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The genesis of a song

The creative process of composing a song has always fascinated me.

From Schubert to Sheehan some people can compose, most cannot.

Some 50 years ago on a family holiday in Rhodes Greece I met the  successful songwriter Peter Callander.

His most famous composition was The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.

His partner was Mitch Murray and they had just written Is this the way to Amarillo? for Tony Christie who had been around for years without a hit.

Peter, who founded SODS (the Society of Distinguished Songwriters), said that 99% of tunes submitted to him were below par and useless

Luck and fate can play a part.

I saw a Sky Arts tribute to Canadian songwriter Paul Anka recently. It is often but incorrectly assumed that he composed My Way.

In fact he happened to hear by chance the song Comme D’Habitude on holiday in the South of France, acquired the rights and in just five hours rewrote the lyrics for Frank Sinatra.

Another song that is indelibly associated with a singer is  Non , Je Ne Regrette Rien.

The composer Charles Dumont had tried unsuccessfully to present his songs to Edith Piaf.

Eventually he turned up at her Paris flat and somehow gained entrance. Piaf had only to listen to a few bars to realise this could be the sensational hit that it proved.

In  many cases the distinction between plagiarism and influence is elusive.

I can recall my late mother listening to the hit by Faron Young It’s Four In The Morning and delving into her record collection to find the Yiddish song Reyzl sung by Theodore Bikel.

It had an identical opening.

George and Ira Gershwin used old tunes from the stetl (the village of origin in Russia typified in Fiddler on the Roof).

Lionel Bart also used to plagiarise tunes (sometimes his own!).

Whatever the process it is a unique and sublime gift. Just try creating a melody yourself and then writing the lyrics.

About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts