F I C T I O N We needed another song for the set, and I wanted it to be a waltz and also wanted to feature Cookie’s vocal. We had already spent some time arranging a cowboy tune, something about heroes and belt buckles- you have to start somewhere- and the obstacle, as always, is getting and paying for the rights to record somebody else’s songs. On this project we have partially skirted the issue by using material from the Public Domain. Another option could be to write our own song.
All I had to do was sell Cookie on the idea and then write the song. I was reassured by the idea that neither one of us was happy with the “heroes” arrangement. It’s a well-crafted tune, but it’s not a perfect fit with the rest of our material except that it is a waltz, and Cookie sings. Can we agree that there is an advantage in using one of our songs? Why not let our polish time be spent on something that we have written?
I gave myself an assignment to start a song in three-quarter time in the key of G using the waltz I learned from Cookie as a starting point. In many cases I begin with a title but in this instance the first line popped into my head along with a thousand other rejects, and it felt a good start to me.
There is a lot of satisfaction in saying what you mean and getting it to fit in the words of a song or a story. Once there is a structure then everything you hear or think you hear becomes another stanza or a verse or hook. Off I went listening to the progression from my “source song” in my head: three-quarter time starting on a G major chord. It’s a small step, but a big change, to think in six-eight time, then it’s already a new song. I like to write familiar but fresh.
The first line was easy, two pick-up notes and then:
(There is) Nothing original under the sun
Although it might not be true
What happens next is as big a surprise
To me as it must be for you
The tune is familiar, the chords are the same, aren’t they?
(Oh) Where have I heard that before?
On Top of Old Smokey? No, Down In the Valley, or
You are My Sunshine for sure.
Harpeth Rivers is a New Mexico transplant from all over who has in the last year written songs about isosceles triangles, played bass guitar in a band, and declared himself “Retro-eclectic.” His novel-in-progress is entitled Last Year.