Songwriting Series: #2

“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is a song written and recorded by American country music singer-songwriter Hank Williams in 1949. The song about loneliness was largely inspired by his troubled relationship with wife Audrey Sheppard. With evocative lyrics, such as the opening lines “Hear that lonesome whip-poor-will/He sounds too blue to fly,” the song has been covered by a wide range of musicians.

Rolling Stone ranked it #111 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is the second oldest song on the list, and one of only two from the 1940s. Here’s a youtube link for anyone interested in taking a peek at the original.

The assignment asked us to take Hank William’s lyrics and compose an original melody and chord progression. I spent several minutes in a practice module one day and tried to creatively come up with something…but quickly abandoned any efforts as it became too difficult. Courtney, on the other hand, was on top of the assignment, and took the initiative to pump out a melody as well as a chord progression, which we took and ran with without hesitation:

Courtney’s Preliminary Version

i  iv6/4    VI   I
i6  III6/4   i6/4 (V)  i6/4

The song itself took about 20 minutes to prepare. Despite piano being an easier instrument to improvise on than the cello due to its chord-oriented nature, I found that I could not whimsically jam to chords within a key on the spot (damn…I should’ve practiced more scales as a kid…) unless I had practiced a certain chord progression previously. For example, I’ve nearly become an expert at playing riffs within the progression I V vi iii IV I IV V which is essentially Pachelbel’s Canon. Don’t mock me.

Using Courtney’s preliminary version, we set out to flesh out an overall structure of the piece. At the time, I didn’t know too much about modulating and switching keys, so I refrained from suggested we do any tonal trickery. This lead our final rendition to be slightly flat and uninteresting, save my personal-on-the-spot piano ornamentation. We consequently ended up with a Intro – Verse 1 / Verse 2  / Interlude  / Verse 3 / Verse 4 / Outro. It had been about six years prior that I had performed piano “publicly,” not to mention recording, and I was terrified of performing a solo Intro and Outro. Fortunately, after about 12 takes, we managed to get portions that we liked and one overall take that most of us (excluding me) were happy with.

I took our 12 recording tracks and shot them through Logic Pro. I had used Logic Pro before from the previous MUSI3390: Introduction to Music and Computer course, so I wasn’t too intimidated with splicing together the better parts of each track. What was difficult though was listening to all fourteen and deciding which portions were worthy of the final cut. I ended up using five of the 12 tracks total. I’ve included the tracks below inside a spoiler tag b/c 12 tracks consumes a lot of vertical space. I’ll let you try to figure out which tracks I used in the final iteration.

One thing about this process that differs from all my personal project is the live recording aspect. Our class was separated into random groups for the initial three weeks, where I’m part of the Crystal Oddities, and out of all the ensembles, we were one of the few groups that recorded live; aka, via one-shot takes. Numerous students in the class already had prior sound studio recording experience, as well as mixing, and their final products were…holy sh*t, really good. Many students were impressed with our live-recordings, but little did many of them know, it was a combination of a number of live takes. Hehe.

Still, Logic Pro isn’t all powerful. In audio editing, a lot of weight is given to the raw recordings and samples that are imported. Without solid preliminary files, Logic Pro still can’t make a symphony out of garbage. For example, if I sang an Aria with an orchestra and sang horribly out of tune and recorded the performance with my laptop microphone, not only would my off-pitch voice be un-savable, but the distortion and clipping from a cheap laptop mic wouldn’t be ample information to work with. This is much like photo editing; the better the raw photo (the larger it is and the higher the resolution), the more one can do with the project. Automating the different tracks and trying to find appropriate pitches, segments, and silences where tracks could fade in/out and cut to each other was supremely difficult, especially with all the background noise. In retrospect, I probably could have a used a noise gate to cut that out and made my life slightly easier, but here we are.

Well, I don’t want to hold you back any longer, so here’s the final recording that we submitted. I throw in an unintentional strange chord at 01:45 that my own ear cannot decipher, but it was a mistake too good to pass up and had to include it in the final recording.

Ensemble + Lyrics

Courtney          Voice/Flute
Grace                 Voice
Christopher    Piano
Mark                  Drums

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (2012); A Cover
Lyrics by Hank Williams
Blake Badabing and the Crystal Oddities

Hear that lonesome whisperwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry

I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves began to die?
Like me he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry

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