Back in Week 6, I wrote Something. It was a silly song exploring a sixteen year old’s infatuation with his college aged coworker. This week we revisit teenage love. However, whereas Something was in the spirit of a Ben Folds, Sixteen Years could have been written by Taylor Swift’s younger brother.
It started last weekend with some fiddling around on the guitar. I was playing with some chord patterns that made use of hammer ons on the high E-string. I soon fell into the simple back and forth I - IV strumming pattern that forms the basis of the song. Once I had that, I began fishing for a melody and was soon humming what would become the basis of the song, including the verse ending ‘sixteen years’.
The first words to come were in fact ‘sixteen years’ and I quickly felt that – given the feel of the chords and music – this would be a wistful reminiscent song. At that point, I set the music aside and focused on the story and the lyrics. This would take up most of the week.
As for the lyrics, once I had the first verse roughed together, it occurred to me that the ‘heart on fire, can’t stop these tears’ line could apply to either joy or sorrow. At that point, I thought it’d be nice to try to have the same verse begin and end the song, the first time joyful, the last time sorrowful. In the end, they are close to identical with a couple of word changes to make the story work.
From that point on, I fleshed out the lyrics. The most difficult part was the bridge. I knew I wanted it to take our sixteen year old from the ‘top of the world’ right down to his broken heart. It took a while to find a melody that would work with the rest of the song. Once I had that, I spent a considerable amount of time on the words. For such a small segment of the song, you’d be surprised by how much time it took to get there. In the end, it’s the part of the song that still feels a bit incomplete to me.
As for recording, I always planned to keep it sparse. That said, it did take a while to get the strumming pattern down. Frankly, I’m not a very good guitarist, so it took some trial and error. Here are the geeky details…I recorded a scratch guitar part which allowed me to record a scratch vocal. I then muted the scratch guitar track and tried recording guitar along with the scratch vocal, getting a pattern that would work alongside the singing. It took a good seven or eight takes before it felt like I was getting it right. And even then, it took a bit of comping to arrive at the final track.
I think the struggle with the guitar part is symptomatic of the nature of this whole 52 in 52 process. I’ve touched on this before, but the fact that I’m turning these songs out so quickly makes it hard to ‘own’ them. I’m just getting familiar with them as they’re getting recorded and released. In fact, it would be a struggle for me to sit down and play any one of this year’s 18 songs straight through from memory, whereas I could play you a few dozen of my older songs off the cuff while working out math problems in my head. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed Sixteen Years. I really liked it. I’m a bit of a sap, so I can imagine our sixteen year old’s heartache. But for now, it’s on to #19. I can’t believe how fast these songs are adding up. Thanks so much for following my progress. Have a great week!