Most songwriting ideas are triggered by the obvious: unrequited love, an awe-inspiring sunset, a beautiful painting. Personally, I love to pull song titles and lyrics from everyday conversations. My friends have no idea how muse-worthy they are!
But there are a lot more things that can inspire creativity, often in the unlikeliest places. For instance, the elements.
Earth, wind, fire (the band too) — they all elicit energy. And energy is contagious. For example, at the first clap of thunder, you might run outside and wait for the rain. Songs have been written about walking in it, singing in it; Rihanna even had a massive hit with a song about umbrellas.
The air, of course, keeps us alive, which was the foundation for the Hollies’ 1970s classic (and endlessly catchy) “The Air That I Breathe,” co-written by my dear friend Albert Hammond. Whether it’s beneath our wings or we’re blowing in it, the wind is a no-brainer inspiration that lends itself to emotional content.
I wonder if Jim Morrison was addressing an uncooperative matchbook when he came up with the lyrics to The Doors’ mega-hit “Light My Fire.” Or if Bruce Springsteen actually felt his temperature rise when he sang of his pent-up desire in “I’m On Fire.” And then there’s James Taylor, who managed to cover two birds with one stone when he wrote “Fire and Rain.”
There’s another element: water. I would posit that simply being submerged in H2O, whether diving into the ocean or floating in a swimming pool, can fire up all kinds of possibilities. Floating relieves the physical body of the need to support itself, freeing the mind to wander. And if we happen to be face-up we may ponder “The Warmth of the Sun.” Or clouds! Or a jet airliner! There’s so much to be sung about what’s in the sky above us.
And let us not forget about mother earth below. Carole King hit the nail on the head when she equated her lustful feelings with the earth moving under her feet. Joni Mitchell sang about the tearing down of nature to put up parking lots in “Big Yellow Taxi.” We owe the earth so much. Why not dedicate a song to her? After all, “Heaven is a Place On Earth!”
Okay, enough about nature. Let’s look at some other unlikely sources of inspiration. According to Aerosmith’s Steve Perry, the band’s 1975 smash “Walk This Way” was triggered by a scene in Mel Brook’s film Young Frankenstein. Or how about George Harrison’s “Taxman” (a song I put on repeat just about every year in April), the guitarist’s clever response to that yearly call from his accountant with news of how much he owed the government.
From personal experience I can report that the spark of my Grammy-nominated song “Bitch” (co-written with Meredith Brooks) revealed itself at a red light on a drive home. I was in a horrible mood and knew I was about to make my boyfriend the target. Fortunately, it occurred to me to write instead about how grateful I was that he accepted me with all my ups and downs.
And then there was the night I was experiencing relentless insomnia and used it to my advantage by turning the experience into the words to a song called “Up All Night,”which eventually was recorded by 1980s pop star Taylor Dayne. “Somewhere there’s a man who needs me,” I wrote, “not someone who runs and leaves me up all night.”
In fact, I once titled a song with words I found on a plaque in the dressing room of a local boutique: “I’m not gonna cry cuz it’s over; I’m gonna to smile cuz happened.” Yes! Perfect! True, the song was about unrequited love, but the lyric didn’t come directly from my diary. Instead, it was a random object that reminded me of how I felt about a past relationship (or two).
I’ve even thought about how many moves we make in the kitchen that can be equated with the steps in the process of falling in and out of love: simmering, stirring, waiting, patience, heating up, burning. Inspiration from the stovetop!
The bottom line is that we can find ideas, concepts, titles everywhere — not just in yearning, sunsets and paintings. They’re all around us … if we’re willing to keep our eyes and ears open, and connect the dots.
“Connect The Dots”! Now there’s a catchy concept and title right there. 🙂
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