Even if you aren’t a fan of seventies music, you’ve probably heard Don McLean’s hit song, “And I Love You So.” What you may not know is the song was widely covered by other recording artists, most notably Elvis Presley and Perry Como. Yes, I said Perry Como.
In a career that spanned decades, Don McLean wrote and recorded twenty-two studio albums, four live albums, and 16 singles. He is best known for his song and album of the same name, “American Pie.”
I’m constantly amazed at the way major recording artists create unique compositions to express their music. “And I Love You So” features an original picking method combined with interesting chord shapes. Learning to play a song the way the artist does is a great way to expand your musical scope and technique.
Here is my cover of McLean’s hit. I’ve re-recorded it one fret lower.
Take the next step that’s in your wheelhouse. This is the path to your success.
Gordon Lightfoot is one of those rare individuals who resides in the top echelon of his profession. It takes a huge deposit of raw talent, hard work, intestinal fortitude, and luck to reach the level of success Lightfoot has achieved in the music business. Amidst all of this recognition, Gordon remains a simple and straightforward man. He is a survivor with no plans to retire. At 83 years young, Lightfoot once dodged death when his manager found him lying on the floor of his dressing room with a burst aorta. Lightfoot has navigated numerous romantic relationships, spawned six children and five grandchildren, remained close with his offspring, and outlasted most of his contemporaries, not without some regrets.
When he comes on stage these days, Lightfoot often uses a misquote inaccurately attributed to Mark Twain: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In November of 2021, Lightfoot had the honor of re-opening the newly renovated Massey Hall in Toronto in a live performance. He has played the historic concert venue more than 160 times.
Lightfoot released his fifteenth original album in 1982 on Warner records. The songs on the album are slower and more contemplative than many of the songs he released in the prior decade. As is his custom, Lightfoot compiled the album’s songs from scraps of notes he collected in his briefcase and tapes he recorded at home.
Of the album’s title song, “Shadows,” Lightfoot has made a few somewhat vague comments. He says it was the best song he had at the time, and that it is about a particular problem he was going through in his life involving a man and a woman and nature.
I feel the song is quite beautiful. I’ve learned it the way Lightfoot plays it. Here is my cover of “Shadows.”
Don McLean released his iconic album, “American Pie,” in 1971. The title song epitomizes the era of the nineteen sixties. A famous lyric from the title song; “the day the music died,” refers to the day Buddy Holly’s plane went down. Holly and the other passengers, including Ritchie Valens and The Bigg Bopper, all died in the crash. The song “American Pie” goes on for some nine minutes to memorialize other landmark events of the era in rich metaphors. Some of the other outstanding songs on the album include, “And I love You So,” “Crossroads,” “Empty Chairs,” and “Vincent.” I’ve covered these songs in earlier posts on this blog.
“Winterwood” is an upbeat love song featuring McLean’s typically vivid imagery. Technically, the title of the song does not exist in the English language. McLean invented the name to evoke the sights and sounds of a snowy mid-winter day with the sun peaking through barren tree branches and birds chirping in the background. The image came to Mclean as he rode through mid-winter streets recalling fond memories with his wife by his side. The image and the related memories stayed with the artist for six months until he finally wrote “Winterwood.”
The technique is a departure from the finger-picking method I used in many of the other songs I’ve posted. “Winterwood” is played entirely with a guitar pick (flat picking). I abbreviated the introductory lick because it might have taken me six months to learn.
“True Colors” is a song with legs. It started out as a song written for a mother in a traditional ballad format. Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly wrote the song in 1986 and offered it to Anne Murray, a popular singer at the time. Murray passed on the song. Cyndi Lauper took it and creatively revamped the format into a stark and breathtaking version.
The song became a hit worldwide because of its universal appeal. The songwriters acknowledge that Lauper was the perfect artist to adapt the song partly because of her bold style. Released as the title song on Lauper’s 1986 album, “True Colors,” is the only original song on the album that the artist did not help to write.
In 1998, Phil Collins covered the song on his “Greatest Hits” album. Australian country music star Kasey Chambers covered the song as the theme for the 2003 Rugby World Cup. In 2007, Cindy Lauper launched “The True Colors Tour” to support gay rights and fight hate crimes. In 2016, Justin Timberlake and actress Anna Kendrick used the song in the soundtrack for the movie “Trolls.” Kodak also used the song to advertise their film stock.
Like I said: The song has legs. Here’s my version.
When someone shows you their true colors, don’t try to repaint them.
Time After Time is a Cyndi Lauper song. I’ve never been a big fan of her music, but that only means it doesn’t resonate with me in general. She has a big enough audience without me. This song caught my attention when I heard Eva Cassidy sing it in her beautiful, unique style. It has taken me a few weeks to learn because the fingering is complicated. Eva Cassidy is known for her divine vocals, but trust me, she can play the damn guitar.
The meaning behind a lyric can create a strong connection to a song. It can help you to form a bond with a singer-songwriter. It lets you know the artist has gone through some of the same things you have. Cyndi Lauper’s hit Time After Time is one of those songs for many people. The song was the second single for her debut album, She’s So Unusual. It was actually the last song written for the album, but it made a lasting impact on the album and Lauper’s career.
A TV Guide advertisement for a science fiction movie sparked the idea for the song. Using a simple set of piano chords, Lauper co-wrote the song with Rob Hyman. As the song evolved, for Lauper it became a response to an ex-lover who was “lost” and in need of help. She can’t move forward without him by her side.
Over a two-week period, Time After Time was written, recorded, and mastered straight to the album. There wasn’t time for a demo. The song went on to become a number one hit in the United States. Here’s my version of Time After Time “Eva Style.”
Breaking a big project down into little steps makes it possible to achieve the final result.
“Crossroads” is another great song by Don McLean. It first appeared on his hit album, “American Pie.” Although the song is not as well-known as the title song and some of the other songs on the album (“Vincent”“And I Love You So” and “Empty Chairs“) Crossroads is nonetheless moving and beautiful.
On the surface, the song is about a man remembering a long-lost love with a sense of regret and a desire to turn back time. I believe the subtext of the song has a larger and more universal meaning: hope and happiness can be found with anything that joins us on the inevitable journey of life. It doesn’t have to be a lover or anyone in particular. It can be an idea, a thought, an emotion, or even an absence of something or someone. An absence can be as strong a motivator as a presence.
On the album, McLean performs the song on Piano. Fortunately, my good friend and tutor, Jerry’s Guitar Bar, has transposed the song for guitar. Here’s my version.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. BELIEVE IN A POSITIVE OUTCOME. AND, IT WILL BE SO.
Like many of us, Don McLean suffered through difficult passages in his life, many of which are reflected in his music. He wrote and recorded “Empty Chairs” when his marriage was failing. Despite the subject of lost love, I feel there is incredible beauty in the lyrics and the melody, and Mclean’s unique guitar style. If you are tired of lost love songs, I recommend listening only to the melody and the guitar.
Although the title is mentioned just once in the song, McLean chose the symbol to sum up his feelings and state of mind at the time. The title is inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of empty chairs. Mclean sympathized with Van Gogh and admired his paintings as revealed in his song “Vincent” recorded on the same album: “American Pie.”
The tutorial and the song are best played in the key of G. There are a few high notes I’ve done my best with. Please enjoy my version.
Be positive and stay faithful. Love will bloom anew.
Who doesn’t remember Simon and Garfunkle singing Kathy’s song? The answer is probably tons of people under the age of thirty, but who’s counting? The remarkable Paul Simon wrote Kathy’s Song. It was released in 1966 on the album Sounds of Silence. Along with the title tune, Kathy’s Song remains one of the duo’s most popular tracks. It is poetic, lyrical, and deeply moving.
Nearly thirty years later, along comes Eva Cassidy with her celestial voice and consummate guitar playing. Her version of Kathy’s song is characteristically unique and beautiful beyond words. If you like this kind of music, I urge you to listen to Eva’s version on YouTube. Eva doesn’t need an orchestra or a band to back her up. She plays and sings Kathy’s Song solo, and steals your heart away.
I’ve enjoyed learning how to play this song “Eva Style.” I found a good online tutorial by a guy who calls himself Ivor Sorefingers. Here’s my version.
Paddy and Tom Clancy came to America intending to develop lucrative acting careers. Little did they know they were destined to succeed enormously in the music business while making a tremendous contribution to the form, awareness, and appreciation of classic Irish folk music.
After arriving in Greenwich Village in 1951, the enterprising duo quickly established themselves as successful Broadway, Off-Broadway, and television actors. During this period, the brothers also created their own theater production company which they named: “Trio Productions.” To help raise money for the new company, Tom and Paddy sang old Irish folk songs they had learned as children. They rented The Cherry Lane Theater in the Village and performed shows regularly on Saturday nights. Soon, they were joined by notable folk singers like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Jean Ritchie.
Liam, the youngest of the three brothers, came to America in 1956. He joined his brothers in the singing group, along with his good friend, Tommy Makem. The group came to be known simply as “The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.” The group distinguished themselves with their rousing style of singing Irish folk songs and ballads, while staying true to some of the slower and more mournful tunes.
The group adopted a trademark uniform after their mother, it is said, read about the inclement New York winters. She sent her boys Aran jumpers (sweaters) to keep them warm. The boys wore the sweaters for the first time at the Blue Angel nightclub in Manhattan as part of their regular winter attire. The group’s manager, Marty Erlichman, had been searching for a kind of logo-look for the group. When he saw the sweaters, he knew he had found the “special look” he was searching for. Erlichman asked the group to wear the sweaters for their first TV appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. After that appearance, the Clancy Brothers and Makem wore the sweaters whenever they performed.
The Sullivan TV appearance aired to an audience of forty million. The TV show and the group’s nightclub appearances attracted the attention of a Columbia Records executive. They signed a $100,000 recording contract (a staggering sum at the time) with Columbia and recorded seven albums with the studio. While the members of the group changed from time to time, their success and influence on modern folk music has endured. In all, the group recorded 24 albums on various labels. In 1964, their albums accounted for one third of all the record albums sold in Ireland.
I first saw the Clancy Brothers at Carnegie Hall when I was a callow lad of seventeen. I went to the concert with my best friend. He remains my best friend today, even though he is half a world away. The song I’m about to sing has two names: “Will Ye Go Lassie Go” and “The Wild Mountain Thyme.” It’s a Clancy Brothers favorite. This one’s for you, Danny Boy.
“I live for a sense of a feeling of purposefulness in this world, you know, that I could stop my life at any point and feel that my life has been worthwhile; that the people I’ve loved and my children have all reached a point where their lives are now going to come to fruit. And as far as something I live by, it’s to try to be as alive as possible and feel free to make my mistakes and try to be as honest as I can with myself.”
Kate Wolf–Singer Songwriter–1942-1986
Perhaps Kate Wolf had these thoughts in mind when she wrote the song “Unfinished Life.” It’s a haunting ballade filled with hard won wisdom, exquisite beauty, grace, and focused determination. The song is also ironically prophetic. Kate Wolf died tragically of Leukemia at the age of forty-four. Despite her abbreviated life span, she wrote over two hundred songs and performed them at venues in her native state of California and around the world. Kate’s life was, indeed, unfinished, but she left behind a treasure trove of beautiful music.
I first recorded “Unfinished Life” using a free-form guitar strumming method. Recently, while driving in my car, I listened to the song with a different pair of ears. I noticed the unique and highly effective guitar picking technique Kate used to express the words and melody of the song. After some trial and error, I’ve come up with a version that approximates Kate’s unparalleled recording.
“The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”