COLUMN: Pop musicians need writing skills to create good music

Allen Hines

I quit listening to the pop music stations on the radio back in the summer of 1998, back when “I’m Gonna Be” by The Proclaimers played incessantly.

My abstinence from pop music has served me well. It has allowed me to explore classic rock. But I let my abstinence slip Sunday night. I tuned in to one of the local stations and heard Ashanti’s aptly named “Baby.” By my unofficial tally, Ashanti says “baby” 49 times in a three-minute song.

So, songwriting doesn’t suck as much as it did in the 90s; it actually sucks worse. All future songwriters, please take a cue from others who know what they’re doing.

I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better song than “Castles Made of Sand” by Jimi Hendrix. “And so, castles made of sand melt into the sea, eventually.” This lyric comes right after a description of how a boy’s dreams fall apart after he becomes ill.

I realize few of us can write like Jimi Hendrix, so let’s go through some other examples. Buddy Guy’s cover of the John Hiatt song “Feels Like Rain” may be the best blues love song ever recorded. Aside from Guy’s amazing guitar work and vocals, the lyrics are impeccable. The song starts with, “Down here, the river meets the sea / And in the sticky heat I feel ya open up to me / Love comes out of nowhere baby, like a hurricane / And it feels like rain.”

Even MC5, known for songs like “I Want You Right Now” can write a poignant song once in a while. “Motor City Is Burning” is about the 1968 riots in Detroit, in which “there was fire bombs bursting all around me, baby- (and) National Guard everywhere.”

Forsaking pop music on the radio does not mean I only listen to vinyl. Indeed, there are a lot of great new bands that, for some reason, don’t get the attention they should. One of these bands is Clutch, and one of their best songs is called “The Mob Goes Wild.” It condemns the Bush administration’s war in Iraq with lyrics such as “21 guns, box made of pine / Letter from the government sealed and signed / Delivered Federal Express on your mother’s doorstep.”

Another band that doesn’t receive the attention it should is Say Hi to Your Mom. It’s a horrible band name, but they make great songs. “A Kiss to Make It Better” describes the struggle to find love with lyrics such as, “Bandages are temporary and besides this kind of wound / Is much more contemporary than the sort we’re all used to / She sat next to me on the train in New York City too / Someplace where the snow is dreary / And people spend whole lives too / Get a kiss to make it better.”

There is no reason to say the word “baby” 49 times in a three-minute song – or any song. I would love to be able to listen to pop radio again, but first, pop musicians must learn to write.

Allen Hines is a freshman pre-journalism and mass communication major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].