This cosy and ordered world was upset firstly by the early rock ‘n’ rollers who often liked to have a hand in their own material, but more particularly by The Beatles who insisted on writing their own material and, what’s worse, tended to be quite good at it thus putting out of work a whole generation of writers. Their endeavours upset the apple cart of A&R and from then on artists felt duty bound to write their own material for better or worse.
This alternative universe was therefore peopled by bands and artists who wrote to their own strengths and the once noble art of writing specifically for someone with a different style to your own was submerged in the rush to make yourself into a pop star. But there were exceptions. The Beatles themselves occasionally wrote songs for others (Mary Hopkin, Cilla Black and so on) and Rod Argent, whilst with The Zombies wrote the magnificent ‘If it Don’t Work Out’ for Dusty Springfield. The latter song is a really good example of a writer working outside of his own band’s remit to create a creditable Dusty-type ballad.
Bringing this line of thought up to date, current singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot, an artist who has never written anything other than for herself, was approached last year to write songs for Kylie Minogue’s’ last album and turned out a couple of classic Kylie style pop songs. Check out ‘Better Than Today’ and the title track ‘Aphrodite’.
But here’s the rub. Should these writers be deliberately writing in the style of the performer, thus perpetuating their perceived style or should they be writing in their own style in order to broaden the horizons of the performer. Bit of a tricky one that, especially as there is money and reputation at stake. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that by pandering to a ‘house style’ the writer is not doing themselves or the recipient of the song any real good. The songs that Pallot has given to Kylie are a bit Kylie-by-numbers and by her standards are a little, well, sub-standard. Why not get Kylie just to cover some of her better songs even though they are not tailored to style?