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In celebration of tomorrow night’s Ivor Novello Awards, the London Evening Standard has been polling UK songwriters and performers for their top tips on writing the perfect pop song. Their answers, while occasionally flippant, do strike at the heart of the creative process. So if you’ve ever been tempted to sit down and come up with a chart-topper, you could do worse than follow any one of these ideas to their logical conclusion.
Especially this first one, because it sounds like amazing fun:
“Someone once told me “write a chorus; that’s your verse. Write a chorus to that; that’s your middle 8; then write a chorus to that; that’s your chorus”. I haven’t ever tried that, but it made me laugh!”
“If I knew the answers to this all my records would have been hits! There is no formula. You have to follow your heart as to what you believe is good and honest – it’s the only way. If you try to aim at a particular audience, it doesn’t work – they can tell.”
“Keep it simple man. Say a thousand words in one!”
“Keep to the point. Every part of the three minutes or so is as important as any other part – milk every hook, create a lyric that is somehow surprising and original, but still emotionally connects, get people moving, get the chorus in way before a minute and find a superstar to sing it!”
Sir Tim Rice
“One of my favourite lyrics is from Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’: ‘well I called my congressman and he said Quote: ‘I’d like to help you son but you’re too young to vote’.”
“If everyone in the studio is smiling and on their feet then keep doing what you’re doing. When I was writing Dashboard with Modest Mouse the band kept asking, “is this too commercial for us?” but when that happens I think you should go the whole way and see it out to its full potential rather second guessing anything or getting too self-conscious. That’s when pop can be a great thing: intelligent and sometimes subversive ideas in a catchy track. I kept saying “let’s get in the ring”. It’s the best.”
“Get a relative to marry Simon Cowell.”
And here’s an extra quote from a past master, just to round things off:
Andy Partridge (XTC)
“Where I’ve arrived now is the product of mixing the very straight with the very exploratory; there’s a fine line between the two, although it tends to be getting straighter and straighter because my songwriting is getting better.”
What have they missed out? Tell us here.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic