In Life - Debriefed, Thoughts on Writing

When I was young and foolishly sure of myself, my song lyrics too often had the tendency to focus on what the listener should do to get his or her life right. I call these kinds of songs “You songs,” because they say things like, “You need to do this,” or “You need to do that” and then your life will be better.  As I wised up (a little) with age, I began to focus more on what needed to be fixed in my own life, and tried to apply the rare nuggets of musical Truth that I stumbled upon in a more inward fashion – hoping the listener might identify with my own experience.  I could call these “me songs,” though they are generally more “learn from my mistake” songs.

“Love Works Wonders” is such a song. And it addresses one my biggest failings – knowing how to act and what to do around people that are very different than I.

The Song

In the mid-1990s and into the early 2000s, I wrote several “love songs,” focused not on romantic love, but on the sort of sacrificial love best demonstrated by Jesus. That kind of love wasn’t about feeling, but about doing. Sacrificial love wasaction. And in early 2003, I came up with the hook and chorus for “Love Works Wonders.”

LOVE WORKS WONDERS WHEN IT’S GIVEN AWAY
NO STRINGS ATTACHED, NO DEBT TO PAY
THE WORLD WOULD CHANGE IF WE JUST LOVED ONE ANOTHER
OH-OH, LOVE WORKS WONDERS
OH-OH, LOVE WORKS WONDERS.

To the point. Easy to remember. Easy to sing.  All in all, it was a pretty commercial chorus for a guy not known for catchy lyric hooks. I liked it because it expressed a simple, yet difficult Truth. So, I had a chorus – one that challenged me very directly. Now if I could come up with a couple of verses…

I thought of two scenarios, both of which made me personally uncomfortable: the homeless, and people with significantly different cultures or lifestyles than my own.  I have never known how to interact with such folks, largely because they are so rarely a part of my world. Could I write verses about these people? Or, more to the point, could I write verses that expressed honest questions about my own difficulty relating to such persons?  I began with one of the most familiar images of today’s homeless:

THE RAGGED MAN BEHIND THE CARDBOARD SIGN
A TINY MIRACLE MIGHT BREAK HIS FALL FROM GRACE.
AM I SO BUSY I CAN’T FIND THE TIME
TO BUY A MEAL, OR TOUCH HIS HAND,
OR LOOK HIM IN THE FACE?

 

The emphasis is not so much on the beggar, but on my own hesitancy to help.

The second verse was aimed at the “different.”

I MET SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT THINK LIKE ME.
SHE DOES NOT ACT LIKE ME, OR LOOK LIKE ME AT ALL.
CAN I NOT FIND THE SIMPLE TRUTH TO SPEAK
SO SHE CAN SEE I’M NOT AFRAID
TO LISTEN WHEN SHE TALKS?

 

If I’m honest, I’m still struggling with these issues. But it’s my failing – that much I know.

There was not a lot of significant rewriting on “Love Works Wonders.” I was able to say what I wanted to say in my first couple of drafts without pummeling myself later.  Similarly, the music for “Love Works Wonders” emerged naturally alongside the words. It sang pretty easily from the start. And the finished recording on my CD, SOUNDS CRAZY, is built from of the bones of the song’s original demo.

The Recording

The original demo track for “Love Works Wonders” consisted of little more than an electric piano part, a synth bass, a simple drum program, and some acoustic guitar overdubs played by my friend, Larry Rolando, a session guitarist. I sang the vocal with the intention of replacing it later with a real singer. For reasons I can’t recall, that never happened. The song languished in the Word Music catalogue for three years, after which time, the rights reverted back to me. It was pitched here and there, but was never picked up.

When I began assembling songs for the SOUNDS CRAZY project, “Love Works Wonders” made the list from the start. The demo recording had the right shape, and it had Larry’s very cool guitar parts. So, I used it as the skeleton and began replacing the other tracks.

The first order of business was to get real drum tracks. Because I raised him and paid for his education, I got one of the world’s top session drummers, Aaron Sterling, to record a totally cool drum track for his Old Man. Then I re-played the electric piano track to better fit the groove Aaron laid down. The original guitars and B3 tracks still worked, and I left them in place. The synth bass part was simple, but it worked. So I left it alone for the time being.

My original lead vocal was actually useable, though it required some cleaning up. If you listen to the record, you’re hearing me sing back in 2003.  I added the harmony vocals in 2018. The song was now sounding like a real record. The last remaining piece was to get a real bass player to replace the synth bass.  And I got one of the best there is: Gary Lunn, in Nashville. Gary’s bass part on “Love Works Wonders” was one of the very last elements to be recorded on the entire project, in fact. And it made the whole track come together, at last.

So, while the song emerged from the writing process relatively easily, the recording process was a genuine evolution of its various tracks being recorded over a period of some fifteen years.

You can hear “Love Works Wonders” here on YouTube. Or, better yet, you can purchase the CD, SOUNDS CRAZY, here.

Showing 2 comments
  • Ed Kee
    Reply

    Love this CD! Great writing and great production. I’ve only had 2 CDs that I’ve carried consistently in my car to play over the last 4-5 years:
    Love Wins – Bill Cantos
    A Lovely Way To Spend an Evening -Calabria Foti

    I’ve recently added Sounds Crazy by Robert Sterling to that very short list of top notch, first rate, never-get-tired-of-hearing-this recordings.

    If you don’t have a copy of this CD, you should get your hands on one ASAP. You’ll be glad you did.

    • Robert Sterling
      Reply

      Thx, Ed! You ever wanna go into sales and marketing for me, just let me know. 🙂 The pay is lousy, but I’d buy lunch!

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