Look, I don’t know from Rose Marie McCoy, I just like her songs. She’s 92 and in the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame (which, really, should just be the Hall of Fame, but whatever.) There’s a great hour-long radio documentary about her if you want to know more.
The trick with songwriting, I think, is to keep it simple without making it stupid. Here’s how McCoy does it:
I’ve been traveling night and day / Baby running all the way / Trying to get to you
Here’s a promise that I’ll never break / I’ll never deceive you / or make your heart ache
Another element to great songwriting (says I, no-one in particular) is to make it sound like something that could reasonably be said by a real person, yet still be a song. i.e.
I realize fame and fortune are not for me / All those pretty stories ain’t what they cooked up to be / I know every move I made was wrong / If I had any sense I would go back home
If I hadda known / You’d come back my way / Then my heart wouldn’t hurt me / Like it’s hurting today
Finally, I like a songwriter who can be funny or clever without veering into novelty act territory (keeping the emotions clear and at the same time showing intelligence).
My baby jumped up this morning, / ‘n’ sat on the side of the bed. / He said, “I’m leaving you, baby.” /And this is just what I said. / I said, “I can’t make you stay if you want to go, / but it’s high time, baby, that you should know, / one monkey don’t stop the show.
You’ll find all three of these elements in Rose Marie McCoy’s songs. The playlist is just a sampling of her prodigious output. I should say that, finally, maybe the best marker of a good (and successful) songwriter (lyrics and music) is that the songs can be done by different artists in different styles and still be good songs. The list above has country, blues, funk, and R&B artists interpreting McCoy’s songs. For my money, the blues does best by her.
I guess it is obvious, but we may as well acknowledge, that these songs were written in that “great” age of 50s – 60s popular music appropriation / adoption of black music by white artists. Here again, McCoy’s songs really shine — they seem very specific and yet are totally at home being sung by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt (which, really, it doesn’t get much whiter than) or Aretha or Elvis or Peggy Lee or Big Maybelle or country singers like Jimmy Dale Gilmore (much love, Jimmy) and Donna Fargo. Somebody could probably write a decent 5-page media studies paper contrasting the Rondstadt /Taylor and Ike / Tina versions of “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.” But certainly not me because blecch. Like I said, I just like the songs.