just sit down with a guitar, pick a key, and play. Since the guitar is an in strument more suited to the sharp keys, I usually find myself in C, D, E, F##, G, or A, or their relative minors. I try to vary the keys I play in so that I can avoid that feeling of sameness on a record. I also find it helpful to wander around in keys I'm less familiar with, as this keeps me from repeating the same changes from song to song.
Once I pick a key and start to play, I sing any words that come into my head without trying to make any sense out of them. I tend to sing easy words with a concentration on "oos" and "ah" sounds, which are musically pleasing to me. I also like words beginning with "g's" and "l's" and words that have "t's" and "k's" in them. Sometimes during this stream of consciousness singing, a phrase will develop that has a naturalness and a meaning, in which case I keep it and start to build a song around it. I almost always com plete the melody before the lyric. Nevertheless, I think the best songs are those where words and music really come simultaneously. I remember that I wrote the line "like a Bridge Over Troubled Water I will lay me down" at the same moment that I wrote the musical phrase. The rest of the lyrics were written backward from those words. Also the words to the first verse of "The Boxer" came with the melody line; they had a flow to them that made them easy to sing. Consequently I found I had started a song about a "poor boy" who had "squandered (his) resistance/For a pocketful of mumbles:' I just tried to make the rest of the lyrics follow as naturally as possible.
Sometimes I finish an entire melody with no lyrics worth keeping, in which case I go into the studio, put down a musical track, go home and take my time over the lyric. The words to "Mother And Child Reunion;' "Duncan;' and "Peace Like A River" were all written this way."Cecilia;' on the other hand, was recorded on a home tape recorder. We were all sitting around the livingroom, making up rhythms by pounding on a piano bench and hand clapping, and the lyrics and melody were added later to this per cussion track. The lyrics were the first words that came to mind-"I'm down on my knees/I'm begging you please"-lines heard in hundreds of songs. They're "cliches" but then the song really has nothing to say.
"El Condor Pasa" was more complicated. I first heard the melody in Paris in 1965 when it was performed by a group of South American musicians called Los Incas, and I would listen to their recording from time to time, because the melody was so powerful. I wrote a lyric in 1970 and we got permission to use the original recording by Los Incas as our music track.
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" was written on guitar to be played on piano. I never really bothered to work out a guitar part because I knew it should be sung to a gospel piano accompaniment. I got the idea for the lyrics while listening to a Swan Silvertones' recording of "O Mary Don't You Weep". The "sail on silver girl" verse was written in the studio several weeks after I had completed the first two verses, and I always felt you could tell it was added later as it never really fit the first two verses in style. Also, I couldn't think of another "down" rhyme, so the metaphor- "I will lay me down" is discarded in the last verse and "I'm sailing right behind" is substituted. Apart from this weakness, I think "Bridge" is my strongest melodie to date, even if not the best lyric.
I divide the sixty or seventy real songs I've written into these categories: the early ones like "The Sound Of Silence;' "Leaves That Are Green;' "Spar row;' and those on the Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. album. Of this group, clearly "The Sound Of Silence" is the strongest. Next are the songs written while I was living in England, around 1965. These include "Homeward Bound;' "Blessed;' "April Come She Will;' and "A Most Peculiar Man:' Then in late 1966 and early 196'7 I hit a dry patch, and the songs and recordings of that period like "A Hazy Shade Of Winter," "The Dangling Conversation," "At The Zoo;' and "The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine"-don't seem so great to me now. In fact, I don't think I regained my stride until about the time of Bookends in 1968. "America," for instance, is a good "road song" not unlike "Homeward Bound" or "Papa Hobo". And I like "The Boxer" in the Bridge album. Some of the songs which are favourite of mine-like "Homeward Bound", "Blessed", and "A Most Peculiar Man"-are not necessarily my best , it's just that they seem to me innocent and young (and a little pretentious). I also like "Mrs. Robinson"-or "Ms. Robinson" if you prefer.
Of my more recent songs, I like "Mother And Child Reunion" because of the Reggae band on the recording and the strange lyric about death. The title, by the way, comes from a dish I had in a Chinese restaurant. It was boiled eggs and fried chicken and was very good. I also like "Run That Body Down" Musically it derives from a Bach prelude I was playing, and lyrically it makes it for me because I like the idea of a song about taking care of your health. I was reading a lot of Adelle Davis at the time.
I think my next songs will be better.