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Saturday, June 25, 2011

SpinTunes #3 Round 1 Review: Mitchell Adam Johnson

Ranking this many songs was a huge challenge for me.

There are loads of ways to interpret the idea of a "happy" song about death. All of you wrote about death... It was the "happy" part that varied greatly. Some of you wrote happy lyrics. Some wrote happy music. Some toyed with the happy side of sadness. Comedic, serious, straightforward... There were so many different spins on it. That being said, I think all of you met the challenge.

In songwriting, there are two main components: music and lyrics. And because this is a songwriting challenge, well written music is just as important as well written lyrics. As I've mentioned, lyrically, you've all met the challenge. So I decided to focus my reviews more around your musical composition. I hope you find my praises and criticisms constructive and insightful. And remember, my words are only words - one humble songwriter's opinion. They are here to help you on your SpinTunes adventure.

Here is my ranking. These are listed in order, beginning with 1st place:

Charlie McCarron - Grandma And Grandpa
Wow this is beautiful. Such good chords in the chorus. Man - your V/ii chord with the melody landing on the 9th of that chord... amazing. Vocal harmonies... great. The female octave is gorgeous. And ending the chorus with a suspension... genius. Impressive job on the lyrics. Today I woke up with this melody in my head. I think this song takes the cake.

Pat And Gweebol - Baby Go To Sleep
Like your minor iv chords (classic pop songwriting trick - we fall for it every time). Great harmonies. Awesome melody - the notes & rhythms are so strong. Everyone: here is a perfect example of using rests to make a melody catchier. This song gets the award for the best backing vocals - hands down. Well written song, guys! The switching between Pat and Gweebol's voices really keeps this song moving. Nice double tracking. Such a cool piano part - reminds me a bit of The Zombies. Man, this song is filled with perfect counter-melodies, both in the piano and vocals. Pure sugary pop! Love it.

Chris Cogott - Drag Me Down
Yes - energetic instrumentation! This is an awesome song. As usual, you've given us a strong melody with bitchin chords. Your guitar sounds are so cool. Very 60's - keep that up. Great production on this song. Flawless modulation from A Major to F# Major. Holy crap - you got back to A Major with style... So you're in F#... Hit the flat 7 chord (E Major), then to D, followed by an early Beatlesque F chord, back to A.... Damn dude - you really know how to write chord progressions. Love the V/V (B major) chord in your verses. Such tasteful lead guitar playing. YES!!! That was an awesome organ part. This song will be in my head for a long time. Well done, Chris.

Matt And Donna - Lady On The Gray
Great song. Oooh... heartbreaking melody and chords on the verses. Great vocal harmonies. Nice trumpet line. Good god that is an awesome instrumental bridge. Those chords: Bb, G, C, A, Bb, G, F, C... PERFECT use of secondary dominants. Gorgeous. Man - those verses are well written. Love when it goes to the iii chord, and I love the minor v chord with the vocals. Very creative. Wish I would've thought of that progression / melody. I think the verses are quite a bit stronger than the chorus - although I'm sure the chorus will hook loads of people. Amazing job on the lyrics. The Graveyard Book is one of my favorite books of all time. I'm seeing Neil Gaiman speak this week, actually. You really did his book justice. Brilliant song.

Caleb Hines - Haven't You Ever
Infomercial meets Anime meets Muppets. It reminds me of TV shows in the 80's. Hahaha nacho cheese! I like the verses a lot more than the chorus. They're great. You are a good at writing melodies, chord progressions, and arranging. The entrance of the regal brass is well placed. The chord at "So I think I'll take it from you" is gorgeous. That's 'c minor' with an added 6th in the strings, right? Well done, man. Love the song.

Godz Poodlz - Wake At The Sunnyside
Love your summery chorus. This is one of the strongest choruses this round - it's a simple melody and simple progression, but it's well crafted. It's clear you understand the art of writing a hook. The organ adds a lot. Love the staggered vocal harmonies. Love the chords. Love the riffs. Well written song, mate! Really looking forward to hearing more from you.

Inverse T. Clown - Caroline Is Dead
Fantastic chords. They Might Be Giants. Love the cheesy Mannheim Steamroller riffs - especially over the diminished chord. While this song is incredibly goofy, it's well written. Good call on the triplets in the melody - they add a lot. You know how to use little pop tricks here and there to keep the listener hooked - like changing chords twice as fast after the first two lines of the chorus. Brilliant. The lyrics flow perfectly. "Eulogy" and "fool of me," absolutely love it.

Edric Haleen - I Hope You Die
Yes! Sounds like a Disney song. This is such a good intro. If you don't already, you should really write musicals. Love your inclusion of the Ab note - the flatted 6th scale degree is so heartwrenching... you did an amazing job using that. Hahaha - then it just goes all out Weird Al (Everything You Know Is Wrong)! Love the progression IV - V - vi - V/V. So good. And the V/vi chord!! Great modulation. Nice outro, too. Love this one.

Alexa Polasky - You Will Never Die
Ooh cool Britpop vibe. This song really drives. Mid 90's style... awesome. Reminds me of Veruca Salt (the band, not the spoiled girl from Charlie & The Chocolate Factory). This song kicks ass. Bitchin rhythms on the guitar/bass. Great cutout ending.

Wait What - Death - Everyone's Doing It!
I really dig this song. Love the shouts. Very strong melody. I like the arranging/instrumentation. A kid's song... that's awesome. That synth-pizzicato is perfect for this 80's style take on early 60's music. Love the fake horn section. The lead vocals are so calm - it contrasts perfectly with the shouts. Haha - is this the same song??? That rap was really random / funny. Overall, very creepy. I think I would've enjoyed the song more without the rap section - It just wasn't as well done as the rest of the tune. Still, it's a really catchy song.

Ross Durand - No Taxes
I'm glad you included some beautiful chords in this folky song (your b flat diminished chord is well placed - and it's cool how it resolves to a G major chord, rather than the obvious b minor). I love when folk songs are more than three chords. Strong melody on the hook. Nice riff there. Very professional sounding recording - the guitar really shines. Love it.

Emperor Gum - Frequency
This is really cool. I love the synth instruments - good arranging. You are a strong lyricist - a beautiful picture was painted. I love how each part of this song has a different feel... Sometimes when songwriters attempt to write multiple movements, it just doesn't flow. Not the case here. You've done a great job pulling it all together. Reminds me a lot of 1968/69 Beach Boys... profoundly childish music. Well done!

Alex Carpenter - The Day I Died
You should send some music to DriveThru Records. Cool idea for the drums to go halftime every now and then. GREAT MINOR FOUR CHORD. The hook at the end of the chorus is money. Great production on this one! A well rounded song.

Ethan Ivey - The Four-Year Itch
haha - Love the speaking part. Strong melody. I really like this tune. Fantastic lyrics. When you go from e minor to A major - brilliant. Also the little repetition at the very end was a good move. Way to use the happy side of sadness.

Jon Eric - Birthday
Fantastic lyrics on the verses, man. You have a really cool voice - I really dig your tone - its unique and honest sounding. I like the sing-along vibe of the chorus. Ooh! Nice rests on "Here's to a life.... well lived." I also love the hollow Perfect 5th harmony on "Well lived." Good job. No complaints here.

Byron Blocker & The Offbeats - She's Dead
Who let Tom Waits join this contest? That's a wicked walking bassline. Is that a "I'm Only Sleeping" reference (the bass riff during the break)? Great tone on the guitar. Once again, an awesome spin on the challenge.

Governing Dynamics - Alive Again
Great mid 90's vibe. Love the flat VI chord. The trading vocals midway through the tune are awesome. Little bit of a Beck vibe in the vocals. The first modulation is cool - I think the second one might be a bit much... however, I understand that the new key helps paint the idea of "feeling alive again," so I'll let it slide. Vocals get a little bit rough towards the end perhaps. Overall, I like the melody/chords. Nice job.

Steve Durand - Die Happy
The music sounds like Randy Newman. Like Toy Story meets Three Amigos (this is a good thing). Ooh, wicked bridge, man! That was the best part of this tune. That was the model of a perfect bridge. Cool horn bit in the middle. Nice arranging on the horn section harmonies! Nice touch on the vibrato / squealing!

Brian Daniell - Cubbies Will Win
Very happy. Nice simple progression with a strong melody. Could be on an episode of Sesame Street. Fresh instrumentation & style. Love the bassline. Strong performances!

Dr. Lindlyke - Wake Me When It's Over
Good chords - love the V/vi. I also love the V/ii (the A major chord in your chorus) - nice touch with adding the f# note to that chord. This sounds like Elton John writing a tribute to someone. You did a fantastic job hitting the happy side of sadness. You have a strong and earnest voice. Smooth and emotional melody.

Tally Deushane - My Dead Goldfish
I really like your voice. It has a perfect amount of grit. Nice little song. Sweet opening lyrics. Could use a few more chords or a musically contrasting section. Well done.

Menage' A Tune - Isn't It Nice
You did a great job. I really like this melody. "To stay with you to the bitter end" - that part was my favorite - your use of the 7th scale degree is beautiful. Paints a nice picture.

Matt Walton - We're All Going To Die
Definitely meets the "happy song about death" challenge. I like this take on it. A happy sounding tune with death lyrics. The tone of your voice is awesome - it's so pleasant and easy to listen to. It's hilarious the way you sing "we're all going to die." LOVE THE LAUGH AT THE END.

Gold Lion - In The Afterlife
Cool voice. I like how the music is nice and summery, and the vocals are ghostly and laid back. I really like the conversation bit in the middle - it's like Barbara Ann or some Sublime song. Very cool.

The Offhand Band - All Over
This song sounds insane... but in a good way. Actually this sounds like The Rutles spoofing The Beatles. Great faux Billy Preston solo. Would make a great theme song to a kids show. Sounds like the music The Beach Boys were making after Brian lost it (The Beach Boys - Love You). Very cool.

Jutze - I Love The Dead
Wonderful melody/chords on the guitar riff intro. Easily my favorite part of the tune - It's like an 1800's folk song. It's heartbreaking and sweet. The B note in your a minor chord is gorgeous. Nice ii-V-I. The rest of the song is a bit repetitive, but I'm sure that's what you were going for. Definitely gets stuck in your head.

Jason Morris - Burning For You
More mid-90's. There's a lot of energy in this song, that's great. I like the Gin Blossom style guitars. "Ooh la la la's" are awesome. Tambourine adds a lot to the poppy sound. Nice job.

Spencer Sokol - Keeping Calm
I love a male singer with a good range. Seriously, what is the deal with these 90's songs?? I do like the guitar part. Could've used something more - a stronger melodic hook.

"Buckethat" Bobby Matheson - No Worries
Great flat VII chord. Maybe a bit melodically predictable. Overall I like the feel of it. Has a Jimmy Buffet vibe.

Luke Brekke, Esquire - Cannibal
With so many songs for us judges to listen to, I'm glad a few of you took the comedy route. HAHAHAHA Annabelle & Cannibal!!! Awesome rhyme.
Music is decent... but the lyrics are hilarious. Mad scientist laugh!

Young Stroke aka Young Muscle - My Name Is Death
Hahaha... these rhymes are hella hilarious. It's like a twisted Sugarhill Gang. Great old-school rap vibe. The backing track is pretty awesome - sounds like drips of water in a cave. Glad to hear some other genres in this challenge.

Glen Raphael - When You're Dead
I like your style. I enjoy the rhythms of the melody. Definitely an original approach. It's a bit hard to follow, musically. Some parts a bit sloppy. Good hook on the chorus. You've got a cool vocal tone.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - Marked For Death
"Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" meets R.E.M. Love the line, "The man in black has a jones for your soul." Really funny song. I'm surprised there wasn't more humorous songs with a theme like "Happy Songs About Death." I think this song could've used more of a melody.

Bryce Jensen - Thank You
Love the mix of sincerity / sarcasm. I like the simple arrangement. Nice rhyme on "inconvenient" and "lenient." This song could have used something more. Another section to change up the feel.

Happi - The Next Part Of Life
Nice Gandalf reference. I wish you would've sang more - I really like the "next part of life" hook. This song builds nicely. There are some great references in the lyrics.

Hudson And Day - Silly Baby
I like this chorus. Good soulful melody on the hook. Verses are a bit sloppy at parts - but the rest is pretty good. I really enjoyed the effects on the vocals at parts. Nice laid back instrumentation. The chords are really cool.

Doom SKITTLE - A Better Place
I like the rhythm of your chord changes. Nice reverb on your voice. You could use a bit more instrumentation on this tune to strengthen your song. I like the mood change halfway through the song - It's a nice touch.


  1. Thanks for the feedback! I had no idea what "the 7th scale degree" was so I have been asking on twitter and trying to google it- you see, I am NOT a trained musician, nor do I really play anything, save for what I have learned from my friends here in the Spinworld this past year. I like coming up with tunes and lyrics, and have been learning a lot about how to find ways to accompany them beyond begging others for help...which has been my main method, I will admit. As to that 7th thingie-were you referring to the higher note at the end of "torn in the trash" and "where only I knew"?

  2. You're welcome! Yea, I really like your song.
    In terms of the 7th scale degree:
    Major scales are made up of 8 notes: do re mi fa so la ti do. The 7th refers to the "ti."

    And yes, "trash" and "knew" are both the 7th scale degree. And it is beautiful.

    You also used the "ti" in the chorus - to stay with you TILL the bitTER end. "Till" and "ter" are both the 7th.

    I just really enjoyed how you used that note. It throws just a hint of sadness into the melody.

    Nice job, JoAnn!

  3. Graham (Emperor Gum + DonutWorthy)July 4, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    Thanks, Mitchell! Really pleased that several judges liked my lyrics. Also, kudos for returning to judge SpinTunes and this many songs!