You and I (original song)


How long does it take to write a song? On a hot streak and with a prevailing creative wind behind you it’s possible to write one in five minutes. Jimi Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary (1967) was famously composed in a very short spell – mostly people say it was written “on the spot” in the studio (although others say Hendrix wrote it in a night).

Then again, other songs can gestate for years, even decades. George Harrison’s Not Guilty (George Harrison, 1979) had been rehearsed by the Beatles as early as 1968, but it took the breakup of the band, the passage of a decade, and a complete reworking of the instrumentation before Harrison saw fit to release it.

So here’s a personal example. I initially wrote this song in around 1996 – with lyrics that reflected the loss of a friend. He’d taken off on a voyage of what he called “self-discovery” at university, by which he meant taking loads of drugs and sleeping around.

I, stuck in the same place we’d grown up together, already engaged and yoked to a boring office job, simultaneously resented and missed him. It inspired a gentle and very personal song that never really suited the sturm-und-drang of a live band.

So it sat in a notepad on a shelf – ready for me to dig up whenever a suitably maudlin mood was upon me. But over time, the meaning faded. He came back into my life and the sense of the song was lost.

But then…? Well. I fucked this relationship up – along with many others – on the back of my personal weaknesses, unaddressed mental health issues and some reckless, horrible actions. The sense of loss that inspired that song is ever-present with me these days – only this time the element resentment is directed at myself. No surprise then that I found myself strumming the song again the other week for the first time in years. And I found myself spurred to change the lyrics to reflect this new slant on our relationship and the many, all-consuming regrets I have.

I did record it, and I’m unhappy with the results at the moment, but fuck it. 20 years of conflicting thoughts are now compressed into these few lines. I’m embarrassed enough by my singing voice, but laying myself bare in my lyrics is a whole other ball game of cringe. But, as I try to face the world once again, the relative anonymity of this blog seems as good a place as any to do so.

Lyrics

You and I
Sat beneath a cloudless sky
And talked about our lives
Our hopes, our dreams and teenage lies
Just you and I
You and I

You and me
Staring at infinity
While drinking God knows what
Thinking that there’d always be
A you and me
A me and you

You ran away to a brave new world
And left me here in the same old town
But I still go to places where we used to play
And dream about those endless days
But now you’ve seen a brighter green
I’m just a part of that same old scene
You and I
You and I

You and me
Chasing girls and hopeless dreams
That never came to be
Lost amidst the swirling streams
Of history
Like you and me

I clung too hard to the same old paths
And trapped us both in old photographs
And I still went to places where we used to play
To think about those endless days
But now I’ve broken everything
And there’s just a hole where we used to be

But I hope that you find peace
And at last you’ll be at ease
And I hope your star still shines
And memories don’t die
Of you and I
You and I

People Are Strange (Original Song)

John Lennon once described at his songwriting approach as writing “little bits which you then join up.” This is possibly why several of his songs contain lurches in time signature or key – when stuck for inspiration, Lennon would trawl though those ‘little bits’ and find one he could stitch into the fabric of whatever song he was working on at the time – unlike the more traditionally musical McCartney, who would find a resolution from the natural key or structure of the song.

In fact, this method informed some of the Beatles’ best songs, such as Day In The Life (Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967) or We Can Work It Out (single, 1965). In these cases Lennon and McCartney literally pieced bits from each other into their songs – making arguably their finest works as a result.

Anyway, I raise that because I’ve just come straight from my songwriting factory (by which I mean my sofa) where I’ve done exactly that. Not on the scale of either of those two towering geniuses, but in the same creative vein.

The opening line of “you’re never alone with a mobile phone” has been sitting on my phone as a voice memo since 2014, and the bridge (“We hide in the shadows”) from even earlier – first appearing as part of a different, abandoned song from 2013. The lesson being: hang on to your scraps somewhere you can access whenever inspiration is slacking.

Stitching those two things together gives (I think) quite a pleasing shift in emphasis from the off-beat to the on-beat in the lead up to the chorus. The chorus itself is cut from an entirely different cloth. Listening back to it now there’s a hint of David Bowie’s Life On Mars (Hunky Dory, 1972) about it but with noticeably less drama. In fact, I was aiming for something along the lines of late-period Madness with a descending chorus but there’s bound to be overlaps when you’re working in this kind of classically “English” idiom. Whatever my intent, it’s very much a song of contrasting moods between verse and chorus and I like the flavour of it (otherwise I certainly wouldn’t be sharing it with you here!)

I’ve got a belief – bordering on tedious mania – that if you’ve got something to say in a pop song you should be able to do it in under 3 or 4 minutes before you start boring people, so I chopped out a third verse, and given the number of ‘bits’ that are already in here thought that adding a middle eight would have been overkill. So there we are: it’s all brought home in a shade under 3 minutes and I’m pleased with the results.

As ever, my apologies for the rough and ready nature of the recording. It’s all done on a Tascam DP-004, which I can’t recommend enough for this kind of thing but is probably underpowered if you want to do something with polish. Like all singers, I hate the sound of my voice but considering that I’m the wrong side of 40 and don’t take great care of my voice I’m quietly chuffed to be able to hit those top notes in the chorus – even if I sound a lot hoarser than I did in my youth.

Lyrically? Well… there’s a little bit of self-revelation buried in there somewhere. As our relationships increasingly exist in the fractured world of the internet, many of us all fall into solipsistic traps: talking to people we know we shouldn’t and in ways that can be self-destructive because hey – we all have an ego that likes to be tickled.

And as the cliché has it: you find out who your friends in the “real world” truly are when things spill out from that virtual life to fuck with your reality. I have many bitter, sad, disastrous regrets that I can’t undo in this regard and while the words are pretty personal to me, there might be something that resonates with other people. Like all writing though, words can mean insanely different things to the author and the audience. Luckily my audience is zero, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

I’m also a horribly insecure lyricist, so I’m going to simultaneously hedge my bets and say it’s just a bit of nonsense that shouldn’t be taken seriously at all.

People Are Strange: Lyrics

You’re never alone with a mobile phone
No matter how weird you’re not on your own
There’s always someone out there who’ll play along
And tell you you’re right when you know you’re wrong

We stay in the shadows
Hiding from the sun
Friends with everybody
Searching for someone

Who are you now
And who were you then?
When I was lost and needed a friend
People are strange
Or hadn’t you heard?
Strangers in deed – even strangers in words
So what do you see
And what do you feel when you remember me?
People are strange or hadn’t you heard?
Strangers in deed – even stranger in words
Now I feel like going down

Throw down a gin to forget all your sins
But they crawl up the window trying to get in
They rattle the glass and they shake all the doors
Until you can’t feel and can’t take any more

We stay in the shadows
Hiding from the sun
Friends with everybody
Searching for someone

Who are you now
And who were you then?
When I was lost and needed a friend
People are strange
Or hadn’t you heard?
Strangers in deed – even stranger in words
So what do you see
And what do you feel when you remember me?
People are strange or hadn’t you heard?
Stranger in deed – even stranger in words
Now I feel like going down