How I Write a 60s Pop Song

I don't know where all this creativity is coming from lately but I've written and recorded about 5 songs in the past 2 weeks. It's been full on and I now feel like I need a break for a week or so. But boy have I enjoyed myself! 

I've had a lot of good reaction to a 60s pop style track I wrote a while ago called "It's Not Working Out For Her" which is about a friend of mine who was going through some boyfriend problems at the time. I had decided to write the track in the style of one of those innocent pop songs from the 60s - you know the type - "I love you, yes I do, you know it's true, I feel blue" type of lyrics. I've got the guitars required, to achieve the "sound" I wanted, as I own a Rickenbacker 330/12 string and a Hofner VIolin bass. All I needed was the right back beat and I was up and running.

I was so pleased with the results that I've written two others with a third one in the works! Here's a link to one of them called "She Dumped Me By Text and Put It On Facebook".

It's been tremendous fun getting that 60s sound and as usual, I've had a certain amount of "happy accidents". What I mean by that is that by pure luck and chance, I do something "wrong" whilst recording, only to find out that this "mistake" turns out to be a bloody brilliant thing to have happened!!

This is how I get my 60s sound. It all starts off with the acoustic guitar. I sit down and put together a simple three or four chord sequence which is usually what turns out to be the chorus. The simpler the better. Another good tip is to add a major to minor chord change within the song. The Beatles did this a lot in the early years of their career. My favourite one is G major to G minor. Always bloody works! But get the tempo right. I've found that 137bpm is a really good pop song beat. Before I lay drum tracks down, I use an app called Pro Metronome. This is a brilliant and very useful app for playing along to, to ensure you get the tempo of your song exactly right.

Once I've got my tempo and roughed out a chorus (simple three / four chords) I go to my drum loops. I've got hundreds of them from an online company called Drums on Demand. They are FANTASTIC loops and if you're clever enough (like me) you can edit together the most perfect drum breaks and fills at the right moment in the song. I just lay down one continuous 4/4 time drum loop for about 3-4 minutes in Garageband. 

Next is to lay down an acoustic guitar track of the backing. Usually I jam along to the drum beat and write the song "on the fly". Being a solo musician, this is the closest to being in a room with bandmates and having a jam! So often, great songs come from this method I find. Eventually I have a "scratch" acoustic guitar track of the song, played along to the drum loop. At this stage it is sounding a bit shit. But don't worry. The magic dust is about to be added....

By this time I've "learned" what the song chords and structure will be and I lay down TWO acoustic guitar tracks - one left and one right (in the stereo spectrum). Then I plug in my Fender Tele and choose a clean amp sound from the enormous array of guitar amp sounds on offer from Garageband. I lay down two tracks of this. Then I plug in my Hofner violin bass and this is when the track starts sounding all "60s". I try and make sure that the bass part is played in a very "McCartney'esque" manner. Being a massive Beatles freak I know virtually every single McCartney bass styles! Oh by the way! There are still no lyrics written! I never right lyrics until the very end. OK. So I put the bass down. Once all this is cooking, I work on the drums track - editing in different breaks and fills, adding cymbal crashes etc. Maybe add extra percussion like tambourine or shakers.

Next up is the "piece da resistance" - that quintissential 60s guitar sound - the Rickenbacker 12 string electric! I like to bring in the Ricky 12 string in at the start of the second verse. The jangle of the strings tell you instantly that this is "60s Stylee"!! Again, I like to put down two tracks of picking 12 string jangle and place them centre LEFT and centre RIGHT in the final mix. This gives the song a lot of width.

When it comes to a guitar solo - the simpler the better! There's no point going all Eddie Van Halen and playing a 1000 notes in the space of 8 bars. The guys back in the day were pretty economical with their finger work and I've found that a simple solo on the Ricky 12 is just enough to keep the feel of the song.

Vocals time! You can't go wrong with plenty of "Oooh's" and "Ahhh's" throughout the song. Also the "Question/Answer or Vocal Repeat" vocals structure is another tip to get that authentic style. SIng a line and then have backing singers (that's you!) repeat the line in two or three part harmony. Works a treat!

Anyway, that's how I approach the writing of a 60s pop song - Dan Style! I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thanks for reading.
yer pal
Dan.