Canadians are supposedly really good at making apologies, so here’s one from me:
You know all those shouty “we’re all strong beautiful women” songs your daughter makes you listen to in the SUV?
Those anthemic musical training bras for budding bimbos, “sung” by Katy Perry, K$sha, Miley Cyrus and other balls-out, in-your-face ladies who don’t need no man for nothin’?
Yeah, well, those songs were probably co-written by this Canadian guy.
You see, Ottawa’s Henry Walter works for another fellow you’ve probably never heard of, one “Dr. Luke”:
[M]ost of the iconic hits of the last 10 years were written by the same person.
If you have attended a photogenic pool party in the last five years, or even watched a video of a pool party while sitting alone in your house, chances are you were dancing (or crying) mostly to music written by a guy called Dr. Luke. “TiK ToK”? “Dynamite”? “Till the World Ends”? “Wrecking Ball”? Pretty much any song by Katy Perry? They’re all the work of this single relatively unfamous songwriter, who has written or co-written 40 hit singles since 2004.
Add in Dr. Luke’s frequent co-writer Max Martin, and these two guys have pretty much written everything you have ever heard if you were born in 1999.
If, like me, you came of age loving music that was written and performed by artists based (more or less) on their own life experiences — and you think today’s “music” is tuneless, empty calorie junk — then learning about Dr. Luke’s “hit factory” presses all your “get off my lawn” buttons.
The trouble is, if you love “old” music that much, you also know that “hit factories” are nothing new:
You know — “the star maker machinery behind the popular songs” stuff that hipper fans and musicians have been kicking against since the birth of rock and roll?
It’s just, well, those old “factories” like the Brill Building churned out good music (and had more than three guys writing all the songs…)
Pre-rock, even fewer singers wrote their own material.
You can learn about the storied “Tin Pan Alley” composers and lyricists who created what we now call “the great American songbook”via Mark Steyn’s delightful collection of essays on the topic.
One of the true masters of the form was Johnny Mercer, the man who wrote or co-wrote “Moon River,” “One For My Baby” and over a thousand others.
No wonder Mercer later co-founded the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Established in 1969, the Songwriters Hall of Fame adds a handful of inductees to its roster each year.
(It also hands out a “Johnny Mercer Award” to individuals who are already in the Hall, the purpose of which rather escapes me except as an excuse to throw a longer party, which is good enough.)
I was delighted to see Ray Davies’ name on the list (and puzzled to the same degree to see Donovan’s).
Less familiar names — Graham Gouldman, Jim Weatherly, Mark James — round out the roster.
Meanwhile, Gamble and Huff are receiving the 2014 Mercer Award, which almost makes up for Taylor Swift (!?) getting it last year (?!)
Now, halls of fame mostly inspire plenty of grumbling and griping, and, in the larger scheme of things, aren’t really important.
However, these annual exercises provide convenient excuses to celebrate — and in some cases, rediscover — deserving artists.
I presume most readers know Ray Davies from The Kinks — and perhaps through his notorious review of the Beatles’ Revolver.
(He correctly called “Yellow Submarine” “a load of rubbish, really.”)
Jim Weatherly wrote “Midnight Train to Georgia” (oh, and some other stuff).
Finally, Mark James is the man behind “Always on My Mind,” “Hooked on a Feeling” and that guilty baroque pleasure, “Suspicious Minds.”
You’re going to have to dig up your own Donovan, though.