Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

‘Baker Street’ and the art of arrangement

A few years ago I published a book called Arranging Songs. Its theme was the art of finding the best method for presenting a song, in terms of instrumentation, etc. To readers of my earlier books, such as How To Write Songs On Guitar and The Songwriting Sourcebook, it might have seemed a more peripheral topic. But as time passes I incline more to the feeling that arrangement (along with melody) are much under-estimated in importance when it comes to writing songs that will reach a wide audience.

An example of this is Gerry Rafferty’s hit from 1978, ‘Baker Street’. A recent TV documentary about Rafferty, and a BBC radio series called ‘Soul Music’ which featured ‘Baker Street’, provided some interesting background to the song. There are at least two demo versions of ‘Baker Street’, one of which has the song in a different lower key, and the other has Rafferty playing the famous saxophone motif on electric guitar with a wah-wah pedal. These demos make it abundantly clear that ‘Baker Street’ would not have been an international hit without its final arrangement complete with declamatory saxophone, slide guitar touches, and a change of key. The arrangement changes were crucial. It is a salutary lesson every songwriter should remember.

‘Baker Street’ is also interesting from a lyric point of view, as an example of what I think of as ‘metro-pop’: a lyric bound to strike a chord in a vast urban audience who regularly travel to work in the world’s cities. If a songwriter ever gets stuck for a lyric subject suitable for a hit, something which evokes the routines, hopes and fears of these peoples’ lives is a good choice.

I’m making some progress with a new project – more on that when I can give it. I’m also planning an album of ambient acoustic guitar music.

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