On June 18, 2009, Linus of Hollywood, the producer of my Parador album, is house sitting at some Hollywood Hills chalet, and is writing songs for his next album. He’s been producing albums for a ton of other artists and is now wanting to make music suited for his muse.
I was thrilled he invited me over to write if only because we were way overdue for a hang. Linus started the session saying he wanted to create something with plenty of minor chords.
I too was in that blue way, given some mounting vocal chord troubles. The invitation to write was appreciated because not being able to sing was killing my gumption to write.
The house had a beautiful piano in the living room, and it seemed Linus had been at it a good deal. He was quick with chords and melodies, loose as a goose. So as I blurted out song title ideas from behind my laptop, he chose one, and started with his flow.
The title was “In The Back Of A Taxi”, thought up while driving in my car in preparation for our appointment.
Linus was pouring chords and melody, I could barely keep up. So my guitar was set down and I just concentrated on lyric writing.
Can’t recall if we ran out of time, or gas, but after a while we stopped –– but not before Linus sang our ideas into his phone.
Cut to four years and two days later, June 20, 2013, and I’m on an Alaskan cruise with my extended family, with a bunch of time on my hands, out on the ocean, in a big empty barroom on an upper deck that wouldn’t have anyone in it until after dinner every night. I sat near a window, in a booth, watching for whales and tidal glaciers, waiting for a song idea, wishing I’d brought my laptop that had years of collected song starters in it.
I was kind of glad I didn’t, because the point of this trip was to unplug, to spend zero time on a laptop, or even online via mobile, for ten days — which I did.
But, it’s risky starting a song from scratch, because you don’t have a night’s sleep to let bad ideas be seen for what they are.
I remembered that the session with Linus had been promising and my intention was always to finish it. But here, in the Pacific Ocean, not a shred of the song could be remembered: fast, slow or what key it was in, much less a melody.
So, to start over, I did a random search for songs on my iPhone (on airplane mode) with the keyword “taxi”. Well, I’ll be damned. There was only one song found, among the 11,000 or so, and somehow Linus’ little voice message had been a fortuitous stowaway.
It was lo-fi, so much so that some of the lyrics were indecipherable, and some others were just blah, blah, blah place holders in the absence of ideas.
I loved it, despite. the melody was terrific, with nice undulating chords. But it was in waltz time, and rather slow, and in the past tense, and I think maybe this is why we ran out of inspiration that day–it was too sleepy and melancholy.
But the first draft lyrics set a nice course for me to now follow:
Last call was ringing as we all poured out into the street
Laughing with a friend we pretended our eyes didn’t meet
Everyone scattered we stood there alone
Two strangers trying to find their way home
We started the end of our night in the back of a taxi.
And it started to peter out after that, ending with Linus singing, “The rest of the song happens right here,” followed by a cat’s meow.
So after listening to it 12 times, and figuring out what chords Linus was playing, the second verse started to come into view.
Also, I started playing it in a quick 4:4 meter instead of 6:8, while singing the words at half the speed of the new tempo. Magically, the phrasing of the words and melody worked. 168 beats per minute, that’s peppy.
The new tempo begged for a longer form chorus (in fact the 2009 version really didn’t have one), and though the verse had an A major7 in it, for a newly added chorus I heard an A dominant7. Those 7th notes of the scale are a half step away from each other, and are dissonant if played simultaneously. This seemed to suggest that the verse and the chorus are at odds, which I liked. Why it works, isn’t clear. I’d never tried the idea before.
Putting it in 4:4 also afforded the opportunity to use a lick I’d had laying around since the mid-80’s! Every guitarist has a lick like this. It’s what they play at soundchecks, whenever they first plug in. It feels good to the fingers.
Like the vocal, it articulates at half time –– which is pleasant set against a bright tempo and what seemed to be a rather long body of lyric.
Another important decision had to be made regarding the lyric point of view. In the 2009 version. the first verse is in first person plural, but then later we waffle into third person. In hindsight, writing it in second person singular would more directly address the listener — with lots of “you” and “your” in the text. So I went that route.
Interestingly, the bridge begged to be in an internal voice, drifting smoothely into third person and then back to second person for the final verse. Again, things that shouldn’t work together, but do.
Another idea, was to have a surprise ending to the story. The best I could think of was to drive up to her house, only to see her boyfriend at the door, and the boyfriend is… WOAH, Me! Like a wrinkle in time.
I tried to write this plot but realized that it’s extremely hard to depict mistaken identity in a pop song. Too many he, she, me, hims, hers (pronouns) flying around. They confuse the ear. It’s a conceit best left to film or a music video to visually handle.
So it seemed best to simply end it sad, as per Linus’ instinct. My consolation is: the music video could have the singer play all the roles; the guy in the back seat; the boyfriend at the door; and the cab driver too. Also, the video can depict the whole thing as the driver’s fantasy. The last line he would essentially say to himself. “That’s just about sad as I’ve seen.”
For now, these are the final lyrics, finished off the coast of British Columbia, on the return leg to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Linus, I hope you dig it.
Last call was ringing as we all pour out into the street
Laughing with friends we pretend our eyes didn’t meet
Everyone scatters. We stand there alone
Two tipsy stangers trying to make their way home
We started the end of our night In the back of a taxi (mm, take me home, mm take me home)
Try to hit every red light In the back of a taxi
The flicker of street light gives all the dizzy courage we need
I lean into you as your body presses back in to me
A lifetime lives in the flash of your kiss
If the sun never rose it wouldn’t be missed
At the end of the tunnel was light In the back of a taxi (mm, take me home, mm take me home)
Could anything feel more right In the back of a taxi
Suddenly all the loneliness I’ve ever felt
Becomes the breeze at my back
I’m ready to love her
Cuz good things always go by too fast.
You lean up to the driver and whisper your address in his ear.
You smile back to me as you seem to make your intentions clear.
But we pull up to the building, I see him at the door
Something tells me I’ve seen this movie before
I said, “I’d like to come in” in the back of a taxi (mm, take me home, mm take me home)
But you jump out and run up to him from the back of a taxi (mm, take me home, mm take me home)
That’s just about sad as I’ve seen in the back of a taxi.
(mm, take me home, mm take me home…)
Click to see the entire collection of “Singles Series” blog posts.