things I listen to again and again and have for decades. Similarly, I also re-read certain authors works in the same manner. It makes no difference if others do.

cut to 3030, when the world has decided that Milli-Vanilli are the greatest literary genius' of all time - who saw that coming, but girl you know it's true!

Does longevity equate to quality? Often, but not always.

Clearly, I find deeper meaning and higher talent in prose and novels than I do in songs, but I'm not so sure it's all as subjective as you imply. There is definitely a consensus here that my thoughts about this are misguided, although I'm not convinced I'm getting them across as clearly as I'd wished.

mc1 12-20-2020 08:00 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mr. Jelly (Post 6581332)
When you say there isn't much there I'm not sure what you are trying to say. What is much? Granted anybody can write a song. The popularity of a song does not mean it is any good. It just means it's popular and there can be many different reasons for that. The idea that some or many give something or somebody credit or whatever means just that. Many obviously don't. When I look at the result of an artists labor my personal litmus test is if I can do as well or better in expressing myself in the same way. If I think I can I feel I have a right to voice my opinion. If not I can only state whether I like it or not. But that's me ....

What I meant by "there isn't much there" is that a song is often pretty short. Remove the repetition and it can be a couple of verses and a chorus.

As Mycroft pointed out, some short works of poetry are very skillfully crafted, and so to use the length as a measure of quality maybe isn't the best.

I guess when I wrote that was thinking the work that went into Mr. Tambourine Man wasn't that much work. But it really isn't the length, it's the quality, although writing King Lear would take a lot of time. So perhaps we should compare Mr. Tambourine Man to Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening or something like that.

mc1 12-20-2020 08:02 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Pattern (Post 6581421)
When done by one with skill, running a rack of nine ball should make the average person watching think “this is so simple, I can do it”

I feel like the same is true for songwriting. To make a powerful statement, a vivid picture, tell a story etc, with just a few sentences that seem so simple you think you could’ve written them yourself. That’s when you know someone is a master

True, the greats make it look easy. But also applies to poets and novelists.

mc1 12-20-2020 08:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by JonPR (Post 6581449)
Shakespeare died in 1616. The Nobel Prize for Literature was established in 1901.

It's not awarded posthumously ;).

Yes, obviously my joke there with a wink didn't come across. Google tells me it was, in fact, award posthumously once, but sadly, not to Shakespeare. And it was in the same year the author died, so a bit of a technicality.

mc1 12-20-2020 08:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ljguitar (Post 6581476)
Hi mc1
I could not DISAGREE more.

You need to cover a writer's catalog (song or literature) in it's entirety, and in context to be able to measure why they are considered relevant, or poignant.

Dylan is not considered 'profound' or 'relevant' because he was popular. He has remained 'profound' and 'relevant' through many phases of society. His lyrics are amazing.

And we won't know for at least 404 years after he dies (that's where we are marking time with William Shakespeare's place in history in 2020)

I don't think lyricists are overrated at all.

Hi Lj,

But then we both need to read all of Shakespeare and all of Dylan to compare. I haven't read all of either.

I don't think I ever brought up popularity as a criteria. Dylan is profound and relevant.

Finally, my problem is with ranking Dylan up with Shakespeare, which isn't done by me. I don't have an issue with the time gap, since I'm just giving my opinion on the two, as those who rank him so highly have also done.

mc1 12-20-2020 08:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by KevWind (Post 6581531)
High diction hey ? That's a first :D.

Your reply that song lyrics fall short of ordinary language ,,, is a tough read . Honestly is a bit baffling and certainly went right over my head , considering prose is the use of ordinary language :confused:

Prose was the wrong choice of words. I thought it meant unrhyming poetry, but I see it really just means words without metrical structure. That's not what I( meant.

Quote:

Originally Posted by KevWind (Post 6581531)
What I said (Or perhaps, what I was trying to say was)
Achieving "Prosody"........ not "Prose" (two very different things ) that evokes the intended emotion and actually works in context, involves twice the complexity in songwriting, as it does in poetry, simply because it involves twice the elements, language and music, as opposed to just language (note I said language not "prose" ) ...

Prosody (linguistics): In linguistics, prosody is concerned with those elements of speech that are not individual phonetic segments (vowels and consonants) but are properties of syllables and larger units of speech, including linguistic functions such as intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm.

Prosody (music): In music, prosody is the way the composer sets the text of a vocal composition in the assignment of syllables to notes in the melody to which the text is sung, or to set the music with regard to the ambiance of the lyrics.

But my reply still stands. It may be more complicated to write words to music, but if the words aren't nearly as good, I don't think the musical prosody make up for that.

Quote:

Originally Posted by KevWind (Post 6581531)
Simple math, 1 is 50% less than 2...

Really, that's where we are here? I feel insulted.

mc1 12-20-2020 08:33 PM

I appreciate everyone working to help understand my point, but it's alright, I'm only bleeding.

I'm trying to remember what Holden Caulfield said on his way out of Percy Prep.

DukeX 12-20-2020 09:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mc1 (Post 6581593)
...I'm trying to remember what Holden Caulfield said on his way out of Percy Prep.

"Frankly, my dears, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Good night, ya morons! I'll be back!":D

KevWind 12-20-2020 09:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mc1 (Post 6581590)
Prose was the wrong choice of words. I thought it meant unrhyming poetry, but I see it really just means words without metrical structure. That's not what I( meant.

OK , can only go on what you said.

Quote:

Prosody (linguistics): In linguistics, prosody is concerned with those elements of speech that are not individual phonetic segments (vowels and consonants) but are properties of syllables and larger units of speech, including linguistic functions such as intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm.
Yes and as I said is complex element #1



Quote:

Prosody (music): In music, prosody is the way the composer sets the text of a vocal composition in the assignment of syllables to notes in the melody to which the text is sung,,,,,, or,,,,,, to set the music with regard to the ambiance of the lyrics..
Well and also "the intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm" in the music and the lyrics . But no it is not "or ",In a song it is and )not "or" .....and as I said= is complex element #2) twice the complexity.....


BTW I know what the basic definition of Prosody is, in poetry and song, and exactly why I used the term. And I'll add that in music/song yes its"ambience" and more,,, when done well it as I said, evokes an emotion in the listener that is a function of the context of both the music and lyrics. The poet does not play in that emotional field....... the poets emotional field is 1/2 that.

Quote:

But my reply still stands. It may be more complicated to write words to music, but if the words aren't nearly as good, I don't think the musical prosody make up for that.
"but if the words aren't nearly as good," is a totally subjective opinion.
I have a different opinion, if the words of poem "aren't nearly as good" no amount of calling it "poetry" makes up for that, either ....


Quote:

Really, that's where we are here? I feel insulted.
Really? You feel insulted because the endeavor songwriting involves two complex elements is twice as complex, as the endeavor poetry that involves only one ? . I guess I have nothing to say to that... Except "Car--ry,,on,,,, lo--ve is coming,,,,,,, ,lo--ve is com-ing to us all"

Hoyt 12-20-2020 09:41 PM

Blowin in the Wind is one of the greatest sentiments in the world. I guess you had to live then to understand it’s impact.

Feste 12-20-2020 11:00 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mc1 (Post 6581535)
cut to 3030, when the world has decided that Milli-Vanilli are the greatest literary genius' of all time - who saw that coming, but girl you know it's true!

Does longevity equate to quality? Often, but not always.
.

My point was not that “Longevity” determines quality. The primary reason Shakespeare’s (or whoever wrote those words attributed to Shakespeare) is still revered and relevant today, is that his works convey the human condition like no other works, consistently and artistically. Will the works we revere today, still hold that place with people of 2420? That is a significant measure of artistic worth, value or quality. Consider also that in his day, Shakespeare was playing to the his audience. He gave the what they wanted in the same way that’s Steven Spielberg does today. But again, as I mentioned before, it matters not unless what is cultural significant is what you gravitate to artistically. In other words if the music of Bob Dylan moves you today, then that is what matters. To put it perspective- when I was a youngster, the Beatles didn’t do much for me. Yet, most of the western world thought they were the greatest music ever. To me, that was The Who. And I still feel the same way. Yet, 400 years from now it is unlikely either will be still relevant. To that I say, so what!

JonPR 12-21-2020 06:04 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mc1 (Post 6581571)
Yes, obviously my joke there with a wink didn't come across.

Quite. It looked like you were making a quite different point. As if the wink was implying that those people at the Nobel prize considered Yeats and Dylan equivalent, but not Shakespeare; meaning they didn't think he was equivalent to - or as good as - them.
The "joke" (the reference to Shakespeare) doesn't make sense otherwise. It seems a few others misunderstood it as well... ;)

JonPR 12-21-2020 07:03 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mc1 (Post 6581484)
Yet I often see these comparisons of Dylan to the great writers of history, and I think that's what doesn't sit quite right with me.

I agree. Such comparisons are silly, because the older the writer is, the more of a head start they have!

E.g., using that criterion, we can't compare Dylan to Shakespeare until another 400 years have passed. And even then, the only sensible comparison would be between Dylan's reputation around 2400 and Shakespeare's reputation now! Hard to imagine any more pointless exercise.:rolleyes:

An easier and more sensible exercise - if we're going to use a criterion of popularity or influence during the artist's lifetime (i.e., disregarding any literary quality of the work) - is to compare Dylan's reputation now with what we know of Shakespeare's reputation in his own lifetime.
Given that Dylan is (of course) not a playwright, I think you can roughly equate them there. Shakespeare was certainly popular and successful - even pre-eminent - in his lifetime, at least within the society that would have heard of him. (Dylan has an unfair advantage thanks to technology and mass media.)

Once you start looking at literary quality, that's a lot more difficult, due to the evolution of the English language if nothing else.

Personally I don't agree with the opinion that Dylan is a great poet. Certainly not in comparison with plenty of actual poets - i.e., ones who are not also songwriters, and may well be extremely obscure in terms of fame. I mean, if you want to read great poetry - even just poetry of the 20th century - you don't go to Dylan. You go to a poetry book. (There is worse poetry around in books than Dylan's best lyrics, of course, but also a whole lot better.)
Is he a "great poet" in comparison with other popular songwriters? Undoubtedly yes - but that's not setting the bar very high! :rolleyes:
Is he the greatest poet among other popular songwriters? IMO, no. IMHO, Joni Mitchell is at least his equivalent, and Leonard Cohen is better.
But Cohen, arguably, has the unfair advantage of being a published poet (and author) before he became a songwriter. I.e. poetry was his business, in a way it was never Dylan's. Cohen was a professional wordsmith (and it shows in his songs), whereas Dylan was always involved in music and singing skills as well. (Here is where we get the popular opinion that "Dylan can't sing". Maybe now he can't. But in the 1960s and 70s, at least, his vocal delivery was part of his genius. That's an opinion, of course, not a fact. ;))
Dylan's skill with words is - IMO again - more in the realm of narrative than pure poetry. That's what really seems to interest him, and where I think he's done his best work: setting up characters and scenarios that draw you in, take you somewhere - more like a novelist, in that sense (or even a film maker), than a poet. He certainly has poetic skills, but they're more like flashes of genius, in certain songs, rather than his main concern. There are too many examples of really crass lyrics in his songs (doggerel at best) for poetic craft to be something that concerned him very much.

My favourite example of crap Dylan lyric?

"Now the beach is deserted except for some kelp
And a piece of an old ship that lies on the shore.
You always responded when I needed your help
You gave me a map and a key to your door."

It's just embarrassing! The important line for the song ("Sara", about his wife) is the second one, so he needed a rhyme for "help". Instead of trying to rephrase the line so it ended with an easier rhyme (easily done), he just invented a couple of totally irrelevant lines about a beach so he could get "kelp" in. He should have been ashamed of himself - but I get the sense that shame is not a common sensation for Dylan... ;

Taylorneil 12-21-2020 10:30 AM

What would all those great voices sing if there hadn't been any great songwriters?

hubcapsc 12-21-2020 10:56 AM

I'm trying to remember what Holden Caulfield said on his way out of Percy Prep.

I wonder if it was the same thing Dave Barry said after his Movi Prep?

‘‘What if I spurt on Andy?’‘

-Mike "nobody else could make that subject funny..."

catdaddy 12-21-2020 12:10 PM

Shakespeare's melodies were weak and his chord progressions mundane. A Mel Torme he wasn't.

The Watchman 12-21-2020 12:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hoyt (Post 6581632)
Blowin in the Wind is one of the greatest sentiments in the world. I guess you had to live then to understand it’s impact.

That's right. Context is important.

Someone explained to me once that Dylan (and some of his imitators) purposely made up a lot of nonsensical lyrics as a mockery or just a break, from the moon-June-spoon romanticism of previous generation pop music. So it has a multi-level purpose. I dont know if thats true or not, but this is a tempest in a teapot. Its not a competition, just a matter of what appeals to you.

FrankHudson 12-21-2020 04:57 PM

Oh is this thread in my wheelhouse! I've spent the past four years or so putting up over 500 examples of words (mostly poetry) combined with original music as the Parlando Project and writing about the experience at my blog. As the name might indicate, I don't always turn words into songs, as my singing voice is a weakness.

I'll try to add things that haven't already been said in the thread.

The thread has revisited the puzzlement/disagreement with Dylan's Nobel prize. Dylan was actually the second (or with footnotes, third) songwriter to get the Nobel Prize for Literature. The first? Rabindranath Tagore, an incredibly multi-talented Bengali man who wrote more songs than Bob Dylan along with a ton of other things he did. When he got his Nobel, the only work available in European languages was his own translation into English of some of his song lyrics.

How did he get noticed in the English speaking world? Well, one reason is his book in English had a preface with high praise from William Butler Yeats, who made the point that as a songwriter Tagore's work would be on more lips than most poets. So a Nobel essentially for a book of song lyrics in 1913.

Why was Yeats so interested in a songwriter? Because, with footnotes, he wanted to be one too. Yeats (who also tried to become a dramatist, so he was very interested in expanding his literature beyond the page) at one point commissioned a luthier to build a harp/lyre like instrument and and had a professional performer tour playing his musical pieces. Yeats (like me) was apparently a bad singer, thus one reason for having someone else do the performing. He also didn't think his poems should be sung as such, but there was some kind of musical chanting involved. How'd it work? No recordings exist, but George Bernard Shaw (working as a music critic at the time) panned a performance he saw. The tune used by most musical performers today of Yeats "The Wandering Aengus" AKA "The Golden Apples of the Sun" may either be the one Yeats wrote for that attempt, or the one he personally approved for use back when he was trying this. So Yeats may be songwriter/Nobel winner #2.

Lastly, from my experience, how possible is it to make poetry intended only for the page into a musical performance? Well, opinions differ, and tactics I use vary, but in general it can be done, by my project with my limited musical capabilities, and by others in other ways. If you want refrains and lyrics as hooks, there's no reason with material in the pubic domain to not find some material in the page poem that can be repeated to provide that. Interestingly, Dylan, while an eclectic songwriter, often eschews choruses and refrains. (and they're called choruses because a chorus used to sing them in Greek drama).

Now the other side. Are song lyrics really poetry? Well, since poetry started as words accompanied by music that could be viewed as a backwards question, but work in performance is different than work on the page, they use different things to work in different contexts. If I was to take my Seagull Folk acoustic guitar to a venue's stage expecting an all-night rave it wouldn't work. 50s TV comic Steve Allen used to do a bit where he'd recite "Be Bop A Lua" as if it was oh so serious poetry for laughs, but the same guy figured it was cool to play piano behind Jack Kerouac. Novels, even plays, need to be changed to make them movies. Play scripts (even Shakespeare) often seem a little flat on the page read as if they were novellas.

Here's one of my blog posts with me performing what two Nobel Prize winners had to say about the worth of songs and the worth of literature. Note that both of them agree that it isn't the form of literature, some ranking of degree of difficulty, or a particular literary tactic that justifies their art, but what it can do for the audience, us, the listener.

The Poet's Voice

.

JonPR 12-22-2020 05:12 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by catdaddy (Post 6582035)
Shakespeare's melodies were weak and his chord progressions mundane. A Mel Torme he wasn't.

:lol:
Yeah, it's a good job he stuck to writing plays. You'd see him down the local tavern trying to sing along with the minstrels. They'd always tell him to shut up. "Listen Will, our music is the food of love. Yours ain't!" :p

JonPR 12-22-2020 05:24 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by The Watchman (Post 6582058)
Someone explained to me once that Dylan (and some of his imitators) purposely made up a lot of nonsensical lyrics as a mockery or just a break, from the moon-June-spoon romanticism of previous generation pop music.

Dylan was certainly capable of cynicism, of sending up critics and fans alike. I'm not aware he wrote songs with that purpose, but I wouldn't put it past him.

What is certain, however, is that John Lennon felt that way, and wrote I Am The Walrus as a deliberate parody of nonsensical lyrics, believing (quite rightly) that most listeners didn't care whether Dylan's surrealist lyrics made any sense or not. The psychedelic era was all about pushing boundaries, exploring the arcane and mysterious, and if lyrics made no literal sense that was all good - they became like dream images in that sense. It was good brain exercise trying to work out if they actually might mean something... It's all "wow man, far out!" If you found you could actually understand a lyric, that might make it disappointing!

There are definitely some phrases in Dylan songs which resist any sensible interpretation, and could well be a put-on. "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" has several. Ostensibly about Joan Baez (a kind of oblique love song), it has - among some beautifully evocative phrases - some nonsense ones like "curfew plugs" and "warehouse eyes". it was as if he was writing at the boundary of meaning, and just occasionally stepped across the border...(hey who cares... let the critics chew on those...)

PHJim 12-22-2020 06:41 AM

Probably too much thread drift, but many songwriters don't get as much credit as they deserve. Google lyrics and you'll often find no mention of the composer.

1 - First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack
2 - My Way by Frank Sinatra
3 - Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin
4 - Cover Of The Rolling Stone by Dr. Hook
5 - The Unicorn by The Irish Rovers
6 - A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash
7 - Queen Of The Silver Dollar by Emmylou Harris
8 - Marie Laveau by Bobby Bare
9 - Put Another Log On The Fire by Tompall Glaser
10- One's On The Way by Loretta Lynn

Granted, these people did cover the songs, and some made them famous, but the composers were:

1 - Ewan McColl
2 - Paul Anka
3 - Kris Kristofferson
4 - Shel Silverstein
5 - Shel Silverstein
6 - Shel Silverstein
7 - Shel Silverstein
8 - Shel Silverstein
9 - Shel Silverstein
10- Shel Silverstein

I almost forgot
11- Snake by Oscar Brown Jr.

PHJim 12-22-2020 07:06 AM

https://thehardtimes.net/music/tom-w...iC5max6rbULkfs

unabowler 12-22-2020 08:00 AM

a different direction
 
Oddly enough I realized the importance of songwriters when Eddie Van Halen died. I don't mind Van Halen, but it's not my favorite type of music. When he died I listened to some of their material and noticed how good their first album was. After that, they always had good songs but seldom great albums. Eddie's guitar playing was always great and he was truly one of the best ever in his genre, but awesome guitar playing didn't save mediocre material (AT ALL).

JonPR 12-22-2020 09:44 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by PHJim (Post 6582656)
Probably too much thread drift, but many songwriters don't get as much credit as they deserve. Google lyrics and you'll often find no mention of the composer.

1 - First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack
2 - My Way by Frank Sinatra
3 - Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin
4 - Cover Of The Rolling Stone by Dr. Hook
5 - The Unicorn by The Irish Rovers
6 - A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash
7 - Queen Of The Silver Dollar by Emmylou Harris
8 - Marie Laveau by Bobby Bare
9 - Put Another Log On The Fire by Tompall Glaser
10- One's On The Way by Loretta Lynn

Granted, these people did cover the songs, and some made them famous, but the composers were:

1 - Ewan McColl
2 - Paul Anka
3 - Kris Kristofferson
4 - Shel Silverstein
5 - Shel Silverstein
6 - Shel Silverstein
7 - Shel Silverstein
8 - Shel Silverstein
9 - Shel Silverstein
10- Shel Silverstein

I almost forgot
11- Snake by Oscar Brown Jr.

I'm guessing you're a Shel Silverstein fan... ;)

JonPR 12-22-2020 09:46 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by PHJim (Post 6582676)

:lol:
(I almost thought it was serious for a moment...)

You may enjoy this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGgp2R6JoUA

FrankHudson 12-22-2020 10:09 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by PHJim (Post 6582656)
Probably too much thread drift, but many songwriters don't get as much credit as they deserve. Google lyrics and you'll often find no mention of the composer.

1 - First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack
2 - My Way by Frank Sinatra
3 - Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin
4 - Cover Of The Rolling Stone by Dr. Hook
5 - The Unicorn by The Irish Rovers
6 - A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash
7 - Queen Of The Silver Dollar by Emmylou Harris
8 - Marie Laveau by Bobby Bare
9 - Put Another Log On The Fire by Tompall Glaser
10- One's On The Way by Loretta Lynn

Granted, these people did cover the songs, and some made them famous, but the composers were:

1 - Ewan McColl
2 - Paul Anka
3 - Kris Kristofferson
4 - Shel Silverstein
5 - Shel Silverstein
6 - Shel Silverstein
7 - Shel Silverstein
8 - Shel Silverstein
9 - Shel Silverstein
10- Shel Silverstein

I almost forgot
11- Snake by Oscar Brown Jr.

A pet-peeve of mine too. There's something to the old saying "that singer made the song their own," so I get why this happens, but as a writer it bugs me. And I'm such a bug about this, that for me the problem extends to those that don't know who the lyricists were for a song and think the music composer who might also be the singer or bandleader wrote the lyrics (common examples: Carole King, Elton John, Brian Wilson).

FrankHudson 12-22-2020 10:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by JonPR (Post 6582628)
Dylan was certainly capable of cynicism, of sending up critics and fans alike. I'm not aware he wrote songs with that purpose, but I wouldn't put it past him.

What is certain, however, is that John Lennon felt that way, and wrote I Am The Walrus as a deliberate parody of nonsensical lyrics, believing (quite rightly) that most listeners didn't care whether Dylan's surrealist lyrics made any sense or not. The psychedelic era was all about pushing boundaries, exploring the arcane and mysterious, and if lyrics made no literal sense that was all good - they became like dream images in that sense. It was good brain exercise trying to work out if they actually might mean something... It's all "wow man, far out!" If you found you could actually understand a lyric, that might make it disappointing!

There are definitely some phrases in Dylan songs which resist any sensible interpretation, and could well be a put-on. "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" has several. Ostensibly about Joan Baez (a kind of oblique love song), it has - among some beautifully evocative phrases - some nonsense ones like "curfew plugs" and "warehouse eyes". it was as if he was writing at the boundary of meaning, and just occasionally stepped across the border...(hey who cares... let the critics chew on those...)

Yes, this move to random connections and purposefully mixed diction is an old Modernist literary tactic that was at least 50 years old when Dylan started putting it to use in popular song lyrics. It originated during WWI when what passed for conventional wisdom was easily questioned by a group of artists who called themselves by a nonsense word: Dada. Some Dada lyrics and poems were just not-actual-words sounds, essentially pointing out the arbitrariness of language itself (rock'n'roll derivation, Gerry Goffin's lyrics to Barry Mann's "Who Put the Bomp...") Others used made up words or words used in nonsense ways. (Rock'n'roll derivation: I Zimbra by the Talking Heads, lyrics adapted from Dadaist Hugo Ball).

As you point out though, this kind of purposeful destruction or ignoring of normal use of language easily crosses over into meaning for a listener as the linguistic mind finds patterns just as the eye does looking at clouds or starfields.

I've translated some Dada poets myself, and it's a real challenge trying to figure out what to, well figure out as a distinct image, and what was intended to be a impenetrable random set of words.

Here's one of the most popular pieces done for my Parlando Project, translated from Dadaist Tristan Tzara "The Death of Apollinaire," a elegy written about the writer who died of the 1918 flu pandemic while still recovering from his war wounds just before the WWI armistice.

play my English translation and performance of The Death of Apollinaire

I think Tzara was sincere in writing this, or at least that was my best sense after translating it from French, other translators differ.

But when I was presented with the challenge of translating one Dadaist Hugo Ball it was a lot tougher to decide what to make into a perceptible English image and what to leave as random combinations. I wrote about that process in some detail on my blog, but the choice I ended up making was to make it into a blues (a move Dylan often choose too). After all, it's just not Dadaists who make us wonder what they're talking about, when blues like "Smokestack Lightning" are not exactly straightforward narratives even if they have undeniable power.

blog post about translating Hugo Ball's The Ghost into Ghost Blues

Here's a book that helped me consider how framing and expectations can change how one reads a song lyric compared to Modernist poetry. It takes a bunch of transcribed Blues lyrics and prints them as if they are Modernist verse, as if the pre-war Blues folks where Modernists like e e cummings or those Dadaists.

The Blues Line book listing on Goodreads

It took me a few years to decide. Yes, they were Modernists. Bob Dylan was smarter, he figured this by 1965 or so.


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