When we were little, my sister, brother, and I would challenge each other to adapt a song on the radio or make up a new one within 10-15 minutes. The catch was you had to be able to sing it back before time was up.
“Song time! You’re IT!” Whoever was “IT” would ask, “Okay, what do you want this one to be? Fast and happy? Or slow and sad?” We would fire back responses at each other: “Tell a story; but you have to use names of random objects around you; also has to rhyme.” “Ok. Challenge accepted.”
Then all of us would go back to doing what we were doing while “IT” was making up the song. This would be done while we were hoeing the garden, milking cows, feeding calves, baling hay, or any of the other things we regularly did.
At the end of 15 minutes, somebody would yell, “Time’s up!” and “IT” would perform. Usually though, the impromptu songwriter would be done in just a few minutes and start singing on his/her own.
The other two would listen for tune, rhythm, rhyming lines, and whether the song met all of the other requested conditions. If it was bad, we would “boo” the singer and have them re-do it. If it was good, we would pretend we were the audience in a giant concert hall and applaud like there was no tomorrow.
When we were in the barn milking with the radio on or at home in our room with the stereo, my brother would always say, “If you’re gonna sing along, sound like the song!” So, if it was a new record or cassette, we would listen to the song with our eyes shut one time, the whole way through. Then we would sing it back, sounding just like song. After that, we were allowed to sing out loud anytime the song was on.
Part of our ability to “write” all sorts of songs was because of the old, beige radio in the barn. It was always on to help hide the monotonous sound of the generator outside and to help kill the boredom of milking time. Whoever was in charge of milking on any given day determined the flavor of music we listened to for the whole two hours.
If Clifford was in charge, the Country sounds of Hank, Merle, Dolly, Waylon, and Loretta filled the air. We learned the songs and sang along (on pitch!).
If Bob was in charge, the R&B and Soul sounds of The Temptations, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Kool & The Gang, Four Tops, and Marvin Gaye filled the air. We learned those, too, and sang along.
If Daddy was in charge of milking, the radio station altered between old-timey gospel and Prairie Home Companion (I think that’s part of where our storytelling side came from). Again, we learned the tunes and the words, otherwise it would have been a very boring two-hour stint in the barn.
When Kelly was in charge, it was AC/DC, Def Leppard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foreigner, The Beatles, Boston, and Molly Hatchet full-on. Those we knew the best because it was what we listened to the most, outside of the barn.
As we got older and our inventory of “music heard” increased, our ability to write songs improved. We could think up lyrics on the fly, change them to rhyme, or add in a word that one of us (usually Kelly) would randomly throw out, to keep us on our toes.
While we were kids, we shared our “secret” with a few people over the years, but ironically it was met with fizzle. We were repeatedly told there was no money in show business. That always seemed a bit strange since we constantly heard new songs on the radio and watched movies on TV… hmmm. So, we kept our little gift to ourselves and only wrote songs when the two or three of us were alone together at home or out working together.
However, over the years, Janet has been asked to sing a number of times at weddings, funerals, and in church services. She’s even laid down some tracks in the studio. I’ve quietly written 40 – 50 songs and have been looking for ways to “get them out there.” Kelly’s ears and eyes of accuracy are still as sharp as ever.
Recently though, our secret came out. Somebody at work played an instrumental tune he recorded. Without thinking about it, I started singing along, making up lyrics on the fly. He stopped the track and asked, “What’s that?” I said, “Oh, sorry. It just…sort of came out.” He said, “No man, that was great! Was that just a fluke, or could you do that for some other tunes, too?” I grinned and answered, “Yeah, sure. Let’s hear ‘em.”
So, there you have it. If you’d like a song written for a tune you have, let us know. My siblings and I will take our time and make it sound nice. Or if you’d like to test us, we’ll write you one in 15 minutes. ‘Cause we can still do that, too!
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You can email me at martyjreep (at) yahoo.com. This article was adapted from one of my upcoming books. For ones currently published, go to www.Amazon.com/author/reep