In her song “My First Lover” Gillian Welch uses The Steve Miller Band’s song “Quicksilver Girl” to give her song context. Referencing another song is a shorthand way to set the song in a timeline. It’s like when a movie plays “Johnny B. Goode” to show that it is set in the ‘50s. Look how Welch uses “Quicksilver Girl” (the Steve Miller Band lyrics are bolded)
He was always talking trying to bring me down
But I was not waiting for a white wedding gown
From my first lover
I do not remember any goin' wrong
Just a record playin' that old Steve Miller song
Gillian uses the song to create context for the narrative. How would this song be different if she said she had been listening to “Midnight Train to Georgia”? What if they had been listening to Thriller? Of course, Welch is not the first artist to do this—Don Mclean, John Lennon, Waylon Jennings—the list goes on and on.
For today’s challenge, write a song that directly references another album/artist/song in the lyrics. It can be done in any way that you choose—maybe you want to reference a list of song titles like Dire Straits in the chorus for “Calling Elvis”. Or perhaps you want to use it as a description of a character like how American Aquarium does in “Savannah Almost Killed Me”.
In his song “Crazy As a Loon” John Prine sets each verse begins in a different location. The narrative of the song changes with each new location the verses are set in. From Hollywood, to Nashville, New York City, and the Canadian wilderness, each location has an effect on the song’s narrative. For example:
"So, I gathered up my savvy
bought myself a business suit
I headed up to New York City
where a man can make some loot.
I got hired Monday morning,
downsized that afternoon. "
Notice how John Prine uses New York City and associations with NYC—business suit, money, corporate culture (hired, downsizing, etc.)—to tell a story. What images are related to a place? Why is it significant that when he sings about Hollywood that he sings about “waitin’ for a phone call / at the wrong end of a broom”? Why is he “hangin’ at every honky tonkin’ bar” during the verse about Nashville?
Write a song where each verse is set in a different place. How does each location change the narrative? You may want to consider what is unique about each place? How will the things in each place change your characters?
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