Pat Holiday: Should Colour Matter To A Songwriter?

Should colour matter to a songwriter? It’s funny how seemingly unrelated one offs decades apart can turn into something tangible. Last weekend I went to a one man art show. The painter was Bobby Goldsboro. His paintings are all pretty good despite the fact that he only started painting when he turned 65, ten years ago. Now, he’s actually commissioned to paint stuff by patrons at upwards of $25,000 a pop. That’s a nice gig.

I went to the show to meet him because of growing up with his music. Yes, it’s that Bobby Goldsboro. During the show his Greatest Hits album was playing in the background. I counted 13 hit songs. That surprised me. I would’ve pegged maybe 5 or 6. But there they were. Thirteen I instantly recognized and had played a lot on the radio. Clearly he’s a really good songwriter.

In 1968 the Beatles put out "Hey Jude". Goldsboro’s "Honey" beat it for the Song of the Year. If you write songs or want to write songs, the next few paragraphs may interest you. Goldsboro started telling me about how he paints. He sees the entire painting in his mind like a picture. And then simply copies it. It’s not pieced together. That turned our conversation to something I read in the late 70’s that Paul McCartney wrote. And about a year later I watched Stevie Wonder say almost the same thing on a TV show.

What Paul and Stevie were talking about was colour. In the process of writing a song, Stevie Wonder sees colour for the song and colour for the instruments. He HEARS in colour. He paints that song with colour. We all know that colour absolutely makes your feelings and emotions change. Interesting that he actually tries to do that with his songs. Although ‘try’ isn’t really accurate. Stevie doesn’t try, it just happens. It’s how he thinks.

McCartney said much the same thing. He lays out his songs in his head and on paper with colour. Want to skew the emotion one way or the other? Different instruments change the feel. And if they’re tied to a colour in your head, you too are essentially painting music.

So I mention this to Goldsboro and ask if he ever did songs that way. And his answer was “Not all, but absolutely for a few songs”. I totally did that on "Summer (the first time)". I wanted people to feel the beach, the sun, and the warmth.”

So what does writing a song like that look like? It took me ages to find these pictures on the net. They’re from that original McCartney article 30 years ago. Here’s how Sir Paul wrote down his songs as he was writing them. I’m assuming this is after the lyrics and bones are kind of done. Sort of the arrangements.