July 2019 Assignment

Write a song in the voice of another performer

On an audio clip aired sometimes on The Beatles Channel (Sirius satellite radio), Paul McCartney remembers fooling around with a melody and trying to play and sing like Ray Charles. The result was “The Long and Winding Road.” He wrote, played and sang like Little Richard on “I’m Down” and Chuck Berry on “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

Sometimes, he said, doing that helps him to write a song. It might help you, too. Your intentions for the song will influence who you’re trying to reflect and how you write it.

Suppose you’re writing a country song and hope Martina McBride will record it. You’ll want to include at the writing stage those big soaring vocals she is known for. Doesn’t matter whether you can sing like that — the goal in this scenario is to write a Martina McBride song, find a ringer to do the vocal parts in the studio and get the demo into the hands of someone who can get Martina McBride to hear your song. Ca-ching!

Suppose you’re you in a songwriting slump. You’re not trying to license your song to a star, you’re just trying to write a song. Like Paul imitating Ray, how would you write a song that sounds like a John Prine song? A song that sounds like Drake? Like Bob Dylan? Like, well, Paul McCartney?

The goal is not to rip off another songwriter. Don’t lift a melody or specific lyrics, but no one can own a chord progression, song topic or vocal style. And if Paul can do Ray, you can do anybody whose way of writing or singing helps you to write your song.

“The Long and Winding Road” by Lennon/McCartney, The Beatles, 1970

“The Long and Winding Road” performed by Ray Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra, 2006

“The Long and Winding Road” (Naked Version) as intended by McCartney without the Phil Spector instrumentation, 2016