The First Song

3 July, 2018 in Features, Interviews

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We all have to start somewhere

Hear how songwriters like Gene Simmons, Janis Ian, Adam Duritz, Loudon Wainwright III, Roger Cook and BC Jean got started

One thing that all songwriters have in common is that at some point they plucked up the courage to write their first song. For some, like Janis Ian, that tune made it onto an actual album, whereas for many others it was just a point of entry, a way of answering that calling from deep inside. We all have to start somewhere and here’s how some of our previous interviewees cut their teeth…


Adam DuritzAdam Duritz (Counting Crows)
“In my first band, when I was 13 years old, my guitar player taught me how to make a major and a minor chord. Once you know that you can sort of play, so I would sit around and play shitty piano, but I would play a lot. Then when I was 18, I was a freshman in college, I wrote my first song and, after that, I vomited songs for a few years. I wrote so many songs, which I realise now weren’t very good, but at the time they seemed like really good songs. When you’re creating something from nothing for the first time in your life, that’s a pretty big deal.” Read more

BC JeanBC Jean
“Since I was very young, probably since I was six. I started writing stories and creative writing was my passion, and so was singing. Then, around 13 or 14 years old, I started converting my poetry into pop songs. I took my favourite pop songs and I’d write down all the lyrics, and realised what the format was for a pop song – verse, pre-chorus, chorus, etc. From there I wrote my very first song, called What’s A Girl To Do? I basically just took my poetry and put it into that format. I’d write different sections and figure out which parts are the hookiest, then I would use another person’s melody and make my own melody… I kind of just taught myself… I remember sitting on my stairs as a child and being like, ‘Mom, Dad, I wrote my first song!’ The lyrics were pretty good, I think, and the melodies were pretty good, and I still think it could be a hit. I feel like I should rework it, or something.” Read more

Gene SimmonsGene Simmons (KISS)
“Before I started writing songs I thought that all the songs and all the words had been written. Then out of nowhere this My Uncle Is A Raft Song came out and I couldn’t stop listening to it thinking, ‘Wow, this never existed before and I gave it birth.’ I remember when I first recorded it I kept saying, ‘Play it again, play it again,’ because I couldn’t believe that before I wrote and recorded that song it had never existed on earth. It’s a remarkable thing to say.” Read more

Janis IanJanis Ian
“It was Hair Of Spun Gold, which wound up on my first album. I was 12 and I remember it distinctly. I wrote the song and then I sang it for my parents while we were in the car going to visit my grandparents in New York. My mum asked where I’d learnt that song from and I said, ‘I wrote it.’ They both just stopped and looked at me. It had never occurred to me to tell anyone that I had started writing.” Read more

Loudon Wainwright IIILoudon Wainwright III
“I started when I was 13 and I probably didn’t write my first song until I was 21 or 22 I’d say. I didn’t plan to be a songwriter – I thought I was going to be an actor… I’ve forgotten it and it never was recorded. I was working in a boatyard in New England and one of my co-workers was an old, grizzled lobster fisherman named Edgar, so the first song I’d ever written was called Edgar and it was about him. I don’t remember anything about it, but to have written a song was exciting to me, and I think the next week I wrote two more.” Read more

Mark E EverettMark E Everett (EELS)
“The first one that I remember was when I was very young, probably like 11 and I had my first girlfriend and my mum had an upright piano in the back of the house and I was making up a song about her. At that point I was always fantasising that I would play it to her someday but I don’t think I ever had the nerve to. You know for years I never entertained the idea that this could be something I would do for my job, or whatever, how I’ll make a living. It never occurred to me that that was a possibility.” Read more

Roger CookRoger Cook
“In the late 50s I was singing with a vocal group, The Sapphires. The guitarist Brian Holly had written a song for the girl singer called Let The Wind Blow and I was very jealous of his ability to do that. I thought, ‘How hard could it be to write a song?’ I was dating a girl called Judy at the time and wrote my very first song called Judy My Darling using the well-worn chord sequence of C/A minor/ F/ G. Unfortunately Judy cheated on me and our romance came to an end, but my song for her was the birth of my career as a songwriter.” Read more

Ward ThomasWard Thomas
“Your first song is always awful. But we just worked really hard at our songwriting, and we started putting our own stories, from our own upbringing into our songs. So we put a country style to it but with our British influence. The first song was called Imperfection’s Beautiful, and we were very young when we wrote it, about 14 or 15. There wasn’t much maturity in the song. But you’ve got to write a bad song to get the good ones out!” Read more

Wayne HusseyWayne Hussey (The Mission)
“I was a big T Rex fan, that’s how I got into making music, because suddenly I wanted to be a rock star instead of a footballer. And I got a guitar and a chord sheet, worked out a few chords, and I think the first song was basically A minor and you took that finger off and on, and it was called Seagull Woman, which is ripped off the lyrics of a T Rex song. I was about 13 or 14.” Read more


Download the latest edition of Songwriting for the full interview with Janis Ian and to discover the 10 essential tracks written by Roger Cook