SKF NOTE: This interview happened in 1983 at Jimmy Webb‘s home in upstate New York. The full transcript, from which I copied this segment, was my source for a short profile published in Mix magazine.
Jimmy Webb remains one of my favorite songwriters. I am pleased to pass along unpublished parts of our 1983 that should be a value to songwriters and other musicians.
Scott K Fish: Do you feel your songs are too demanding?
Jimmy Webb: Well, I just do what I do. I don’t ever sit down to write a song that’s more complicated than someone else’s. I just do what I do.
I don’t like three chord changes. This thing that I do has to be interesting to me. It has to be fun for me to do, or I’d be doing something else. Usually when I sit down and write a song I amuse myself. And if the end result is that it’s more complicated than someone else’s song, then that’s just the way it is.
Because, basically, I’m just doing what I like to do, and what turns me on. I like interesting changes.
Maybe, even though I’m not always successful, I like to do something with a lyric that’s maybe a little different. I don’t like to write the same things that I’ve written before, or that other people have written. I always set some kind of a goal of originality when I sit down, to some degree or another. Even though I say, “This tune may come out being similar to a Randy Newman song. Or, if I know that the way a tune is shaping up, it’s going to be similar to a Burt Bacharach tune of a few years back.
But if I feel that happening, I will immediately start altering it,and changing it, to a sufficient degree that I’m happy with its originality. That’s the only way I can work.
I could never be happy if I thought I really was just copying somebody else. Shamelessly doing it, let’s say. “I don’t care. This is going to be a hit.” That’s real hard for me to do.
Sometimes I think that hurts me, because I think it drives me out of some of the more obvious simple approaches to the listener. And so, sometimes I actually hurt my chances of commercial success because I don’t just let the thing progress in an obvious and expected way.
I think a lot of hits are hits because they do exactly what they’re supposed to do. They do exactly what you expect them to do. They follow a certain path – and that’s what the listener wants to hear. When it happens, there’s this magic chemical reaction: “Yeah, I like that. Why do I like that?” Well, because it’s a path. It’s easier to walk down a road than it is to hike through the woods.
But, I don’t care because that’s the way I do it, and that’s the way I always will do it. Because it’s the only way I can have any fun doing it.
I’m not a songwriter just to make money.
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