December 19, 2006

How not to write a song

Filed under: Day to Day — Drew Johnson @ 7:42 pm

Kristopher posted some thoughts on the unfinished mix of Twenty Miles from Waterloo that got me thinking again about my four year long debate with myself over whether or not Twenty Miles from Waterloo is a good song. For those of you not familiar with this debate I’m going to spare you the boredom of catching you up but let it be said that there are countless posts on this very subject and even more than countless discussions that pre-date this blog.

My official position has always been that this is simply not a very good song. It works great when performed live at a show but falls short on tape when all of its wobbly bits are exposed. Its weaknesses were made apparent to us after hearing the original demo. We spent the next few years trying to fix this song and never quite got there. Waterloo was fundamentally flawed from the very beginning. It is essentially two different songs held together by a mathematically generated pre-chorus. We were basically trying to fix a house that had a gigantic crack in the foundation by painting the bathroom and re-finishing the hardwood floors.

Waterloo became a zero-sum game. Every improvement that was made usually caused a loss somewhere else. The tempo of the original demo was much faster than the latest version. This made the energy seem higher but caused the drum and guitar parts to be less funky. So we made the trade. Which is better is anyone’s guess. So these same types of decisions were made every step of the way. I would also attribute the higher energy in the original demo to us not knowing that we were bashing right through some major problems.

My favorite demo of the verses is this one. It’s more like Twenty Feet from Sweet Home Alabama. At this tempo (which is even slower than our latest version) the guitar parts sound killer but they don’t work over Dino’s killer drum part. So we went with the drums…which I think was the right decision.

The pre-chorus in the latest version is by far my favorite but the guitar part in the left speaker is so fuzzy that you can’t even tell what I’m doing.

Kristopher said in his comment “The chorus always perplexed me in that we don’t hear more ‘Drew’isms’.” I’m not sure if you mean the way I sing it or the way we play it but either way the Drew’isms are probably not there because this was my attempt at writing a Colony song. I should probably leave Colony songs to Colony…may they rest in peace.

The “splash/ride” cymbals Tammy talks about are (I assume) what Dino is doing in the chorus right? She’s probably talking about the way Dino is washing out his ride cymbal (or maybe a gigantic crash cymbal I don’t recall) on the and’s of the beat. I’m in total agreement with Dino on the way he approached that part. It’s supposed to provide a bed of noise while at the same time keeping the rhythmic motif of the verses. If he had played his ride as more of a “ping” it would have sounded too ska and if he had done it on the hi-hat it would have sounded too Korn – “Got the Life”. To each his own of course. I can certainly understand why someone would prefer a cleaner approach.

Anyhoo, this topic is always interesting to me because this song was a huge learning experience for me. I thought that I could fix this song with years of songwriting experience and education when my gut told me just to trash it. Oddly enough, I just got an email a few days ago saying that Waterloo is a “monster song”. Go figure.

In the couple of years surrounding the writing of Waterloo I think my songwriting was pretty hit and miss. There are more songs I don’t like from that period than any other I can think of. And the ones that I do like it seems like nobody else did.

I’m going to go ahead and shut up now. I’m now just blogging to hear myself blog.


  1. could you post the lyrics to this song…because…welll….some versions I can’t understand it…and others…………I just don’t “get it”

    Comment by Taylor — December 19, 2006 @ 10:31 pm

  2. Here are the lyrics:

    Twenty miles from waterloo
    the doctor’s mind has gone aloof
    it’s evolution through the roof
    and now there is proof of who made who

    Look at how they reproduce
    and how they’re marching two by two
    it’s progress with a sonic boom
    an army of loons not unlike you

    In the news and all of the papers
    this sub-human nature
    we’ll all meet the maker soon

    but look at me I’m real I’m really not a drone

    The second wave is on the loose
    they walk around in baby shoes
    they only cry and hide the truth
    in this city of doom and dark-eyed youth

    Our mothers have all gone into labor
    with child of automated behavior
    we wait while all of our saviors bloom

    It’s just a goofy little doomsday look at cloning.

    Comment by Drew Johnson — December 19, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  3. “goofy little doomsday” ….that has to be the name of SOMETHING

    Comment by Taylor — December 21, 2006 @ 9:11 am

  4. gay song

    Comment by Anonymous — January 28, 2010 @ 11:21 am

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