SAC 2016 4X4 Challenge update

I am delighted to announce that one of my songs for the SAC 2016 songwriting challenge made the special mention list.

The challenge was coordinated through a closed Facebook group with 82 members, many of whom submitted songs for consideration each week.  Moderators listened and commented on all of the submissions, while the challenger was asked to picked a few of the songs for special mention.

The goal for Week 2 was issued by Northern Pikes member Bryan Potvin who challenged us to write a song that tells a story.  My song “Can’t Take it Back” was one of three chosen by Bryan, who wrote

Selkirk Range’s “Can’t Take It Back” is killer country music. Country has always been a genre that relies on ‘the story’.  This tune totally delivers, complete with a gorgeous melody and heartfelt performance.

Thank you for this Bryan.  It means a lot to get positive feedback on something that has consumed much time and energy (not to mention patience) to create.  And a special thank you to Rosanne Baker Thornley and North Easton for the tremendous–and I mean tremendous–effort they both put into the Challenge as moderators and mentors.

The song was written too late for the upcoming release, but maybe this is the motivation I need to consider doing a follow up single for next year.



I’m late submitting this week but I met the challenge.  This week we were asked by Toronto-based singer-songwriter Emma-Lee to “tie two tunes together” by marrying parts from different unfinished songs into a new composition.

This was a hard challenge in part because I have many unfinished ideas but trying to bring them together in a new arrangement is surprisingly difficult.  Different rhythms, different keys, different moods, etc.  After sifting through my iPhone scratch recordings for some time, I finally decided to merge a melody from one fragment of an idea with a guitar riff from another.

The chorus was part of the guitar riff idea and the melody came from a very different song idea so I essentially had to write the lyrics from scratch.  The chorus is suggestive of a theme but I had to work out an angle on it.  In this case the lyrics aren’t too specific but lend themselves to a relationship-type song.  I decided I also wanted to keep it simple and short, so I opted for two verses with a short bridge, bringing the whole thing in under 3 minutes.

It’s a bit more pop than what I’ve been writing lately and the production is more than I would usually do for this kind of demo but I had fun with it, and that’s what matters

We’ve Both Been There

I know that love can be confusing-
when it undermines those plans you made
But I also know it bears repeating-
you’ve got two choices when you’re scared

We’ve both been there
We’ve both been there

I know frustration likes to hang around-
ticking like a time bomb that you wear
Before it blows you need to recognize-
there are others out there who still care

We’ve both been there
We’ve both been there

And I won’t tell you no lies-
cause I can see in those eyes
we’ve both been there

We’ve both been there

Words and music by Gordon Gow, Copyright 2016
Featured Image by Holly Jay



This week’s challenge from Michael Perlmutter from Instinct Entertainment was to do a co-write with another participant.  The subject of the song was to be about “relationships” and the process was intended to allow us to be able to share our own experience “with a co-writer may help to craft the story and share the feeling in a more profound way.”

Collaboration presents many challenges unto itself; not the least of which is finding a time  and place to do it.  Online connections are good but face to face is probably better for me, and unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen this week because of other commitments.  However, I did manage to contact two Edmonton-based writers, BoneDog Dixon and Shauna Specht, both of whom I met through the SAC Edmonton Regional Writers Group.

My approach going into the challenge was to lend what I feel are my strengths in lyric writing to the collaboration.  Given the time constraints I also felt it better to draw on some material that was already somewhat developed rather than trying to create from scratch.

I write lyrics in tandem with music, using it as a kind of scaffolding for the process.  The scaffolding can then be pulled back to reveal a lyric.  That was the case with both of these songs.

I offered to send BoneDog a lyric with the title “That Love Ain’t True”, which is about the kind of relationships that really aren’t honest or healthy.   I felt that it fit with his blues-influenced approach to songwriting.  Originally it was written with a series of short verses followed by a refrain.  BoneDog suggested I expand the verses and he added some additional elements to the lyric.  His musical approach is really interesting, and very different from what I would have imagined for the song.  I like it, and think that if we were to continue working on it that I’d want to do an overhaul of the verses to give it a stronger coherence internally and possibly inject some dark humour into it.

I offered Shauna a lyric with the title “Save it for the Brokenhearted”, which is about a long term relationship that has come to an end;  however, it’s not a sad ending but rather two lovers who have reconciled with themselves about it and realize it’s time to move on.   Shauna was drawn to the theme but decided to take it in quite a different direction than the original lyric.  She retained some of the thematic elements and a few lines but it is also a completely different song after the co-write.  I’m impressed with what she’s done with it in such a short time span and now have a greater sense of how an idea in a co-write can develop in unexpected directions.  If we had more time to work on it together I’d probably press for a different chorus as part of the co-writing process.  Nonetheless, my compliments to her for this song, which is now called “The Book of You and Me

Overall, it was a great experience this week and it’s encouraged me to start thinking more seriously about the possibilities of doing more co-write experiments.



SAC 2016 Songwriting Challenge Week 2

Okay, we’re into week 2 and the Challenge has been issued by Northern Pikes member Bryan Potvin to write a song that tells a story.  He says that in addition to a compelling storyline it “should be a song with memorable melody, chord structure and rhythm that speaks to the ideas within the story.”  Make the story drive the lyric and the music, he says.

He includes some great sample tracks as points of reference, including “Cats in the Cradle” (Harry Chapin) and “She Ain’t Pretty” (Northern Pikes).  Of course there are many others, including Gordon Lightfoot’s epic “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and Towne Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty.”

It’s a difficult challenge on several levels, not the least of which is to grapple with the question “what exactly qualifies as a story, anyway?”

Merriam Webster has a few ways to define it but I like “an account of incidents or events” or “the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work.”

In its essence, however, a story has characters, a setting, and some kind of action unfolding in time.  I suppose this can be contrasted with a lyric that is either impressionistic (“Where the Streets Have No Name“) or one that expresses a set of emotional statements in relation to a chorus (“Walking on Sunshine“).

The Process

Fortunately I had a story idea for a song that had been sitting idle for some time.  The challenge gave me a good excuse to develop it.

I assume the characters and the dramatic element of the story will be obvious to listeners but the timeline is a bit different because it works backward from the recent past to the distant past through the three verses.

This is what I wrote on my worksheet when planning out the song structure:

Verse 1: minutes before
Verse 2: hours before
Verse 3: years before

I’m not sure it’s a narrative as much as the singer recollecting a set of related moments in second-person POV.  Does that count as a story?  If we accept the first of Meriam Webster’s definitions I noted above (“an account of incidents or events”) then it does.

I really like singing the melody in the chorus and feel it ties the elements together with compelling hook but that is ultimately for listeners to decide.

The performance and recording could both be improved but I’ve decided that we’re all friends here and so I’m not going to overwork the demo this week.

The Result

Can’t Take it Back

An empty bottle beside the bed-
the darkness clings to the things you said
Like shattered glass on a broken mirror-
These lines of force are now crystal clear

The fever broke about 2am-
You were sick from drinking, soaked in sin
You raised your voice then you raised your hand-
out came that demon you could never understand

You can’t take it back now-
You can’t take it back
You can’t take it back now-
You can’t take it back

A set of keys beside the door-
she pleaded so many times before
trying to save you from yourself-
a gesture of love that you ignored

You slammed the door when you left that night-
at the sight of tears in the fury of another fight
And you knew where the road was gonna lead-
with those warning signs you never chose to heed

You can’t take it back now-
You can’t take it back
You can’t take it back now-
You can’t take it back

Time ticks away-
time ticks away
time ticks away-
then it’s gone

A lover’s note inside your coat-
twenty years ago it gave you hope
she said “I do” when you took her hand-
but you burned it to ash-
in the flames of a foolish man

You can’t take it back now-
You can’t take it back
You can’t take it back now-
You can’t take it back

Copyright 2016 Gordon Gow

SAC 2016 Songwriting Challenge Week 1

The Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) runs an annual songwriting challenge for its members.  I did it last year and found the experience difficult but very rewarding.  One of my posts from 2015 is here.

The challenge this year is to write four songs in four weeks under the direction of a set of mentor/challengers.  Each week presents a different type of challenge.

SAC members who participate in the challenge are asked to record their result each week and post it online with some commentary.

So here we go …

The Challenge

The challenger is Toronto-based producer and songwriter Murray Daigle, who posted this for us:

Write a song using no more than 2 chords — OR —  Write a song that has a single repeating riff (1-bar in length)

This challenge is designed to make writers focus on fundamental “hooks” to create a great song. Also to underline the “catchiness” of the melody, vocal rhythm and lyric will be very important. This limitation takes away the writer’s ability to simply use a chord pattern change and define the musical space. You will actually have to write verses, choruses and bridges that define themselves and “speak” as they should in the context of the song.

Murray also provided a list of examples for us to consider, including some classics such as “Eleanor Rigby” (Beatles), “Born in the USA” (Springsteen), “When Love Comes to Town” (U2).

The Process

I went with the 2-chord challenge, although I had considered using my looper to try out something with a repeating riff.

Keeping to 2-chords is hard because there is such a strong desire to add a third chord for resolution and/or harmonic progression against the melody.  However, the challenge really forced me to pay close attention to melodic and rhythmic elements of the composition.

I listened to some of the examples provided by Murray and adapted a technique from “Eleanor Rigby” that I used to give a sense of movement in the song.  Here you can see how the Beatles simply reverse the order of the chords to differentiate between verse and chorus:

Rigby chords

I began with several different ideas, playing around with a Travis-picked D/Am progression but dropped it in favour of something a bit more bouncy that moves between the I and the IV (‘C#’ and ‘F#’).  This gave me a bit more to play with in terms of the interaction between the melody, lyrics, chord changes.

For the pre-chorus I make a slight change by holding on the IV for an extra bar before returning to the riff.    It isn’t quite the same as reversing the order but it does briefly shift the emphasis to the IV and breaks up the pattern.

I also drew on my Pat Pattison theory of songwriting and made subtle changes to the way the lyrics are set between the verses and choruses, “leaning forward” in the chorus to give it a bit more emphasis and remain consonant with the thematic shift in the song.

When I arrived at the end of the second chorus it felt like the song needed a bridge of some kind, so I changed up the rhythm and used a lower and more open voicing of the IV chord:

F chord

Capo 1

The lyrics, as often is the case for me, started out largely as muttered gibberish but slowly evolved into a reasonably unified theme.  I find the process of just singing nonsense, recording it as a series of takes, and then listening back to it generates lots of interesting and unexpected ideas.  Often the gibberish singing produces longer, more rhythmic lyrics than I might otherwise come up with.  Revising it all and giving the song a coherent meaning can be difficult but it usually comes together after a couple days.


Lyric worksheet for “Shine On Young Heart”

The Result

Shine On Young Heart

She picks me up in the morning light-
She knows what she’s doing
But for the dust on the heels of my cowboy boots-
I came home with nothing

She dreams of a season scented-
With suntans and Fridays
Sayin’ life is like a long ride in a limousine-
Just lean back and enjoy

She knows just the thing to say-
She puts my mind at ease that way-
It’s a brand new day-
We’ll watch the children play-
You know the sun is here to stay-
Shine on young heart

When I turn back, lose track keeping time-
Choking with fear
She’s there with that halo in her hair-
And whispers for my tears

She knows just the thing to say-
She puts my mind at ease that way-
It’s a brand new day-
We’ll watch the children play-
You know the sun is here to stay-
Shine on young heart

I know you love me

She knows just the thing to say-
She puts my mind at ease that way-
It’s a brand new day-
We’ll watch the children play-
You know the sun is here to stay-
Shine on young heart

(Copyright 2016 Gordon Gow)