I have always been interested in understanding how great songs, or more generally great ideas, come about. There is a tendency to believe that great songs and ideas spring to life, fully formed, but I know that this is not true.
For those that might be interested there are a number of great business books on this topic. I highly recommend:
- Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
- Dealers of Lightning by Michael Hitzik
The latter, one of my favorite books ever, captures the story of how most of the computer innovations that we take for granted today (Graphical User Interfaces, the mouse, and Ethernet among others) came about as part of the Xerox PARC project.
Bringing this post back to topic of music lets travel back in time to the mid-1970s. Bruce Springsteen is hard at work on a follow-up to Born to Run. He has lots of ideas, all at different stages of development. Some don’t have real lyrics yet or even titles. Even so, he and the E-Street band are putting them all on tape. Lets take a listen to a couple of them.
The Fast Song
The second of these songs immediately catches everyone’s attention in the studio. It doesn’t have a real title yet but everyone calls it The Fast Song. The bones of the song are strong but Bruce is not happy with the lyrics other than some towards the end:
“She has men who’ll bring her anything she wants but they don’t know that what she wants is me”
Unfortunately there isn’t a story to support these lyrics. Who is this girl?
The first song is slow, some might say plodding, but it appears to have some personal meaning for Bruce so he keeps working on it. It is tentatively called Candy’s Boy. The lyrics hint at a back-story that is left untold but everyone fills in the gaps with their own interpretation:
“To get to Candy’s room you have to walk the darkness of Candy’s hall. Strange men from the city call Candy’s number and bring Candy toys but when I come knocking she smiles pretty…”
At some point Bruce has a peanut butter and chocolate moment, if you will, with these two songs. “Hey…lets take the beginning lyric from the slow Candy’s Boy and make it work in that Fast Song that everyone likes.” Boom! The magic happens and an incredible new song called Candy’s Room is born. Take a listen
Now..lets be truthful. I don’t have any idea if this is the way things actually happened but I do have some evidence in the form of the demos provided above. I think my interpretation of the evidence might be the way it really happened but, as always, let me know what you think.