The songwriting wisdom of Graeham Goble

Tuesday, 25 Aug 2020

Legendary songwriter acknowledged for achieving 12 million plays on US commercial radio 

When songwriter Graeham Goble recently received a Special Citation of Achievement from US affiliate BMI for his song 'The Night Owls' accumulating more than 1 million plays on US commercial radio, it became his fifth song to reach that milestone. 

Originally from Adelaide and an APRA AMCOS member since 1970, Graeham achieved international success as a founding member of Little River Band and architect of the group's one-of-a-kind sound, rich in harmony and musicality. Graeham has been acknowledged by BMI for these five classics:

Yes, that's right, one person wrote all those songs that have connected with so many. He also won three APRA Music Awards for his work:

  • APRA Gold Award for Reminiscing (1982)
  • Most Performed Popular Work for The Other Guy (1984)
  • APRA Gold Award for The Other Guy (1985)

Graeham's discography is extensive and he continues to write and record solo albums. Following on from his recent BMI honour, we asked him to share some of his songwriting wisdom.

You have written some of the most popular songs of all time. What is it about those songs that connect across generations?

I believe a song becomes popular because of the way it makes people feel, and often its connection to a particular time in a person's life… a connection that stays with them throughout their life. Reliving the memory of past events is something everybody experiences and songs provide the container for the cherished (and sometimes not so cherished) thoughts about a person or situation. Songs are timeless in their ability to comfort and inform, no matter a person's age or station in life.

What is the key to the longevity of a great song?

A great song needs to be lyrically interesting and relevant for it's audience, but getting the right recording of a song is just as essential for longevity. Every aspect is critical: The tempo, the key, the arrangement, the instruments, the groove, the emotion and uniqueness of everyone's performance, and above all the right voice to sing the lead vocal - to deliver the message. It's rare, but when it all comes together just right, it’s magical. It’s that magic that keeps a song going.

Do you think songs being released now will have that same kind of longevity?

It's hard to say. I'm sure there are songs being written and recorded today that could be listened to in 50 years, but it's a much harder road to gain the world recognition that so many songs enjoyed in the 1940s to 60's to 80s. The problem is that a vast majority of today's songs are really 'machine written', an intellectual process… not heartfelt as in the golden eras. A song needs to enter a composer's soul, and then be transcribed via organic live instruments or computer to enhance the initial inspired idea.

How has your own songwriting practice changed over your career? How has it stayed the same?

My songwriting process has stayed relatively the same over the years. Even when I was just starting out, I experienced a sort of 'channeling' of an idea. Melodies and lyrics (most often simultaneously) would suddenly appear in my head.

In my mind, I could often hear a radio playing a song I'd never heard before. That’s still the way I write today.

Where does your songwriting inspiration come from?

I am inspired by observing life, the situations of friends, my own struggles, and sometimes even by watching a movie. 'Reminiscing' was written out of my fantasy of wishing to have lived in the romantic days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, a particular favourite was also the movies of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. One time in the late 1970s I was watching a Humphrey Bogart movie. I was strumming my guitar and listening to the dialogue. Bogart said something like "You don't really love me, it's just the heat of the night and the dance of the fireflies that's making you feel that way"… I had my opening line… I changed it to "She's there like the heat, she dances like the fireflies". That is the opening line to "Mistress of Mine'.

I have also dreamt complete songs. I always pay attention to what first comes to my mind immediately upon waking in the morning. I have often woken with an idea for a song strongly developed in my mind. I used to sleep with a tape recorder by my bed.

What are your three top tips for songwriters starting out?

1) Don’t be afraid to break the rules…
Follow what you hear in your head even if it’s the complete opposite to what you’ve been taught.

2) Be prepared to bare your soul…
Be honest with yourself and what you are feeling. Chances are millions of others feel like you do.

It's a songwriter's job to be an authentic spokesperson for what your listeners may not be able to express or understand in themselves.

3) Study and read widely.
You can't write inspiring lyrics if you have nothing new to say. Become a student of songwriting by listening to the songs of the greatest writers… Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Lennon & McCartney, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Björn & Benny from ABBA. The bar has been set by these giants. Strive to write something worthy of comparison, but don't become disillusioned if your song falls short. It's the process of songwriting, the expression of your own self that is the reason you 'need' to write.

What has copyright meant to you over your career?

Songs are far more important to society than real estate, and yet the ownership of a song is not protected for the composer's descendants to enjoy forever. That needs to be changed. You may write songs your whole life and if you are fortunate to have even one song that becomes a big hit, the revenue needs to be maximised. That's where owning your copyright is essential. A song has limitless potential to be 'a gift that keeps on giving'. Songwriters are blessed to have organisations like APRA in Australia to diligently collect royalties and fees on their behalf. There is no 'weekly pay cheque' for a songwriter, but the regular distributions from the likes of APRA greatly help to pay the bills and provide the composer with time to create.

Do you have a songwriting philosophy or outlook that you draw upon?

Songwriting has been my teacher and companion throughout my life. I have become aware that, through writing my songs, I have been able to document and express my 'inner journey'. I believe all art is biographical. My songs represent my views on matters close to my heart and the feelings I have experienced with the important people in my life. If you are prepared to look honestly and deeply into your work, you will find the real essence of yourself. Songwriting is a wonderful gift for self-analysis, and it follows that songs can achieve the same process for the many millions of people who love music, but cannot compose themselves.


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