I Will, I Do Words & Music by Steve Gillette & Tim McMullen
June is the month that is most associated with weddings. not to mention the anniversaries of those weddings. So many good reasons for a wedding song. This is just what Tim and I have tried to create; a song that might be a successful record, based on what could be the actual text of the ceremony, and at the very least, something that evokes the sweet moment of the declaration of love and commitment.
The song was inspired by an earlier song of Tim's called "A Very Simple Question" which he wrote for his own anniversary in 2001. I heard Tim sing it for our Songwriters' Workshop in Santa Cruz in March of 2014. Below is a link to the video of that performance. I was struck by the charm of that use of the phrase, "I Will, I Do." It's funny how things we may have heard a number of times, like "I Do" or "I Will" can seem so fresh when heard in a new way. I knew it had possibilities for a song of its own.
But that can represent a complicated situation. Recognizing that an idea in a song can engender another song is not a rejection of the first song, but it may represent a challenge in both parties agreeing to recognize the validity of a second song. It may involve negotiation and compromise, and of course then there are two songs possibly competing for a place on the same album. But if there really is a basis for the second song, and both agree that it's an acceptable project and mutual effort — and all other aspects are agreed upon such as publishing rights etc. — then a collaboration is begun.
Aside from the possibility of a gold or platinum record duet by two of the giants of the music scene, we hoped to create a song which could have a long life, and possibly become part of the cultural heritage at least of a generation and maybe more. Maybe, a perennial wedding song. So this meant opening to a wider sense of time than just the current recording trends. Chasing the trends has never been a very satisfying thing anyway; better to write for the ages.
One other concern is the pandemic which has overshadowed all gatherings and celebrations. Our hope is that the recording and video of the song can take part in an observance of a sacred exchange of vows or of an anniversary celebration in a way that compensates for not being able to assemble and give congratulations. Maybe it can be a kind of virtual rice-throwing. In any case, it's easy to share some form of the song, and that would be plenty of validation for us as writers, while we wait for the superstars to take it up.
We encountered several issues in writing this song. The first glimpse of inspiration was of two people professing their troth, each in turn speaking of his and then her devotion and acceptance of the contract of marriage. Seemed straightforward enough. When we had a draft of the song, I sent it to Rex Benson with whom I'd written many songs to see what he thought. He was the first to bring up the question of whether it might seem to listeners that the questions in the song would normally be asked by a third person, the officiant of the ceremony either religious or civil, and that we may have created a problem for ourselves with this form.
The thought of another voice in the song was not welcome. In a musical production on a Broadway stage, yes, you might have three people singing parts and interacting, but that didn't seem compatible with the romantic intimacy of two lovers speaking their most cherished thoughts. But it did seem that we had to work out how our vision might be accomplished, so there was a 'back to the drawing board' sequence of exchanges by email, and a back-and-forth of MP3s of different readings of the lyrics as we tried out different approaches.
I've always felt it was a duet song, but Rex pointed out that it's easier to pitch a song to a solo artist, that the duet projects were few and far between, especially if we were hoping to attract some of the more established voices. We were glad when Rex agreed to work with the song and we respected his input. So a solo male version was something that we took some care to create. As you can imagine, it was mostly just a matter of changing pronouns.
But then, there are always those little considerations of what a man might say and what a woman might say that might not be perfectly interchangeable. In a later article I'll write about a song that was actually much more successful when sung by a woman, a very different impression of the character role. Admitting to an alienation of affection is very different for a woman than it is for a man, at least on country radio. Depending on the subject, this can be a very stark contrast.
Along the way, several demos took shape. Cindy played piano on one of the early versions. I asked her to play to a click track on the MIDI keyboard so that I would be able to change the key and do other manipulations that MIDI allows. It's easy to cut and paste sections and move things around, as well as trying different tempos, even changing tempo within the song. Not being a keyboard player myself, I'm able to use some of Cindy's ideas for the bass or string parts with a little tinkering. There are some excellent virtual instruments available for MIDI recording, and many productions use nothing else. I always recommend MIDI to our workshop participants; it can be a big help.
We saw the virtual instruments really just as standing in for the real instruments until we could hire some 'real' musicians. With these tracks Tim and I were able to send MP3 versions back and forth and try out new ideas. Also we enlisted the help of a couple of old friends in California, Steve and Kathy Coon, to work on some vocal tracks in their home studio and they were able to send us duet and solo versions that took the song up a notch and gave our efforts a lot more credibility.
Over several years the song took shape and we felt we had a pretty good handle on it. I wrote to Pete Wasner about producing a demo for us in Nashville. Pete had played on some of the recordings we made at Jack's Tracks with Jim Rooney, and is an old friend. Pete was on tour with Vince Gill, but said he would be able to put together a session when that tour was over. To our delight, he delivered a beautiful recording with a terrific group of session musicians, and a charming vocal duet by his daughter, Mackenzie, and Seth Cook, with an authentic Nashville sound.
We have used these same tracks for the duet version that Cindy and I sang and that recording is the background for the video listed below. You'll hear Chad Cromwell on drums, Mark Polack on bass, Chris Leuzinger on acoustic and electric guitars, Dan Dugmore on pedal steel and Pete Wasner on piano and synthesizer.
So here we have the song that we first glimpsed after hearing Tim's anniversary song, and after months of questions and evaluations and improvisations. I wanted to say psychodrama and role playing, but why not, anything that can put words in the mouths of the envisioned players and leads to something that is poetic and evocative enough to inspire the listener is fair game. As they say, all's fair in love and songwriting.
Think of the great songs that have been played at weddings for years: Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love With You," or the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." Paul Williams wrote "Love, Look At the Two of Us," Dan Fogelberg wrote "Longer Than," Gordon Lightfoot wrote "Beautiful," and Noel Stookey wrote "Wedding Song (There Is Love)." Etta James sang "At Last," Joe Cocker sang "You Are So Beautiful" and Percy Sledge sang "When a Man Loves a Woman."
Musically our song is very straightforward, the chords are simple and ordinary, in the sense that it could be sung around the parlor piano like the old standards "Down by the Old Mill Stream" or "Daisy, Daisy Give Me Your Answer True." Achieving something memorable and yet simple is the challenge. In this case, the lyrics really suggested the melodic geography, pretty much.
The big departure, as you might expect from following previous articles, is in the transition into the bridge. Our bridge was inspired by that wonderful song that Bing Crosby sings to Grace Kelly in a small sailboat on their honeymoon in the movie "High Society." It also makes an unexpected dramatic shift to a new key in the bridge of an otherwise very simple song. Such a shift has the effect of renewing interest in the basic theme of the melody, cleansing the palate as they say, taking the listener into a new area of thought and then leading back around into the home key for the last section of the song.
Many times, this last section does not have to be a whole verse, or a complete repeat of the chorus, but possibly a hybrid and sometimes shorter section which brings the song to a close. Sometimes this section can modulate (change key), sometimes by moving up a half step or a whole step as we've heard many songs do. This one could be arranged to do that, but that would be something a producer might decide to do in the recording session. For us it works pretty well as it is.
One thought I had in preparing to write about this song is that you may want to pass along the song for a wedding or anniversary gift, and so we've made it available as a download. In addition to that, if you'd like to sing the song yourself or with a duet partner, the track without voices is there as well.
Here's my video of the song using footage from Maine and California as well as our own garden here in Vermont. It's meant to be seen more as a backdrop to a ceremony than a depiction of one.
"I Will, I Do" - Sung by Steve Gillette & Cindy Mangsen. Video by Steve
Here's Tim's video of his performance for the Songwriting Workshop:
"A Very Simple Question" - Tim McMullen
And the video of Bing Crosby singing "True Love" to Grace Kelly, which must be viewed on YouTube here.
The song may be purchased for download as an MP3 or a lossless FLAC, with and without the vocals, in Steve & Cindy's online store here.
The sheet music for the song is available for purchase here.
And here are the lyrics and the chords as we sing it.
© 2016, Compass Rose Music / Rex Benson Music BMI