Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting 2010

Was 2010 the end of a volatile time in country music, or the calm before the storm? Well no matter what your personal perception was, 2010 was an interesting year at #1 for songwriters. In 2010, 71 songwriters contributed to twenty-nine #1 records. Because a few of those songwriters wrote on more than one #1, the total # of writers that actually had a #1 or more in 2010 was 53.

According to Phyllis Stark (Stark Country) there were 205 singles released in 2010 so about 15% went “all the way”.

Back in 2009, there were 71 writers contributing to 31 number ones. But again, because of writers writing on more than one #1 record during the year, 63 writers had a part of a #1 in 2009. That means about 20% more writers were a part of a #1 song in 2009.

More information about previous years’ number ones can be found in “The Book” Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting.

Also, although to me, writers are writers, if you are interested in writer gender in 2010 there were 5 female songwriters compared to 48 males and 6 females to 57 males in 2009.

Fastest riser on the charts was Kenny Chesney’s “Boys of Fall” at 11 weeks and after 2 weeks at the top, it obeyed the “law” of leaping off the Country charts in 1-3 weeks after peaking and was on and gone in 14 weeks.

The slowest riser was Easton Corbin’s “A Little More Country Than That” at 32 weeks, but he was also rewarded, along with Joe Nichols “Gimme That Girl” (29 weeks to #1) with the longest on chart stays at 35 weeks each. This is down from last year’s Lady A’s “Run To You” and Chris Young’s “The Black Dress Song” both at 38 weeks.

Slightly over 50% (15 records) took 20 weeks or more to get to #1, up from only 11 records last year.

There were three records that lingered 4 weeks at the top: Reba’s “Consider Me Gone”, Josh Turner’s “Why Don’t We Just Dance” and Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me”. Combine that with the two others that held on to #1 for 3 weeks: Chris Young’s “The Man I Want To Be” and Blake Shelton’s “All About Tonight” and the good news for “stand alone” writers and their publishers is that for 20 weeks out of 52, given the Chrismas chart freeze, about 40% of the songs were written by a “stand alone” or outside the project writers.

 

Artist/Writers

Even though 40% of the time spent at #1 was occupied by “stand alone” writers the artist/writer was definitely a major part of the number one equation.

Twelve of the number ones, slightly over 40% of records that got there were written in whole or in part by the artist. Now, that is down from a high of 2/3 of all #1’s in 2009 and 50% in 2008, but Artist/Writers are still a major factor!

Looking at the gender of Artist side of the equation, of the 29 number ones, about 25% (7) were female (with or without group) and about 75% (22) were male (with or without group).

 

 

Tempo

We all love a waltz. You can’t play in Texas if you don’t have at least one waltz in your repertoire but….at drive time apparently no one wanted to waltz! All of 2010’s crop were 4/4. Of the 29 number ones, 7 or slightly less than 25% were ballads. The rest were split pretty equally between mid and up tempo records. Speaking of dancing, 120 beats per minute is considered the perfect dance beat and four #1 records hovered around that B.P.M.: “Roll With It”, “Why Wait”, “That’s How Country Boys Roll” and of course “Why Don’t We Just Dance”!

Intros

A couple of intros were up there in the 27/28 second range “Hillbilly Bone” (Blake Shelton) and “The Boys of Fall” (Kenny Chesney) but the rest, with a couple of exceptions stayed around the norm. Over the years the average intro has been about 13 seconds. This year if you average all the intros (including Band Perry that starts at zero) you come up with 15 seconds.

Pronouns

I call pronouns the “little big words”. As most country songs are linear, lyrical conversations between two people, most of the time the pronouns used are you and me/ I and we. This year at #1 that was certainly true. 21 or almost 75% of all the “big dogs” invited the listener in by talking to them using the pronoun “you”.

Reba’s “Consider Me Gone,” Jason Aldean’s “The Truth”, Jerrod Neimann’s “Lover Lover” and Carrie Underwood’s “Undo It” all use these songs to tell off the “you” in their life.

On the other side of the relationship equation being “you,” was a good thing. Rascal Flatts “Why Wait”, Josh Turner’s “All Over Me”, Lady A’s “Our Kind Of Love”, Zac Brown’s “Free”, Joe Nichols “Gimme That Girl”, Josh Turner’s “Why Don’t We Just Dance” all used it and of course Easton Corbin had it in both his chart toppers to tell “you” how to “kick back” and “dance in your socks” and end up “a little deeper in love” (“Roll With It”) and to tell “you” who “you’re getting under the old hat” and make sure you know that “this ring ain’t something that I mean to give you and then take back” (“Little More Country Than That”).

The “they” and “he” and “she” pronouns were used to good effect to allow Billy Currington (“That’s How Country Boys Roll”) to talk about “Country Boys” without actually looking like he was bragging on himself!

Carrie Underwood got to tell the story of a young foster child, a “young mom on her own” and an “old man, hospital bed”.

Brad Paisley could speculate about his unborn son being “anything like me” using “he” and Chris Young “The Man I Want To Be” and Zac Brown “As She’s Walking Away” got to make some personal observations regarding how they dealt with “she”.

Themes

Romantic Love-

From a “red dress” and “reservations” (“Gimme That Girl”) to a “bag of pig skins” from the “Exxon station” (“Roll With It”) love was alive at Country in 2010.

8 of the 29 Country #1s were variations on romantic love. From Josh Turner turning off “315 channels” of TV and asking to “move the couch” and start “bouncing off the wall” and “float on air” in “Why Don’t We Just Dance” to Rascal Flatts not wanting to “wait another minute”, asking “why wait” because her “daddy won’t mind if we save him a bundle”.

Love of Family-

Love of family is a part of country music like sunshine is a part of summer. Brad Paisley (“Anything Like Me”) imagined his unborn son growing up to looking forward to him wanting to “hug his momma” and “shake my hand”.

Zac Brown took that “Highway 20 Ride” “every other Friday” and his son was “cherished every time” and of course Miranda Lambert reached back to the “House That Built Me” and talked about her “handprints on the front steps” the fact that her “favorite dog is buried in the yard” and with her Mama cutting out “pictures of houses” “from Better Homes and Gardens for years” and “nail by nail and board by board Daddy gave life to Mama’s dream”.

Love of Country-

“Southern Voice” celebrated the south’s contribution of the “hickory wind that blows from Memphis down to “Appalachicola” to the fact that this is “America my home,” as Tim McGraw made a list of everything that the South has given to popular American culture. Kenny Chesney reminisced about getting to “turn and face the stars and stripes” and “fighting back them butterflies” to live the American football dream in the “Boys of Fall”.

Love Lost-

“The Truth” can be cruel, especially when Jason Aldean’s “going crazy” “strung out over you” and he’s “asking you to lie” about why he’s not there! A more lighthearted, philosophical approach is in “As She’s Walking Away” where Zac Brown “lost this battle” ‘cause his “heart won’t tell my mind to tell my mouth what it should say,” and of course “Lover Lover” (Jarrod Niemann) who is “packing up my bags and going far away.”

Love Found-

“Why Wait” had Rascal Flatts pushing to “get it done” and not “wait another minute.” “All Over Me” had Josh Turner ask the listener to “meet me at the end of your drive” grabbing “your shades and your string bikini” and “get a little carried away”.

Good Time/Party-

“Roll With It” had Easton Corbin find a place “where the white sandy beach meets water like glass,” getting “out of this ordinary everyday rut”and “winding up a little deeper in love.” By the time you’ve found that “Hillbilly Bone” (Blake Shelton/Trace Adkins) “you can’t help but hollerin’, YeeHaw” and party time country style is in full swing. You also have to give it up for Billy Currington who is “pretty good at drinking beer”.

Revenge/Satisfaction-

Reba told “you” that if she’s “not the one you can’t stand to lose” and if she’s not “that arrow to the heart of you” then you should “consider me gone”.

Life Lessons-

“Highway 20 Ride” had Zac Brown telling his young son about his “ride east every other Friday” cause “your mom and me couldn’t get along,” and how he would “slowly die inside” and he would “count the days and the miles back home to you”.

Morality-

Chris Young begs God “to put some love back in her heart” cause “it’s gonna take a miracle after all I’ve done to really make her see” “the man I wanna be”.

“Temporary Home” tells everyone that “this was just a stop, on the way “to where we are all going.”

Song Length

20 of the 29 #1s were over three minutes and less than 4 minutes- same as 2009. 5 #1s were 4:00 minutes or longer, far fewer than 2009 (8) or 2008 (7). The three #1s that were under three minutes were only just under three minutes, the same as last year. Not much really changed length-wise from last year.

Song Forms

2nd Form- Verse, Verse (optional) Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Instrumental., Chorus Out

Second Form is a healthy “get me to the hook/title in a minute, at the very least minute from start of vocal. Songs like “Hillbilly Bone”, “Highway 20 Ride,” and “All About Tonight” illustrate it well.

3rd Form- Verse, Verse (optional), Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, and out (an instrumental can be put in before or after the bridge if you feel the need!)

Songs like “Temporary Home,” “Free,” and “Rain is a Good Thing” bring the total of third form #1 songs to eight.

4th Form- Verse, Verse (optional), Pre-chorus or lift, Chorus or title, Verse Pre-Chorus or lift, Chorus/title Bridge (optional) Pre-chorus or lift (optional), Chorus and Out.

This structure has 7 uses in the battle for #1. It was used a lot more in pop at #1. “Our Kind of Love” Lady A and “Undo It” Carrie Underwood are great examples.

5th Form- Verse, Verse, Bridge, Verse

Is a great form for bending and shaping but still satisfying the listener at worst time of day possible (drive time). Known at the old “A A B A” form, it is very malleable. The bridge can conveniently pass as a chorus which doubles the “ear appeal”. “American Honey” does that. It mixes 3rd and 5th Forms; adds a 4th verse and a Bridge/Middle 8. “A Little More Country Than That” adds an intro verse and “That’s How Country Boys Roll” adds a tag with new information right at the end. Josh Turner just rolls on past the end of the second verse of “Why Don’t We Just Dance” to go “down the hall maybe straight up the stairs, bouncing off the wall floatin’ on air” and resolves into the title one more time. Good stuff!

If you embrace the anomalies there were 6 uses of the 5th form.

6th Form- The sixth form, or rondeau, or rondo I cover in my book “Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting.” Although it seldom occurs at number one. It is used a lot in dance music, western swing and bluegrass music. Perfect rondeau/6th form is chorus, verse, chorus, musical break, bridge/middle eight, chorus etc. The one only to get to the top in a while was “Good Morning Beautiful” in 2002. Well, in 2010, The Band Perry took this lovely old form, tugged at it, added a few bits and rode it all the way to #1.

Repetition

Unlike most #1 pop songs, country records generally manage fewer repetitions of title. There were only four country songs that had 10 or more repetitions. The bulk, 19 or almost 2/3rds had from 6-9 uses of the title. The honor of the song with the least uses was The Band Perry with 3, and taking the prize for the most repetitions of title was “Lover Lover” with 14 followed by “All About Tonight” with 11 and “Free” Zac Brown and “Gimme That Girl” Joe Nichols with 10. It is interesting to note 3 of those 4 songs with many repetitions hit #1 in the “dog days” of August so maybe we as listeners need to be hit over the head with the title a little more in hot weather! All the rest were in the 3-9 uses of the title.

Unlike pop, country songs require multiple radio plays over many weeks to climb to #1, so repetition is necessary as it is what engages the listener. But repetition can get wearing over the months necessary for a country record to get to #1 and actually turn the listeners off.

Humor/Irony/Detail

All of the above were all over country radio in 2010. From an “inflatable pool full of Dad’s hot air” to rain “until the map turns blue” (“Water”) to “rain makes corn, corn makes whisky, whisky makes my baby feel a little frisky,” humor was a big part of 2010 #1s. The irony of Zac Brown “falling in love as she’s walking away” was not lost on anyone and Billy Currington’s “Pretty good at drinking beer” was a prime example of detail as he “wasn’t born for digging deep holes,” “paving long roads”, or climbing “high line poles” and “Southern Voice” took detail to the extreme by having at least two dozen specific references to all things “Southern”.

Story/Conversational

Conversation seemed to dominate this year, (18 #1s). With Reba starting off the year with “Consider Me Gone” where she dressed down her significant other, Jason Aldean begging his former mate to don’t tell “The Truth”; Zac Brown telling his son all about that “Highway 20 Ride”; Lady A talking about “Our Kind Of Love,” there were so many wonderful conversational songs.

Some examples cornering the story market were songs like “Temporary Home” Carrie Underwood, “Boys of Fall” Kenny Chesney and “Anything Like Me” Brad Paisley.

Advice/Best Bests

If you are a writer and you are given the chance to only pitch a couple of songs to a producer or A&R person or an artist, or you are a publisher in a similar situation what songs should you choose to play?

Well, first of all, follow your heart but you might think twice about pitching a waltz!!

Other than that, as long as the intro isn’t outrageously long, the song isn’t over 5 minutes, gets to the first use of the title in 60 seconds, has humor, irony or detail, is consistent with the image of artist you are aiming it at and invites the listener in quickly, have at it! May you be one of the lucky 15% of the 200+ records released this year that gets to go to the #1 Party!