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March 2024
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Be a Songwriter!

The world is at 82 million songs and counting. How hard can it be? Not very.

By John Cadley

Illustration of man on couch playing guitar while dog covers its ears
Illustration by Bart Browne

Regular readers of this column may know that in addition to writing humor, I also write songs. You may think that makes me a very talented fellow—a polymath, a Renaissance man. I am not. I can’t do any math, much less a lot of it, and while I’m not exactly “young,” my arrival on this planet postdates the Renaissance by several centuries.

What does that tell you? It tells you that if an average person like me can write songs, you can write songs. Your neighbor can write songs. Your tone-deaf Aunt Geraldine can write songs. There is only one requirement: Your verses must rhyme. Everybody thinks a song is just a poem put to music. It is not. If you read modern poetry you will know that rhymes are nowhere to be found. Neither is meaning, but … we’ll leave that alone.

This shouldn’t scare you. You can rhyme any word, even the ones they say you can’t, like “orange.” You have Blorenge (a hill in Wales) and sporange (a sac of spores). “I peeled my orange on the top of old Blorenge / While the moss softly caressed each little sporange.” Now, I’m not saying a piece of fruit and a little cell that grows in fungus make for a great song, but they rhyme, so it is a song. And it’s still better than modern poetry.

You can write any kind of song you like. You can even write a national anthem, although that would require invading a country and making everybody memorize the words. Think about it.

Love Songs. Hands down the easiest and the quickest. There are millions of recorded love songs in the world … and there are not millions of geniuses. You are free to use all the clichés you want, particularly in the area of cardiology. Your heart can skip a beat, it can be stolen, it can sing, it can break, it can fly … it can even be left in San Francisco as long as you remember to go back and get it. One caveat: Love songs should always be written within the first six months of a relationship, before you realize your angel with wings is also a human with baggage.

Blues Songs. Again, very simple. Just begin with “Woke up this mornin’ …” and then complain about your life. Everybody’s good at that! But don’t say you’ve been “locked up in the jailhouse” or you “got in a gambling fight” unless it’s true. The blues has to be authentic. You can’t live in a 500,000 condo and sing, “Got no more home than a dog.” People will laugh, and there’s no laughing in the blues. Just make it real. If running out of mayonnaise is the best you’ve got, go with it. People who love egg salad will know you got the blues and you got ’em bad.

Protest Songs. Just think of some obvious social wrong and sing about it. How easy is that? Lord knows, there’s enough material—injustice, greed, corruption. Pick one or choose your own. I’ve just written one about TV game show contestants called “You Really Will Do Anything for Money, Won’t You?”

Nature Songs. You see a beautiful sunset and you write about it. Presto! You’ve got a nature song. Describe the spectacular beauty of the vibrant colors on the horizon—the pinks, the oranges, the reds, the purples—without mentioning that they’re mostly caused by smog.

Novelty Songs. Go wild. Just think of songs like “The Purple People Eater,” “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” and “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd,” and know that nothing is off-limits here. Take your craziest thoughts, your wildest fantasies, your most bizarre dreams, and write ’em down. Then go on America’s Got Talent and sing “I Don’t Know Whether to Jump Off a Cliff or Play Pickleball.” You’re going to Hollywood, baby!

Gospel Songs. Lots of latitude here. Just make sure you mention some form of deity and everybody goes to heaven at the end. To my knowledge there is no category for Depressing Gospel Songs.

Story Songs. Simply find a story and sing it. It doesn’t have to be about outlaws or feats of derring-do. You could even write about the discovery of DNA. Boring? Forget about the science and sing about how the two guys who discovered the double helix couldn’t stand each other. That, my friend, is songwriting gold! All you have to do is find a rhyme for deoxyribonucleic acid.


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