For decades now, there has been a sense that the art of songwriting is in decline. Today, it’s commonplace to hear even relatively young music fans complain about the state of songcraft, which many seem to regard as a dying art. Indeed, some have gone so far as to claim that the 21st-century pop music canon represents the death of melody. I personally find such generalisations a little fatalistic. Dave Grohl, on the other hand, would disagree. For the Foo Fighters frontman, there was clearly a golden age of melodic pop songwriting.
The 1970s was a strange time for music. It was a decade in which everything seemed to be happening at once. Thanks to the mass popularity of artists like Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, the recorded music industry was at the height of its powers and had already made a lot of people very, very rich. Fans had already seen the creation of pioneering albums like Highway 61 Revisited, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Beggars Banquet – all records that pushed the art of songwriting into new territory while remaining attached to traditional western melodic and harmonic practices.
The public’s hunger for well-crafted songs continued into the 1970s, leading to a surge of syrupy pop balladers. According to Grohl, these artists represent the moment American popular songwriting reached new heights. Talking about his early experiences with music, Grohl told Marc Maron, “The music that really got into my head first was AM radio in the car. So, this was the mid-1970s, so you’re talking Andrew Gold and Phoebe Snow and Helen Reddy and Carly Simon and 10cc—all that AM bullshit, man.”
While clearly lacking in edginess, the likes of Andrew Gold, in Grohl’s opinion, were some of the most “sophisticated” songwriters of the era. “The keyboard sound is a little maybe, you might call it cheesy, it’s not cool anymore, but melodically […] it is maybe one of the most melodically sophisticated songs I have ever heard in my entire life,” he said. “You have to hear it. It will blow your fucking mind.”
Released in 1978, ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’ stands in stark contrast to ’77 punk classics like The Ramones’ ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’, The Damned’s ‘Neat Neat Neat’ or Buzzcocks’ Orgasm Addict’, which perhaps explains why it didn’t do particularly well on release. Still, the saxophone-laden balled – which Gold apparently wrote for SNL comedian Laraine Newman – clearly left a permanent mark on Dave Grohl.