By: Chuck KlostermanI’m the greatest songwriter of my generation. Granted, mostof my material falls outside the conventional parameters ofmainstream FM radio fare — I like to fuse my country-tinged reggaewith progressive Tejano metal — but the songs themselves areflawless nuggets of pure pop perfection. I like to drag thelistener through a mystical portal, deep into a subterraneanconsciousness that he or she never knew existed. I like to makeaudiences confront love and hate simultaneously. I like to bringthe darkness with extreme prejudice.
This is who I am.
Unfortunately, I rarely have the chance to employ my songwriting genius. This is mostly because my bandmates keep hanging themselves (we used to call ourselves Badfinger). But this doesn’t mean my talents must go to waste. Instead, I am going to release my secret songwriting techniques to the public at large. My white-hot aesthetic must be inflicted upon the zeitgeist. Someone (please!) turn my random thoughts into a marketable, consumable product. So, are you starting a band? Are you about to go solo? Are you named Courtney Love? If so, here is a six-step plan for writing transcendent rock music.
1. Rip off the Clash The Clash were the finest punk band in history. Now, this is something of a backhanded compliment, because punk rock is terrible. However, songs that sound like discarded Clash B-sides tend to rule ass (Rancid’s “Ruby Soho,” the Libertines’ “I Get Along,” and the Exploding Hearts’ “I’m a Pretender”). Consequently, the first thing any enterprising songwriter needs to buy is the 1980 Clash triple album Sandinista!. Don’t worry about being accused of plagiarism, because no one has ever actually listened to this record in its entirety (except for rock critics and people who aspire to be rock critics).
2. Replicate the intro to Sesame Street Modern humans love educational puppets; television has engineered us to adore their felt-covered majesty. As a result, we are socially predisposed to loving Sesame Street‘s theme music. Listen to Wilco’s “Outta Mind (Outta Sight),” Supergrass’ “Mansize Rooster,” or “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” by the New Pornographers — you are guaranteed to like them. This is completely due to their sonic similarity to the Sesame Street theme song. Grover is our generation’s Alan Freed.
3. Make sure every track has the Good Part Here is a critical secret about rock’n’roll — nobody ever really likes an entire song. What people love is the Good Part: the moment that DJs sample (like the drum intro on Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”); any time the singer talks sexy over the breakdown (like in Van Halen’s “Panama”); solo bass intros (like the one Guns N’ Roses had on “It’s So Easy”); any use of a wah-wah effect (as heard on Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way”); and/or the part of a song when everything slows down and then gradually gets faster while the audience does the pogo (best exemplified by the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”). It’s essential for any great song to have the Good Part, because stoned people like to point it out to others.
4. Understand the power of taking rides If you find yourself struggling with lyrics, simply describe the process of riding something. By default, this will make your song sound stellar on classic-rock radio. The best example is Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” although the Edgar Winter Group’s “Free Ride” is almost as good, and R.E.O. Speedwagon’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out” is totally decent.
5. Include the word baby Obviously, every great pop song of the modern era includes the word baby. This has been a continuum from “Baby, baby, where did our love go?” up through “Hit me, baby, one more time.” In fact, one of the truly transcendent moments in pop history is near the end of the Carpenters’ “Superstar,” when Karen Carpenter suddenly pleads, “Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby.” (Note: This is augmented by the fact that when K.C. sings, “Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby,” it’s also the Good Part, per rule No. 3.)
6. Place tiny classified ads Do you realize that you can make thousands of dollars, just by placing tiny classified ads in newspapers all across the country? It’s true.