Updated: Nov 6, 2019
On the third day Jim Prime provided an array of obscure Elton John songs and tasked us to create the melody with no guidance – the same demarcative (Bennett, 2011) approach Elton took with Bernie Taupin’s lyrics. We were to let the vocal lead the instrumental and try to make it as harmonically interesting as possible.
First Response & Inspiration
I never write lyrics before melody, so starting with them was a nightmare. Whilst I was excited to work with David and hark back to my early jazz influences, I was also aware how much I struggle to sing to a piano accompaniment (my sense of rhythm is appalling, so I heavily rely on strumming pattern). David however seemed keen, and thankfully took the lead.
A Collaborative Process
It took a while, but after we had mapped out a preliminary structure and genre my brain finally kicked in, and I was able to start contributing to the melody. David had already written a beautiful piano piece, and the introductory melody we developed had interesting pacing and rhythm. The rest of the song uses more traditional melodic rhythm, but the unexpected delivery in the verses created an attention-grabbing introduction.
Gradually we started to realise the complexity of what we had written, and whilst everything worked individually, it didn't really flow. Jenn suggested we fully embraced the musical theatre genre and try staging the song with that type of narrative. We cut the first B section in order to tease at what was coming later, and treated the 'Mona Lisas' section as a bridge instead of a chorus, as it provided narrative progression, but didn't feel as much like home in the song as our B section - which we then made the chorus.
This brief was one of the most challenging for me, however collaborating with David allowed me to work in a genre and harmonic progression I probably wouldn't have otherwise. David and I have continued to expand upon the song since - working on the instrumentation, and adding a brass section I hadn't had time to finish.
Bennett, J. (2011) Collaborative Songwriting – The Ontology Of Negotiated Creativity In Popular Music Studio Practice. [Online] Available: https://www.arpjournal.com/asarpwp/collaborative-songwriting-%E2%80%93-the-ontology-of-negotiated-creativity-in-popular-music-studio-practice/ [Accessed 21 September 2019].
John, E. & Taupin, B. (1972) Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters. Honky Château. [CD] Chicago: UNI