Best of 2018 – Collaboration and the Craft of Songwriting

While looking back on many of my favorite songs from 2018, I was surprised by how many happened to be written collaboratively between two or more songwriters. Music is inherently social and the history of songwriting is rife with many great collaborations – Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein – John Lennon & Paul McCartney – Elton John & Bernie Taupin and so many others! Music composed collaboratively is like a magic that would not exist without either partie’s influence upon the other. 2018 saw some truly great collaborative efforts. Here are a few of my favorites.

Birds Bewildered – written by Derri Daugherty & Steve Hindalong

Back in the late 80s, my band Challenge the Light shared a bill with the then Orange County band The Choir at a club called Bogarts in Long Beach California. I remember being impressed with their textural guitar sounds and strong melodic content. Several decades later, this band is still making music and are now located in Nashville. “Birds Bewildered” reflects the varying complex emotions, regrets and hopes related to the recent dissolution of drummer Steve Hindalong’s marriage. The beautiful string arrangement reminds me a bit of “Ocean Rain” era Echo & the Bunnymen.

Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter – written by Elvis Costello & Carol King

Elvis Costello and Carol King had been friends for years, often meeting over Sushi prior to writing this song together back in 1997. Over 2 decades later, Costello has finally released this song on his excellent new album “Look Now”. Carol King has talked in interviews about how she often begins her songwriting process with chord progressions that speak to her. The harmonic elements in this song are often dense with just enough dissonance to create feelings of tension. The song lyrics which mirror this tension, paint a portrait/story of a hurt heart which turns bitter. The song carries all this tension while at the same time being very tuneful and catchy. First rate work by two absolute masters of song!

Everyday Is a Miracle – written by David Byrne & Brian Eno

David Byrne and Brain Eno have been major musical influences on me ever since I was a teenager. Through the years, have done many great and groundbreaking collaborations. For David’s 2018 album “American Utopia, Brian Eno gave him tracks he was working on, with the idea that David would finish these. So the collaboration on this project was more like a remix in some respects where one artist builds on the previous work of another. “Every Day Is a Miracle” is such a fun and uplifting track. Byrne and Eno combine sonic inventiveness with lyrics that are both joyful and hilarious. 

Flower of the Universe – written by Sade Adu, Andrew Hale and Ben Travers

My favorite song of the year. Breathtakingly beautiful! This is as great as ANYTHING Sade has done in her whole career. The song was written for the Film adaptation of Madeline L”engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. The song beautifully matches the story’s themes of human attachment and spirituality with a such haunting melody!  Sade and her long time keyboardist Andrew Hale have been composing songs together since the start of her career. They also co-wrote such classics as “is It a Crime?” and “Paradise”. 

Heart of the House – written by Becky Buller & Sarah Majors

My favorite Bluegrass album of 2019 was Crepe Paper Heart by Becky Buller. She co-wrote “Heart of the House” with Nashville songwriter Sarah Majors. It is a story of grief – of a home that feels the absence of one no longer there-  who once filled that house with such life and vitality. It’s a universal story that so many of us have experienced in our own lives – so beautifully and tunefully rendered by these fine songwriters!

Nothing For Free – written by Paul McCartney & Ryan tedder

I’m so glad that Sir Paul continues to be an active force in songwriting in this… his 5th (nearly 6th) decade! “Nothing For Free” was co-written with OneRepublic vocalist Ryan Tedder. The lyrics are far from profound, but it’s an extremely quirky, off the cuff and odd pop song with inventive production. It’s my personal favorite off McCartney’s latest album “Egypt Station” and was only included as an extra on the limited edition version of the album.