It might have been Name That Tune that started my obsession with music, lyrics and the lead-in notes to songs. Even though I was an elementary school student, I happily banked away the thousands of dollars I would otherwise have been winning were the popular game show to have let nine-year-old girls play. In fact, I considered writing a letter–it was 1980–to specifically request if the show would have a week of kids as contestants. That didn’t happen though, in part because my dad told me that “they probably wouldn’t do that.” That explanation was enough and saved me from writing a sure-to-be sophomoric letter and 15 cents–it was 1980.
As there are all sorts of copyright and licensing concerns when a writer drops lyrics into her novels, I decided to change out where the actual lyrics to descriptions of the characters listening to described music instead of going to EMI or Sony or some other record label and asking for permission and paying royalties.
Here are three examples of where I used an actual song without mentioning the title or the artist.
Let’s see if you can NAME THAT TUNE:
As she pretended to sleep, she listened to a lyrically-uninventive song that brought quick, though fleeting, fame to a band which spent three decades trying to get onto the top song charts.
The song listed a variety of alcoholic drinks which one man consumed in an evening and his penchant for being imbued with the skills of a human Weeble. The ridiculous tune was temporarily adopted by fraternities and co-eds alike as an anthem for drinking challenges.
Callie’s favorite part was the ending as she was sure the band had sampled a Miles Davis trumpet solo. She was wrong; it was Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary.
The radio was on. The DJ commented he was going “way back” for the next tune. Natalie immediately recognized the explosive twang of the steel guitar followed Bono’s breathy “Yeah.” She began contra clapping along with Larry Mullen’s beat and singing along.
When the bridge came, she turned to Charlie, “How’s this song an oldie?”
He smiled at her and turned the volume up. When the harmonica kicked in at the end, Charlie whistled along until the song came to the end.
Mitch saw Lara at the bookshelf, searching for the remote for the Bose. He placed the order for the Chinese, gave his address, and was told that it’d be an hour.
“Can we listen to this?” she said holding up a CD.
“Sure, it’s an hour until the food arrives,” he said.
“Great, we can dance up an appetite.” She turned on the stereo and slipped Disc Two into the thin slot. She clicked the “up arrow “to Track #12.
The lead-in, with the twangy lead guitar, was overlaid with the slide working its way up and down the strings of the other one.
When percussion instrument’s sound kicked in, Lara asked, “Do you what that is, Mitch? It sounds like a drum stick being dragged over something textured and hollow.”
He watched her flip through the liner notes and said, “It’s not in listed in there. It’s a guiro.”
“A guiro. It looks sort of like a torpedo. It’s made out of wood and tapered at both ends. It’s played by running a short smooth stick up and down the spine where there are a series of evenly-cut grooves.”
By the time he was done explaining, she was singing along.
He asked, in the pause between verses, “How do you know the words to this? It came out years before you were born?”
“My dad had good taste in music,” she said as she swung her hips from side to side, lifting her heeled-feet alternatively. She was still looking at the five-by-five booklet in her hand. “Some of the songs on these CDs weren’t on the original vinyl.”
“You listened to this as a record?”
“It was the mid-seventies, Mitch,” she said before starting up in song again “They’re transcendent, you know,” she said interrupting her performance.
“Lyrics. This song was written in the late 1960’s, a real commentary on the feeling of apocalypse. But the words are still true of any crisis, right?”