Feature- The (Former) Glories of the Songwriting Duo: Two of Us.

FEATURE:

The (Former) Glories of the Songwriting Duo:

Two of Us

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Far from being de rigueur, the songwriting partnership is a dynamic that has yielded some of the greatest songs ever. Over the decades, some historic duos have made their (epicurean) marks; yet there has been a worrying abridgement over recent years. Something needs to be done…

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TODAY my attention is drawn to a subject which may have slipped a lot…

of minds. It is something that I have been worrying about- perhaps unduly- for a little while, and trying to explain the reason behind its demise: the songwriting partnership. From the ’60s it became popularised by some rather noticeable talents (whom I shall mention shortly), and continued into the ’90s. Over the last couple of decades, the frequency of the art form has declined. I have reviewed groups such as Issimo, whom still operate within this construct: sharing the scribing duties between its two members. Occasionally, I come across solo artists and bands whom write in pairs, yet it seems that it is a rarity. When I look around the music scene, we witness- mainly- solo acts or bands. If the solo artist is self-determined and prefers writing alone, then that is what happens. Legendary solo acts such as Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell did so, and many modern sole acts prefer working this way. Of course, a lot of modern solo stars have teams and committees writing their songs; others occasionally collaborate with a series of different writers- yet there is no consistent partnership to be found. One if always more likely to witness a songwriting duo amongst bands. I will go into more detail when investigating the legendary writing partnerships, yet in the modern scene, there seems to have been a cessation of the songwriting ménage à deux. When I look into my own investigations, most of the bands I investigate either have their songs written by their frontman/woman; or else the entire band. Once in a while I will find that a band operates with two chief songwriters- yet this seems to be a rare aberration. Most will blithely listen to music, nary concerned with the amount of cooks that contributed ingredients. It does not bother me when music is written by an entire band (or one person), yet I have been hanging around the corners and avenues of YouTube– and becoming a little misty-eyed. I have been hearing a lot of ‘classic’ Beck; White Stripes, Radiohead and Arcade Fire- enjoying the music for the sheer hell of it. When I delve deeper, some of the greatest songs I have ever heard come to my ears. The likes of The Beatles, Steely Dan, The Rolling Stones and The Clash come to the fore. I always smile when I hear a familiar tune (from them), yet notice something: their songs were all (for the most part) written by a songwriting duo. I am loathed to say that it is hardly a coincident that strength comes with concentration, yet there is something in it. Artists like Dylan and Mitchell are deeply personal artists whom recount and survey their own experiences- like most solo acts. Adding an additional component into the creative process is unnecessary and unwieldy. Some solo acts (one of whom I will allude to) works well with an additional voice; in fact the likes of Tom Waits has found a creative leash when cohabitation with an extra writer (Kathleen Brennan in this case). Bands have been a bit more unpredictable. I have mentioned the likes of Radiohead. Here, Thom Yorke always writes the lyrics (I think one or two songs may have been written by another member; yet it is rare), whilst the entire band works on the music. Same goes for Blur; in this instance, Damon Albarn provides the words. This configuration and set-up has worked brilliantly for them. If you have a band where the lead is a prolific wordsmith and innovator, then they are more than likely going to boss lyrics duties. When the rest of the band contribute sonic input, then the resultant sound is strong and focused. There is something about the songwriting duo that is special: an art form which has produced some of the best music we have ever heard; with clear reasons behind it. I have had a look at the most noticeable songwriting partnerships of all-time; and thought about what makes them so special.

When you think of the best duos for songwriting, inevitably your mind will go to Lennon and McCartney. John and Paul are- without doubt- the finest example of the breed, and epitomise my point (as well as sadness we do not see more like them nowadays). Unlike other examples I will examine, Lennon and McCartney often wrote alone- as well as together. George Harrison would write hits for The Beatles (as would Ringo Starr), yet for most of the time, it was John and Paul that created the memorable numbers. From their debut album- Please Please Me– this romance began and was solidified. The duo loved working off of one another and inspire each other’s minds. Whether around a piano, in a hotel room or in one of the duo’s houses, John and Paul pushed one another consistently. Tracks such as I Saw Her Standing There, Love Me Do and Please Please Me were the standouts of the debut L.P., and demonstrated what a huge songwriting force the duo were. Often the initial idea would come from one of the two, yet it was the collaborative spirit and shared genius that mandates their early tracks. As they released With The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night, they strengthened and grew in confidence; songs such as If I Fell highlighted this. By 1964/5, Lennon and McCartney were no longer covering songs- as they did in the first few albums- and relying entirely on their own creativity. I heard that when the duo were writing the ‘soundtrack’ for A Hard Day’s Night, they were in a Paris hotel room; piano with them, and working on each of the tracks that accompany that album/film. Not only was there is a brotherly spirit and affection between the two, but there was no real autonomy or selfishness. Often one would come in with the idea or majority of the song, but the early songs were synonymous with both McCartney and Lennon’s ideas. Help! arrived in 1964, and was another gem that showcased the brilliance of the Liverpool twosome. My favourite Beatles album is not at the top spot for the quality of the songs (alone), yet because of the combined elements of the band’s chief songwriters. Some of the tracks such as You Won’t See Me (written by Paul) and In My Life (written mainly by John); yet the majority of the L.P. was a result of the combined spirit and input. If you listen to tracks such as The Word and Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown); Michelle as well (my belle)- you can pretty much hear whom wrote which parts. During 1965 (onwards) Lennon and McCartney began to write more songs on their own, yet each of the songwriters was enforcing and inspiring the other. The album that I feel cements the songwriting majesty (of the duo; in their mid-late career stage) was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. You can imagine the Liverpool duo smiling to one another across a dining room table as they penned the lines for With a Little Help from My Friends; tears maybe during She’s Leaving Home; sheer wonder within A Day In The Life. The pair is geniuses when writing alone, yet when they join forces, the resultant tracks are that bit more magical. A Day In The Life is more curious and note-worthy because of McCartney’s whimsical verse (in a song written mainly by Lennon). With regards to She’s Leaving Home, McCartney recounted (in an interview) the following: “John and I wrote ‘She’s Leaving Home’ together. It was my inspiration. We’d seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who’d left home and not been found, there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line. So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up … It was rather poignant. I like it as a song, and when I showed it to John, he added the long sustained notes, and one of the nice things about the structure of the song is that it stays on those chords endlessly…”. The (The) Beatles/Let It Be period was tarnished period because of breakdowns within the band; the two lead songwriters choosing not to contribute too much. Although the occasional track such as One After 909 had some shared input; Birthday too- most of the music was written alone. If you look back at the annals and impressive back catalogue of The Beatles, you can tell that in John and Paul we had a phenomenal songwriting duo. I am not sure whether The Beatles would have formed, been as successful and lasted as long, were it not for the combined thoughts of Lennon and McCartney. They demonstrate my point: a close and focused songwriting duo whom also pushed one another to write alone. It was a shared and similar childhood; a great deal in common as well as a shared love that made them such special writers. I hope that we live to see a duo come through whom have such a conviction, consistency and bond.

Arriving just after The Beatles was The Rolling Stones. They are still going strong today, and endure due to the close relationships within the band. Whereas a natural entropy occurred within The Beatles, for The Rolling Stones, there does not seem to be a (near) expiration date. It was not until 1966’s Aftermath that the duo began favouring original compositions- they had covered mostly up until this point. Both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were- and are- wild and rebellious figures whom didn’t really work in a ‘traditional’ songwriting mould; yet came up with some phenomenal songs. Tracks such as Under My Thumb contained Jagger’s (soon-to-be common) sexual themes and lasciviousness; backed with an incredible and tight composition from Richards. Jagger himself was the vocalist alone; sans instruments; Richards was a guitarist whom did not contribute much to vocals. Because of this- unlike Lennon and McCartney- Jagger wrote lyrics; Richards the words. Like John and Paul, Mick and Keith shared (and still do) a brotherly bond and clear affection. Because of this, the inspiration and songwriting results were world-beating. If you think about (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, you can hear this. Richards, inspired to right the riff in a dream, took it to the band; Jagger compelled and enflamed- creating some of his most sexually-charged and frustrated lyrics. The Beggars Banquet/Let It Bleed regency saw the duo create some of their best work. It was during this time that Jagger started to write the odd song ion his own. Sympathy For The Devil is perhaps the most noticeable, yet when the duo combined, we got some incredible moments. Street Fighting Man (from Beggars Banquet) featured politcally-inspired lyrics by Jagger. Lines such as “Hey! think the time is right for a palace revolution/But where I live the game to play is compromise solution” were written about political upheaval in France- as well as the war in Vietnam. With sitar and tamboura, Richards infused the track with various shades and twists. Factory Girl was more folk-inspired and romantic; seeing Jagger bring out the poetic side. During Let It Bleed, the band really hit their stride. Gimme Shelter contained some of Richards’ best riffs and compositional elements; Jagger contributed more Vietnam and war-inspired lyrics. The duo was not only inspired by political events of the time, yet were pushing one another. Richards would come up with a key riff; guitar lick or composition; Jagger would then find the brilliant words to put on the top of it. Sticky Fingers saw songs such as Can’t You Hear Me Knocking come to the fore; Richards stating: “I just found the tuning and the riff and started to swing it and Charlie picked up on it just like that, and we’re thinking, hey, this is some groove“. Jagger was unleashing his inner sexual panther; tracks like Brown Sugar and Bitch highlighting this. Neither songwriter could have come up with the tracks by themselves: it was the combined forces that made the tracks what they are. The Jagger/Richards combination made a huge impact throughout the ’60s and ’70s- and remains in force today. I feel that The Rolling Stones would have not been as strong and focused during this era if more (or less) input was contributed. It was the fraternal bond of Mick and Keith- as well as their individual talents- that made them such a brilliant songwriting unit.

Most people may not have heard of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. They are the founding members of Steely Dan, to my mind, one of the most underrated bands of all-time. I have mentioned two duos whom ruled the ’60s-’70s; I shall conclude with two whom made huge impressions in the ’80s-’90s; but our heroes primarily made their mark in the 1970s. Steely Dan are an intellectual and thought-provoking band; mixing jazz and various genres around tales of love, slackers, the inequities of aging- and a myriad of fascinating scenes and characters. Whereas McCartney and Lennon did their best work talking of childhood and love; Jagger and Richards political themes and sex; Becker and Fagen seem to have no limits. The duo met in 1968, and Fagen recounts the experience, thus: “I hear this guy practicing, and it sounded very professional and contemporary. It sounded like, you know, like a black person, really.” He introduced himself to Becker and asked, “Do you want to be in a band?” Discovering that they enjoyed similar music — even listening to the same jazz radio stations — the two began writing songs together”. From that serendipitous meeting in New York, the duo fell in love, and instantly set themselves apart from their contemporaries. Steely Dan formed on he basis of wry and intellectual songs; witty and evocative tales of affairs, love, drugs and crime. Can’t Buy A Thrill arrived in 1972, and remains a favourite of mine. Jazz, conga and swing mingle alongside one another; our heroes fill the record with range and huge genre-splicing. The oblique lyrics of Midnite Cruiser and Kings are backed by wonderfully rich and complex compositions. The band were fastidious about their songs and would spend weeks honing individual tracks. Becker and Fagen weaved melodies and their shared intellectualism enforced their huge talent. The lyrics were crafted and considered; philosophical and humorous- the compositions no less ambitious and eye-catching. Listen to the songs from their debut, and you can tell just how special the duo are. My Old School (from Countdown to Ecstasy) is one of my favourite tracks of theirs, and recounts the duo’s experiences at Bard College in New York- specifically surrounding events where 50 students were arrested following protests there. The lyrics are scathing and accusatory, whilst the melody is spiky, rock-infused with a kick to it. Steely Dan are- and were- a band that never really dipped. The duo’s shared love and personalities meant that the quality and consistency remained. It is clear that both thought differently to their contemporaries, and curiosity and an endeavouring spirit kept the band together. Pretzel Logic was perhaps the first peak; the songwriting here is seamless and fluid; the duo employee a series of studio musicians to add colour to their black-and-white. Songs recalled college memories and hazy scenes; jazz motifs nestled alongside melodic cuts. The singing was impressive; the tracks detailed and impeccable: due to the duo’s friendship, shared experiences and affection. In the same way that Lennon and McCartney had that connection and friendship growing up in Liverpool, Becker and Fagen laid out their experiences of youth in New York. By the time The Royal Scam arrived in 1976, there were perhaps no huge musical leaps- yet some terrific new tracks. The lyrics are sneering and cutting, but Rolling Stone summarised it: “The Royal Scam vividly encapsulates that post-Watergate/pre-punk/coked-up moment when you could trust no one, least of all yourself“. Classic L.A. sounds and heart-warming mandates made up Aja– the first album I ever fell in love with. Deacon Blues is a gorgeous and sprawling song that looks at winning and losing in life; it references Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team; introducing scenes of drunk-driving and hard-luck. I listen to it as often as possible, and to me it is the perfect summation of the duo’s power: spellbinding lyrics mixed with a gorgeous and languid composition. You can hear and feel the air of California in the blood; the album is rife with joy and alacrity. Gaucho contains my favourite ‘Dan song- Hey Nineteen– and was a bit of a quality decline- although not too much. Hey Nineteen recounts a teenage party; a heroine drinking tequila and snorting cocaine; our hero aghast that she does not know who Aretha Franklin is. It looks at the gulf between the young and middle-aged, and trod new ground for Becker and Fagen. I implore you to seek them out, and feel that Steely Dan deserve renewed appreciation. Walter and Fagen are one of the greatest songwriting duos whom ever lived, and one I hope we will see the likes of again.

Before I conclude, I will examine two northern songwriting duos. The first is Johnny Marr and Morrissey. Like Bernie Taupin and Elton John, there was a clear division of duties: Morrissey took the lyrics; Marr the music. It is an arrangement that resulted in some of the greatest music of the ’80s, and inspired legions of followers. We all know about The Smiths and what Marr and Morrissey brought to the band. Marr’s compositions and musical genius was unlike any I have heard; he manages to summon up huge and epic sweeps, as well as tender and delicate little scores- without losing any focus or seeming out of his depth. It is this, which perfectly balances Morrissey’s incredible words. Like The Beatles, tensions broke down the band, and I guess it perhaps answers a question I raise at the end of this feature. From the debut album, the duo cemented their shared affection and talents: the songs within the album are hugely impressive. Blunt tales of northern working-class life are seen in Hand In Glove; child molestation and murder lurked elsewhere. From the offset, the duo subverted the guitar band form, and brought something fresh and awe-inspiring to the fore. Meat Is Murder is seen as the weakest album by The Smiths (for the critics), yet contains perfect summations of Marr and Morrissey’s talents. How Soon Is Now? (which appeared on Hatful of Hollow) contains Marr’s biggest and most direct composition. It was ready-made for the clubs and boasts one of the band’s best intros. Morrissey’s lyrics speak of crippling shyness and loneliness- surrounded by people in a club. It is an incredible song that saw the duo in rarefied form; That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is tender and emotional. It looks at the unhappiness of life and suicidal scenes- it remains one of Marr’s favourite songs of The Smiths. The Headmaster Rituals looks at the brutality and unhappiness of school life; looking at the day-to-day life- it contained one of Marr’s best compositions. Barbarism Begins At Home has a playful Morrissey vocal; Marr is up to the task of matching the sharp and witty lyrics. The duo was coming into their own, and starting to experiment more- following their debut. For me, The Queen Is Dead was when Marr and Morrissey struck gold. From the title track, the duo were having a ball and at their peak. The opening salvo saw Marr’s rumbling percussive ideas mix with sound bites and great guitar codas. Morrissey gives an emphatic vocal and talks of Buckingham Palace scenes, witty exchanges and a lack of royal empathy. Cemetery Gates has a constant and energetic composition; both light and effective- perfectly supporting Morrissey’s graveside memories and rendezvous. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out contain Marr in rampant mood. He mixes ascending filmic chord sequences with sweeping romantic strings; scoring Morrissey’s words of torturous home life and a need to escape. If The Queen Is Dead saw Morrissey shade slightly ahead (in terms of ‘genius’) then the band’s swan song, Strangeways, Here We Come, tip the scales. Morrissey’s lyrics and heart were all where they should be; the range and quality was impressive, yet Marr really forged ahead. The duo combined magnetically; yet the rockabilly strut of I Started Something I Could Finish and mazy rush of Death of a Disco Dancer were made stronger by Marr’s innovation. Morrissey was lacing the tracks with his glorious voice and witty and intellectual words, but the compositions were breath-taking. Girlfriend In A Coma sees Morrissey in wicked and inspired form, but listen to Marr’s work- it makes the song what it is! Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me has Morrissey in tender and open-hearted mood; backed by Marr’s epic composition. In the same way as The Beatles knew Abbey Road would be the last album they would record, Marr and Morrissey knew Strangeways’ would be the end. Our songwriting duo do not sound imploding or bored; they were loving the music and rightfully hail the album as some of their best work. Many people go to lengths to explain how much of a genius Morrissey is, but it is Marr that helped him to become one. The two worked perfectly together and had a brotherly affection. Morrissey needed a creative and inspired composer to bring his words to life, and the two were a perfect match. They remain one of the greatest songwriting duos, and I hope will inspire generations to come.

Forgive me, but I am investigating ANOTHER northern songwriting duo! I am not sure what goes on up there, but it seems to be the place to live- if you are a musician. I have talked of the obvious charms of Lennon and McCartney; Marr and Morrissey, and now, perhaps for names you didn’t expect: Paul Heaton and Dave Rotheray. Many critics- unfairly- see The Beautiful South as a bit ‘middle-of-the-road’. It is true that they are not to everyone’s liking, yet they are a band that were criminally-overlooked. They broke up, due to ‘musical similarities’ and left behind a huge legacy. In a way I see The Beautiful South as a natural follow-on from The Smiths. Paul Heaton is as witty as Morrissey yet has a wry and vitriolic side, that… well, like Morrissey. Whilst The Smiths man may be more celebrated, you cannot ignore Heaton’s genius. I am guessing that the creative juices of The Beautiful South contained more alcohol, cigarettes and hangovers than that of The Smiths (could you see Morrissey really nursing a hangover after an epic night on the lash?!) Heaton, formerly of The Housemartins, formed the band with Housemartins drummer Dave Hemmingway. Rotheray was to become The Beautiful South’s lead guitar, and long-time songwriting brother of Paul Heaton. Like The Smiths, Heaton mainly took care of the words (who else would be able to write as well as him?) whilst Rotheray handled compositional chores. One of the very first songs I adored and remember is A Song For Whoever (from the band’s debut). I was too young to appreciate the song’s themes of cynicism and love-for-the-sake-of-commercial-success mandate. In the same way as Girlfriend In A Coma balances hard and morbid lyrics with a delighted and happy composition, Rotheray balances Heaton’s cynical lyrics with a genuinely romantic and earnest backing- it was the moment I fell for the band. Tracks such as You Keep It All In saw Heaton look at domestic strife and domicile repression marry with a chirpy and whistling composition (the song has one of the most unintentionally funny videos ever; I refer to Hemingway’s attempts at dancing!). Choke arrived in 1990, and contained some of the band’s best songs to date- A Little Time and Let Love Speak Up Itself in particular. Like Morrissey, Heaton possesses a gorgeous croon and ability to switch between sweet falsetto and bitter put-down within the space of a line. Jazz-tinged arrangements brilliantly covered up some grizzly tales and some cynical admission. Heaton was in inspired mood and smiling throughout (I can imagine there was some personal inspiration for many of the songs). Rotheray and Heaton’s kinship shone through and the two blend perfectly. I can imagine Paul being the born leader; not letting anyone in and calling the shots. When it came to vocal duties, The Beautiful South has three (Heaton, Hemingway and Briana Corrigan at this stage). Jacqui Abbot came into the band by 1994, and Miaow saw Heaton continuing his trajectory. Prettiest Eyes and Good As Gold (Stupid As Mud) are highlights; our hero was still cynical and witty but in romantic mood. Rotheray’s compositions were more detailed, graceful and luscious- Abbot’s voice suited the songs perfectly (she featured in). Blue Is The Colour is seen as the mid-career standout, and Liars’ Bar growled vocals scored themes where: “You’re scared that if you cough or yawn/You might wake up the dead/So pretend to read a paper/Or just drink instead”. Don’t Marry Her sees our heroine (Abbot) begging a man to leave his fiancée and run away with her. Rotheray kept the mood light and engaging, mixing euphoric themes with more introverted moments. Heaton was skilfully channelling pub talk into witty gems (“The whole place is pickled/The people are pickles for sure/And no one knows if they’ve done more here/Than they would do in a jar” from Rotterdam (or Anywhere) stands out). It was during Blue Is The Colour that Heaton and Rotheray cemented themselves as one of the biggest songwriting duos of the ’90s- and of all-time. There are few lyricists smarter, wittier and more intelligent than Heaton; none that can turn northern scenes of booze, love and losers into such gems. Rotheray understood the importance to let Heaton strike and endeavour, perfectly supplying pure musical moments that augmented the words. Each duo had their own dynamic, yet for The Beautiful South’s songwriters, there seemed to be as much togetherness as there was separation. Heaton needed a bit of alone time to make his words perfect; Rotheray would supply ingenious compositions to give them life- it was a partnership that was the basis of an incredible career. They are one of the most successful songwriting pairs of all-time, and certainly the most underrated; creating songs that are in many people’s record collections- I have three of their albums and keep them in regular rotation.

I have included (in a list below) a contribution from Elton John and Bernie Taupin: a tremendous songwriting force I did not have room to cover. I will give a quick honourable mention to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. I have omitted them, as many do not consider them a songwriting duo- as John Paul Jones inputted heavily. This is perhaps unfair, as George Harrison wrote a great deal of The Beatles’ songs, regardless…If you look at songs such as Stairway to Heaven, Immigrant Song and Ramble On; here are songs that stand the test of time. With Page’s monstrous and epic guitar motifs, Plant’s oblique and sexual lyrics (as well as his awesome voice) the duo were one of the most potent songwriting forces of the 1970s. True, J.P.J. had a lot of input, but most of the band’s tracks were written by Plant and Page- making them a songwriting duo. They rank amongst my top 10 because of the quality of their work, as well as the bond between the two.

I am unsure why the songwriting duo seems rare today. During the ’60s and ’70s, the likes of Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards; Plant and Page, as well as Bacharach and David ruled the scene. The bond of the writers inspired some truly magnificent moments, and contributed hugely to the music of the era. A lot of the examples I have examined worked within bands, and were also inspired by events of the time. Aside from those I have mentioned, there are a lot of other great songwriting duos that are worth noting, and it is a formation that has yielded some truly historic music moments. I feel that the bond between the respective songwriters is what made the music so special. In a sense there is an ersatz romance occurring; each of the parties inspire and support one another, compelling them to be better as well as providing comfort too. When I investigate the music of the late-’80s-present-day, there are not many songwriting duos whom spring to mind. The band market is one that is still prevalent and dominant, and a lot of the writing and songwriting duties are split between all members. I have mentioned the likes of Blur, Radiohead and the like, but there are many more ‘classic’ groups that operated similarly. Bands like Oasis were mainly led by Noel Gallagher’s pen; others too were synonymous with a sole writer- there are few modern groups that work with a songwriting duo. It is perhaps not a huge issue for other people, yet there does seem to be a shift occurring. Whether music has changed so much to the point where safety and numbers and being alone are favoured over a solid partnership, I am unsure. I guess a successful songwriting duo is synonymous with a close friendship and strong bond, and I worry that something troubling is occurring. Many new bands have all members contributing music and lyrics, and I wonder whether there is a danger of a band dissolving- if the songs were written by two people. If you write alone and bring the songs to the band, then there is less creative pressure, and little risk of break-ups. If each members contributes, then there is a democracy of sorts, and no pecking order. Although The Beatles only recorded for about eight years-or-so, it was the shared love between McCartney and Lennon that inspired the songwriting genius; same goes with all of the other examples I have mentioned. Sure, The Beatles dissolved, Steely Dan have died off a bit and The Smiths fell apart, yet there are various reasons for these break-ups. There are some bands and solo acts whom have a songwriting duo at their heart, yet too few that actually stand out. Perhaps the last potentially-great duo we have seen is that of Pete Doherty and Carl Barat. The Libertines founders epitomise the brotherly spirit that Richards and Jagger have- yet perhaps with an urban and pernicious twist. If Pete Doherty were not such a sybaritic crack-head and liability, then the band would still be going. The Libertines raise a good point. You can tell that there is clear affection between Carl and Pete, and the band was formed due to the duo’s love of one another, as well as music. Up The Bracket remains one of my favourite albums of all-time. Doherty’s poetic and lyric genius mingles alongside Barat’s guitar brilliance- the L.P. is a near-masterpiece. The duo surveyed modern London, romance and shady characters, and distilled their visions into songs that are modern classics. Drugs and fights have meant that we will never see The Libertines record again, yet there was so much potential. Doherty ruined the band, but you feel that if drugs had not entered his life, we could have witnessed a modern-day Jagger and Richards (updated at least). Maybe that is part of the problem. Songwriting success- like a relationship- relies on co-dependency as well as trust. If neither- or only one- is there then they will fail. Perhaps we do not have the concentrated and comparable talent today to rival the likes of Lennon and McCartney- or maybe there is a bigger issue; regardless of this I long to see new and brilliant duos come through. The Beautiful South’s songwriting centre was perhaps the last time we saw a consistent and long-lasting partnership; since then there have been half-arsed attempts. As I am looking towards forming a band, I am looking for my Marr; my Lennon; my Fagen- someone whom can add music to my words. I have no interest (or huge talent) to be able to fully-realise my insane ambitions; nor do I want each band member chipping in. I feel that it is great if band members contribute to the songs, yet a songwriting core that is stable and focused makes the music more consistent and focused. Perhaps you disagree or just don’t care, but we are facing a real issue; one where solo acts write alone and bands are working in differing forms. I suppose it is best to work in a manner that best suits your music, yet- especially for a band- having a songwriting duo penning the songs is the most effective and prosperous way to work. Short-lived careers and music differences are meaning we are not seeing the longevity occur; a crowded market means we are perhaps overlooking some great songwriting pairs- what do people thing? Maybe I’ll just have to accept that music trends are changing, but I am keen to find a perfect ‘other half’. I am not saying that I will be settling in for a successful long-term career akin to the greats, yet I yearn to discover a like-minded Marr-esque character whom I can write several albums with. I am sure anyone reading this will agree that the greatest bands we have seen- The Beatles, Stones- are successful largely because of the relationship of the songwriters- why would we not want this to continue into the 21st century? I feel that solo artists are going to turn over the dominance of bands, and that may signal a yearning to write alone. Whatever your views, it is an interesting point, and would be great to see if anyone agrees/disagrees. I have not given up on the hope that we will see another legendary songwriting pair enter our midst. If The Libertines had worked out differently, I am sure Barat and Doherty would be on L.P. four or five- and planning for many more. It is a shame, because (as I have shown with some notable examples) when two perfect minds come together through song, the results…

CAN be truly staggering.

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Ten Terrific Songs From Songwriting Duos:

A Day In The Life- John Lennon and Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-Q9D4dcYng

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction- Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones, Single Release): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a7cHPy04s8

I Say A Little Prayer- Burt Bacharach and Hal David (Dionne Warwick, Single Release): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kafVkPxjLYg

Eight Days A Week- John Lennon and Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Beatles for Sale): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Unj_wM1xngs

Hey Nineteen- Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (Steely Dan, Gaucho): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipc9pL27krs

A Song for Whoever- Paul Heaton and David Rotheray (The Beautiful South, Welcome to the Beautiful South): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XyzLp06Etc

How Soon Is Now?- Morrissey and Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEq8DBxm0J4

Something About The Way You Look Tonight- Elton John and Bernie Taupin (Elton John, The Big Picture): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpT3BsIIT1g

This Charming Man- Morrissey and Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Single Release):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzexP58si0w

London Calling- Joe Strummer and Mick Jones (The Clash, London Calling):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vHvzybkqfo

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2 thoughts on “Feature- The (Former) Glories of the Songwriting Duo: Two of Us.

  1. I believed the Beautiful South to be a good “Geatest Hits” band. Now I have learned that I overlooked them. One of the very best and, along with the author of this article, I’m now one of the relative few who really appreciates this.

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