From the Blog

Where have the great singer/songwriters gone?

Not specifically motorcycle-related today, oh, unless you want to include Arlo Guthrie’s famous “Motorcycle song”

Today I’d like to take a few minutes to bewail the death of the singer/songwriter. Time was, my friends, when this breed of entertainer was common; dozens of them could be seen on every street corner, picking their gittars and filling the air with songs that had lyricism, musical merit and a melody that you would find yourself singing for the rest of the day. The radio waves were alive with their poetry, set to wonderful tunes and, amidst the plethora of rock and roll wannabes, they stood out, like a beacon on a cliff on a dark night, guiding us into a safe harbour of joy, reflection and calm.

But, along came YouTube, rap, hip-hop and all the other so-called musical genres and the poor singer/songwriter was pushed aside, trampled underfoot and forgotten in the frantic rush to listen to a monosyllabic moron talking, yes, TALKING about how he wants to kill the police.

Yes, I am old, hell, I turn 65 in a few days, but I am not that old that I can’t recognise musical talent when I hear it, nor am I that old that I can’t spot a phoney a mile off either. And today’s “musicians” are just that, phoneys, manufactured by the record labels and churned out of the sausage machine whose job it it to provide a steady diet of garbage that appeals to the lowest common denominator of the record-buying public.

Where HAVE the great singer/songwriters gone?  Paul Simon, blessed with a poetic soul, a gift for writing a sublime melody and embedding into it words that had more meaning than the average listener today can even take in, let alone comprehend. The list of his credits could fill  a book; I doubt if he ever wrote a bad song in his life. “Bridge over troubled water”, “Sounds of silence” “The only living boy in New York”, the list is endless.

And then there is this…”Look for America”

If you have any sort of soul, I defy you to listen to these lines and not be emotionally stirred…”Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping. “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.”

That is nothing but pure songwriting genius.

And yet, in the very same song where this depth of emotion is exposed, Simon shows his brilliance and his wit. “Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces. She said the man in the gaberdine suit was a spy. I said, “Be careful, his bow tie is really a camera.” When asked after he had retired from the music business, if there were any songs of other writers that he wished that he had written, John Lennon, the supreme egotist, said no. But he went on to say that the lines above were great and he wished that he had written them!

I could pile example upon example but I won’t. And that is just Paul Simon. I have a bagful of great singer/songwriters who are all favourites of mine. What about Harry Chapin? Harry who? I hear you ask. Harry Chapin, who wrote and sang this song.

I won’t comment on this song, the words say everything that needs to be said.

Then there is the peerless Jim Croce, so unfortunately remembered more for his comedy songs like “Bad, bad Leroy Brown” and others. But the others? There are so many that communicate so much.

Sadly, both Croce and Chapin died much too young, Chapin at 38 in a car accident and Croce at 30 in a light plane crash.

But, as with the Chapin clip above, there is a sequel. Here is some Croce from the 1970’s mixed in with the story of his son, Adrian James who in now performing as a singer himself.

I hope that you are watching these clips through to their respective conclusions, they mean so much. I’m getting pretty emotional myself just typing this. The songs speak of the beauty and the writers’ experiences speak of the fragility of life and how preciously it should be regarded and how jealously it should be guarded.

We are, as a race of people, poorer for the passing of these troubadours, and so many like them who enriched our lives with their talent and their musical output.

Where HAVE all the great singer/songwriters gone?

Thankfully, they are not completely gone. Down in the depths of the music industry, untouched by the obscenities daily foisted upon us in the name of music, there are still some, beavering away, writing material that speaks to the human soul like nothing else can. For example, the wonderful Gretchen Peters (song sung here by Trisha Yearwood – I have heard Gretchen sing this song live and she does it beautifully too)

Well, I have laid it on thick today, haven’t I? Self-indulgence at its very worst. Nevertheless, I hope that a little reminder of the epic ability of some to capture the moment and distill it into a song has been a refreshing and interesting experience.


  1. small e says:

    A heart felt piece Phil. I aint no reader of poetry..I really struggle to ken most I do try to read but I’m a song lover. Great songs are very accessible poetry for us red sea pedestrians. A thought or idea boiled down to the minimum with the bonus of being set to melodious music that with enjoyable repetition keeps you with the words over and over. Sometimes I can listen to songs for literally years before the penny finally drops and that 40 watt globe comes on in my head.
    You might like a favourite of mine..John Gorka. I’m a dumby at posting vids n all but I’m sure you could er..track him down. He spins me out repeatedly.

    • Phil Hall says:

      Absolutely, John, it’s called “economy” – the ability to express an idea in the smallest framework possible.

  2. small e says:

    oh..and thank you most kindly for linking my pics on the blog mate. Cheers.

    • Phil Hall says:

      It is my pleasure, believe me. Talent should not go unrecognised or unheralded.