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Songwriting Strategy


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I think Eric just used to write a bunch of killer compositions, depending on what was influencing him at that particular time. Then he tried to fit them in a particular order that would give the album some sort of theme to his mindset. But, except for a bit of "Boats..." The theme was never a strong priority over just packing the best 10 songs he had on the current album.

Although, I think if he put his mind to it, Eric could put out his own "Tommy" Rock Opera...or maybe even reach the thematic heights of "Mr Roboto"!

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I think he's just a superb melodist and when he gets inspired, the melodies just flow out of him. He probably couldn't tell you where they come from. Mix supreme talent with the right inspiration and miracles just appear, out of the blue. The thing is, he produces a melody and the harmony comes with it, fully formed, just naturally. Those amazing chords, parts of chords, passing tones that make the music so poignant you can't believe a note or two could do so much, it just flows freely and inexplicably from him.

Mozart wrote his symphonies that way--they were all fully formed in his head, and he sometimes was barely conscious of them. But he'd start writing and out they'd come, completely created before he ever put pen to paper. And they were architecturally perfect.

I think that's Eric, because his music is so at one with itself--the melodies and harmonies are a perfect marriage--intrinsic to each other. I can't think of the word I need, but even his lyrics are so much a part of a perfect whole (indigenous?) that they can't be separated. That's what a masterpiece is.

I see some really fine musicians, especially violinists, studying pieces of music, and they're studying the architecture of the piece and "planning" where to put their dynamics and how to place them and trying to figure out the phrases. To me, that doesn't make any sense, because if you play the music and are really into it deeply, the phrases will flow and you won't have to ask a teacher "what should I do with this phrase?"

I don't write, but if you do, it must be the same. It just comes and it's perfect, if you're truly gifted. And he is.

:) --Darlene

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Good one, Tony. And you're right, he didn't. Not even in his Requiem--the lyrics were all pre-written. ;)

It always amazes me that Eric ever even worked with a lyricist. I know, I know, he agonized over every word and why go through that if you don't have to, etc. But--nobody (and I mean NOBODY, except *maybe* Will Shakespeare) ever crafted a thought in the English language like Eric. He has such a command of language that no lyricist can hold a candle to his work. And again, he seems to pair music and lyrics simultaneously--even if he thinks he's agonizing over every word, I would just bet that they're coming together subconsciously and *he* doesn't realize it, because his lyrics are the most perfect match to the music that can be found.

I wonder if Shakespeare ever used the word "immoderately" in a sonnet... :D

:) --Darlene

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From what he's written, Eric hears his works instrumentally/orchestrally. He hears the vocals in his head as if they were an orchestra at the moment of conception. So when he goes into the studio, he knows exactly how he wants everything to be produced and he seeks to replicate what he's conceived to the "T." That's why it must be so frustrating when the finished record isn't what he wanted.

:) --Darlene

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It's time again for some rich Japanese backers to pony up some modest dough for Eric to do another CD "His Way". Eric has studied up on the new technology, along with some of his engineer friends like MAM...Crank one out with his 3-4 classic unreleased tunes, a couple of mine and well, whatever Eric can come up with new on his own...

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My guess is that most productive composers just crank them out while they are inspired, and worry about the details later. Thats why so many have way more songs than they need at any one time for an album, then sift through, look for themes, sequencing etc. Can always alter tempo, lyrics, production, later if needed.

Bruce is known to always be carrying around his legendary notebook... Didn't Pitchford always have a notebook full of incomplete lyrics, phrases, titles,words, etc. hungry for a melody?

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darlene said:

But--nobody (and I mean NOBODY, except *maybe* Will Shakespeare) ever crafted a thought in the English language like Eric.

Wow, that sure is high praise, Dar! :)

For me, Eric's best lyric-writing was the entire Boats Against the Current album, especially the title track. That was a really, really high bar to set....

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There are many fine prose writers/lyricists and poets, and that's not to say that other songwriters aren't amazing. Bruce, Dan Fogelberg, Jackson Browne, and one of the finest (that not many people even heard of!), Jake Holmes. He was an amazing poet who happened to write music.

What I mean about Eric's talent is (besides his out-of-this-world vocabulary and the way he constructs prose and poetry) that he is a master of precis. He can make his point, hit you write between the eyes with a phrase that goes to your heart, and do it in the fewest words of anyone I know. This is the most difficult thing to do--get to the point and be brief, but make it pack a punch.

If you doubt his mastery of the English language, compare his posts to anyone else's. Or listen to him tell a story. His uses of metaphor and other figures of speech are absolutely intrinsic to the way he thinks and unconscious. His speaking vocabulary is worlds more extensive than that of most writers and he really knows how to craft a phrase. But it's because he *thinks* that way, not because he comes up with it. He thinks like a linguist. And that's rare. So did Shakespeare.

One of the most powerful lines to me is "Dreams are forever and some things you never forget." That phrase, to me, sums up the human condition in nine words. And it's the last line and encapsulates the entire song in the last nine words. Who else does that? Nobody I know.

I've made a study of his music/lyrics since I discovered Raspberries when I was 24 and if you really analyze the lyrics as thoughts and symbols, they go way beyond the surface meaning most people are satisfied with looking at. And they are completely unified with the music. And I think therein lies the universal appeal of his music. The lyrics and the music are one.

The fact that he always says he agonizes over lyrics and could do all of his own lyrics but doesn't want to go through all that surprises me, because I think his conscious mind is just getting in his own way when he sits down to purposefully "write lyrics," because he thinks like a lyricist. If he didn't try, his subconscious, in my view, would just come up with what he usually thinks he's working hard to get.

:) --Darlene

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