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Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting Hardcover – September 16, 1998

4.6 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The only artist to receive Grammy Awards for music, lyrics and orchestration, Webb has written many of the most memorable songs performed by the Fifth Dimension ("Up, Up and Away"), Donna Summer ("MacArthur Park") and Amy Grant ("If These Walls Could Speak"), among others. Here he seeks to impart the tools of the trade to songwriters "who may be attempting the delicate transition from amateur to professional." Covering technical matters from basic chord theory and rhyme schemes to the protocol of pitching songs, Webb draws on a trove of personal anecdotes from a career spanning more than two decades. In addition to salient comments on today's music scene, Webb cites numerous examples from the past and includes sections on writing for the stage and film. Of greatest value, perhaps, are the exercises suggested for developing song ideas, which will help anyone stumbling through a period of writer's block. While Webb's fans will revel in the behind-the-scenes details of his career and a candid view of his artistic process, others may wish that the asides, finger pointing (at arrogant co-writers) and Webb's own pet peeves (e.g., no-talent spouses who insist on songwriting credits on their partner's records) had been left out. And Webb's nuts-and-bolts approach somehow undercuts every songwriter's need for that spark of absolute inspiration. For those interested in the latter, Songwriters on Songwriting: The Expanded Version (Da Capo, 1997), a collection of interviews between editor Paul Zollo and a variety of songwriters, including Webb, is the ticket.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

A minister's son from Eld City, Oklahoma, Jimmy Webb has been writing songs for over twenty-five years. The only artist to receive Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration, he is a member of the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters' Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters' Hall of Fame. According to BMI, his song "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" is the third most-performed song in the last fifty years, with "Up, Up and Away" on the same list in the Top Thirty. Jimmy Webb lives in New York State. For more information, visit Jimmy Webb's official website: www.jimmywebb.com. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (September 16, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786861312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786861316
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #695,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark D Burgh on April 23, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Warning: People who want to learn basic songwriting should go elsewhere.
From 1965 to 1970 or so Jimmy Webb was inescapable. You watched the Carole Burnett show, and there were the 5th Dimension singing "Up, Up and Away." Turn on the radio, and Richard Harris' cake melted in the rain. Glen Campbell rode the Witchia line, drove through Phoenix, and ruminated about Galveston. Those incandescent melodies entered my childhood and have stayed with me.
Hard rock drove this more upbeat music from the airwaves, but Jimmy Webb's legacy remains in the catalog of fine songs he wrote at a precocious age. Now his book gives us some insight into the mind who might arguably be called the last great songwriter of the 20th century.
Many people coming to this book will eagerly open it, hoping to extract the secret than made Jimmy Webb into a wealthy man, and they will come away dissappointed and frustrated. This is not a book about how to write a song, so much as it is a repository of the mind of Jimmy Webb. True, Jimmy writes about how he composes a lyric, and how he creates a chord progression. His discussion of prosody is excellent, too. But there is more here that simple technical discussion of song writing.
This book a cultural history of the American song up to the end of the 1960's. Jimmy Webb gives us stories, his own history, his background, and discussions of songs from the beginning of the modern era to the present. For some like me, who has a deep interest in American Cultural history, this book is a gem.
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Format: Paperback
It's an event when Jimmy Webb, the songwriter who epitomized both the romance and the innovation that characterized the songcrafting of the sixties and seventies ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," "MacArthur Park," "Up, Up, and Away," etc.) turns his attention to writing a book about the songmaking process. Not only a great songwriter, Webb in his heyday was also admired as the possessor of a bright youthful intellect and a zany, happy sense of humor. The bulk of his hit-laden song catalog was completed by age twenty-five or so, at which time Webb mostly disappeared. For those insiders and fans who have been paying close attention, Webb has added to that catalog in more recent years, contributing such underpublicized gems as "If These Walls Could Speak" (Amy Grant, et al, early eighties) and "California Coast" (Linda Ronstadt, about 1990), a song that also helped celebrate the comeback of Brian Wilson, who created delicious and plaintive Beach-Boys-style background vocals for the cut. In TUNESMITH, we're allowed to be there as Jimmy Webb explains which writers and which songs he has admired, and we watch in fascination as Webb dissects a few of these personal favorites to lay bare the structure and the art within. Jimmy Webb is said to have spent four full years creating TUNESMITH, and his love for the craft is obvious as you turn the pages and absorb the insights being shared. A tip for researchers: Paul Zollo did an excellent retrospective interview with Webb after the songwriter had been silent for at least a decade.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I'm not a fan of Jimmy Webb and came to know him through Paul Zollo's book Songwriters on Songwriting. As a beginning songwriter (but longtime musician) I found a lot of great things in this book. This means I have no reverence for Jimmy Webb & am reading this as a simple student of songwriting. I'm about halfway through with it right now.
Jimmy Webb's dedication to his craft is obvious, and it comes through the pages. The increadible amounts of work that go into writing a song are tracked momenty by moment in this book. Just about every step to songwriting, all of the options are in these pages. From various "tricks" of chord substitution to which rhyming dictionaries he likes and why - it's all here. His approach to songwriting is that of a master craftsman, and he doesn't hold back in his lessons.
One odd thing. As a musician I was able to follow through as he introduced different elements - inverted chords, 7th chords, etc. The novice, however might have difficulty. He introduces each piece individually, but then makes logical leaps that I still don't quite get. Specific examples escape me, but he'll take great pains to describe something simple and a paragraph later give you an example that incorporates something he hasn't yet introduced to you. He'll go on about how to construct a triad, and then jump PAST 7th chords. I was able to follow it, but I've been playing music for 10 years.
I also disagree (but this is personal preference) with his chord substitution ideas: just find any chord with one note in common. Maybe he brings it all together in a later chapter, but he should let the reader know that he's wandered into the land of Chordal Compositions (compositions with no particular key) and away from the diataonic world that dominates Western music.
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