The songs of others

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The problem, ever since, is that many singers aren’t natural songwriters. And yet they crave the respectability that comes with the role.

Madonna, for instance, claimed to Mr. Zollo she contributed musical elements of songs she co-wrote with songwriter Patrick Leonard. Mr. Leonard, however, told the author she wrote only lyrics.

Some singers accept the limitations of their talent; indeed, there’s a case to be made that a gifted vocalist is not really “limited” in any meaningful sense.

Art Garfunkel, harmonic foil to singer-songwriter Paul Simon, defended his artistry in a recent interview with Mr. Waterman:

“I have an instrument. I’m a musician. It’s called my vocals. Think about directors and the big screen …

“Being in front of a camera is very similar to being in front of a mic in the recording studio. You make sure the truth in the lyric or script comes through you as an expressive human being — a relaxed, credible teller of the story, whether it’s through a script or a song.”

Country singer LeAnn Rimes, meanwhile, discovered relatively late in her career a capacity for songwriting. She told Mr. Waterman that so pleased is she with the discovery, “I could just write for the rest of my life.”

Snob appeal aside, Mr. Zollo says that shady authorship is still mostly about the money. “Performers can earn substantially more money if they have partial songwriting credit,” he says. “So it is very common for singers to make sure they have their names on songs.”

When it comes to grafting one’s name onto a byline, often the flimsiest excuse will do. Mr. Zollo says a common tack employed by singers is to make negligible lyrical changes to a song. Mary J. Blige, for example, did so for her hit “Be Without You.”

In fairness, songwriters are not always victims in this game; sometimes, they’re accomplices.

The early-20th-century star Al Jolson often insisted on songwriting credits before agreeing to perform a song, Mr. Zollo says. And since songwriters stood a reasonable chance of scoring a hit through Mr. Jolson, they’d agree to the charade.

It’s just this kind of back-scratching arrangement that might explain Miss Kreviazuk’s hasty retraction: If not for her relationship with Miss Lavigne, what are the chances that we would have heard of Chantal Kreviazuk at all?

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