Pop ballads bite back in lyrical fashion: David Lister charts a sea change away from rap towards memorable melodies

David Lister
Friday 27 May 1994 23:02

SONGWRITING is a very catholic artform. 'Kids pissing on the streets, you know they just don't care.' 'Boom shake, shake the room, well, yo, are y'all ready for me yet, pump it up, prince.' 'A man walks down the street, he says, why am I soft in the middle?'

The first is rap (Grandmaster Flash), the second rap/dance (Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince) and the third melody with narrative (Paul Simon).

But suddenly it is Mr Simon who is back in vogue among young British songwriters. They are leaving the rap and dance scenes and studying the art of traditional songwriting.

At this week's Ivor Novello Awards, where the accolade for the best song musically and lyrically went to Sting for his melodic love song 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', music industry executives sensed a sea change in British songwriting.

Guy Fletcher, chairman of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, knows better than most. He wrote for Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard and now runs workshops for young songwriters.

'Every year I hear someone say 'is the song coming back',' he says, 'and now more than ever I think this is the case.

'Young writers, guys who are actually leaving the rap and dance scene and trying to get into mainstream pop writing, see the value of creating copyrights - that is to say songs with longevity.

'What they're being attracted to again are songs by Americans like Will Jennings and Richard Kean who wrote for Dionne Warwick, and people like Paul Simon who suck you in with the first line, and you feel you have to go on listening.

'I'm seeing an upsurge in ballad writing, in love songs and people trying to compose lyrically. There has been a dearth of good lyric writing in the last few years, right from the punk era of the late Seventies really. And with techno and electronic music recently people have tended to write productions, write records rather than write songs.'

One contemporary band nominated at the Novellos was Apache Indian, a British/Asian rap/pop crossover band whose writers Simon and Diamond Dougall are making the transition.

Simon said yesterday: 'The days of programming a two-bar loop and getting someone rapping over it, which we have certainly done in the past, are going. Real songs are coming back. We strive to write a song with a memorable chorus and verses that mean something.'

Their nominated song, 'Arranged Marriage' tells of a young Asian couple and the pressures from their parents.

Blair McDonald, managing director of Sony Music publishing, said: 'We have to admit that the charts are still peppered with hard core dance tracks that people get off to, but there's a realisation within record labels that a great song gives you a much more valuable record.'

Guy Fletcher admits that while the switch of allegiances in young writers from rap to lyrical love songs is partly spurred by a desire to be more musical in the traditional sense, there is also a commercial drive behind the new songwriting. Writers of rap and dance music have found they don't make much money. Most of those records are released as singles which do not sell in large numbers.

'If you write for the thirtysomethings,' he says, 'you have a much bigger market with the album sales; you create copyrights and your earnings from broadcasts go on for years.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- IVOR NOVELLO AWARD FOR BEST SONG MUSICALLY AND LYRICALLY ----------------------------------------------------------------- Title/year Writer Publisher 1956 By The Fountains Of Rome Seiber, Newell Chappell 1957 A Handful Of Songs Bart, Pratt, Steele Peter Maurice 1958 The Wind Cannot Read Hart Berry Music 1959 The Village Of St Bernadette Parker Francis, Day & Hunter 1960 Portrait Of My Love Ornadel, Newell Kassner Music 1961 What Kind Of Fool Am I? Bricusse, Newley Essex Music 1962 My Love And Devotion Barnes, Roncoroni John Fields 1963 If I Ruled The World Ornadel, Bricusse Delfont Music 1964 Downtown Hatch Welbeck Music 1965 Yesterday Lennon, McCartney Northern Songs 1966 Winchester Cathedral Stephens Meteor Music 1967 She's Leaving Home Lennon, McCartney Northern Songs 1968 Delilah Reed, Mason Donna Music 1969 Where Do You Go To My Lovely Sarstedt Mortimer Music

1970 Something Harrison Harrisongs 1971 Don't Let It Die Smith RAK Publishing 1972 Without You Ham, Evans Apple Publishing 1973 Daniel John, Taupin Dick James Music 1974 Streets Of London McTell Essex Music Int. 1975 I'm Not In Love Gouldman, Stewart St Annes Music 1976 Don't Go Breaking My Heart John, Taupin Big Pig Music 1977 Don't Cry For Me Argentina Rice, Lloyd Webber Evita Music 1978 Baker Street Rafferty Island Music 1979 The Logical Song Davies, Hodgson Rondor Music (London) 1980 Woman In Love Gibb, Gibb Brothers Gibb BV 1981 Memory Lloyd Webber, Nunn, Faber Music The Really Useful Co, Eliot 1982 Have You Ever Been In Love Hill, Sinfield, RCA Music, Danter Paper Music 1983 Every Breath You Take Sumner Virgin Music Publishing, Magnetic Publishing, Illegal Music 1984 Two Tribes Johnson, Gill, Perfect Songs O'Tooke 1985 We Don't Need Another Hero Lyle, Britten Rondor Music (London), Goodsingle, Warner Bros Music 1986 It's Alright Lennox, Stewart D 'n' A Music (Baby's Coming Back) 1987 You Win Again Gibb, Gibb, Gibb Gibb Bros Music, Warner Chappell Music 1988 Love Changes (Everything) Climie, Morgan, Chrysalis Fisher Music, Rondor Music 1989 All Around The World Stansfield, Devaney, BMG Music Morris 1990 Killer Tinley, Seal, Samuel MCA Music, Virgin Music, Beethoven Street Music 1991 Crazy Seal, Samuel Beethoven Street Music, Perfect Songs 1992 Would I Lie To You Vale, Leeson EMI Virgin Music -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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