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(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night - why it works so well for me

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delb0y

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« on: March 13, 2016, 03:24:05 PM »
Having completed the survey I was pondering on the question about how the site could be improved. I’m not saying this is an improvement, but one thing I thought could be interesting would be to break down favourite songs and work out why they hit the spot. Then I thought, nah, what hits that spot for one person doesn’t for another, so where’s the value? I mean, we could choose the most successful songs in terms of sales / air-play / time in the charts or whatever, but again that then restrict the exercise to popular songs. For those of us who aren’t into pop it would offer limited interest. But then I thought I’m over-thinking it. If there’s a song that you love, then why? What is it about that song that makes it work for you?

For example, for many years Tom Waits’s “(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night” was one of my favourite songs. Favourite songs come and go, of course. But many stay with us, as did this one.

**Edited by Boydie to add YouTube link to song**

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=f7UHd7NVegE

So what is it about “The Heart of Saturday Night”?

Here are the lyrics:

Well you gassed her up
Behind the wheel
With your arm around your sweet one
In your Oldsmobile
Barrelin' down the boulevard
You're looking for the heart of Saturday night

And you got paid on Friday
And your pockets are jinglin'
And you see the lights
You get all tinglin' cause you're cruisin' with a 6
And you're looking for the heart of Saturday night

Then you comb your hair
Shave your face
Tryin' to wipe out ev'ry trace
All the other days
In the week you know that this'll be the Saturday
You're reachin' your peak

Stoppin' on the red
You're goin' on the green
'Cause tonight'll be like nothin'
You've ever seen
And you're barrelin' down the boulevard
Lookin' for the heart of Saturday night

Tell me is the crack of the poolballs, neon buzzin?
Telephone's ringin'; it's your second cousin
Is it the barmaid that's smilin' from the corner of her eye?
Magic of the melancholy tear in your eye.

Makes it kind of quiver down in the core
'Cause you're dreamin' of them Saturdays that came before
And now you're stumblin'
You're stumblin' onto the heart of Saturday night

So what is about the lyrics, firstly?

For me – and all of this is for me, because I know plenty of people who leave the room when I play Tom Waits’s songs! – the lyrics evoke a delightful sense of melancholy. Not that they are melancholy whatsoever (albeit the word does get a mention) – but they elicit melancholy. They take me back to a time that never was, a time that only existed in my imagination - but a time I wished was real. The more I think about this, isn’t this what all great stories do? I think of the movie America Graffiti when I read these lyrics. I like that film a lot – it evokes the same events in a way. Yet they never happened, either. At least not to me. Saturday nights for me, at an age when my pockets were jinglin’ was drinking lager down the pub with the boys in the band, either playing a gig, or watching a gig, and wondering why on earth anyone in the world would want to go to a disco, for goodness sake. There was no barrellin’ down a boulevard and no pool balls (all though there was a bar billiards table in one pub, and I did play in the snooker team).

So, like all great stories, it’s all about a time that never was but that we wished was. But yet like all great stories it’s steeped in reality – there are enough touch-points with reality that it works and good solid connections are made. We did shave our face and comb our hair and head out on a Saturday night (albeit on the bus, not in an Oldsmobile) and we did like the barmaid’s smile and we did have that sense of hope that this night, the night we worked all week for, could be the one, the special one, the one we find the heart of it all.

So we have a story that is pure fantasy but that has the right connections to make us identify with it. Maybe there are a few people in this world who actually lived these Saturday nights, or the Saturday nights of American Graffiti, and assuming so that makes the connection even stronger. It’s no longer fantasy – it’s real. It’s Hollywood stuff, probably starring a young Mickey Rourke.

But why this song? Why not any one of the other countless hit songs about Saturday night? I just called up the lyrics to Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies’ Night”. I could have chosen a hundred Saturday night songs. I quite like the funky sound and groove of Ladies’ Night. But it never touched me the way Waits’s song did. It’s not just the lyrics, but the lyrics are important – Wait’s digs down several levels and makes those connections, sets up the images and the emotions. It doesn’t happen here:

Oh yes it's ladies night and the feeling's right
Oh yes it's ladies night, oh what a night, oh what a night!
Oh yes it's ladies night and the feeling's right
Oh yes it's ladies night, oh what a night

Girls, y'all got one
A night that's special everywhere
From New York to Hollywood
It's ladies night and girl the feeling's good

Oh yes it's ladies night and the feeling's right
Oh yes it's ladies night, oh what a night, oh what a night!
Oh yes it's ladies night and the feeling's right
Oh yes it's ladies night, oh what a night

On disco lights your name will be seen
You can fulfill all your dreams
Party here, party there, everywhere
This is your night, baby, you've got to be there

Not knocking that song at all - I know many millions prefer it to the one I'm discussing. But I don't get the same emotional connections. But I know many who do - and that's the key here. If we can write a song that connects to just 0.001 % of people that's an awful lot of people!

Then there’s the music too. The soundtrack to a Saturday night is different for everyone. Some people go out to discos and clubs and want that funky groove, some will be at rock’n’roll clubs, some jazz clubs. You pays your money… But for me, I’m always going to be moved by the sound of a bar band playing laid back jazzy grooves, rather than a disco song, a boy band, or something manufactured and unreal (to me). And Wait’s nails this groove – the bass line and the guitar just intertwine to make his perfect melancholy moment come to life. It’s beautiful and yet sad, it’s stripped down, and it just rolls along like that car cruising along the boulevard that never was. It’s easy music (the best kind!). I’m not having to struggle to understand it. Just a handful of chords, but the right chords. And here’s another thing – on a different song then the music would need to be more complicated. Going back to story-telling, I’m a believer that every story has a certain word count that it can support. Some stories might need a massive trilogy in the telling. Some might need a single novel. Some a short story. Some are best told in a limerick. Get this bit wrong and you end up dissatisfying the audience. And musically the same thing applies – some songs need a concept album, some need a sophisticated orchestrated arrangement, some need one old bloke from Gloucester with and acoustic guitar and a thumb-pick. Again, you have to get it right or there’s something unspoken that doesn’t hold up. Here Waits nails it – the perfect chords, the perfect melody, the perfect arrangement, to support the lyrics and the story.

The arrangement proof is in the listening pudding. I’ve heard many versions of this song and none come close to the original – because folks are always trying to add more to it, when it doesn’t need it. It’s been stripped down as far as it needs be, like a custom car or motorcycle, and then it’s send out into the world.

So, I’m just rambling, trying to make sense of a single song and why it works for me. I conclude that lyrically it hits the spot because it’s working on the same level as all great story-telling and tells a story that I relate to and connect to. That bit will be different for everyone. Musically – chords and melody – there’s a simplicity that matches the story just so. An epic story – the kind we used to get on albums back in the seventies – would have required much different, much more complicated music. And the arrangement nails the emotions - the perfect balance of simplicity and groove to take us on a journey. A stop-start arrangement would have broken up that drive along the boulevard (and this is worth thinking about - what stops and starts do to a listener) whereas here the arrangement lopes along as we go cruising.

Hey ho. This isn’t getting the lawn mowed.

D
« Last Edit: March 13, 2016, 04:13:35 PM by Boydie »
West Country Country Boy

Boydie

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« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2016, 04:31:51 PM »
I think this is a great idea delb0y

The responses from the surveys have also really got me thinking about this and I am even considering a separate section of the forum where we can discuss and disect various commercial songs from different styles - much like the "Anatomy Of A Song" section from the Songwriter Select podcast - but rather than focusing on current, commercial, hits we look at all genres - but to keep the discussion focused I think the posting of new songs should be "controlled" - eg one song for discussion per week/2 weeks/month etc.

I could even ask members to post their favourites for discussion (like you have done here)

I think this would build up a valuable resource having lots of "songwriter's opinions" on released tracks - as well as being a great area for discussion

I will through this idea into the pot when I have all the survey results in...


As to this song, I have added the link to your original post so people can jump straight to it

I think you have absolutely nailed it with the comments about it painting a nostalgic picture of what is perceived to be the reality of a perfect American Saturday night - and the America Graffiti reference is spot on

For me the power of the song comes from Tom's authentic performance - that gravelly thick American accent suits the message of the song so well

The other "key point" for me is how well the song sticks to a SINGLE message throughout and paints a wonderful picture of an "Americana Saturday Night", which touches the different senses:

Sight - "looking" for Saturday nights, the colours of the traffic lights etc.

Touch / Feel - "tingling", arm around your sweet one

Sound - neon buzzing, crack of the pool balls, telephone ringing

Notice how the senses tend to come in groups in the lyric to really paint the picture

I did notice that "Smell" was missing but are there any POSITIVE smells to enhance the song - smell of stale beer in a bar?, smell of bryl cream (a brand so perhaps not appropriate), the smell of her sweet perfume (perhaps a bit "girlie" for the song or cliche?) so I think it was the right choice to leave out "smell" as a sense but I bet it was considered when crafting the lyrics
« Last Edit: March 13, 2016, 04:34:49 PM by Boydie »
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delb0y

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« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2016, 04:45:52 PM »
Cheers Boydie.

For me, just writing that stuff out this morning, spending some time really thinking about, has already resulted in a real revelation. It's all about connecting with people - and when I think back about which of my songs have had that connection, and when I think back to when and where and who, it really opens up me up to a new focus point in my song-writing.

It happens here, too. Great songs connect with some people and not others, myself included. I think it's really worth thinking about who the song is aimed at (and who it isn't).

A very worthwhile experience for me, and hopefully others.

Cheers
D
West Country Country Boy

igg

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« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2016, 12:10:45 AM »
It's interesting that you picked "Heart of Saturday Night" as your example...It has been one of my favorites for a long time....Certainly, Waits is able to tell the story in an impressionistic way....allowing both the singer and the listener into his mythical world....
I first encountered this song and really listened to it a few years ago in a curious way....An acquaintance had dropped over and I wanted to record his playing and singing with some new microphones I had built...He played this song (a great cover both vocally and instrumentally) and later that evening I really listened to it......I was stunned by the construction and the images...and the flow of the main riff supported and hypnotized .  I didn't know Tom Waits had written it and I was completely in awe of this guy....Depression with my own writing....moaning and gnashing of teeth....you know the whole I'm a talentless poser  internal dialogue....The next morning my wife told me it was Tom Waits, as she is a huge fan......Relief flooded through me ....that I was comparing my own work to this titan of writing....and was able to cut myself a little slack...

Anyhow,  You're right the song works on so many levels....not only igniting the nostalgic fantasies that we've been fed....but also our own memories of being powerful and hopeful....in a place where we are known...and the introduction to the greater mystery of the Heart of Saturday night

That line, in itself, is such a beautiful construction....that we could get lost in the Koan like exploration....and there is no payoff in an intellectual appreciation....it forces us into an emotional resonance as we try to shoehorn our own experiences into this space of nostalgic yearning
I'm so glad you brought this up!

Sing4me88

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« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2016, 01:00:25 AM »
I'm afraid I may be a lone dissenting voice in the wind here and say that I'd prefer 'Ladies Night' over the Tom Waits song every time. I'm a big fan of old school disco :)

delb0y

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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2016, 01:14:46 AM »
If I remember rightly, Sing4Me, Ladies Night was a platinum seller, so you're not a lone dissenting voice - quite the opposite. But I think I alluded to this above.

I'd be interested to read the analysis of what makes songs work for all of us. Hopefully we'll each learn something to bring to our own writing. I'd love to understand, for instance, what makes rap work for people. It doesn't work for me, but again, it's platinum (and beyond) selling territory, so the issue (if that's the word) is not with the music but with my understanding of what it's doing for people.
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nooms

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« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2016, 05:31:00 AM »
a great idea and i thought you framed it beautifully delboy, i enjoyed reading it very much.
if you love songs and songwriters how could it fail.

i may not believe this tomorrow...

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slu22

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« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2016, 01:20:39 PM »
Great idea!

The first thing that jumped out at me were details like Oldsmobile. The quote "your most universal answer is your most specific one" comes to mind. For some reason, a specific detail like that allows me to connect to a character whose world is more fully-formed and real - moreso than if the line had been written about a "car" or even a "blue car" for that matter.

Boydie

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« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2016, 01:46:07 PM »
That is a great point slu22

There is often discussions about how and when to use "universal lyrics" and when to use "specific" lyrics

I won't go in to detail here as at some point I want to write some proper "articles" for the website that I can put up as a "resource" and to promote discussion - this is all part of my "plans" for developing the forum for the future so when I collage all of the survey results I will publish my "plans"

In the case of this song I think it definitely is the little details within the lyric that help the listener connect with the song
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The S

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« Reply #9 on: May 14, 2016, 12:37:15 AM »
Yup, I too think this is an excellent thread and topic. Hope a discussion like this finds a place on the forum in the near future.

And Tom Waits, how could you not love that example of a song, that example of a lyric? One of the greats.

S

Paulski

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« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2016, 02:20:13 AM »
OK so I know Waits is a GOD and all that and I'm just a mere mortal but doesn't the "Then you comb your hair" stanza seem out of sequence? He's already bombing around town in his Oldsmobile but suddenly he's grooming himself? I know, I know - sacrilegious of me to question it so I'm going to songwriter's hell - see you all there :)
Paul

The S

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« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2016, 04:23:07 AM »
OK so I know Waits is a GOD and all that and I'm just a mere mortal but doesn't the "Then you comb your hair" stanza seem out of sequence? He's already bombing around town in his Oldsmobile but suddenly he's grooming himself? I know, I know - sacrilegious of me to question it so I'm going to songwriter's hell - see you all there :)
Paul

Blasphemy.

Get the stones!

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lillypilly

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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2016, 02:48:59 PM »
Excellent idea Delboy and also excellent choice Tom Waits is right up there as a brilliant songwriter

Also have to say this is such an excellent songwriting site one of the best in my opinion.

diademgrove

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« Reply #13 on: July 07, 2016, 03:58:29 PM »
For me the song is about loneliness and wanting to be included in the Saturday night community. The sweetheart and Oldsmobile are possibly figments of the person's imagination. The song is sang in the third party. For me its strongly influenced by Sam Cooke's Another Saturday Night.

I think that Ladies Night is about people who are part and parcel of that community. Tom Waits is outside looking in. Kool and the Gang are inside looking in. 

For me it shows the importance of perspective when writing a song. Tom waits could have written the song with the protagonist finding the Heart of Saturday Night but could he have sang it convincingly.

I may take up Delboy's challenge and have a go at saying why I like some old school rap.

Take a bow Delboy this is a really good thread.

Keith