Six Of The Best: Songwriting Documentary Clips


We’ve scoured the depths of YouTube to bring you a half dozen video clips which provide some priceless songwriting tips from legendary artists

1. Michael Jackson on writing Billie Jean

Martin Bashir’s cringe-worthy ITV interview with Michael Jackson was infamous for lifting the lid on the legend’s eccentricities, but as this clip shows, Michael was also a passionate and talented songwriter. Here he talks about creativity and the original inspiration for writing Billie Jean.

“If I sat at the piano and played some chords and whatever, and write the best song ever written, nothing happens. Something in the heavens has to say ‘Look, this is the time, this is gonna be laid on you and this is when I want you to have it’.”


2. How Paul McCartney wrote Yesterday

The Beatle tells the story about the magical inception of the timeless classic…whilst driving a fishing boat, bizarrely! George Martin also explains the decision to keep the arrangement simple and how it almost became a solo record.

“I had a piano by the bed and I just woke up one morning with this tune in my head. I thought ‘I don’t know this tune…or do I? It’s like an old jazz tune or something’ because my dad used to know a lot of old jazz stuff. Maybe I just remember from somewhere.”


3. Sting likes rules

Mr Sumner talks through his creative process and a song’s starting point. It’s all about hooks, a concept and an idea apparently. Also an unsurprising revelation that Sting thinks about sex while he’s singing!

“I like the rules of songwriting. They’re the same for me as they were for George Gershwin or Cole Porter. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle 8, verse, chorus, coda. If you obey those rules you enter a sort of state of grace. You can ignore the rules, but you have to be aware there are rules in the first place.“


4. It’s funny to be James Taylor

The American troubadour gets introspective and tries to explain what goes on in the mind of a singer-songwriter, not only at the early stage but also when it comes to performing the same song a thousand times.

“I started off initially writing these songs because I wanted to express myself, and I think also to me very much of what is artistic is people’s very creative and inventive ways out of impossible situations…and they show us a path…and when we see this, it looks like art“


5. Gary Barlow keeps churning them out

At over 51 minutes this isn’t really a ‘clip’ but it’s too good to chop up. Here Zane Lowe plays gushing interviewer, as Gary king of boy bands literally plays us through chord progressions and insights into some Take That modern classics.

“Music’s first every time, still is. I often start with a lyric actually. I often start with a concept, an idea or a line I’ve heard someone say, or something I’ve read in a magazine.“


6. Robin Gibb didn’t try too hard

The late, great Bee Gee attempts to explain the roots of his phenomenal songwriting ability and, in particular, what makes a good song.

“The worst thing is to try too hard. The minute you stop, and give-up, the mind relaxes and suddenly… you know it’s the end and you start playing stuff, and then it happens. I don’t know why that is. It feeds itself. It writes itself.”


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