“Everybody always laughs at love
but what they want is to be proven wrong”
– Allen/Hall/Oates, “Did It in a Minute”

It isn’t just that this is a great lyric (though I certainly think it is). It’s the way they wrote the prechorus/build melody to go with it: drawn-out, punctuated, really driving home the meaning by making the listener wait for it. That must have been one hell of a cowriting session. I would love to have been a fly on the wall.

It’s tougher, in some ways, to write lyrics in a void. Sure, I always have a working melody while I’m writing lyrics, but it rarely ends up being anything like the melody we end up using for the song (thank goodness). Something like the Hall & Oates example above would be nearly impossible to achieve in the kind of writing arrangement we primarily use.

But there are advantages to our arrangement, of course: I’m unconstrained by any existing melody as I write the lyrics, which leaves me limitless room to move and turn around, change my mind, scrap whole sections, and invent new structures. Of course, when I do the latter, as I recently did, I make it very challenging for Karsten. But hey, that’s what he’s good at, so I’m comfortable leaving that to him.

And we do the real-time co-writing thing every once in a while. Enough to remind us that it’s not the way we prefer to work. I think we learn a lot from each other and from the experience whenever we do, and I hope we never stop doing it, but I never plan for it to be more than an occasional change of pace.

So perhaps the greatness of the above example of collaboration will forever elude us. Or maybe we’ll find our own ways to attain greatness. Maybe we’re already finding them, and they just need enough repetition to produce quality results. To paraphrase the line, everybody always laughs at Hall & Oates, but what they forget is the 6 #1 singles, more than a dozen top 40 singles, and 19 gold and platinum albums. I’d like to be that laughable.

Lessons in great songwriting

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