How Do The Lyrics And Words Affect Us In Music?
I’d like to share my arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” with you.
It’s a really happy song and I had a lot of fun putting the arrangement together and also playing it.
I’ve always been intrigued by Werner Heisenberg’s famous quote –
“not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine”.Werner Heisenberg
Heisenberg was a really impressive guy and among other things he was the main pioneer in developing the Theory of Quantum Mechanics.
He was also an accomplished pianist and all round just a brilliant mind.
It’s great that we have these clever people and brilliant minds to help us understand this strange and mysterious world we live in.
Great writers, great thinkers… but pop music isn’t something that immediately comes to mind as a source of wisdom to lead us in our search for understanding…
There are, however, inspired song writers that create songs that give us a different perspective and way of looking at things.
We all have our favourite songs, with some songs it’s the catchy melody or tune that grabs us.
Sometimes it’s the riff, while other songs affect us because of the lyrics and words.
Unpacking the Meaning Behind Stevie Wonder’s Hits.
Stevie Wonder had all angles covered!
His melodies and chord progressions are among some of the best crafted songs ever written but because his music is so strong we can easily overlook or miss the significance of the words he would set to his music.
The topics he writes about cover a wide variety of topics so let’s take a look at a few.
“Master Blaster” is a tribute to Bob Marley who Stevie Wonder had a great respect for.
Stevie would invite Marley up on stage to jam and they would play “I Shot The Sheriff” & “Superstition“.
Stevie wrote “Superstition” for Jeff Beck and it’s riff rivals any from the major league rockers like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple but the lyrics are a Masterclass in marrying the right subject and set of lyrics to a hard rocking riff.
“Higher Ground“ is Stevie musing on reincarnation.
After he’d survived a serious car accident he appreciated a 2nd chance at life. Red Hot Chilli Peppers also had a big hit with “Higher Ground”.
“Living For The City” explores inner city poverty while “Happy Birthday” is a tribute to Martin Luther King and actually became the anthem and theme song for the successful campaign to have King’s birthday a public holiday in America.
Stevie wrote “Tell Me Something Good” for Chaka Khan and if we compare it with sophisticated ballads like “Golden Lady” or “Ribbon In The Sky” we can see just how big Stevie’s musical universe is.
And then we have “Sir Duke”.
It is a musical salute to Duke Ellington one of America’s greatest musical personalities.
Duke Ellington set the benchmark for high quality music and virtuosity for nearly 50 years.
The Duke was a prolific composer with many of his songs now counted as “standards” and considered to to be some of the best songs in what we call now “The Great American Songbook”.
I heard Neil Finn (of Crowded House & Split Enz) say that he liked to put a word or a phrase in his songs that “dangle” in the listener’s ear and head.
The listener then constructs a story from that short word or phrase.
In a 3 minute song there isn’t time to develop the characters or story line so a concise placement and choice of words is necessary.
The Australian author, Clive James, cited the first 2 lines of the third verse in the song “16 Tons” as the perfect lyric, saying that “he tells you his whole life in those two lines” –
“I was born one morning when the Sun didn’t shine,
I picked up my shovel & I walked to the mines”
The lyrics to “Sir Duke” are a masterpiece in miniature.
The first verse lays down the songs mission statement- it’s going to describe and articulate the positive and happy effect music has on us.
Then in the 2nd verse he pays tribute to “some of music’s pioneers” and makes a short list of a few of the giants of the previous generation.
He starts with “Count Basie” who was Duke Ellington’s main rival, they were friends but rivals nonetheless. Next it’s Glenn Miler whose career was was cut short when his plane disappeared during the war.
Louis Armstrong is next and Stevie calls him by his nickname “Satchmo” and was one of the biggest names in music in his day.
Stevie then calls Duke Ellington “the king of all” and goes on to give Ella Fitzgerald the final salute.
She was one of the “big 3” female jazz singers along with Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday.
Stevie And The Motown Label – Louie Interview Pt 2
If you’re not familiar with those names then they’ll dangle in in your head and you create the story like Neil Finn said but if you do know the names then they sum up the “Swing Era” in 2 short lines, like Clive James says.
I enjoyed hearing Stevie pay homage to Duke Ellington and the musicians he admired.
Stevie Wonder came up through the Tamla Motown label.
Berry Gordy signed him at the age of 11 and developed him to become one of Motown’s big stars.
Being at Motown he was around some incredibly creative people so it’s little wonder that he had the stella career that he did.
When Motown moved to L.A. in the early 70’s Louie Shelton got to play with a lot of the Motown acts including Stevie Wonder.
I got to interview Louie twice for Australian Guitar Magazine and I’d like to share the 2nd interview with you here.