Earlier this year I entered four songs into the UKSC 2018 songwriting competition and I’m pleased to announce that one of them, ‘Moments Passed’ was a finalist in the Adult Contemporary category, scoring 9 out of 10, a score which apparently only one or two percent of the entrants into a particular category are awarded.
So, I thought I would share some thoughts on the writing of this song. Here’s the demo I submitted.
I’m sure I’m not the first person, (particularly one of a mid-to-late-thirties vintage) to write a song about getting older, and though I often brush off thoughts around the ageing process, it can’t help but rear its little head on occasion. The lyrics perhaps exaggerate my own take on things a little, and its often interesting to write from a more extreme (or indeed totally opposing) point of view from one’s own. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The song was conceived at the piano, with the chord sequence and melody materialising first.
Without wishing to sound too much like a music teacher (difficult, I am one after all) the song has a compound meter (i.e. beats with three sub-divisions, “1 – and – a – 2 – and – a – ” etc.) I don’t write too much in this meter, although when I do I often find lyrics are easier to sit over this meter than simple meter (where the best divides into equal halves). I have on occasion written lyrics with a compound meter in mind, only to squeeze them into 4 / 4 at a later stage.
Lyrically, each verse comprises a snapshot of life at a particular age. The first verse sums up the sense of foreverness felt by a young person, with seemingly limitless time to idly dream about the future.
We could easily sit here all evening, thinking up things to believe in, just to watch them dissolve.
We just might have laid there all night, just talking until it was light then forget everything that we’d said.
The second verse is written from the point of view of the same character a number of years on, looking back with a mixture of regret and fondness.
I could easy think of a million details that I would do different, if I could have my time again.
But I’d still raise my glass to those days with time on our hands just to chase our tails as the seasons rolled on.
The choruses continue the rueful retrospection. The second chorus is twice the length of the first (a favourite technique of mine), the second half adding further weight to the cautionary tale.
I still can’t believe I just didn’t see, the things that I’d longed for were already passing by me.
I wouldn’t be told, as I watched it unfold, the sunlight would fade out so soon as the evening took hold.
Evening takes hold.
There then comes an instrumental break across both the verse and chorus progressions. The final verse acts as short coda to the track with a sparser arrangement, the lyrics are again from the point of that same character, now much older, thinking about the people they’ve known over the years.
I should call all of those people, that I not so long ago needed, before its too late in the day.
Musically, the song is fairly simple. The chord progression is an example of me trying to push my chordal writing into more interesting territory. Here is a basic representation of the chords, created using the excellent iReal Pro.
For the modally inclined, the verses have a largely Dorian feel (i.e. the natural minor key of C Minor but with an sharpened 6th (A natural) to put the modal cat among the… tonality pigeons). The final chord in each verse line is the parallel major of the first (i.e. C Major and C Minor), which I hope sounds just nicely unexpected, preceding a sombre dip in the 3rd of the chord from major back to minor as the line begins its second repetition. When the chorus does come round, rather than dip again, the progression continues to lift (harmonically, if not so much lyrically) as it moves up a semitone from C Major to Db Major and through via Eb6 up to F Major. I’ve pondered in retrospect how these chords might be analysed from a functional harmony perspective. Even as their writer I feel there are a few different ways to make sense of them. If anyone fancies engaging in some analysis on my behalf, do feel free! Either way, as is often the case, I can’t 100% recall how I happened upon this particular progression. Most likely it came from me ‘noodling’ at the piano until something that sounded nice occurred (which probably sums a larger proportion of what constitutes songwriting than many songwriters would care to reveal).
Sonically, for the demo I was trying to get somewhere near Beck (Morning), Damien Rice perhaps, and I’m sure there are plenty of other influences in there that I’m less consciously aware of.
The song is destined to appear on the next full length release by Divisions where many of my songs end up.