Jaimie Songwriters are a gifted breed. They’re poets that think in three dimensions. It isn’t enough to be able to put pen to paper and Chaucer their ideas onto papyrus. They have to lift those words from this black and white template and insert them into music from which a melody rises and falls.

Irving Berlin

From there cadence and nuance punctuates the sentences with meaning while the music sets the mood and tone. It is rather like rocket science. One misstep and the whole thing blows up…badly.
Many of the great songwriters say they just pull the inspiration out of the sky. A God given gift. But more often than not songs are heavy handed construction projects built, pyramid like, from a solid base of previous writing Goffin Kingchops and polished at the top with a salient hook. It’s why the Brill Building was cranking out hit after hit in the 1960s – Goffin/King, Bacharach/David, Greenwich/Berry, Leiber/Stoller, Mann/Weil, Sedaka/Greenfield, Doc Pomus, Laura Nyro, Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart, Andy Kim. The Brill machine was, of course, modeled on the Tin Pan Alley machine which was headquartered kitty corner in New York and had been cranking out the hit parade of pop music standards as far back as 1885. Despite the protestations from many of the world’s greatest songwriters, there is a formula – they just don’t want anyone to know what it is.

elton and bernieYou can’t have a Bryan Adams/Jim Vallance or Elton John/Bernie Taupin consistently ruling the Top40 for decades without some semblance of a method. Hell, even Chad Kroeger has a tried-and-true blueprint for Nickel back songs. And both AC/DC and The Ramones perfected theirs with songs no fewer than two chords and no greater than five per song. The formula, it seems, is different for everyone. Alas, in the current pop idiom we’re getting a lot more paint-by-numbers derivation from the soulless hacks in Nashville and the more-beats-per-loop LAXers. It all comes across as vapid and cynical rather than heartfelt. They’ve taken the Brill Building machinery to its most dystopian conclusion.

ThickeIt’s sad to think that Robin Thicke might be the last truly inspired songwriter out there when all the songs on his most recent album, ‘Paula’, were written about his soon-to-be ex-wife. At least he had a muse. We’re seeing less and less of that now. Concept albums used to be the most well-rounded formats for delving deeply into a topic – Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ still stands as a Cold War battle between Rock Stars and their psyches. With only a handful of contemporary exceptions, the concept album is very much dead. Some rap and hip-hop artists have stuck to it. And kudos to them. But that leaves the most relatable of songs left to one-off topics and singular revelations. Does no one get inspired anymore when they write songs? Cause to this listener’s ears I get a whole lot of vacuous Moon/June bullshit coming out of singers’ mouths these days – Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” notwithstanding.

Aside from the actual performance of the song, what breathes life and soul into the greatest of songs is the subject of those lyrics. Lyrics we’ve come to take for granted for many years which might be the real reason no one is trying very hard to write them anymore. Here for your dining and dashing pleasure is the back story of muses that have become overshadowed by the songs they inspired.

Girl From Ipanema1Yes, there really is a girl from Ipanema. Contrary to popular myth, it isn’t the song’s singer Astrud Gilberto – wife of musician João Gilberto  whose 1964 rendition with Stan Getz topped the charts worldwide and won a shitload of awards. The song was composed by Vinícius de Moraes for a musical-in-progress entitled Dirigível under the working title “Menina que Passa” (The Girl Who Passes By)” with lyrics by Antônio Carlos Jobim. The two gents would often lounge at the popular Veloso bar-café on Montenegro Street in the Rio de Janeiro resort town of Ipanema where they wrote and recorded. The duo would often see a beautiful statuesque 19 year-old woman with long brown hair [see photo] wafting through the crowds each day on errands for her mother. Her name was Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto. Jobim changed the first verse of the unfinished song to reflect his observation of her secret adventures.

Following the song’s ubiquitous appeal worldwide Heloísa became Helo Penheiro and cashed in on her status as THE Girl From Ipanema and gained Girl From Ipanema2fame and stardom by association. She opened a beauty salon and became a rich business woman trading on her looks and that of her daughter – both of whom appeared nude together in a Brazilian version of Playboy magazine. Years later, the heirs of the songwriters took her to court in an attempt to stop her from using the name Garota de Ipanema (the Portugese title of the song) for her beauty salon/products. The Brazilian courts, however, sided with Penheiro claiming that without her, the song would never have been given its inspiration and that the rightful owner of the mantle Girl From Ipanema was her.

CALLING OCCUPANTS OF INTERPLANETARY CRAFT (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)
recordOn the surface this wigged-out alien contact ditty written by Klaatu members John Woloschuk and Terry Draper was just a cash-in on the sudden fad created by Hollywood with the box office smashes Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Carpenters’ cover version put it into the pop vernacular in 1977 which made the song appear contemporary to the space fever overpowering pop culture at the time. Truth is, the song was written in 1975 and had its inspiration from two divergent sources completely unrelated to the above.

Klaatu derived their name from the 1951 Robert Wise movie ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ starring Michael Rennie as the self-appointed interstellar Klaatu Gortpoliceman Klaatu (alongside his robot enforcer Gort) – who had come to Earth to put mankind on trial for heinous universal crimes and to extinguish their potential threat against the rest of the galaxy should they eventually achieve interstellar flight. For those familiar with “Calling Occupants” it informs a good part of the song’s middle eight. But the impetus for the song, the reason the band wrote it, was found deep inside a 1967 sci-fi journal called ‘The Flying Saucer Reader’ edited by Jay David. The book contained a number of dissertations by the underground scientific brain trust at the time related to fringe science and what we’d describe today as tinfoil hat theories (remember, this was pre-Moon Landing).

Flying SaucerThe chapter that caught Woloschuk and Draper’s attention was called “World Contact Day”. A group of alien believers called the International Flying Saucer Bureau designated March 15, 1953 as World Contact Day. On it they were to use their collective thoughts and mind power to reach into space and present any alien species with a greeting of peace. It’s unclear whether it ever worked. But our intrepid songwriters decided to take the ISFB’s mantra and make it into a song. A song they hoped would be broadcast for real into deep space on the back of primitive radio waves. At least part of that dream came true.

SemisonicSemisonic’s one-hit wonder status was cemented in March 1998 when they released this lament to bar patrons which topped the charts in at least six countries (and received a Grammy nod in 1999). After all who can’t relate to being the last drunken slob looking to hook-up for a one night stand with another drunken slob as the bar staff turn on the lights and sweep the floors after a night of partying and striking out with the opposite (or same) sex?

Ah, but only if it were so. Semisonic lead singer/songwriter Danny Wilson was beside himself when he found out he was going to be a Dad. And with barimpending fatherhood he began thinking about the prospects of bringing a child into the world unsure about its destiny. It was a pretty heavy existential reality check that he wanted to put into song. But for a band just trying to make a living playing four minute pop tunes he wasn’t sure he could sell the idea to his bandmates. So he wrote the song as a barroom allegory. Bingo, bongo, bam. Instant Top 40 hit. Now read the lyrics from an expectant Dad’s point of view. Suddenly it’s no longer about late-night hook-ups.

Closing time
Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Closing time
Turn all of the lights on over every boy and every girl
Closing time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer
Closing time
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here

I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
Take me home

Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from
Closing time
This room won’t be open till your brothers or your sisters come
So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend
Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end



Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon


  1. For me, songwriting is a somewhat mystical process, intermingling sifting through various combinations of words and music, with flat-out magic. Where other people put their brainpower into doing crosswords and playing with puzzles, songwriters channel similar energy into creating art with a (hopefully) more memorable and more permanent result.

    I’m delighted that you included a photo of Irving Berlin, as he is my personal songwriting idol. Just as The Beatles transformed themselves from just another bar band into creative powerhouses, Berlin similarity morphed himself from lowly beginnings as a singing waiter with no musical training into a world-class songwriter, except with no collaborator. Like the Beatles, Berlin wrote songs in a myriad of different styles, and captured the attention of the world — only starting about 50 years earlier!

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