songwriting challenge 2016 – week four

The challenge: stitch together two (or more?) discarded song ideas into one cohesive song.

Well, I actually took three old song ideas and collapsed them together. I don’t know if the parts hang together properly, but then again that’s a problem with every song, trying to hear it with fresh ears. I do know that I thought each of the original ideas had enough interest to be something, so it’s nice to repurpose them for this challenge and see if this song holds together.

For those who are curious, the verse and pre-chorus were one idea, the chorus was a verse idea for another song, and the bridge was a verse idea for a third song. You can find the song on Soundcloud, or right here:


V: F Am F Am Bb Gm Bb C
PRE: Dm Dm Dm Dm Bb F Gm C
CH: C F C F C Bb F C
BRIDGE: Gm Gm Gm F Bb D# Bb Dm x2 Gm Gm Gm F Bb F Gm C

 F          Am          F           Am
curious & feeling low, too tired to go
Bb       Gm    Bb       C
on & on your own…leaving alone
cause you never were typical, a little cynical
that’s where you’re wrong & you belong

Dm           Bb       F       Gm      C
in trouble making enough that they can hardly say
a couple statements: the living proof, the need for truth

F          C        F       C Bb         F      C
each time there’s a headline…each time you’re told
each time there’s a headline it’s your name above the fold

the colour of the status quo, like you don’t know
how it held you down…another town
could hardly be as criminal, maybe it’s cyclical
are you around? have you found

any trouble making another break will they take
a couple statements: the fifth estate, a second date


Gm            F  Bb   D# Bb Dm
while you may concede defeat the
trial will take all your beliefs &
Gm              F      Bb    F          Gm        C
smile when they betray the living proof, the need for truth

much-maligned well you’re gonna find it’s hard enough to hold
but each time there’s a headline it’s your name above the fold

songwriting challenge 2016 – week four

songwriting challenge 2016 – week three

This week’s challenge was to collaborate on a song with another challenger. I’ve only co-written a few songs, but it’s usually a good thing to get out of your comfort zone. And due to the nature of the challenge, I ended up collaborating with two folks: Sean Fitzsimons and Simon Paradis.

Sean contacted me because we’re both in Toronto and have many similar songwriting influences. When we met, Sean brought a mostly finished song that only needed a few lyrics and chords. We got together at my house and tossed around ideas as well as chatting about life and music, and things came pretty quickly and naturally. It felt like a good bond: we’re two self-deprecating drummers-turned-songwriters who share a love of classic rock. We will definitely hang out again, and possibly write more songs!

The song we wrote is called “What Might’ve Been” and after the Soundcloud link and lyrics, I’ll describe the second collaboration.


I signed the card
They were passing for you yesterday
With my congratulations and sheer delight
Wasn’t as hard
As I’d imagined, that it might’ve been
But sometimes I’m not as resolved
Late at night

And as we approached that line
This feeling in my spine
When you said, is it hot in here, or is it me
Don’t look at me that way, I know what I might say
This chapter is set to begin
A race we knew that we couldn’t win
But, oh, what it might’ve been

A hundred years
It sometimes felt we go back that far
I can say you haven’t changed that much
Wasn’t it weird
How often you kept running into me
And every time we accidentally touch

[repeat chorus]

The second collaboration came shortly after my first meeting with Sean. I read that Simon was having a hard time finding a collaborator and so I decided to quickly dash off a song to which he could add lyrics and melody/chord ideas, if he couldn’t end up finding anyone else. It was interesting going from the first collaboration, where I was essentially the editor of the song and only generated a few lyrics and chords, to being the one asking for those finishing touches.

Due to some crazy time constraints (I was away from early Thursday morning until Saturday afternoon, and had a show Saturday night) I wasn’t able to tell Simon that I had recorded his ideas! So, I’m not sure he knows that this song came together at the absolute last minute… I admit, it is a bit of a throw-away song, it was written in about 20-30 minutes and recorded in about 3 hours. Then I sent it to Simon. He wrote the entire second verse, and he had some great ideas for chord changes that I just didn’t have time to put in when I recorded the vocals for that verse. Next time!


CH: C (G) F (G)
V: Am G (F C) (F G) Am G Dm F
BRIDGE: E E Am Am/G D/F# F (end on G)


C               G   F
take it slowly
cause you don’t really know me
but nobody can hold me…in their arms
like you do

         Am        G
well it seems too long
F          C
but hearts do break
F            G
how long does it take
to heal or grow strong
maybe you can show me
but until you do you have to


It Never Fails
An impatient heart fears
The newness of love
Am            D
Might crash into the rails
I think we’ll be just fine
If we just keep on driving kinda


E          Am    Am/G       D/F# F
& after a time i know i’ll make up
E                   Am     Am/G
my mind…no promise to make but if
D/F#   F        G
the only thing you take…oh you take


take it easy
don’t try so hard to please me
just take your arms & squeeze me
like you do…
take it gently
you gotta roll it to me easy
oh baby take it slowly…& i will
let you do

songwriting challenge 2016 – week three

Songwriting Challenge 2016 – week two

The challenge: write a story song.

It took me a while to figure out what the story should be about. I’m from the Kingston area originally, and I recently heard Joel Plaskett’s song about Gord Downie, and so I thought I’d write a song about Gord Downie and how he went from a Kingston kid to a Canadian icon. I…kinda jumped from one to the other, but I didn’t want to write a 9-verse song. I also dealt with his prognosis relatively obliquely, but hopefully sensitively.

I feel like the production on this song is slightly better…still muddled, but a better mix (I hope!). Arrangement and melody-wise I did try to ape The Tragically Hip a little bit, but the pre-chorus doesn’t feel very Hip-esque; that’s more my personal style, I think.


V: E E E A E A C#m E
PRE: G#m C#m A E
CH: E A E E F#m E D D E A E E A E D D

E               A        E
maybe you were born for this
F#m  E           D
another tragic kid lit by the flame
to tap into your loneliness
A          E      D
the poet laureate of canadian fame

E                             A   E
& where did your first song come from?
in the limestone city when you hit the stage
C#m          E
did anyone care at all?
a tall young man not handsome
in the traditional way but a quiet rage
took him from curtain to last call

G#m            C#m            A               E
& maybe in that lucky bar they saw you take a stand
then you load out through the back door & fit the kick drum in the van


& now you’re the lion of the king’s town
if the crown don’t fit is that the price
will you be troubled all your life
& you might dance through the bring down
an overactive mind is its own vice
but sharper than a knife

& all we ever wanted was to watch you take a stand
& then you load out through the back door & fit your whole life in the van

& maybe you were born for this…
another tragic kid consumed by the flame

[SOLO on CH.]

maybe you were more than this
another quiet kid with something to say
maybe you were born for this
after hearing your voice nothing could be the same
i know you were born for this
the poet laureate of canadian fame

Songwriting Challenge 2016 – week two

songwriting challenge 2016 – week one

The challenge: to write a song using only 2 chords.

Obviously I chose the only two chords anyone ever needs to know: Cmadd9 and Eb7. Actually, I used F and Bb; apologies to anyone who wanted to see a pure jazz song in  two chords…

I sat down on Monday at the piano and harangued a cheeseball chorus in about five minutes. Wednesday night I sat down with my guitar and took another 40-odd minutes to write the rest of the song. I would have liked to find more inside rhymes, especially in the pre-chorus, but everything I came up with was actually worse than what I have. I threw a stack of melodic ideas at the song, and rhythm shifts for the different sections.

When it came to the recording, I treated it like a demo, which means I put 90% of the ideas I could think of into the song. I layered the hell out of things. That’s usually my demo process — put as many things in as I can think of, then begin taking things out. Unfortunately for anyone listening to this song: I didn’t have much time to take things out.

The song is on Soundcloud, and right here:

Here are the lyrics:


V: F F Bb F
CH: F F Bb

if rio is really the city of your dreams
well nothing’s better there but it’s better than it seems
Bb                                      F
i can get behind taking a break if you want
when i was young, just to juxtapose
i saw the world through glasses of rose
but now i’m a ghost with no house to haunt

& now i know how much i tend
to break the hearts of all my friends

F                     Bb          F
but love is going to come round again
it’s going to come round again
it’s going to come round again

well part of me is honest & part of me is false
part of me has trouble returning your calls
cause all of me is scared of what you’re going to do
but i am still an optimist
an old romantic, at my best
i hope that you will make this old heart new

cause i won’t break if i can bend
a second start is not the end

& love is going to come round again
it’s going to come round again
it’s going to come round again

songwriting challenge 2016 – week one

songwriting challenge — week 1 redux

To answer the questions posted:

1. Your Name: Graydon James

2. What was the hardest challenge or hardest part of the challenge for you and why?

Simple timing.  I’m in the midst of releasing an album of my own and touring, but there were only two deadlines that really felt rushed and last-minute, week 2 and this Matt Dusk pitch song.  No particular reason why, just my always questionable time management skills.

3.  What did you enjoy most about participating in this experience?

I have a sense now that I can write for a wider variety of genres/situations than I thought.  At least in principle.

4.  What is something significant that you learned from taking on this challenge?

It is not particularly difficult to write a song that satisfies the requirements, so to speak, of the pitch.  It is still infinitely difficult to write a *good* song that also happens to satisfy the requirements.

5.  Would you do this type of challenge again?  Why or why not?

Depending on timing, I would.  This was, perhaps, a poor time to add extra songwriting and/or production deadlines to my schedule.  But it all worked out.

6. Link to the song:



you set the candle in the window for me
& like a thousand times before i use your secret key
your maid is gone & your man is out of town
you think you got me running but i’m coming down

you have it all & it’s not enough
your finer things & your fancy stuff
you’ve got his ring but you want my love
you have it all & it’s not enough

when we were young i thought we had a chance
a foolish love can wreck the best-laid plans
we made a vow – didn’t mean a thing
when he put your heart in a diamond ring


& though you hurt me so
it was years ’til i saw you again
you said what he didn’t know
but i won’t do now what i couldn’t then

i wear a smile & you wear a crown
i’m not above you but i’m looking down
you say i want you…name your price
well you may steal a heart that you can never buy
oh you may steal a heart but you will never buy


…you have it all but not my love

songwriting challenge — week 1 redux

songwriting challenge — week 6

I decided to try to write a holiday song.  I knew going into it that it would be very difficult to write anything that was worthwhile.

Link to the song:



every night i watch the snowflakes fall
i know what it’s like to feel so small
drifting down through the dark
all alone so far apart
i picture you in your hometown
your window lit as you look down
this breeze could carry me aloft
like snow i’m falling hard but landing soft


oh christmas is the perfect time
to tell you i’m in love
christmas, oh, will be here soon
but never soon enough

when we were young it seemed we couldn’t wait
now we’re wiser, we anticipate
we’ve had these feelings for so long
we’re ready now – we know where we belong


the snow has fallen & the night is clear
a perfect blanket from there to here
& under blankets we’re alone
but not for long because i’m coming home


oh christmas is the perfect time…

songwriting challenge — week 6

songwriting challenge — week 5

This week’s challenge, for no reason at all, offered me an opportunity to write a song that has a very distinct thematic/mood shift.  And so I did.




don’t you make anymore mistakes
they will stain your soul, bitterness you know
& if you break, better to be shaken
out of control…out of control

make your promises holding your pistol
& if you catch my eye another sign of the time
contemplate your words, keep it simple
the more it’s changing, the more it’s staying

the same every day
if you wear the crown
that gilded ball & chain
will weigh you down

you got a lazy eye for your lover
no man can satisfy as if he’s reading your mind
& in a hail of fire you duck & cover
the more it’s changing, the more it’s staying

the same every day
if you wear the crown
that gilded ball & chain
will weigh you down
oh that ball & chain
will weigh you down

songwriting challenge — week 5