23 Aug 2017

The songwriting of Jimmy Webb

From Nine To Noon, 11:06 am on 23 August 2017
American songwriter, composer and singer Jimmy Webb.

American songwriter, composer and singer Jimmy Webb. Photo: Supplied

Jimmy Webb is an American songwriter, composer and singer known worldwide as a master of his trade. Since his first platinum hit 'The Worst That Could Happen', Webb has had numerous hits including 'Up, Up and Away', 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix', 'Wichita Lineman', 'Galveston', 'All I Know' and 'MacArthur Park', and has also become a leader and mentor in the industry as a champion for songwriters.

Musicologist and song writer Graeme Downes discusses Jimmy Webb's work.

You know you’ve written a good song when other people want to cover it. Jimmy Webb is like Randy Newman in the last show - their bank accounts would be largely from other people wanting to sing there songs, more than from their own recordings. In a sense, Jimmy Webb is covering his own tunes because everyone associates songs like 'Galveston' with Glenn Campbell.

Webb knows a thing or two about songwriting. The importance of rhyme, the different demands of different performance contexts, and he’s written a good book on the subject titled Tunesmith. In it he recalls taking a room in the Brill building with a piano and a desk, and his boss saying “in this room you can never make a mistake”. He opines somewhere in it that song writing is damn hard work, and if its not, you’re not doing it properly.

Graeme Downes is the founding member of the Verlaines, songwriter, musicologist, senior lecturer in the Department of Music at the University of Otago.