How to write a song (as told by someone who’s never written a song)

As long-time readers will know, I’ve been singing folk songs in pubs and clubs for a couple of years now. It’s great fun, and I highly recommend it: anyone who can strum a couple of chords and hold a tune really ought to look out what folk cubs are in their area and give it it a go.

But although I’ve built up a repertoire of more than fifty songs now, they’re all covers. (11 Beatles songs, if anyone’s interested; five Dar Williams, three Paul Simon, two traditional, two each by Richard Shindell, Joni Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, Deep Purple and Crosby, Stills and Nash. All the rest are singletons.)

So my dirty little secret is that I’ve never written a song of my own. And in fact, on reviewing what I’ve written on here before about music, I see at least three different occasions when I’ve lamented this.

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What I’ve been listening to in 2013

Here is my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See previous entries for 2012, 20112010 and 2009.) Note that this is for 2013, not 2014 — I won’t know the final 2014 tallies for another few weeks, and I want to get this out before it’s a whole year late.

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I listen much more to whole albums than to individual tracks, so each year I pick the ten albums that I listened to the most (not counting compilations), as recorded on the two computers where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or on the iPod.) I limit the selection to no more than one album per artist, and skip albums that have featured in previous years. Then from each of those ten objectively selected albums, I subjectively pick one song that I feel is representative.

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What I’ve been reading lately, part 1

It occurred to me recently that, since my Kindle lists books in the order of how recently I’ve had them open, the first few pages of its index are a useful reverse-chronological order record of what I’ve recently read (at least, once I discard the entries for books that I’ve not yet finished).

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Years ago, I used to keep a record of what books I’d read; I’m not sure why I stopped doing it, but I kind of regret it. Now that I have a record of my more recent reads, I thought it might be interesting to say a few words about each book. So here’s what I’ve read since I bought my new Kindle on 28 August (having had my old one stepped on).
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Happy Days: not what I expected

I have vague memories of watching Happy Days as a kid — I suppose around the later 1970s to early 1980s, which means it would have been during its original run. I recall it as a frivolous show, a series of undemanding, jocular set-pieces playing on the humour of the Fonz’s being so much cooler than everyone else, almost to the point of it being a superpower.

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I’ve recently been watching it from the start. It’s not what I expected at all.

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John Lewis: incompetent, unresponsive and dishonest

You may remember from last time that John Lewis failed to deliver our new dishwasher, didn’t even trouble to tell us that they weren’t coming, and wouldn’t prioritise getting it to us subsequently. Everything that’s happened since has made a bad situation worse. The upshot is that three full weeks after I placed my order, I am sitting at home, unable to go food-shopping, in the pathetic hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ll do what we paid them for.

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Catastrophic failure by John Lewis

Our old dishwasher died. Fair enough — it’s nine years old and has served us well. So we needed to order a new one. Having figured out what model I wanted, I did the comparison shopping, but chose not to go for the cheapest option: instead, I paid slightly more to order from John Lewis, because of their reputation for competence, professionalism and reliability.

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Big mistake.

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Specific is universal

As I was ambling along beside the road into Ross-on-Wye a while back, I found myself idly singing a verse from Joni Mitchell’s song Amelia (from the Hejira album):

“I pulled into the Cactus tree motel
To wash away the dust
And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust.”

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But I was wrong. That’s not how the song goes. The second line of that verse is “to shower off the dust”, not “to wash away the dust”.

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