11 June 2011

in the evidence of her brilliance – Tony Shimkin speaks

Shimkin and Ciccone - getting their "beats within" out in the studio

In July 2006 I flew to New York City and met with Tony Shimkin at his office at Noble Music, a company that he established back in the early 1990s. From 1989 to 1995, Tony worked extensively for Madonna – from the Like a Prayer singles remixes, to Vogue, The Immaculate Collection, Erotica and the Bedtime Stories single remixes.

On a typically balmy summer's afternoon, in Tony’s office/studio (complete with Tony’s impressive RIAA Diamond certification for The Immaculate Collection proudly mounted on the wall), I spoke with him about his amazing career and his work with Madonna – which included an impromptu instrumental performance of Deeper and Deeper by Tony on his unplugged electric guitar. Towards the end of the interview, Tony spoke about Madonna’s song writing:

“I’d say Patrick Leonard’s best work is Madonna. William Orbit’s best work is Madonna. Mirwais’ best work is Madonna. Stephen Bray, everybody... and Shep Pettibone is best known for Madonna. I think what she does is, whatever you do, she adds a melody that’s on par, or if not, brings it to a higher level. A lot of these songs that any of these people, including myself, had written, somebody else could write a melody to it and it would be a totally forgetful song.”

the beats within: Critics have often applauded Madonna for being incredibly discerning when it comes to choosing the right collaborators; however it often comes across as a bit of a backhanded compliment, with an assumption that the credit for her music lies elsewhere.

“If you take any of those tracks and take her contribution off it, it would have a different melody and lyrics and it would never be a hit. I’m sure she can get airplay because of who she is, but people are singing her songs to this day. I have written a piece of music that I did and given it to three different singers and you’d be amazed at the difference between what each person could contribute and where one can just be head and shoulders above the others.

But what Madonna brings to a song is so unique to herself. It’s her voice too. She’s not the greatest singer in the world, but if Cathy Dennis were to sing it, it wouldn’t be as successful. It would be successful and it would still be a great pop song, but it’s the melodies she (Madonna) writes.

Deeper and Deeper is a cool piece of music, but without that melody and without that energy that is added to it. It’s really the opposite – people think that so-and-so wrote the music. The music is not the hard part to write. The hard part to write is the lyrics and the melody. That’s the hardest thing to write in the world. If I, or these other people, could write lyrics and melodies like her then these people would be supplying her with finished songs and she would just be singing them. But that’s not the case if anything she’s made their songs come to life and made them notable because she put a great lyric and melody on it. I really think it’s the opposite.

There are a million tracks out there by artists now and if you took their vocals off and gave it to her to write to it would be a huge hit. It’s as simple as that. It’s one of the hardest things to write a memorable melody, like Beatles songs. So many of their songs are just simple Blues progressions but listen to what they wrote over it, it’s legendary.”

Click here to find out more about Tony at the Noble Music website


Shim said...

To clarify. Cathy Dennis or almost anyone else would not have as much success as Madonna simply because the sheer fact that the name "Madonna" gets more attention. Dennis has had an extremely successful career as a songwriter, writing chart topping lyrics and melodies for many artists including The Spice Girls hits.

My mention of Cathy Dennis was due to the fact that I was writing with Dennis on her album at the same time as working with Madonna. Dennis' songs if performed my Madonna may have been as successful as Madonna's own material. As Simon Cowell often said so and so could "Sing the phonebook" and it would be great. I think that is true for anything that is stamped MADONNA.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying that Tony.

I couldn't agree more about Cathy Dennis - not only am I a fan of her solo work (especially the stuff you worked on with her), but as you say, she's went on to become a hugely successful songwriter - writing for Kylie Minogue and countless others.

When we spoke, you might recall that we both compared Madonna and Cathy in terms of their songwriting style and how they write such simple, yet catchy pop melodies and lyrics.

Hope you like the blog - I'm sure you'll see more than a few familiar faces popping up on here.

Rabbitbunny said...

Yes sir! It's the melodies Madonna sings, writes and (sob!) cries that are important because what Madonna has going for her is her emotion in her voice, her
tuneful and melodic Music and her Lucky Star/Ray of Light/Celebration art because of her winning personality and Friendly Smile. Many years ago, Madonna said on the BBC Omnibus special that she wants to live forever. Because of her songs, the lady will. Madonna has achieved immortality and brilliance because she loves her beautiful, tuneful and melodic life