Jim Shelley & Book Of Kills

"How do you write a good song?" she asked.

A young woman recently emailed me to tell me how much she liked a song I'd posted on Number1Music. She also asked me quite innocently, "How do you write a good song?" I responded that I didn't rightly know that I could provide her with an answer in just a few words and that the best advice I could give someone just beginning to write his or her own songs was that they might best be served by trying to imitate the work of an artist or artists he or she admired.

I spent years simply listening to music, dissecting the contribution of each player on every song I enjoyed, listening intently to the lyrics, trying to figure out the chord changes, the way intro's and outro's and verses and bridges and breaks were pieced together to form something organic and enticing, before I ever tried coming up with my own compositions and subsequently arranging and recording them. I never was very good at partnerships when it came to songwriting. It was usually just easier to do it on my own. This is not to say I haven't written successfully with others..."Little Metal Toys" and "So Tired" (with Aaron Farrington and Johnny St. Ours), "Running" (with Jane Firken) and "Mexican Buzzsaw" and "Glass Turns To Sand" (with George Nipe III and Mike Hicks) prove that I can work well with others when I put my mind to it. But overwhelmingly I do my best work alone. That's why I found this quotation from George Harrison that I came across earlier today particularly interesting:

“I knew a little bit about writing from the others, from the privileged point of sitting in the car when a song was written or coming into being [but] writing on my own became the only way I could do it, because I started like that.  Consequently, over the years, I never really wrote with anyone else and I became a bit isolated.  I suppose I was a bit paranoid because I didn’t have any experience of what it was like, writing with other people. It’s a tricky thing.  What’s acceptable to one person may not be acceptable to another.”