In On the Job Training, Thoughts on Writing

“Outta Here,” “The Trio,” and “Riverside” from SOUNDS CRAZY.

 Who doesn’t like a story with a surprise ending? (Answer: nobody)

The Bible is full of stories that don’t end up where you think they will. On my CD, SOUNDS CRAZY, I included three Bible story songs, each with its surprise ending.

(Note to young songwriters: If you’re in search of a good story, the Bible has already done the heavy lifting for you. All you have to do is choose a story and turn it into a song.)

 “Outta Here”

 “Outta Here” is the story of Moses and the Israelite’s Exodus, done in a decidedly “non-church music” sort of way. I wrote the song in the early 1990s, and it sprang from the opening lines: He came out of the desert with a rod in hand/And a look in his eye that said, “Don’t mess with me, man.”

 And it proceeded from there. Writing a song from an opening line is not the normal approach to pop songwriting, by the way. More typically, a songwriter will start with the hook and work backwards from there.  But not this time. I had to get the story unfolding.

Verse One tells the encounter between Moses and Pharaoh. Verse Two tells how Moses dealt with Pharaoh pursuing the Israelites in the desert.  “Got a crazy solution,” he says. “Let’s all head for the sea.”

The Chorus lists all the things the Israelites have run out of: luck, money, space, time, and hope.  But soon, Moses tells them, they’ll be “outta here,” free from the chains of slavery in Egypt.

Verse Three is the part of the story where the “waters were parted,” and the Israelites escaped – a total surprise for the Israelites, Pharaoh, and anybody reading the story for the first time. But not Moses, whose final remark is, “Like I told you, people – we’re outta here.”

“The Trio”

We all know the story of the three wise men. They traveled from the East following the star. They stopped off at King Herod’s to pay their respects. They find the Baby Jesus, deliver their gifts and… Just as they were preparing to return to Herod, they got a word from God in a dream to go home by another way. The End.

It’s that final little twist in the story that I found fascinating. After all the detail about where they were from, what gifts they brought, who they went to see, the Bible doesn’t tell us “whatever happened to those guys?” The rest of the story falls to our imaginations.

The Chorus asks:

What were they hoping they would find?
What made it worth it all to take the time?
It’s not every day you do this sort of thing.
Not every day you find the King of Kings.

The music is fusion of jazz harmonies set to an R&B groove. Again – not your ordinary church music. But maybe a song with a surprise “what happened” ending should have music that isn’t ordinary.

“Riverside”

Short of the resurrection story, one of the biggest surprises endings in the New Testament has got to be the revelation at the Jordan River by God Himself that Jesus is His Son. (Had I been there, I like to think I would have found the moment rather stunning.) John the Baptist knew he was ushering in change. He also knew Jesus was special. But I doubt anybody at the riverside that day was prepared to hear a Voice from heaven. And so began one of the biggest surprises of all time: a lowly carpenter launches a ministry that would quite literally change the world.

“Riverside” spins out in a typical story song fashion. Verses One and Two set the stage for John’s evangelistic plea to “Come down to the riverside.” Verse Three shares the heart of John’s message about the coming Kingdom of God, and how it’s time for things to change. The second chorus expands upon the first chorus. Then the final verse introduces the Man from Galilee, who tells John: Put me in the water ‘cause it’s time for things to change.”

Then after a huge singing of the chorus, the song recaps its beginning lines: Down at the River Jordan where the muddy water flows/ Something’s goin’ on down there but what, Lord only knows. By ending with these lines, I waned to remind the listener that what began at the Jordan with Jesus’ baptism is still playing out to this day.

You can hear all three of these songs on YouTube. And you will find them, along with eleven other cool songs on the CD, SOUNDS CRAZY, available at my website as a physical product and as a download.  It’s also on Apple Music and at CD Baby.

Showing 2 comments
  • Chris Machen
    Reply

    “Riverside” is one of my favorites, although all the others are my favorites, too. Always amazing music, lyric writing, thoughtful looks at the church and just other good stuff!!!

    • Robert Sterling
      Reply

      Thanks, brother. Means a lot coming from you.

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