Man, chose a doosey today! Musically it’s easy. Just a lot of lyrics to memorize. That’s the irony: The hard ones musically tend to have easy lyrics and vice versa.
Oh well. What was the spark that made me choose this one? I was sitting around last night watching TV, strumming some chords, and out of the blue, what I thought was an original, cool sounding riff came to my head, and I thought, “Oh, finally, this could be an original song!”
But the more I strummed it, I realized it was this Josh Rouse song. Hate that when that happens. You think you’ve come up with not only something original, but also something that is actually good, and then you realize it’s someone else’s.
At least it got me interested in this song, which really I’d only heard a few times before. If it weren’t for Spotify, I don’t think I would have ever heard it. I didn’t realize there was so much material both on “The Best of the Rykodisc Years” and “The Smooth Sounds of Josh Rouse” that wasn’t on any of his previous official “albums” or EPs.
Anyway, like I said, musically it’s easy. Just four chords: Dmaj7 – Amaj7 – Gmaj – E7. It begins on a Dmaj7, and the dominant riff of the song, both verse and chorus, is a back and forth between the Dmaj7 and Amaj7. The G-E change comes in every so often as a sort of “turn around” as they call it in the business.
These are the kinds of songs I really encourage for beginning guitarists who need encouragement. They are easy enough to learn, but they’re also good and fun. They keeps you motivated to play. I remember when I was a teenager, I was going to quit guitar altogether.
And then I found Bob Dylan. Those songs were easy enough to learn, but I knew they were good, and I loved playing them. It was that spark of fun that kept me at it.
Oh, well, I’m going to get at memorizing these lyrics. I’m sure it’ll take a couple or even few days for them to “sink in.” I’ll have to come back to this post, to official mark that I’ve got them down.
Actually I’ve learned a couple others since the last “Song of the Day”, but they both took a couple or three days for the lyrics to really sink into the “officially” memorized zone, and by that time, like the irony of life itself, I sort of lose interest in them, and end up not blogging about them. But I really do need to put them down in a blog post, or something that tells my subconscious that “This song is official. You can put it in the books. I know it by heart, and I can play it live.”
Anyway there are a ton of songs that I’ve learned in the past and I know at the present moment, say 75%. But I sort of need a spark to get me to actually learn it 100%.
Here’s an example of such a spark: I was watching the video of Daniel Tashian’s “I’m the One” song, and I was learning the chords, and writing down the lyrics. I was getting it down, but I was getting a little depressed because I actually couldn’t sing the Chorus. The high notes. That was discouraging. I’d always thought I could imitate Daniel’s voice pretty well. I hate to make excuses, but it could be that he just knows how to do “Falsetto” and I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know. Or maybe its just a bad day for my voice. Anyway that discouraged me from blogging about that song today at least. I will still learn that song and get it down 100% even if I can’t ever play it live, because it’s just such a good song.
Oh, I forgot about the spark. When I was watching that video, I noticed in the recommended videos a video of the lyrics of the Silver Seas song, “Imaginary Girl” from their 2nd album. That was one of those “75%” songs for me. And I knew I could sing it pretty well. Also, I knew there was one or two little pieces of lyrics for that song, that I wasn’t sure about, and it looked like this video had them right. So that was all the spark I needed. I’ll post that video below. I’ve gone through the song 3 or 4 times now on the live P.A. system, and I feel like I’ve got it down now, that I can put it in the “100% Club.”
I’ll probably post a video of me playing it live at some point. Until then, if you’re reading this and you would like to know the chords, let me know, and that might be the “Spark” I need to publish those.
Update 05/22/13 : I just heard Josh do a live interview/ 3 song session on a Radio station in London. He did play this song, so I listened closely to the lyrics during the refrain/bridge part. Sounds like I got the “Black Greece Tea” part right. I guess there is such a thing as Black Greece tea. The second part I didn’t have right, but I could hear him clearly and it’s “Maybe we’ve been daydreaming.”
I should warn you. Probably about 90% of these songs are going to be Josh Rouse. He’s been my favorite singer/songwriter for the last going on 7 years now. So I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pick out his chords and enjoying singing his songs. I really should try to broaden out my repertoire though. REM, Smiths, Replacements, Police, really just anytime I hear a song I like, I should at least take a crack at it. Can’t hurt.
Anyway today’s song: “The Western Isles” by Josh Rouse. It’s the 9th track off his most recent album “The Happiness Waltz.”
What made me pick it, was not only did I love the song, but something reminded me that it was a Google Play Music pick of the day a few weeks ago. That’s all I need. Plus I couldn’t get it out of my head.
First off what’s interesting about this song is that it is in the Key of A, but there’s never an A chord in the song. It starts out on a Dmaj7 then to an Emaj. The main riff kind of swings back in forth between those two chords, as well as the verse, with an F#m thrown in for an accent. Another interesting thing about this song: It has a bass driven riff. So, that’s one reason I sort of steered clear of it. I thought that within the context of me just playing with an acoustic, and maybe a harmonica, that I really couldn’t present that main riff motif. But I found that with an A harmonica, I can sort of imitate that bass riff, which itself is echoed, during the songs’ interludes, by a lovely sounding organ in the original recording.
Also, it’s one of those Josh songs where he sings something, I just can’t decipher, and apparently no one else can either, because when I did a lyric search, all the sites that have the lyrics for this song have a “?” by this same passage. The best I can decipher it, and you’ll know the part I’m talking about if you listen to the song, is “Cigarettes and black Greece tea.” Oh, speaking musically, this is on the refrain part of the song, which begins on an F#m, and then kind of stays on that chord with a half step down bass line F#-F-E-Eb- at which point when it arrives at the D it just goes into the D chord itself for the “Could we…” and the “feel at” is on top of the E chord, back to the D chord for “home”
On the second time that it does that refrain it repeats the passage with words I totally can’t understand. I mean the “Cigarettes and black Greece tea” sound like they almost could be right, or have a chance of being right, but this second passage, I just have make something up, which I know is wrong, but still work to get me through the song: “Maybe we’ve been patron leave.”
This leads me to a rant: Why is it so damn hard to get the lyrics and or liner notes to these albums nowadays?! It makes me crazy. Why doesn’t Josh and all the other acts publish these things on their websites or whatever? Damn, it’s frustrating.
Anyway, I’ll publishing the words as I’m doing them at this moment. Maybe these artists think that’s part of the fun of it, part of the “mystery” of being a Shamanesque type of figure. Maybe. Whatever.
The Western Isles by Josh Rouse from The Happiness Waltz
All day, I can see the life from the western isles
Faded in white like a western smile
We could live here, you know.
Nobody’s saved, caught up in a life that is based on lies
Struggle and strife from the nights of fire
Just getting by, you know.
Cigarettes and black greece tea…
could we feel at home?
Far, far away,
I can hear the birds on western isles
Singing in the night like an ancient choir
‘Oh how I love you so’
Don’t worry baby,
You’ll be alright with the western smile
Maybe there’s a life on the western isles
In a few years or so.
Cigarettes and black green tea
maybe we’ve been daydreaming.
And we’re almost home (This is sort of a “Middle Eight” part where, instead of going back into that D chord, he uses the F#m with the walk down bass riff)
(And then back in into the Dmaj7-E back and forth for the ending lines to fade out and echo on.)
Headin’ for the western isles
We heading for the western isles
We heading for the western isles
We heading for the western isles
Oh where do we wanna go?
Oh where do we wanna go?
Well, I was cleaning off one of my counters this morning, all the paper and junk mail had piled up. And as I was sorting what I needed to keep from the rubbage, there it was: the hand written lyric sheet for “A Lot Like Magic” that Josh had mailed me last fall. Now, to be fair, I don’t know Josh, but he had been doing these “StageIt” shows on the internet in which audience members could participate as well as donate to the artist. And the highest bidder won a hand written signed lyric sheet. So there it is.
I’d been meaning to get this song down. The first time I heard it, it blew me away. I was like “Damn, that chorus is as good as Van Morrison!” The music, the words, the theme of the song, everything attracted me. But I couldn’t pick out the chords by ear. Then by chance, in March, when Josh was at SxSW, Rhapsody filmed him singing this very tune. I love the production and the sound quality of the video, and what’s even better, most of the video shows his chord frettings, enough that I could pick out the entire arrangement with each chord.
If you’re wanting to learn to play this, then this Rhapsody Video should be all you need:
As you can see from the video, he puts a capo on the fifth fret. The song starts out with a Bm shape. The opening riff, which is the same as most of the verse is: Bm – F#m – G – A – D (That’s not transposed up 5 half steps like it should be. I’m just thinking of the open names for these shapes.) There is one little twist in the verse: On the third line the progression switches to: G – A – G – A – Bm. The Chorus progression is: Em – A – Dmaj7 – Gmaj7 – Em – A – Bm – A. On the solo part it’s almost exactly the chords of the chorus, except it begins on the Gmaj7. So it’s like Gmaj7 – A – Dmaj7 – Gmaj7 – A – Bm – A. You can pick it up pretty fast from that video.
Since I took the time to type out the lyrics (Josh’s handwriting isn’t very legible) I’ll go ahead and publish them:
Lyrics for “A Lot Like Magic” by Josh Rouse from The Happiness Waltz album.
Well I met a man and he gave me advice
I didn’t want it at first then I said alright.
He said you live each day like a very last one
So I took that line and I wrote this song
And he said:
It’s all in the air it’s a lot like magic
We make do with the best that we have
You sit still or you roam something’s bound to happen
So I just shook his hand, forgot about my plans…
So I rode my bike up to Sycamore Hill
I thought long I thought hard on the right way to live
I had a lot of fun with a long legged girl
And we threw our arms ‘round this humdrum world
Forget about those plans, the future’s here a last…
Solo Bars (Over Chorus Chords)
Yeah, the days turn to months and the months into years
My children have grown and I’m still standing here
I still live each day like a very last one
I rise with the birds and I set with the Sun
Forget about those plans, forget about those plans…
A few bars of Chorus progression end it out, and finally it end on a slow melody line over the G and A chord.
Well, every once in a while I start making lists of songs that I could actually play live. I always have this romantic notion of being a troubadour, traveling the world with just his guitar, serenading everywhere he goes. Never gonna happen. Well, at the very least it is fun to have a repertoire, so that you can just play, spontaneously, out of exuberance, enjoyment, and to tell you the truth, even in your own house, when you actually get the mics out, the stool, and the PA system, and you play a collection of songs for an hour or so, it really gives you the physical and psychological release do I call it? Therapy? Whatever, like a work out, or going to “Yoga” or a “Spin” Class.
At any rate, I thought last night that, you know, if I made a certain song off one of my lists a “Song of the Day” and spent the time learning it, actually playing it with a mic an PA as if I were performing live, that you know, after a month or a few months, certainly a year (and we know how fast these years go by) I’d have a pretty decent little setlist, repertoire, whatever you want to call it, that I could play for myself or for others.
So hear goes: Last night I suddenly had the urge to listen to John Mellencamp on Spotify. So I listened to his top hits. Really almost any of them I could have chosen. This one was about 5th or 6th down on the list.
So I came home and picked out the chords pretty fast. I mean it’s not a hard song, musically, but I’d like to think that that’s one of the benefits of learning covers: you start to see similar patterns, and the more you learn, the easier and more fun it seems to be to learn new ones. It’s kind of fun, like figuring out a puzzle.
(An hour or so later)
Well, if nothing else, I’ve managed to drag out all the chords and mics and re hook up my PA system, along with a spot and a stool to simulate playing live in a small room. I went through this song a few times. I think I about have it. I don’t think I would be too impressive in front of a real crowd. It felt like my already weak voice was even weaker than usual. That bummed me out. But I know that at least in part some of that has to do with being able to hear yourself and the monitoring system, of which I have none.
And then some other songs that I knew well enough came up, along with some original riffs sort “popping” out of the guitar. That’s another benefit of playing and learning cover songs: Gets your “juices” flowing and you’ll start spontaneously “hearing” and playing your own riffs and progressions that could become original songs.
I guessed that a few years ago and had it confirmed by different “real” artists that I’ve read in interviews: For instance, if you want to be a poet, the best thing you can do is constantly be reading new poetry. Same with fiction, and I suppose with other arts.
Well back to the subject at hand. I don’t know if I’ll keep this up. Knowing me, probably not. But anyway at least I have an official “Song of the Day” for May 8th, 2013, and it’s John “Cougar” Mellencamp’s “Ain’t Even Done with the Night.”