How i write a 60s pop song.
I don't know where all this creativity is coming from lately but I've written and recorded about 5 songs in the past 2 weeks. It's been full on and I now feel like I need a break for a week or so. But boy have I enjoyed myself!
I've had a lot of good reaction to a 60s pop style track I wrote a while ago called " It's Not Working Out For Her " which is about a friend of mine who was going through some boyfriend problems at the time. I had decided to write the track in the style of one of those innocent pop songs from the 60s - you know the type - "I love you, yes I do, you know it's true, I feel blue" type of lyrics. I've got the guitars required, to achieve the "sound" I wanted, as I own a Rickenbacker 330/12 string and a Hofner VIolin bass. All I needed was the right back beat and I was up and running.
I was so pleased with the results that I've written two others with a third one in the works! Here's a link to one of them called " She Dumped Me By Text and Put It On Facebook ".
It's been tremendous fun getting that 60s sound and as usual, I've had a certain amount of "happy accidents". What I mean by that is that by pure luck and chance, I do something "wrong" whilst recording, only to find out that this "mistake" turns out to be a bloody brilliant thing to have happened!!
This is how I get my 60s sound. It all starts off with the acoustic guitar. I sit down and put together a simple three or four chord sequence which is usually what turns out to be the chorus. The simpler the better. Another good tip is to add a major to minor chord change within the song. The Beatles did this a lot in the early years of their career. My favourite one is G major to G minor. Always bloody works! But get the tempo right. I've found that 137bpm is a really good pop song beat. Before I lay drum tracks down, I use an app called Pro Metronome. This is a brilliant and very useful app for playing along to, to ensure you get the tempo of your song exactly right.
Once I've got my tempo and roughed out a chorus (simple three / four chords) I go to my drum loops. I've got hundreds of them from an online company called Drums on Demand . They are FANTASTIC loops and if you're clever enough (like me) you can edit together the most perfect drum breaks and fills at the right moment in the song. I just lay down one continuous 4/4 time drum loop for about 3-4 minutes in Garageband.
Next is to lay down an acoustic guitar track of the backing. Usually I jam along to the drum beat and write the song "on the fly". Being a solo musician, this is the closest to being in a room with bandmates and having a jam! So often, great songs come from this method I find. Eventually I have a "scratch" acoustic guitar track of the song, played along to the drum loop. At this stage it is sounding a bit shit. But don't worry. The magic dust is about to be added....
By this time I've "learned" what the song chords and structure will be and I lay down TWO acoustic guitar tracks - one left and one right (in the stereo spectrum). Then I plug in my Fender Tele and choose a clean amp sound from the enormous array of guitar amp sounds on offer from Garageband. I lay down two tracks of this. Then I plug in my Hofner violin bass and this is when the track starts sounding all "60s". I try and make sure that the bass part is played in a very "McCartney'esque" manner. Being a massive Beatles freak I know virtually every single McCartney bass styles! Oh by the way! There are still no lyrics written! I never right lyrics until the very end. OK. So I put the bass down. Once all this is cooking, I work on the drums track - editing in different breaks and fills, adding cymbal crashes etc. Maybe add extra percussion like tambourine or shakers.
Next up is the "piece da resistance" - that quintissential 60s guitar sound - the Rickenbacker 12 string electric! I like to bring in the Ricky 12 string in at the start of the second verse. The jangle of the strings tell you instantly that this is "60s Stylee"!! Again, I like to put down two tracks of picking 12 string jangle and place them centre LEFT and centre RIGHT in the final mix. This gives the song a lot of width.
When it comes to a guitar solo - the simpler the better! There's no point going all Eddie Van Halen and playing a 1000 notes in the space of 8 bars. The guys back in the day were pretty economical with their finger work and I've found that a simple solo on the Ricky 12 is just enough to keep the feel of the song.
Vocals time! You can't go wrong with plenty of "Oooh's" and "Ahhh's" throughout the song. Also the "Question/Answer or Vocal Repeat" vocals structure is another tip to get that authentic style. SIng a line and then have backing singers (that's you!) repeat the line in two or three part harmony. Works a treat!
Anyway, that's how I approach the writing of a 60s pop song - Dan Style! I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Thanks for reading. yer pal Dan.
How to Write a Song | 12 Songwriting Tips from the Pros
Here are 10 helpful songwriting tips, each backed up by quotes from some of the world's most successful songwriters.
Find out how to write a song from the best in the biz
1. where to start writing your song.
Getting started is often the hardest part of the songwriting process. Developing your song’s main melody or central chorus is considered by some to be the best place to begin writing your next track. Once you’ve got your hook or key chord progression, you can build the rest of your song around it. But don’t worry if you're struggling to find the perfect melody straight away, this method isn’t for everyone.
Starting with your song’s main riff or hook isn’t ideal for every songwriter. Some songwriters prefer to start at the beginning of their track by writing a killer intro, which will lead them naturally into the rest of the song, while others will get the lyrics down first, and then worry about the tune afterwards. There’s no rule when it comes to writing a new song. It’s down to the songwriter, the song and the original inspiration to determine your starting point.
2. Lyrics matter
Unless you're producing instrumental music, the lyrics are arguably the most important part of your song - even helping you earn music royalties . Writing lyrics can often be the most frustrating and difficult aspect of the songwriting process, especially for amateur songwriter's lacking in experience.
Having a clear idea of what your song will be about is a good start. You could write down exactly what you want to get across in your lyrics, then play about with the rhythm, structure and cadence of your words to fit them around your melody. A solid lyrical hook for your chorus is particularly important, while the verses and bridge can be built around your central theme.
Chord progressions are also particularly important when it comes to writing your lyrics and finding a natural flow. Learn more about how to write a chord progression!
3. Record any spur of the moment inspiration
There’s nothing worse as a songwriter than coming up with an amazing melody or riff, only to completely forget what is was an hour later. Forgetting your ideas can be really frustrating, so it’s important to make a note of your idea while it’s fresh in your mind, even if it’s just recorded quickly on your phone or scribbled on a scrap of paper. You’ll be glad of the reminder later when you return to continue working on the song.
4. Write from experience
As obvious as it may sound, some of history’s greatest songs are about personal experiences, with artists drawing on real-life events and traumas to spark their creativity. Whether you’ve been through hard times or great times, you can use your life experiences to great affect. Put those feelings into a song you can be proud of.
5. Take inspiration from everywhere
Don’t restrict your writing inspiration to one-specific genre or style. Listen to a whole range of music and try to figure out how to use other sources that you might not have first considered to help you come up with new lines. You might hear a particular section sung by a grime artist or folk singer and think that their pronunciation or flow would work well in one of your tracks - even though you’re a metal band. Whatever you like the sound of, give it a go. It might work.
6. H ave fun and challenge yourself
Although sometimes your songwriting might feel very much like work, it’s important to remember that it’s also meant to be fun. Try to keep that enjoyable element in mind and challenge yourself to make catchy and memorable lyrics. Your feelings will definitely come across within your writing so have fun whilst doing it!
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7. collaborate with other musicians.
If you’re suffering from writer’s block (everyone does at some point!), then collaborating with other musicians can offer a great way to break new ground and get a fresh perspective on your track. Show them what you’ve got so far, discuss any new ideas they might suggest, and see what comes out of it. Getting an outside perspective on your track from a fellow musician can help to bring the best out of your music. Two heads are always usually better than one.
TIP : You'll notice rap artists do this a lot. If you're an aspiring rapper or in the process of becoming a rap artist, make sure you go heavy on the collaboration opps!
8. Keep it simple and build on it
Keeping your track as simple as possible at first is an excellent way to accelerate the
songwriting process and work out the structure of your song. Many complex songs from 5 or 6-piece bands started life as a few chords strummed on an acoustic guitar. Once you’ve got the basis of the song in its simplest form, you can go about adding drums, strings, brass or any other additional elements afterwards. Don’t make things harder for yourself by overcomplicating your track right from the beginning.
9. Make sure to take breaks
Writing a song from scratch can sometimes be frustrating and mentally tiring work, especially if the ideas aren’t flowing as easily as you’d like. Often a 15-minute break away from your instrument or lyrics pad can help get the creativity flowing and stop your mind from becoming too clouded to see the ideas and inspiration you’re searching for. Whether it's written in two hours or two months, the final product is all that's important, no matter how long it takes.
10. Don't overthink it
Musicians and songwriters are often our own worst critics. If you judge your own songs too harshly you’ll never get anything done, so it’s important to keep an open mind. And while it’s great to take your time and carefully consider each facet of a new song, it’s often easier to get things done when you let the songwriting process flow, stop worrying and just get on with it. Overthinking can be your worst enemy. Get the basis of your song down, and you can always go back and change things afterwards.
11. Ask for feedback
It’s easy to lose sight of how good or bad your song is after you’ve spent hours and hours working, changing and creating it by yourself. So find someone you trust to give honest advice, and who’s opinion you value, and ask them to critique it for you. You might find they have some fantastic insight into how it could be improved. Don’t just play it for someone who might be afraid to hurt your feelings - you want honest opinions, not just yes men.
12. Don't be afraid to fail
Apologies for the cliché, but if you’re failing and struggling to write the song you know is in you – just keep going. There’s no secret formula for successful songwriting, other than the combination of hard work, positivity and talent. This quote from the legendary Johnny Cash sums up the point perfectly.
How do you handle the songwriting process? Have any great tips to share on how to write a song? Let us know in the comments, or share this article with your friends if you found any of the advice here helpful.
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Related posts, ai tools for songwriting: 10 generators to step up your game, how to arrange a song in 5 steps, 8 easiest instruments to learn for musicians on a budget, songwriting 101: 5 tips for better lyric writing, ++ comments, get started, get the latest.
60-Second Songwriting: “Chorus First” Song Structuring
As the old songwriting expression goes, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.”
60-Second Songwriting aims to offer quick, concise song-craft tips, basics and blasts for the time-crunched and attention-challenged 21st-century musician.
In this edition of 60-Second Songwriting, we'll focus on something I like to call “Chorus First” song structuring. We’ll take a look at its basic function through the specific lens of the songwriter and explore its purpose in service of the song.
As most songwriters tend to build their tunes organically in terms of dynamics, the chorus section or “hook”—ideally the most memorable or exciting section of a song—is generally built up to and as such is usually positioned later, rather than earlier, in the timeline of a tune. Conversely, what if the chorus section or hook of your tune were positioned at the start of the song’s timeline instead?
Kicking off your song with the most intriguing, insanely catchy element of your tune can yield some great results—instantly engaging the listener, grabbing their attention and pulling them into the world of your tune.
A great example of “Chorus First” structuring can be found in the classic Beatles tune, “Good Day Sunshine.”
While obviously not an appropriate choice for every song, give “Chorus First” structuring a try next time you sit down to write.
Mark Bacino is a singer-songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists and composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co . or teaching songwriting as the founder-curator of intro.verse.chorus ; a website dedicated to exploring the art of song craft. Visit Mark on Facebook , Instagram or follow him on Twitter .
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How to Write Song Lyrics
Last Updated: October 31, 2023 Fact Checked
This article was co-authored by Amy Chapman, MA . Amy Chapman MA, CCC-SLP is a vocal therapist and singing voice specialist. Amy is a licensed and board certified speech & language pathologist who has dedicated her career to helping professionals improve and optimize their voice. Amy has lectured on voice optimization, speech, vocal health, and voice rehabilitation at universities across California, including UCLA, USC, Chapman University, Cal Poly Pomona, CSUF, CSULA. Amy is trained in Lee Silverman Voice Therapy, Estill, LMRVT, and is a part of the American Speech and Hearing Association. There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 3,333,778 times.
There’s something magical about good song lyrics. They’re relatable, or poignant, or they just really make you feel a certain way. We all know great lyrics when we hear them, but what exactly makes them so great? How do you write your own song lyrics that convey your message and help people connect with your music? In this article, we break down the songwriting process step-by-step, from getting inspiration to crafting the perfect lyrics to pairing your lyrics with music. Once you know the basics, you'll be ready to write a song whenever inspiration strikes.
Understanding Common Structures
- An Introduction - this is the section at the beginning which leads into the song. Sometimes it might sound different from the rest of the song, might be faster or slower, or it might not exist at all. Many songs do not have an introduction, so don't feel like you have to use it.  X Research source
- A Verse - This is the main part of the song. It is usually fifty percent to twice the number of lines as the chorus but it does not have to be. What gives away a section of a song as a verse is that the melody is the same but the lyrics are different between the different verses.  X Research source
- A Chorus - The chorus is the part of the song that repeats without changing: both the lyrics and melody are unchanged or nearly unchanged. This is usually where you try to fit the catchiest part of your song (usually called the hook).  X Research source
- A Bridge - The bridge is a part that exists in some songs but not all. Usually coming sometime after the second chorus, the bridge is a part of the song that sounds completely different than the rest of the song. It is usually short, just a line or two of lyrics, and will sometimes lead into a key change.  X Research source
- C usually signifies a bridge, other letters that you see cited elsewhere likely just mean that that section of the song is none of the traditional parts and is unique to itself (sort of like taking a verse from a different song and putting it in).
- Do your exercises every day to help you brainstorm . In time, this may help you write better lyrics.
- What you consider to be a good song might differ from someone else's preferences. Focus more on what you like because that's what's important.
- For practice, you might try writing different lyrics for a song you like. You might change a few lines or create a totally new version.
- If you're not sure what kind of music you want to write, give your favorite songs a listen and look for similarities.
- Find the song writers who penned your favorite songs. Then, check out their body of work to look for trends and to evaluate their style.
- Songwriting is an art-form, so it's good to develop your own style. Don't feel like you need to do what everyone else is doing.
- Lyric writing may go through stages. Don't worry if what you're putting down on paper doesn't look like a song at first. You'll be able to shape it later.
- Keep everything. If you write a single sentence of a song down, it always leads to something else sooner.
- It's okay if your songs aren't very good at first. You can always revise them to write better lyrics.
- Journal entries can be a big inspiration for a song. For instance, when you're going through hard times, you might write song lyrics that encapsulate your frustration, despair or hope. This will help your listeners relate to you.
- You're probably going to get writer's block, as it happens to everyone. The best way to get past writer's block is to just get words down on paper. Don't worry if they're good or not.
Keeping Music in Mind
- Think of a section of music as being like four cups of water. Now, you can pour half of one of the cups into a fifth cup, but that now means that you have two half-full cups. The first doesn't get any more water in it. You similarly can't add extra beats without making it up somewhere (usually with a pause).
- A good example of this is the USA's national anthem, after the line "For the land of the free". There is a pause before "And the home of the brave", which allows the singer to recover from the very powerful previous few bars.
Finding Your Words
- A good example of an alternative to this "I'm so sad" thing is from Damien Rice's song The Animals Were Gone : "At night I dream without you, and hope I don't wake up; 'Cause waking up without you is like drinking from an empty cup".
- Brainstorm some ideas so you can see what you have and choose or even build off of an existing idea. It is probably best if you have an inspiration.
- Good: "You make me feel real again/You just have to smile and I know/The sun's coming out - Amen!"
- Bad: "I really love my cat/My cat is where it's at/Her tail looks like a bat/She's getting kind of fat..."
- Of course, there are some genre considerations. Rap often has far more rhyming than other genres, but even then it's not required. It's just stylistic.
- For example, Macklemore's Same Love uses many examples of assonance rhymes and other non-standard rhymes: lately/daily, anointed/poisoned, important/support it, etc.
- Try to write a great first line to hook the listener.
- Revising your song is the best way to write better lyrics.
Getting Extra Help
- With practice, you may be able to teach yourself how to play a musical instrument . However, you might prefer to take classes. This will make it easier to learn proper techniques and concepts like chord progression.
- Learning to write music will help you write a whole song rather than just writing song lyrics.
Video . By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube.
- Never dismiss an idea for a song as "too stupid". Many of the best songs are about the most outlandish topics. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
- It's good to have a song writing notebook or perhaps a file on your computer. This helps you organize your thoughts better. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
- Think about who you want to hear your song. What is it that you want them to hear? Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 1
- Don't plagiarize a song somebody else wrote or you could get in some serious legal trouble. But it's good to pick a style of lyrics or music you like. So if you like Katy Perry, write pop like her. Or if you like Taylor Swift, write lots of love songs. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Example : My life is horrible and I think it is horrible because I left my cat at my Grandma's and she won't give my cat back so what am I going to do ohhh yeah... What am I gonna do? (that was bad)
Things You'll Need
- An instrument - the guitar,the piano or whatever you can play (recommended to have on hand to create the melody)
- Pencil or pen
- Paper or computer (depending on whether you choose to write or type your lyrics)
- You can also use your mobile phone instead of pen and paper
You Might Also Like
- ↑ http://www.songstuff.com/song-writing/article/aaba-song-form/
- ↑ https://www.careersinmusic.com/song-structure/
- ↑ https://www.fender.com/articles/play/parts-of-a-song-keep-it-straight
- ↑ https://online.berklee.edu/takenote/how-to-write-song-lyrics/
- ↑ https://thinkwritten.com/poetry-writing-inspiration/
- ↑ https://lens.monash.edu/@politics-society/2019/07/19/1375851?slug=the-future-of-music-notation-in-a-digital-world
- ↑ Amy Chapman, MA. Voice & Speech Coach. Expert Interview.1 April 2020.
- ↑ http://songwritinglessonsonline.com/howtowritemusiclyrics.html
- ↑ https://www.secretsofsongwriting.com/2017/03/01/how-to-know-if-your-song-is-good/
About This Article
To write song lyrics, try writing down everything that pops into your head for several minutes without stopping. Then, take a look at what you've written to see if anything inspires you. You can also try looking at different songs and poems for inspiration and to get an idea of what kind of lyrics you enjoy. As you're writing your song, focus on describing how you feel in interesting ways as opposed to just telling people, which will make your song more relatable and memorable. To learn how to organize your song, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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How to Write a Song (and Arrange and Record It)
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Creating original music can be the greatest feeling in the world, but it’s tough if you don’t know where to start. How do you write a song that excites you, and then how do you record, orchestrate, arrange, produce, and mix your track with style and quality?
Table of Contents: • Songwriting basics • Song melodies and hooks • Choose your sounds and instruments • Record, arrange, and layer • Edit and mix • Backup and bounce
Hopefully, this beginner’s guide to making music will set you on the right path. Even if it seems like an intimidating journey, it’s easy to get started, and easier once you’re moving. Here are tips for how to write a song from start to finish and help make your musical dreams come true.
Ask a thousand songwriters how they write their music and you’ll get a thousand different answers, all of them valid and worthy. Some musicians start with a musical or vocal melody that sticks with them, while others draw inspiration from a verbal phrase they dream up — or even a single word.
Many great artists begin with a rhythm, groove, or beat, while countless more great songs have been written in an effort to share a meaningful personal story or a feeling that can’t really be shared any other way.
Which approach is right for you? Whichever one works. You’ll probably find you use a variety of techniques as you build a catalog of songs. Here are a few tips to get you started on the songwriting process and take your idea through arrangement and recording.
- Always have a notebook handy, or an app on your mobile device where you can jot down lyrics, chord changes, or other ideas as they come.
- Get friendly with a basic recording app on your phone that will let you capture audio. Mobile devices now offer lots of sophisticated recording options, and these can be great, but even a basic voice memo app will let you record yourself singing a melody or musical idea so you can come back to it later.
- Play around with beats, grooves, loops, and samples and see what inspires you. Sometimes a crazy synth patch that you’ve never heard before is all you need to spark all sorts of songwriting ideas.
Regardless of where you find your song idea — or songwriting inspiration — and how you record your songs, always experiment, develop, discard, and rebuild songs from the ground up. Some great songs are written in minutes, while others take years. Again, the right answer here is whatever process works for you.
Song melodies and hooks
Getting the right melodies and hooks when you’re making music can be great fun. If an amazing melodic idea pops into your head for a verse or chorus, write it down or record it right away before you forget it. Or, if you can, grab your instrument of choice, start with your basic song structure, and get to experimenting.
Don’t rush the process of finding the right melodies and hooks for your music, and pay attention to what you find yourself humming in the shower. If a melody or hook sticks in your ear, chances are it’ll grab your listeners’ attention, too.
Even if you don’t know any music theory and aren’t a virtuoso on any instrument, you can still turn your vision into a great song . There’s zero shame in plugging in a basic MIDI keyboard, pulling up a sound you like, and tapping out different combinations of keys until something grabs your attention.
Most importantly, keep trying new things during the music production and writing process and don’t give up.
Choose your sounds and instruments
Thanks to digital technology, there are almost infinite possibilities when it comes to choosing sounds and instruments to work with. Sample packs, software synthesizers, loops, and the like — it’s easy and affordable to find yourself with a huge library of possibilities. A few tips to help you navigate:
- Treat this part of making music like you’re a kid in a candy store. Try out random loops just because you like the name. See if a virtual tuba could add an interesting texture, and if not, try an overdriven didgeridoo-style synth instead. Throw some trip-hop loops into your session, even if (or because) you’ve never listened to trip-hop before. You never know what you’ll stumble on and what might inspire your next creative step.
- Don’t obsess about finding the perfect sound. If you want a Hammond B-3 sound on your song, there are literally hundreds of pieces of software to make it happen. Most of them are excellent and will do the job. Don’t get paralyzed looking for the absolute best option, and don’t let decision fatigue hobble your creative momentum.
- Keep an ear out for what turns you on as a musician, songwriter, and music producer , not what sounds the popular flavor-of-the-minute song is using. That will help you sound like you and not a carbon copy of some Spotify playlist.
- If you choose to use samples, make sure learn how to sample music legally so you don’t run into issues after you record or release your music.
- Stay flexible. The sound or loop you’re looking for may not be the one you end up using in your song, and that’s just fine. Some of the best sonic inspiration can be found purely by accident.
Record, arrange, and layer
- Get a basic recording and producing setup that works. This will likely include a computer or high-performance mobile device, microphone, audio interface, MIDI controller, and speaker and/or headphones. You don’t have to have the fanciest or most expensive gear to make world-class music. Take inspiration from genres like bedroom pop — you can use raw and intimate takes and sounds and make authentic, accessible music.
- Learn on the job when it comes to recording, arranging, and layering your tracks. Don’t be afraid to try things, erase them, and try again. Experimentation and experience will teach you tons; when it comes to gaining practical skills and making your musical ideas into finished tracks, any number of YouTube tutorials, instructional books, courses, and other resources will teach you the rest.
- Don’t overdo it. One of the biggest mistakes beginning songwriters and producers make when making music is to try too hard. Don’t layer hundreds of sounds and tracks on top of each other unless your song really, truly needs it. Don’t get sentimental about parts or sounds and erase anything that doesn’t actively add to the power and musicality of your track. It can be easy to want to use all the sounds all the time, but less is often more when it comes to production and arranging.
- Trust your ears. If it sounds wrong to you, then it probably is.
Edit and mix
Once your parts are tracked and arranged, it’s time to make it sound like a finished record. Some of the most standard editing and mixing practices include:
- Adjusting volume and panning levels of each track to create a sense of space in your recording.
- Tweaking the equalization of different sounds, voices, and instruments to make sure your parts aren’t competing to occupy the same sonic space. (Nearly any digital audio workstation you work with will have plenty of EQ options to play with.)
- Adding reverb, compression, distortion, and other effects to give your sounds more depth and personality.
- Editing your audio to cut out any unwanted noises or distracting parts of your recorded performances.
- Crossfading between audio files, if you’re editing multiple takes together, for example.
Editing and mixing are arts unto themselves, but trust your ears and share your draft mixes with other musicians, engineers, and artists you trust. They may be able to hear and suggest things you’d never think of on your own.
Backup and bounce
One rule of thumb to use to ensure your work is secure: if a file doesn’t exist in three separate places, it doesn’t exist. The last thing you want is for your nearly finished song file to get corrupted, or the only hard drive housing it to keel over unexpectedly. Use cloud storage, thumb drives, or whatever else to make sure you have your precious work thoroughly protected, just in case.
Once your entire song is edited, mixed, and backed up to perfection, it’s time to export or bounce it as a stereo file. Before sharing your new music with the world, be sure to get it mastered — so make sure you bounce your song as a high-resolution AIF or WAV file (not an MP3).
Once your song is mixed and mastered, it’s time for the final steps — and Disc Makers can help you put your music on CDs and vinyl LPs so your new fans can get the best listening experience possible!
Related Posts The beginner music producer’s checklist Sixth chords add moody complexity to your music Who gets to decide if your songs are “great”? What is Bedroom Pop? Avoid overproducing your music
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How to write a pop song
By BBC Maestro Music Last updated: 02 November 2022
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If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head for days on end, it’s likely it was a pop song. With a catchy tune and memorable lyrics, pop songs are guaranteed to make you smile – and they’re deceptively simple to write too.
So, how can you write the next Mamma Mia , Baby One More Time , Could It Be Magic , or Uptown Funk ? Keep reading to find out how to write a pop song.
What is pop music?
- History of pop music
First things first, what exactly is pop music?
It’s a broad term, for a broad genre of music. Simply speaking, ‘pop music’ is short for ‘popular music’, and the two terms are often used interchangeably - although most in the music industry would agree that ‘popular music’ is a wider term, that includes many different styles of music that all happen to be popular.
Typically, all pop songs share some key characteristics. Pop songs usually have a repeated chorus and hooks, are short in length (usually between two and a half to three minutes) and have a catchy rhythm or beat that’s guaranteed to get people on the dance floor.
Pop songs are often big hits, and some people believe it is this commercial element that distinguishes pop music from other genres. Many pop songs are also big music award winners , with the Grammys and the American Music Awards being two of the most sought-after awards to win.
But there’s more to pop music than commercial success. There’s a reason that these songs are so popular - aside from the lyrics and beats that you can’t get out of your head. Pop music is loved by so many people because it addresses themes we can all relate to. Whether it’s about love or loss, pop songs tap into something in our common lived experience that makes us feel a sense of solidarity with the singer.
The history and evolution of pop
Although you might think of pop music as a very modern phenomenon, the term ’pop song’ was actually first used in 1926, to describe music ’having popular appeal’.
However, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that pop music made a name for itself. The genre originated in the USA and the UK, and blended elements of the most popular music styles of the time including jazz, country, rock and roll, rap and bebop.
- 1960s : In the ‘60s, pop started to pick up new influences with the surf sounds of the Beach Boys being hugely influential, and the Beatles’ blend of rock, folk and poppy elements.
- 1970s : Pop rock was also popular in the ‘70s, thanks to bands like Queen – and, of course, the influence of disco found its way into pop music too.
- 1980s : With the advent of digital recording in the 1980s, pop music took on a new slant with electronic beats and synth sounds. Madonna and Michael Jackson – known as the King and Queen of Pop – also took over the airwaves and small screens with their songs and epic music videos.
- 1990s : Girl and boy bands were hugely popular in the ‘90s, with the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Take That as some of the best-selling bands. Britpop was also popular, with rock influences that set bands like Blur and Oasis apart from the boy and girl bands of the music scene.
- 2000s : Pop punk had a big influence in this era, with bands like Blink-182, Good Charlotte and Avril Lavigne topping the charts. It was also the era of teen pop, with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera as the poster girls.
- 2010 s: Pop music began to be influenced by R&B, hip hop and dance music – largely thanks to producers like Mark Ronson , Calvin Harris and Timbaland, who blended elements from many different genres to produce pop hits, like the Ronson-produced Rehab by Amy Winehouse, and Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back, produced by Timbaland.
As you can see, pop music has evolved over the decades. The definition of pop music is ever-changing to incorporate the most popular music trends and genres.
Just as there’s no one set definition of what a pop song is, there’s no one single way to go about writing the next big hit. But here are some songwriting tips for crafting the perfect pop song.
In his BBC Maestro Songwriting course , Gary Barlow talks about the importance of listening to a wide variety of music, saying, “develop an appreciation for all sorts of music so you can incorporate different influences into your songs.”
Mark Ronson, in his Music Production course, agrees. He says, “I feel like studying the great records, even if it’s just to see how they work – that is your university.”
So, the best way to begin your journey into pop music writing is by listening to lots of different styles of music, as well as some of the biggest pop hits from the last few decades. Do you want to write the next great love song ? Or do you want to make a song that’s a floor filler for years to come? Develop a feel for what styles you like best and start to think about what elements you want to incorporate into your own pop song.
Start with the structure
Why are pop songs so catchy? It’s because they tend to follow a very similar structure, with repeated sections that are designed to get stuck in your head.
The typical sections of a pop song are:
The chorus is the key to any good pop song. As Gary Barlow says, “The chorus is the most important part of a song. It’s the bit that really grabs people, the bit they can’t stop singing.” He often starts songs by writing the chorus first, as a great chorus gives him a really strong foundation upon which to build the rest of the song.
The pre-chorus is the part of the song that comes between the verse and the chorus. It doesn’t feature in every song, but you’ll know what it is once you’ve heard it! A great example is in the song Firework by Katy Perry. The pre-chorus is repeated before the chorus, building up anticipation and smoothly connecting the verse and chorus.
A hook can be lyrical or instrumental, but either way, it’s a repeated piece of music that gets stuck in your listeners’ heads, creating an earworm. One of the best examples of a modern hook is the line “All the single ladies, all the single ladies” from Beyonce’s Single Ladies.
If the chorus is the catchy component of your song, it’s the verses that drive the narrative along making them an essential element of any pop song.
The bridge of a song is a transitional verse, usually with a key change or chord progressions. It’s not always used in pop songs, but it can give the opportunity to change the tone of the song, or if you want to add a twist to the story.
You don’t need to include all of these elements when writing your pop song, but it’s good to know the basics. Once you do, you can play around to create a song that’s uniquely yours.
Write the lyrics
Now you know the elements of any good pop song, it’s time to start writing it. Some people start with the lyrics and others with the melody – it’s entirely up to you, and you may even take a different approach every time you sit down to write.
So, how to write pop song lyrics? When it comes to writing, Gary Barlow cautions against getting too bogged down in the individual words: “You can get too caught up in making sense of a line. If it sounds good, put it in. If needs be, you can make it work later.” In other words, write down what you feel, and edit later.
Rather than thinking about what will make a big hit and trying to write a song that fits that mould, you’re more likely to create songs that resonate with people if you can write from the heart and be honest in the words you’re putting down on paper.
As Mark Ronson says, “When you’re doing the thing you love, and you are doing it for the pure joy and the love of the music, you shouldn’t be thinking about commercial expectations.”
Create the music
Lyrics are important for a good pop song – but so is the tune. You could start by playing around with chords to see what works for your song’s theme and lyrics. Gary Barlow says: “Chords are a great building block… The way a lot of people start songs is to just play a few songs and go ‘that makes me feel good, I like that’ or ‘that makes me feel sad, I like that’.”
You’ll also need to think about the tempo and melody. Although you might think of pop music as being upbeat and at a faster tempo, there are just as many popular songs that are much slower – in fact, some of the biggest pop hits of the last few years, like Hello by Adele and Sign of the Times by the Harry Styles are slow-paced songs. So really, anything goes for a pop song – it just has to be right for the song you’re creating.
Put it all together with production
The right production can really help to make a song pop. From adding samples to making your vocals stand out, music production can be the finishing touch that transforms a pop song into a massive hit. As Mark Ronson says in his music production course, “They spent the time singing it, writing it, why shouldn’t I spend the time making them sound as powerful or magical or as great as possible?”
You can either learn how to produce a song yourself or collaborate with an expert producer who’ll know how to best layer all the different elements of your songs to really make it shine. But know that it can take a while to get a song right – even for the experts!
It took Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars nine months to create Uptown Funk. Mark says, “on the first night, we had this jam and we wrote the first verse and the pre and it had such a good feeling and an energy to it.
When everyone in the room is feeling the vibe and everyone’s hair is standing up, there’s just a feeling where everyone is like into this idea. And then every time we tried to get back together to work on it, we never had anything as special as that first night we worked on it.”
But, despite that, he says there was just something in the song that he believed in. So, they persevered, and eventually, they created the end product we all know and love: a song that topped the charts in 19 countries and broke worldwide streaming records.
Writing the perfect pop song is a craft. Those three-minute-long songs sound simple, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes into creating a song that gets stuck in everyone’s head and resonates on a deep level with a broad audience.
Whether you want to create a slow-paced love song, or an upbeat funk-inspired track, the diverse influences behind pop mean there are a million ways to make a great pop song. So why not explore Gary Barlow’s Songwriting course or Mark Ronson’s Music Production course , and take your first steps towards writing the next big pop hit?
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The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Pop Song
This post helps you get your song started, but that’s only the beginning. My free ebook will take you step-by-step through the rest of the songwriting process–the same process I’ve used to write my Grammy Award winning hits.
Have you ever heard the latest, greatest pop hit and thought, “I wish I would have written that!”
Pop songs are catchy, they’re fun, and listeners can’t get enough of them.
Your favorite pop songs might seem to flow effortlessly, but what most listeners don’t see is all the work goes on behind the scenes to make them sound that way.
As songwriters, it’s our job to study what works — learning from both the classic greats and today’s hits — and figure out how to capture some of that magic in our own songs.
That means you have to put on your analysis hat.
There’s a lot to think about, but once you learn what kinds of things tend to make songs successful, it gets easier.
In this post, you’ll learn how to get started writing your next great pop song.
What is “Pop” or “Pop Music” Anyway?
As you’ve probably guessed, “pop” is short for “popular.”
The term applies broadly to anything that people are listening to now or songs that were popular in the past.
I like to call them songs for the masses. That includes radio songs, Top 40, the Billboard 100 and much more. Pop can be — and often is — a mishmash of different styles and genres.
There’s no strict single definition , and the genre evolves (like everything else in music).
The best way to think of pop is as a category of music which is distinct from classical, jazz, or folk. It’s typically focused on creating hit singles for teens or general audiences — as opposed to rock, which is more album-based and geared toward adults.
The term pop came out of the ‘50s and ‘60s, thanks to bands like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and ABBA.
“Rock” and “pop” used to be used interchangeably, but in the ‘60s, pop started to refer more to music that was more commercial and widely accepted.
What Does a Pop Song Sound Like?
Today’s pop songs are typically shorter in length (around three minutes), with repeating hooks and choruses. They often feature grooves, beats, and rhythms at tempos you can dance to.
They’re catchy and memorable — people want to hear them over and over again and sing along. Mostly, pop songs make listeners feel something they can’t wait to feel again.
Pop music tends to borrow heavily from other styles, including rock, dance, R&B, Latin, country and more.
In general, pop has three main characteristics :
- It’s light entertainment
- It appeals to listeners’ identities
- It’s commercially viable
In other words, pop doesn’t have to embrace any of the deeper or heavier topics that folk, rap, rock, or country music might (although, at certain points in music history one of these genres might be considered “pop”). It doesn’t necessarily inspire social or political change. Instead, pop songs stick to non-controversial themes around love, relationships, living life, and having fun.
According to British musicologist Simon Frith , the main purpose of pop music is to create revenue (and that’s not a bad thing for us as songwriters, as pop hits can be quite lucrative .)
So, what do you need to know about writing pop songs?
Glad you asked!
Let’s start with a review of the parts of a song and song structure.
Parts of a Song and Pop Song Structure
Music structure is really hardwired into our brains, whether we realize it or not.
We’ve all learned to recognize patterns that tell us we’re listening to songs and not just a bunch of noise. Like stories, songs and even instrumentals have defined beginnings, middles and ends.
Music that doesn’t follow these recognizable patterns is confusing to listeners — and if your audience can’t figure out what they’re listening to within the first few seconds, they’re likely to get frustrated and tune out.
As songwriters, we want to avoid that.
We can start with understanding the parts of a song.
The Parts of a Song
There are several main parts of songs that you need to know. You could run across others, or you might hear different terms for the same parts.
Don’t worry about using every part in every song. Instead, listen to each song as you write it and see what it needs. You can experiment with the bare bones or be creative and try writing sections you might not typically use.
Either way, you’ll grow as a songwriter and start to get a better feel for what works and what doesn’t.
Intro: Start your songs by warming up your listeners. Grab their interest and prepare them for what’s to come. Above all, keep this section short.
Verse: Your verses tell your story, move the song along, and lead listeners on a journey into the big energy of your chorus.
Pre-chorus: Also known as the build, channel, lift, or rise, this is often a four-bar section, but it could be longer. Its job is to build energy and anticipation going into the chorus. Pre-courses are currently popular in radio hits.
Chorus: The catchiest, highest energy, and most distinctive and memorable part of your song. It should be easy to sing along with after hearing it only a couple of times. Your chorus will include your song’s theme and or hook. You can and should repeat it several times.
Note: These days, it’s important to get to the chorus in less than a minute if your goal is radio airplay.
Bridge: A transition section that contains surprising lyrics or a story twist. It will also be a musical break for listeners’ ears, to keep them on their toes and prevent them from tuning out because the song has become predictable. The bridge is usually a shorter section, sometimes called the Middle Eight. Bridges aren’t used as frequently in today’s popular music. Only add one if the song really needs it.
Instrumental/break/solo: Another optional section. You can use it to add interest and variety, or to change the energy of a song before going into the next section (often a final chorus).
Drop: Another optional section where the bass, drum or other instrument parts “drop out,” temporarily in order to build energy going into a final chorus.
Outro: Your song’s ending. It might repeat the chorus or a part of the chorus several times, or repeat another hook. Always go back to the emotion you want to leave your listeners with. Do you want to fade the song out (best for radio), end abruptly, or leave listeners on a high note? Try a few possibilities.
Hook: This term is sometimes confusing because it’s frequently used to refer to your chorus (or a line in your chorus) that’s repeated frequently throughout the song. It could also be the same as your song’s title.
A true hook is anything distinctive about a song that’s memorable, grabs listeners, and delivers an emotional payoff. A hook could be a vocal or musical phrase, riff, beat, or rhythm — anything that sets your song apart. Every song should have at least one hook, but it could have more.
From the parts of a song, we can look at song structures.
Commonly Used Pop Song Structures
Song structure (or format) refers to the patterns, order, or arrangement of different parts of songs.
Listeners won’t necessarily know or care about the mechanics, but as songwriters, we need to pay attention.
Here are some of the structures used in hit songs:
- Verse—chorus—verse—chorus—instrumental or solo—chorus
- Verse—chorus—verse—chorus—verse—chorus (also known as A/B)
- Chorus (or part of a chorus)—verse—chorus—verse—chorus—bridge—chorus
Check out some of your favorite pop songs and see if you can figure out what structures they’re using. Then ask yourself how you can use them in your own songwriting.
For beginners, I recommend you start with this structure. It will help you build skills writing pop music.
- Solo or instrumental section
- Final chorus
Next up, you’ll build your melody and chord progressions. You might come up with one or the other first, or you might build them at the same time.
Writing Pop Song Melodies
Great melodies can make your songs unforgettable.
Always decide on your song’s theme or main concept first — it’s the glue that will hold your song together.
Then make sure that your melody reinforces or at least works well with your theme. When your melody fits the song, listeners can get a good idea what it’s about even if they can’t hear all the lyrics.
For example, not every song about heartbreak has to sound like a funeral dirge. You can use upbeat music and juxtapose it with your lyrics. But if you do this, do this intentionally. Think: my heart is broken but I’ll be okay.
A few tips for writing melodies:
- Take listeners on a journey. Be aware of the energy in your verses and in your choruses. Use more skips and leaps in the chorus for example, and build toward a big climax at the end of your song.
- Write conversationally and match the natural rhythm of your lyrics. You can check yourself this way: If you wouldn’t say something in an informal conversation with friends, in general, avoid saying it in your song. Otherwise, your lyrics could seem stilted or awkward.
- Choose a key that people can easily sing along with.
- Mix things up — don’t be afraid to play with rhythm, the length of your notes between verses and courses, or timing.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat the cool parts! If you’ve got a great melody, lean into it. People will want to hear it — and sing it — over and over again.
And if you want to deep diver into melody writing, check out How To Write A Melody .
Pop Song Chord Progressions
You don’t need a degree in music in order to write great chord progressions. But you do need to learn at least some of the basics of music theory.
Again, check back with your theme . Know what emotions you want to evoke and then study the chord progressions that create those emotions.
This helps keep your songs interesting and gives them that emotional punch listeners want. It also helps to make sure all your songs don’t sound the same.
Some of the most popular chord progressions in pop music include:
- I-V-vi-IV — “Someone Like You” by Adele, “When I Come Around” by Green Day
- I-vi-IV-V — “All the Ways” by Meghan Trainor, “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers
- I-IV-vi-V — “Home” by Daughtry, “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers
- I-IV-V — “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, “Funky Cold Medina” by Tone Loc
- I-V-IV-V — “Take On Me” by A-ha, “My Heart Will Go On” by Céline Dion
- ii-V-I — “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake, “Memories” by David Guetta
- vi-V-IV-V — “In the End” by Linkin Park, “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye
- The 12-Bar Blues — “Johnny B Goode” by Chuck Berry, “Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Led Zeppelin
Next up, writing your lyrics.
How to Write Pop Song Lyrics
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m again going to point you back to your theme.
It’s much easier, and a lot more fun, to write lyrics when you start with a great theme or concept. So make sure yours is solid before you start writing.
A great concept sparks great ideas. One thing you’ll hear Nashville songwriters say over and over is, “Write to the hook.”
What they mean by that is to make sure that all your lyrics lead into the main theme of your song. Many times, that main hook is your song’s title or the first or last line of your chorus.
All your verses should move your story forward, toward the big pay off in your choruses and the big climax at the end of your song.
It’s often helpful to ask yourself, “Where does the story want to go next?” Or, “What’s the best line to go into this chorus?”
Also, craft your lyrics so they match the energy of the song. In other words, if you’re using a driving dance beat, use punchy, powerful phrases.
Next, be sure to study rhymes and rhyme schemes. Few things will make all your songs sound the same as using the same simple rhyme schemes over and over.
Experiment — not just between songs but also within a song. You don’t have to use the same rhyme scheme for your verses as you do for your choruses, for example.
You can get loads of examples in 15 Essential Rhyme Schemes for Songwriters .
And as always, listen to your favorite songs as well as today’s hits and collect inspiration from what they do.
7 Steps to Write a Pop Song
I’ve gone into detail on all these steps in my post How to Write a Song , but here they are again as a quick review.
Remember that you don’t have to do these steps exactly in order. If you come up with lyrics first, you can build the rest of your song around them. If you’re inspired by a riff, start there. And don’t worry if you have to come back and tweak something later — it’s all part of the process!
Step 1: Grab your songwriting tools
You’ll need an instrument, some central place to store all your ideas, and a basic recording device. Your phone will work well to help you capture inspiration, no matter when or where it comes to you.
Be bold. Don’t be afraid to switch things up and try an instrument you don’t know very well, or change up your environment or your writing approach. Inspiration truly comes from anywhere !
You’ll need a computer and a DAW if you plan to record your own demos.
Step 2: Pick a strong theme
Your theme or concept is your single main, unifying idea. Your concept can be your song’s title, it can be a story, it can be inspiration from something that you observed in real life.
Don’t make the mistake of simply choosing a topic, like dancing. Instead, answer the question: so what about it? Maybe your theme could be, “I don’t feel like dancing tonight.”
If your topic is relationships, you could ask, “How did I get into this mess?” The key is to come up with a great idea that will inspire you to finish the full song — and it really does make writing easier.
Keep all your inspiration handy and in one place, so that you don’t have to search through Post-It notes on your desk or napkins in your car whenever you’re ready to sit down and write a song. These days, you can find songwriting software tools that you can access on your phone, tablet, or desktop.
Step 3: Choose your song structure
Pay attention to what’s popular in pop today. That’s not to say that you can’t ever break out of the mold, but if you want to write for the masses, you should know what’s working right now.
Then you can choose when to go along with the trends or stretch the rules a bit.
You can always tweak your structure midstream, but it helps if you have an idea of your goal before you get started.
Again, here’s the structure that I recommend beginners start with:
- Solo or instrumental
Step 4: Write your pop song lyrics
Pop songs lyrics tend to be simple and repetitive. Not saying that’s a rule, but this type of lyric writing really lends itself to the pop format. Your storytelling might be more conceptual than specific and that’s okay too. Let your audience fill in their own interpretations.
Know your rhyming options but don’t let a rhyme scheme lock you in. If you’re really struggling to make a particular rhyme scheme work, change it to fit your lyrics instead of the other way around.
Step 5: Build your melody
I always recommend you keep your melodies simple. This is especially true in pop songs.
Listeners should only have to hear your chorus once or twice before they’re able to sing along. Keep it nursery-rhyme simple.
Be willing to tweak your melody to fit your lyrics and vice versa. Songwriting is a creative process and you’ll definitely have some back-and-forth before you settle on your final version.
Step 6: Choose your chord progressions
Songwriters often use different chord progressions in verses, choruse s, and bridges. This builds interest and gives listeners’ ears a break.
You can keep the same chord progression throughout an entire song as long as you vary the melody, rhythm, dynamics, and other aspects enough to keep people engaged. For example, it should be clear where your verses end and where your choruses begin.
We can go deep into music theory when talking about layering chord progressions and melodies. But the best way to get started is to play around with some of the progressions that I’ve listed above and see what fits best.
Finally, don’t feel intimidated if you’re not a theory expert. Many songwriters write good melodies intuitively. Don’t try to talk yourself out of a melody that works well simply because it doesn’t fit all the theory rules.
Step 7: Record your demo
Congrats, you made it! It’s time to record your demo .
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. You can capture your song as you write it or finish it first and then record your final version.
Don’t worry about making your recording fancy or perfect. It should sound professional, but you don’t necessarily need the full band treatment. Keyboard or guitar and vocals are fine.
If you plan to pitch your song to an artist or publisher or share with other musicians, you can add more instrumentation.
Either way, set your recording aside for a day or two after you’ve finished it so that you can come back and listen with fresh ears. You may catch some lyrics that don’t quite make sense or notice where the song might be dragging. You may also be inspired to add a cool riff or harmony.
How to Write a Hit Pop Song
And there you have it.
Everything you need to write your first — or next — pop song.
If you’ve ever dreamed of hearing your songs played on the radio, in a football stadium, or at a local dance club, you owe it to yourself to give pop songwriting a try.
You can tap into so many different musical styles and really stretch yourself as a songwriter.
And who knows? One of your songs may be the next one on the Jumbotron!
If you want more tips, tricks, and advice, grab my e-book on How to Write a Song .
Have fun! I can’t wait to hear what you come up with.
Turn Your Inspiration Into a Song That Gets Played on Repeat
Enter your name and email to get my FREE step-by-step songwriting guide – the same process I used to create my 6 number 1 songs on the Billboard charts.
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#5onFri: Five Tips for Writing about the ’60s
Nov 25, 2022 by Susen Edwards published in Writing
I’m a stickler for detail, as all writers should be. When I read about an event, a film, a song, or a place I’m familiar with, I’ll do a quick internet search to see if the writer has done their homework. When I find an error, it makes me question the reliability of the author, as well as the reliability of the narrative. With Wikipedia and other resources at our fingertips, fact-checking can and should be a part of every writer’s toolbox.
What a Trip is set in the late ’60s, a time of social and political upheaval. I was fortunate enough to have come of age during the era, but I couldn’t trust my memory’s timeline. I researched every historical event, every piece of music, and every detail in the novel.
Writing that includes historical elements brings your reader into the scene, allowing them to engage with your characters and the story. Details on transportation, clothing, conversation/dialect/slang, music, entertainment, books, and food help set the stage. If you describe your character’s hairstyle, makeup, and clothing, she’ll come alive. If music is playing in the background, name the artist and song. If a car figures in your scene, mention the make, model, year, and color. Remember, balance is key. Don’t overdo it.
My five tips for writing about any era are:
- Do your research
- Double-check your facts
- Put yourself into the scene
- Live life through your characters
- Make them believable.
When writing about the ’60s, it’s important to focus on these five areas:
1. The Vietnam War and Political Climate
The Vietnam War was the first truly televised war, bringing battles and body count into the homes of most Americans nightly. Anti-war protests began in the mid-1960s on college campuses and in left-wing circles, but by the end of the decade, anti-war sentiment became more mainstream.
The largest nationwide anti-war protest in history occurred on November 15, 1969, followed two weeks later by the Selective Service System’s Draft Lottery on December 1, also known as Nixon’s Draft Lottery. It determined the order of call to military service for men born from 1944 through 1950. The Kent State Massacre on May 4, 1970, in which the Ohio National Guard killed four and wounded nine students during a peace rally on the Kent State campus, further ignited anti-war protests.
Political tension was palpable, as was the clash between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers. Times were changing, social and political views were under attack. This tension, more than anything, set the stage for the decade, and decades to come.
A great deal of information about the Vietnam War and societal sentiment is available online. Whether you’re writing from the point of view of someone opposing or someone supporting the political agenda of the day, find sources from the time. Photos from campus rallies and marches on Washington will give you a feel for the energy and magnitude of the events. Be sure to check out close-ups of the people: their clothing and hairstyles, their facial expressions, their attitude, and any signs they’re carrying.
2. Music and Media in the ’60s
While most periods are defined by their music, the Woodstock era is often regarded as the pinnacle of self-expression that defines this time. Rock ’n roll, folk, and protest songs left their mark on society and in history. Musicians such as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Country Joe and the Fish, and Neil Young were politically outspoken in their music.
References to popular music in your writing will help ground your reader in history. Make sure you research albums, hits from the albums, and popular titles; above all, coordinate release dates to events in your story.
Listening to the music of the time can help put you in the mood to write about the ’60s. As a special treat for your readers, create a playlist on Spotify or another platform. Whether you include it in your novel or your social media, you’ll give your readers one more connection to you and the setting of your story. You’ll find my What a Trip playlist on my website , or on Spotify .
Mentions of specific publications, books, and TV shows also help anchor your reader. Once again, be sure to research publication/release dates. Wikipedia can provide you with lineups of TV shows of the day.
Reminder: If you plan to include lyrics or quotes from any songs or books, get permission before publishing!
3. Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n Roll
The ’60s were a time of sexual revolution. The advent of birth control pills earlier in the decade gave women the freedom to express their sexuality without fear of unwanted pregnancy. I don’t refer directly to the Women’s Movement in What a Trip , but my female characters are emerging from the constraints of their parents’ generation in terms of their sexuality, their goals, and their dreams.
Abortion was illegal in 1969 when Melissa, one of the major characters in What a Trip , finds herself pregnant. A young woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy could give birth and place the baby up for adoption, or have a “back alley” or self-induced abortion, which put the life of the mother in jeopardy. Melissa is able to convince her doctor that she is mentally unfit to bear a child and is granted an abortion. A huge amount of pre-Roe v. Wade information is available online, especially in these post-Roe days.
Marijuana and psychedelics played a huge part in the mores of the time. When writing about the ’60s, make sure not only to use the drug slang of the day but also consider having your characters indulge in the most popular “highs” of the time, which included pot/grass, hash, acid, and mescaline.
4. The Occult
Many readers forget (or never knew) the widespread interest in the occult during the 1960s. Popular films such as Rosemary’s Baby and TV shows such as Bewitched ignited curiosity about the supernatural. Eastern philosophy, reincarnation, astrology, witchcraft (Wicca), tarot, and psychic phenomena featured prominently in popular culture, once again challenging the traditional, conservative values of prior generations.
5. Language of the ’60s
Characters in any novel should speak naturally, using slang and idioms of the times. When writing dialogue, a writer needs to get into their characters’ heads and bodies. How would she say that? What would his reaction be? Expressions such as “sock it to me” and “flower power” were more a part of mainstream media than “heavy, man” or “far out.” But how would a writer know the difference? Use this handy reference tool .
Hippie conversations were peppered with profanities and layered with slang. I also recommend watching movies such as Easy Rider and Woodstock , the film, to study how people spoke. Remember: Being cool was everything. Barriers came down. Just don’t overdo it.
Finally, remember writing is an adventure, so enjoy the journey—whenever and wherever your writing takes you!
Susen Edwards is the founder and former director of Somerset School of Massage Therapy, New Jersey’s first state-approved and nationally accredited postsecondary school for massage therapy. During her tenure she was nominated by Merrill Lynch for Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. After the successful sale of the business, she became an administrator at her local community college. She is currently secretary for the board of trustees for her town library and a full-time writer. Her passions are yoga, cooking, reading, and, of course, writing. Susen lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, Bob, and her two fuzzy feline babies, Harold and Maude. She is the author of Doctor Whisper and Nurse Willow , a children’s fantasy .
You can find her on her website , and follow her on Facebook , and Instagram .
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5 Tips In Creating Your ’60s Classic Rock Playlist
via The Beatles/YouTube
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Today’s technology allows us to create playlists and play them anytime, anywhere. Thanks to various streaming services, you don’t have to carry around bulky cassette or CD players. Just a few clicks and you can now listen to your favorite song. Taking full advantage of this, here are some tips on creating your playlist from the 1960s – one of the greatest eras in rock ‘n roll.
5. Try to limit to one song per artist.
It’s relatively easy to get overwhelmed with so many accessible music out there but if you enjoy several songs from one rock act e.g. The Beatles, you can create a separate playlist for their catalog alone. Also, keep the tracks somewhere between 30 to 50 – with way too many options, you’re more likely to skip some of them.
4. Include some live cuts.
Live albums were an attempt to capture the magic of an artist’s performance. It’s a hit or miss for most. But it helped launch the career of musicians who churned out less than stellar studio records but shined with every number on stage. James Brown’s Live at the Apollo , Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison , Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead , and Jerry Lee Lewis’ Live at the Star Club, Hamburg are just some of greatest live LPs from the ’60s.
3. Pick those that best captured the decade’s sound.
Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit , The Doors’ Light My Fire , Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love , The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds , and The Monkees’ I’m A Believer are just some tracks that encapsulated the essence of the decade. Of course, at the end of the day, always pick what you love. So you don’t have to bother adding it to your playlist if it doesn’t strike your fancy no matter how popular the song is.
2. Add variety and diversity to your playlist.
In the 1960s, rock began to cross over into other territories like folk and country. Songs from Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers are always good choices. You can even mix in some Motown music and ballads. Having a theme is great but adding diversity will keep it exciting. Just make sure the songs are cohesive – meaning, there’s a nice flow from one song to the next.
1. Consider the underrated gems.
What’s better than popular tracks? The deep cuts and rarities that deserved more appreciation. The Moody Blues’ Legend Of A Mind , The Youngbloods’ Darkness, Darkness , Blind Faith’s Had To Cry Today , The Hollies’ On A Carousel , Donovan’s Season Of The Witch , and Ten Years After’s No Title are all criminally underrated but they’re just as awesome as the songs that dominated the airwaves.
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Do You Know the Opening Lyrics of These ’60s Songs?
About This Quiz
Music is an outlet for people. Many people even have different genres and time periods they crank up depending on their moods. You may find that a little rap is great when you're in the car on a bright sunny day, or you might notice how classic rock takes you back in time when you want to sit on the porch with a cold one.
There is one decade, however, when the music was so good, so pure and so on point that you could probably listen to it at any time, in any mood. That decade is the 1960s. Rock and roll was a burgeoning genre. People had no idea what to do when dancing replaced toe-tapping, and some of them protested the sounds that emerged. But we all know that when the adults complain, youth rebel. From the British invasion to the gloriously political rock and roll sounds that came out of the 1960s, music made a definite change, and it wasn't about to apologize.
If you grew up in the '60s, or you have a special place in your heart for the music that changed the world, you probably know a few lyrics to a few songs. But can you tell us the opening lines to all of these hits?
Though most songs that had specific dances that went along with them didn't last long, "The Twist" made its way into our hearts, and everyone now knows how to swing their hips and knees around to this beat.
In the 1960s, it was totally normal for women to beg men for love. Of course, a song like this wouldn't make it very far these days, but the sound the Ronettes gave us was good enough to help this one become timeless.
Though this is a rock anthem, it really is just about a bar that was on fire. We suppose inspiration can come from anywhere, and sometimes it comes from watching a bar burn and smoke cover the river.
Ben E. King brought this song to us in 1961, and we soon realized that gorgeous music comes from all walks of life. This song touched many people, and it still does today, because whenever life's troubles get to be too much for us, we can turn it up loud.
Any list of pop songs of the 1960s would not be complete without this song by The Monkees. Alright, they weren't great at spelling, but they were amazing at creating catchy tunes with fun lyrics.
The Foundations had a big hit with "Build Me Up Buttercup" in 1968. This song has been used in countless movies for actors to lip sync to, and it also works as an excellent karaoke tune.
The 1960s were a tumultuous time. Children were running away from home to sing in the streets and "fight the power." Songs like this inspired people to leave their small towns behind and start anew.
Everyone knows this song as "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch," but it was actually called "I Can't Help Myself" when it was released in 1965. When you really think about the lyrics, it's quite a sad song about love and loss.
Elvis was huge in the 1960s. Not only did he serve in the military, but he also gave us some of the most memorable music released back then. While some believe that he is still alive, others just enjoy listening to his music.
The Rolling Stones had quite a few hits over the years, and as their later songs became more popular, many forgot about this 1966 classic. It was bold and a little weird, but that is what rock music needed at the time.
This song made a comeback in the 1990s (actually, we don't think it ever really left), and it is clear that this wild music gave everyone a little jolt. It showed people of 1966 that you could have a simple song with simple lyrics, and it could be great.
If you're looking for a wholesome song to sing to your child, this is the one for you. It is so perfectly pure, and it is simply about how much a man loves his girl and how happy she makes him.
Diana Ross was something special, and everyone in the 1960s saw it. She was bold and had a voice that just wouldn't quit. This song really helped her gain traction in the pop world.
Though 1960s pop was full of women begging men, The Temptations flipped the script and sang a song about how they needed the woman, and crying was totally cool, as long as she stayed.
"... I hunger for your touch" ... eh hem, sorry, we couldn't not finish that line. This song has been in dozens of movies, but none so memorable as that crazy scene in "Ghost" (1990). Yas.
Alright, we'll admit that The Shirelles weren't the greatest performers, but their voices were unique (and hey, dancing around stages wasn't super important at the time). This song reminds us that people don't necessarily have to love you forever.
Jim Morrison changed the way we look at music, rock music to be more specific. It didn't have to bend or bow to the masses; it just had to be art. The Doors always seemed to give us exactly what we needed.
The Beatles were the very definition of cool when it came to the 1960s. They were chased and followed by screaming mobs. It's a miracle the remaining members can hear anything, as just watching videos of them back then is an all-out assault on the eardrums.
Anyone who has learned about a breakup from rumors and gossip holds this song deep in their hearts. It's all about heartbreak and the difficulty of young love. The sound and the lyrics still hold up today.
Sonny and Cher were the ultimate duo, and we just loved seeing them. Even after they divorced, this song was heard quite a bit on the airwaves, and Cher even sings it at her Las Vegas shows to this day.
There's nothing like a song about a guy who walks around with a tambourine. We'll admit, some of the songs of the 1960s were a little odd, but that was art trying to find itself in a way.
All of these things happened to the character in this song, of course, but it was totally alright, because he was Jumpin' Jack Flash. This song was weird and had some odd lyrics, but it is always worthy of a crank up when you hear it played.
The Kinks were way ahead of their time (as far as sound goes). While some didn't know what to do with this new sound, other's brought it into the light and made it quite famous. This song is unique and original.
Few songs could make it as college go-tos the way that "Sweet Caroline" (1969) did. It was (and still is) a song that everyone can wrap their heads around and actually relate to on a deeper level.
Bob Dylan wrote poetry and sang it with an acoustic guitar in the background. He wrote complete stories and wasn't concerned with how long the song was going to end up being. It was finished when it was finished, and there is no purer form of music.
When it came to pop music, the 1960s gave us various sounds by various artists. "Please Mr. Postman" was the kind of song that you sang out loud as a child and as an adult. It held a yearning that we all remember having at one point in our lives.
So maybe "Magic Carpet Ride" was a better song, but "Born to Be Wild" was probably the most famous song by Steppenwolf. While it seems like a nice song now, it was a powerful rock hit when it was released in 1968.
"Nobody's right if everybody's wrong," are lyrics that we could stand to put on repeat for a while. There is a lot we can all learn from American folk music of the 1960s, and if nothing else, we can just enjoy the sound.
Creedence Clearwater Revival had many different sounds, and it seemed like they had a song for every mood you were in. Are you feeling political? "Fortunate Son" is available. Need to dance? "Suzie Q" is always ready.
Sam Cooke had one of the most unique voices of his generation (and it was a generation of some pretty unique voices). While only a few of his songs have stood the test of time, his entire library is always nice to revisit.
When you boil down the lyrics to this song, they seem rather creepy. It's about a guy who knows a little too much. Alright, maybe he's hurt, but that doesn't make stalking acceptable.
Jimi Hendrix had some powerful lyrics, and let's be honest, many great singers have tried to recreate this song, but nothing compares to Jimi's rendition. He was a musical god, and we all bowed to him.
It might just be impossible to listen to this song without starting to dance (or at the very least bob your head and tap your feet to the beat). It's just such a fantastic song all around. The music, the beat, the lyrics and James Brown. How could anything be wrong with this song?
When you listen to the lyrics of this song, it tells the story of young love, change and memories. "Brown Eyed Girl" might have some of the most powerful lyrics produced in music, but it is also punchy and fun to dance to.
There is something about how The Beach Boys worked together to create beautiful harmonies that makes their music pure and wholesome. This is definitely a signature song of 1966, and we still listen to it today.
How many of these '60s songs can you name based on just the lyrics?
Posted: November 3, 2023 | Last updated: November 3, 2023
Guess the '60s song!
Most of the time, the part of a song’s lyrics that you remember best are the same ones that appear in the song title. So if someone tries to stump you by asking, “What song has the words ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in the lyrics?” you’re likely to get the answer right.
There are also plenty of songs with memorable verses and other stanzas that don’t mention the title. In our never-ending quest to sharpen readers’ minds, we have chosen such memorable couplets and leave it to you to correctly identify the songs they come from. See if you’re up to the challenge and name these 15 memorable songs from the 1960s by a snippet of the lyrics.
Answer: ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix (1967)
This revolutionary piece of music by Jimi Hendrix changed everything for guitar players. Most had been happy to treat the guitar like a rhythm instrument to strum away on, but this young man from Seattle came along and raised the game for everybody.
Answer: ‘Time of the Season’ by The Zombies (1968)
The chorus may be the most memorable bit, but all of the lyrics are stellar. Songwriter Rod Argent penned a lot of memorable music for this group, and it’s all worth seeking out, since you rarely hear it on the radio.
Answer: ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harum (1967)
The crowd called out for decades more Procol Harum after this, their first hit. The lineup changed constantly but singer Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid were its mainstays, and they had a good run together as co-songwriters.
Answer: ‘Dancing in the Street’ by Martha and the Vandellas (1964)
Co-written by Marvin Gaye, this Martha and the Vandellas classic has been covered by artists ranging from the Kinks to Van Halen. It was also covered in 1985 by David Bowie and Mick Jagger, but that was deeply embarrassing so we’re going to pretend it never happened.
Answer: ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by The Beatles (1969)
George Harrison’s song could have been extremely trite in the hands of a lesser lyricist, but “the quiet Beatle” did a bang-up job of it. This song never loses its magic no matter how many times you hear it, and we’ve all heard it a lot.
‘Out of Time’ by The Rolling Stones (1966)
Originally written by Jagger-Richards for singer Chris Farlowe, the Stones recorded their own version too, and debate has raged for decades as to which version is better. Either way, it’s a great kiss-off song for when you want to tell someone that they’ve burned a bridge with you.
Answer: ‘Masters of War’ by Bob Dylan (1963)
Bob Dylan may be affiliated with the peace-and-love folk movement, but he could craft a really barbed lyric when he wanted to. This one is just such a lyric, and it’s parenthetically amusing to note that the album it can found on refers to Mr. Dylan as “freewheelin’.”
Answer: ‘Stand By Your Man’ by Tammy Wynette (1968)
The song that made Tammy Wynette a star also features prominently in one of the best scenes in “The Blues Brothers.” However, we hasten to add that your man does any of the stuff Tammy says he does, pack your bags immediately. It’s not going to improve.
Answer: ‘Venus in Furs’ by the Velvet Underground (1967)
Lou Reed and co. were second to none in singing about America’s soft white underbelly. This song about sadomasochism was released decades before polite society could handle it, and even today some people are still squeamish on the subject.
Song No. 10
Answer: ‘It’s Not Unusual’ by Tom Jones (1965)
This man could sing the phone book and it would be glorious, but Les Reed and Gordon Mills wrote him some great lyrics. Our only problem is that we can’t imagine Tom Jones wanting for a date, what with all the hotel room keys and unmentionables that female audiences used to throw at him when he was onstage.
Song No. 11
Answer: ‘I Fall to Pieces’ by Patsy Cline (1961)
Ugh, we’ve all been there, and it stinks. We would probably be able to identify with these lyrics even if they came from the mouth of William Hung, but coming from an exquisite practitioner like Patsy Cline, the line is completely devastating.
Song No. 12
Answer: ‘Okie from Muskogee’ by Merle Haggard (1969)
This song will forever be misunderstood, but not because the lyrics are anything less than phenomenal. Just as “Stand By Your Man’ became the song Tammy Wynette got asked about in every interview, “Okie from Muskogee” followed Merle Haggard around wherever he went.
Song No. 13
‘Dazed and Confused’ by Led Zeppelin (1969)
Led Zeppelin considered themselves a blues band, among other things, so this song of a man done wrong by his woman is thematically appropriate. But while we’re sorry for your emotional pain and suffering, Led Zeppelin, we feel a lot less sorry for you when we Google “Led Zeppelin mud shark.”
Song No. 14
Answer: ‘The End’ by the Doors (1967)
The Lizard King was great at warbling stoned existential nonsense, such as in this 11-minute meditation on a single note. It’s been parodied on “The Simpsons,” which means it will likely be remembered until the end of time.
Song No. 15
Answer: ‘Pinball Wizard’ by the Who (1969)
In 1969, the Who released their rock opera, “Tommy,” about a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” who’s also able to play pinball. A bunch of nutty stuff happens after that, which takes up a full 75 minutes and 24 songs to get through, but most of it is pretty good, provided you skip “Underture.”
This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.
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Five Thoughts About the Beatles’ Last Song, “Now and Then”
Modern technology (and the mind of Paul McCartney) have crafted a 45-year-old John Lennon demo into what is likely the last new song by the Beatles. Was it worth the effort?
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The last album the Beatles recorded ended with “The End.” (Unless you count “ Her Majesty .”) But the actual end of the band’s official output—at least according to the marketing materials—came on Thursday, when the corporate entity called the Beatles released “Now and Then.” The song, which was written by John Lennon in the late 1970s and demoed on a handheld cassette recorder perched on his piano, was considered for the full-band treatment during the 1995 Beatles Anthology project, when the surviving “Threetles” (Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr) worked with producer Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra and Traveling Wilburys fame to finish a few of Lennon’s songs.
Included on the tapes Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, had given McCartney were demos of four tracks: “Free As a Bird,” “Real Love,” “Grow Old With Me,” and “Now and Then.” Lennon’s former bandmates recorded the first two but passed on recording “Grow Old With Me,” which had already been released on the posthumous Milk and Honey in 1984. (Starr and McCartney would eventually cover it on Starr’s 2019 solo album, What’s My Name .) After some experimentation, they also rejected “Now and Then,” largely at the behest of Harrison, who thought the quality of Lennon’s demo was insufficient for a full-fledged recording.
Harrison passed in 2001, but McCartney never dropped the idea of returning to the song, which seems to hold some special significance for him: According to Carl Perkins, Lennon’s last words to McCartney were “Think about me every now and then, old friend,” which may have made the demo smack of a message from the beyond. Recent technological advances made that message much clearer: Peter Jackson’s machine audio learning algorithm ( MAL , named for Beatles roadie and confidant Mal Evans ), which was developed for the 2021 documentary The Beatles: Get Back , isolated Lennon’s vocal from its piano accompaniment and removed the hum and background sounds that marred the original recording. The Beatles version of the song, which was coproduced by McCartney and Beatles producer George Martin’s son Giles, incorporates Lennon’s singing, Harrison’s 1995 guitar work, harmonies sampled from Beatles songs of the ’60s, new recordings by McCartney and Starr, and additional orchestration.
Speaking of orchestration, “Now and Then” is the centerpiece of a three-part, three-day rollout: on Wednesday, a short film about the making of the track; on Thursday, the song itself ; and on Friday, Jackson’s music video. It’s also an enticement to purchase some merch: For the full-circle feels, the song is being sold as a double-A-side single alongside a MAL-demixed, stereo version of the Beatles’ mono first single, “Love Me Do”—a figurative “Hello, Goodbye.” It will also appear on newly expanded, remixed, and demixed releases of the band’s vintage greatest-hits compilations, known as the Red and Blue albums.
“Now and Then” almost certainly won’t remain in your rotation as long as the rest of the cuts on those classic comps, but at minimum, it’s a fascinating artifact. And if it’s the official farewell from a group whose legacy will long outlive any of its members, it merits a close listen. At slightly more than four minutes long, the track is a trifle compared to the nearly eight-hour Get Back , but after asking five questions sparked by that chronicle of the Beatles’ last released album, I’m back to share five thoughts prompted by the band’s last released song. Now, then: Let’s examine “Now and Then.”
Yes, this is all slightly disconcerting.
As with “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love,” but even more so, the release of a new “Beatles” song without the knowledge, approval, and active participation of all four Beatles may strike some fans as morbid, presumptuous, or creatively questionable. Before he was murdered in December 1980, Lennon sometimes sounded receptive (or was said to have sounded receptive) to the idea of all four Beatles working together again. At other times, not so much . I tend to think that had he lived longer, there would have been some sort of Beatles reunion: the repair (for the most part) of his and McCartney’s relationship after the acrimony of the Beatles’ breakup, the fact that up to three of the former bandmates often played on one another’s songs, and the Anthology project (and the examples of so many other ’60s and ’70s groups who eventually got the band back together) all suggest that the four Fabs would have been seen at some point on stage or in studio. But would Lennon have wanted a reunion to take this form, with this demo of this song? Not even those who were closest to him can know with absolute certainty.
Harrison’s absence adds an additional layer of uncertainty, given that he was the one who scuttled the first attempt to finish “Now and Then.” In 1997, McCartney told Q Magazine , “George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.” Fifteen years later, long after Harrison’s death, McCartney said , “George went off it,” recounting how Harrison had called it “fuckin’ rubbish.” But those quotes are unclear: rubbish because the demo was so rough, or rubbish because he simply disliked the song?
Possibly both. In 2021, Mark Cunningham, the technical musical consultant to Beatles press officer Derek Taylor, told The Daily Beast what Harrison had told him when Cunningham had asked why the Threetles didn’t record the third song. “He was very critical,” Cunningham said. “He was a real downer about it and said, ‘I wasn’t really interested.’ He said, ‘Apart from the quality, which was worse than the other two, I didn’t think it was much of a song.’”
The Beatles are still a democracy, but Harrison no longer has his own vote. His family does, and his wife and son say his objections were limited to the demo’s vocal quality. In a recent press release about the new song, Harrison’s widow, Olivia, said, “George felt the technical issues with the demo were insurmountable and concluded that it was not possible to finish the track to a high enough standard. If he were here today , Dhani and I know he would have wholeheartedly joined Paul and Ringo in completing the recording of ‘Now and Then.’” That’s certainly plausible—it was Harrison who first spoke to Ono about the surviving Beatles tinkering with John’s songs, and he helped out with “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love.” But even if Harrison would have signed off on the MAL-enhanced vocal, the new “Now and Then” lacks whatever adornments he might have added to the basic rhythm track he laid down in ’95.
Asked about the prospect of a Beatles reunion in 1974, Harrison said , “If we do it again, it will probably be because we’ll be broke and need the money.” That’s clearly not what’s happening here: This song seems to have flowed from the best of intentions of McCartney and Starr, with green lights and love from the families and estates of Lennon and Harrison. Still, I’d understand if any fans shared the late George Martin’s misgivings about long-after-the-fact recordings. When Martin was asked in 2013 about why he didn’t produce “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love,” he said , “I kind of told them I wasn’t too happy with putting them together with the dead John. I’ve got nothing wrong with dead John, but the idea of having dead John with live Paul and Ringo and George to form a group, it didn’t appeal to me too much.”
Decades earlier, in 1976, Martin told Rolling Stone , “What happened was great at its time, but whenever you try to recapture something that existed before, you’re walking on dangerous ground, like when you go back to a place that you loved as a child and you find it’s been rebuilt. … The Beatles existed years ago; they don’t exist today. And if the four men came back together, it wouldn’t be the Beatles.”
That’s no less true now that two of the men are gone and the others are in their 80s. I don’t object to the exercise so much as the branding: This obviously isn’t a Beatles song in the same sense as the songs from the ’60s, or even “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love.” Which doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. But …
How you feel about the music depends in part on whether you’ve heard it before.
If you haven’t heard Lennon’s demo , don’t listen to it before you take in the new “Now and Then.” I’ve heard the former untold times over many years, and my familiarity with it can’t help but color my perception of the “Beatles” track.
Lennon’s demo is spare, imperfect, and fittingly ghostly. The new release is heavily produced (after the fairly faithful, unvarnished first minute), and so sonically compressed in its streaming incarnation that the muddy mix obscures some of the depth and detail in the bass and strings. In some respects, the more polished approach is preferable. In others, the haunting, ethereal, stripped-down demo sounds more appropriate for a plaintive love song sung by a man who’s been dead for longer than he was alive. It’s a little like the difference between the Let It Be version of “The Long and Winding Road” and the Let It Be … Naked version without the wall of sound. Both have adherents, but the latter’s intimacy is more my speed. (In the case of “Now and Then,” though, McCartney and the younger Martin added the overdubs, whereas Macca and the older Martin were the ones excoriating Phil Spector’s alterations to “The Long and Winding Road.”)
However, my primary source of dissatisfaction (which has lessened a little as I’ve listened more) stems not from the sound of the new “Now and Then,” but from its structure. Earlier, I referred to the Threetles “completing” or “finishing” Lennon’s musical sketches, but this time, McCartney collaborates with his former muse not just by building on Lennon’s work, but by undoing it. The Lennon demo is almost a minute longer than the Beatles release, largely because the former includes two pre-chorus bridges that the latter removes (aside from a subtle, hard-to-hear allusion in McCartney’s piano chords during the new solo).
I understand why McCartney cut these “I don’t want to lose you / Abuse you or confuse you” sections. For one thing, Lennon’s lyrics trail off into placeholder scatting. It was one thing for McCartney and Harrison to replace Lennon’s incomplete pre-chorus vocals on “Free As a Bird” in 1995. It would have been another for McCartney to do the same on “Now and Then” in 2023, with his husky, warbly, 81-year-old voice. Moreover, a reference to abuse might have landed differently now, what with the wider awareness of Lennon’s history with women .
Setting aside the unanswerable question of whether Lennon would have wanted the song released without a section he may have considered essential, I can’t help but be a bit let down by the bridge’s omission. Without those surprising, distinctly Lennon-esque digressions, the song’s structure is simpler and more repetitive: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, verse. Plus, its sentiment is less poignant without some of the singer’s self-doubt. Even if there were no respectful, seamless way to preserve those fragments, I miss them sorely, having grown accustomed to them during my many spins of the demo. It’s enough to make me do a “ distracted boyfriend ” glance at the fan edits and covers that keep the pre-choruses in.
MAL is magic.
Whatever one might think about the “Beatles” arrangement of “Now and Then,” the vocal revealed by Jackson’s proprietary software is a minor miracle. In contrast to the reedy original rendition, Lennon’s voice sounds strong and clear yet in essence the same, dispelling any misplaced panic conjured by mentions of “AI.” It isn’t studio caliber, but it’s close enough that “Now and Then” doesn’t suffer from the Anthology tracks’ somewhat distracting dissonance in vocal quality and unscrubbable snippets of piano. “There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear,” McCartney said of hearing the cleaned-up performance. “It’s quite emotional.” Starr agreed: “It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room, so it was very emotional for all of us. It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out.”
It is far out! Even after the incredible demonstrations of this tech’s potential in Get Back , I’m as thrilled and delighted by each new implementation as a baby is by peekaboo. MAL is magical in an Arthur C. Clarke kind of way . I’d imagine that we’ll hear much more of its output in the coming years, with the Beatles and beyond; training this tool on more mono mixes and crackly recordings should give Apple Corps, Capitol, and Universal an excuse to sell us portions of the Beatles’ back catalog yet again. (Sign me up for MAL-aided remixes of “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love,” and perhaps a less screamy Live at the Hollywood Bowl .)
Jackson hasn’t directed a narrative feature film since 2014’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies , but since then he’s been bringing the past to vibrant life—both visually, via the colorized, retimed footage in World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old , and audibly, through the gifts he’s given fellow Beatles fans. His greatest triumphs as a filmmaker have come from using technology to render real and fictional characters and worlds in unprecedentedly lifelike ways, making them feel fresh, vital, and visceral. I’m not saying he shouldn’t make more movies about Tintin , but selfishly, I hope he keeps catering to my personal interests. Thanks for fixing Get Back and “Now and Then.” Now do Magical Mystery Tour .
This is a better Beatles tribute than it is a song.
Considering that “Now and Then” is an amalgamation of music made over four different decades with varying levels of fidelity, constrained by both the unreachability of John and George and the need not to tamper too much with their past contributions, it’s a wonder that it sounds as cohesive as it does. But the song’s greatest strength isn’t its sound—it’s the way its production echoes and amplifies the motif of the melding of past and present.
The Anthology recordings are as old now as some of the Beatles’ songs were when the Threetles convened in the mid-’90s, and time has taken its toll on both the band’s roster and its surviving members’ skills. Paul’s voice is much diminished these days, but on “Now and Then,” that’s an asset: Like the footage old Paul plays of young John as they do live “duets” on “I’ve Got a Feeling” in concert, the blending of the 30-something Lennon and the 80-something McCartney on this track is a guaranteed tearjerker. The first words McCartney sings alongside Lennon are “love you,” and in the chorus’s confession and plea, “Now and then / I miss you,” the two seem to be talking to each other while we listen and gently weep . Jackson’s irreverent, touching, time-hopping music video doubles down on these themes.
“Now and Then” is Lennon’s song, but this recording is unmistakably a Paul project. Of course, the Beatles were often a Paul project in their later years, and it wasn’t uncommon for the bandmates to write and record individually and then stitch their creations together. This isn’t the first Beatles song recorded without Lennon at the sessions, or the first on which McCartney subbed in for Harrison on the solo. McCartney may be “a bit overpowering at times,” as Harrison once said , but here he recedes into the swirl of sound enough for John to stay center stage.
Between McCartney’s George-inspired (but not George-soundalike) slide solo and a piano that could’ve been ported from one of Paul’s 21st-century solo tracks—I hear shades of the Harrison-inspired “ Friends to Go ”—“Now and Then” slightly updates the band’s sound amid its many conscious invocations of the Beatles’ musical hallmarks. Then again, the Beatles’ sound was always evolving, and if they were all alive and aligned on a track today, they wouldn’t sound the same as they used to. “Now and Then” bears the sonic stamps of more recent efforts, just as “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” reflected Harrison’s, McCartney’s, and Starr’s separate work with Lynne.
“Now and Then” isn’t an authentic song by the Beatles in the same way that Hackney Diamonds is an authentic album by the Rolling Stones—the British Invasion is back!—but it’s a convincing spiritual successor. “It’s not some sort of cynical marketing exercise to try and push catalog sales,” Giles told Variety , adding, “I think [Paul] just misses John and he wants to work on a song with him. It’s just as simple as that.” If this song brings some creative closure to McCartney, a tireless and responsible steward of the band’s IP, I won’t begrudge him that. All in all, I’m moderately happy to have this recording, although musically, it’s my least favorite of the post-Lennon Beatles songs, and I doubt it will displace the demo in my affections. There was no way for “Now and Then” to live up to the hype of a new Beatles song or, for that matter, to match the standard set by the Beatles’ library, but it’s a sweet, nostalgic, and not excessively schmaltzy or self-referential postscript.
The Beatles’ body of work didn’t need another coda, but this one works. “Good one,” Ringo mumbles at the end. Not great one, but we’ll take it.
The Beatles always return to us.
The long-awaited arrival of “Now and Then” is bittersweet because, barring a creative reversal or the discovery of a new stash of songs, it’s the end of the end , the last new track that will ever be released by the Beatles (air quotes or asterisk implied). But the band as a cultural touchstone and source of inspiration is almost immortal. The rereleases, documentaries, and books will keep coming , and so may periodic deliveries from the vault. (With “Now and Then” unveiled, Beatleologists will focus their willpower on unearthing McCartney’s “ Carnival of Light .”)
This may be the band’s final single, but in the end, the enjoyment we take is greater than the music they make. As Lennon—and only Lennon— sang in his “Grow Old With Me” demo: “World without end / World without end.”
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- John Carpenter, Dark Lord of the Film Score
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