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I often think about just what draws me to Neil's songs. Lisa Germano mentioned during 7 World's that most/many of his songs where written for the black keys on the keyboards. That struck me since I have always preferred the "off" notes of those keys. Secondly, his lyrics often mention articles we see every day around the house (sinks/fridge/stairs/shed/window/KITCHEN/etc), perhaps it's a comfort thing.

Can others add to this in more depth and perhaps help gain a further appreciation for the man and his music???

Original Post
Good topic,...I've always admired Neil's songs because the subject matter is almost never about "Oh Baby I Love You, Stay with Me Forever" kinda crap. Stating the obvious or course, save those songs for the Boy Bands.

Ninety-five percent of his love songs are about completely different spheres of a relationship. For example, Into Temptation, FAYF, DDIO, It's Only Natural, Distant Sun, I Got You, Message to My Girl, BBHS, Lullaby etc. The only exception to this is I Am in Love, and in Neil's Interview Disc of Afterglow he commented on how uniquely direct that song title is, and how he tries to resist that.

My other favourite songs usually reflect the escapism of being somewhere else in our little world, and getting away from everybody at arms length. For example, Private Universe, WWYL, Recurring Dream, Rest of the Day Off. To add to that thought, so many openings to songs reflect a far distant dream land where the listener can immediately feel like they are somewhere else. Kare Kare, Paradise (esp. from 7WC) and WWY definitely fall into there.

Then there's the fun songs from the CH era that balance things out. There Goes God, Chocolate Cake, Pineapple Head and of course Sister Madly live with all the antics of Paul and the possible improvs in between. Couple that with some heavy content like Hole in the River & Dr. Livingston and it is truly amazing how many sides of Neil we see in his songs. Oh ya, he can rock too !!

This just touches the surface I guess, I'll let someone else run with this for a while
Ooooo, I agree - great topic and one that I've thought about several times.....just WHAT is it about Neil's songs that I love so much?

Dean pretty much summed up many of my points -

I like that some of Neil's songs, while about love, don't fall into the "I love you baby, never leave me, I can't live without you" trap. I Am In Love and I Love You Dawn are the only straight forward "love" songs, so to speak. He mostly writes about the complicated issues in relationships, not just the lust-yness of it, so to speak. I think Into Temptation has some of the best lyrics ever.

I also like that he can tackle more serious issues such as Hole In The River, Dr. Livingston, Mean To Me, and so on. Then there are the songs that make me happy and tap my feet.....the ones that cause me to imagine I'm lying on a beach somewhere, and so on.

I find that at times I even like the melodies of his songs as much, as if not more, than the lyrics. If I don't necessarily get into the melody, the lyrics don't mean quite as much to me.

To sum all of this up.....if I had to describe Neil's songwriting in a few words (and why I like it so much) it's that his style is quite ethereal sounding at times, as well as his lyrics being ambiguous. The latter is a sign of excellent songwriting, in my opinion.
I have to agree with everyone.

Great lyrics, tantalising melodies...and above all an amazing 'feel' I dont know quite how to describe what i mean by that... but i guess thats why he's such a great songwriter.

The way that Try Whistling This makes me think of a landscape i've never seen or the way catherine Wheels spirals off into a different closing melody... or how hole in the ice rocks out and yet still produces an exquisite melody.

I think the thing that I love about Neil's writing is the way every song feels like a classic even when you first here it. And tho you feel like you know where the melody is going to go ... it never goes quite where you think it will and you are always pleasantly surprised when it doesnt.
There are plenty of songwriters out there who write a number of 'okay' songs and maybe only a few really good songs. Then there's Neil.....

It takes me forever to get thru listening to one of his albums because he has written so many fantastic songs........the kind you have to replay at least once before you can possibly move on to the next song. It just amazes me how many songs he has written that make me think 'Wow! That is sooooo good!!' I am in utter awe. Who writes this many great songs? WHO???

You can turn on the radio and listen to song after song about pretty much the same darn thing. And songs that you can tell within the first bar or 2 who it is by, because they sound like they've conformed to some songwriting formula.

Pop a few Neil CDs into the stereo and you have more variety than the supposed variety of the radio. His music has transformed so much over the years. He writes about everything. And I also love the ambiguity/abstract nature of his makes them very open to interpretation, and possibly more universal. (Mind you, I've always thought there is a certain safety in writing lyrics so open to can tell all, and nobody really knows for sure.) But some of his songs have more direct lyrics...I like this versatility. He has an amazing way with words and melody, that never fails to take me away to where no other music can take me. (I still can't believe he said he is hopeless at arranging lyrics....the man is delusional! Wink )

Also important to note is that Neil's lyrics/singing/guitar playing are so full of real feeling. When it's real, the listener can feel it. With Neil, I always feel it. There is something so pure and genuine in his music. And it makes him seem so real and genuine. You just gotta like him! Smiler
I've often wondered about this and to me, the main characteristic I've noted between Neil's songs and most other songs is how well they stand up to repeated listens. There are some classic songs out there which are very simple and direct and if I hear them every now and again I'll always recognise how great they are but play them repeatedly in a short space of time and often I'll find their limitations become apparent (ie the production is overly simple or the chord progression becomes too predictable, etc). I have to not hear them again for a while for their magic to come back. I'm not saying this isn't always the case with Neil's songs but I find it to be a lot less so.

There seems to be more depth in his songs than most songwriters. The melodies are other-worldly - you can sing-a-long but they aren't necessarily simple. He always tends to throw in unusual but subtle chord changes that divert the song from where you thought it was going. And because the lyrics are so open to interpretation you're own personal interpretation of a song can change from day to day with your mood.

Then on top of that, there's the arrangements. One of the first things I noticed about Neil's songs from listening on headphones was how much is going on in the background compared to a lot of other artists songs. This creates a landscape for the listener, as Dizz mentioned. And yet its subtle enough not to distract from the song itself. If you listen carefully to songs like "I Feel Posessed" and "Into The Sunset" there are all sorts of parts entering and dropping out, a number of different instruments and sounds used, harmonies, etc. His guitar-playing is very hypnotic - he'll be playing an interesting rhythm part and then suddenly move into arpeggios or a little figure of some sort.

For me, its a combination of all these things that make his songs so great. And add his voice and the feeling he gives to a song to the mix and you have something very special.

Originally posted by dizzyfinn:
[qb] The way that Try Whistling This makes me think of a landscape i've never seen[/qb]
What a beautiful description. Smiler

I never thought about it before, but I guess I can say that Fingers of Love has a similar effect on me. I do really think of a landscape that I've never seen when I hear that song.

This is a great topic, but it's so difficult to come up with words to describe what is really pure feeling.

I agree with a lot of what others have said, e.g., how Catherine Wheels twists and turns in so many unexpected ways - I think I could listen to that song forever and never get tired of it - even though I've heard it a million times, I STILL am amazed at how, even now, it goes off in unexpected directions that make me want it go on forever.

For me though, I think it's the combination of the music and how Neil uses his voice in conjunction with it... Something as simple as the way he sings a certain line will just wrap itself around my heart...

But it's not just simply the arrangements, because a lot of the time, his songs have an even bigger effect on me when it's just him playing them by himself on an acoustic guitar or on the piano.

He truly has a gift for reaching in and tugging at my emotions, whether it be with a melody or with a lyric (and often it's just a random line or two of a lyric - that's probably somehow connected with the melody that accompanies that particular lyric) - it's not something that's easily put into words.
I've only just started delving into Neil Finn's music (I know Crowded House singles and have just got the Best of Split Enz and Try Whistling this) but from my limited discography I've been attempting to nut out what it is that I like... I hope this soesn't sound like I'd dissecting the music (I did study Split Enz at school)...
I think one important aspect in his songs is a sense of sincerity - like many of you have said, he doesn't resort to the obvious cliches. Compared to many pop songs, his songs are some of the few these days in which you can look at the lyrics and actually see some form of art and poetry in them. He uses a song to tell a story: he'll add a bit more to each chorus, let the words flow over into the next line ... The even better thing is that he matches these perfectly with cohesive melody. I'm thinking of this is comparison to some rock bands who push meaningful lyrics into a repetitive and virtually monotone tune. Neil especially has a wonderful way of throwing in a completely different melodic idea near the end of the song, such as the instrumental in 'Don't Dream It's Over' or the middle eight in 'She Will Have Her Way' and 'They Will Discover You' (I hope that title is right - sorry!).
not to go "me too!" but...

as for characteristics of his songs that draw me in, i have to say he has a wonderful sense of melody and harmony and seems to love both unusual as well as mellifluous sounds. i think unilooney nailed it on the head regarding the way he turns the lyrics into a narrative, albeit often in some oblique way, i think.

btw unilooney, i think the song you refer to as 'They Will Discover You' is 'Astro' from Try Whistling This, his first solo album.

i didn't hear Neil's work until '98. i was living in Auckland with my fiancee and she had bought the double-disc version of Recurring Dream (the one with the bonus live CD) and put it on while we drove to Tamaki in her little Civic. at the time, i was almost totally unaware CH existed. this CD (and Neil's first solo disc) were a musical revelation to me. i have since gotten my mitts on all Neil, Tim and CH discs, as well as some Enz.

i remember seeing him on Ice TV soon after (yah, i admit having watched that show. it was the only time i got to see the video for 'Sinner'!) and he was asked why his CH stuff was generally so up and his new solo album was so dark. he responded that when he is feeling down he writes cheerier songs and when his life is going well he feels able to tackle darker things in his songs.

when will his solo videos get released on DVD!? I'll buy! while i'm wishing, add a CD with the TWT bonus songs and the b-sides from his One Nil/One All singles! 'Underestimated' and 'Now I Get It' are hits in my book!
All the elements can stand on their own and still sound great.

Just a grooving acoustic alone playing the chord progression. I love at the end of 7 Worlds Collide, how Neil just grooves with the audience for 8 bars.
Just the Lyrics alone..
Just the Melody a hummin in my head.

And then put each element together, mix in Neil's voice which is one of the greatest voices of all time. And his relaxed rhythm vibe that feels so natural and grooves so well.

It doesn't get any better.

How does America not get this??? Oh yeah... 3 companies own all of radio, and then there is MTV, who don't want them to get it. Cause then their polished turds would start to smell.

One thing I read once in an interview is that Neil tries to surprise himself. If the melody sounds like it should end here, he won't end it. If it sounds like it should go to a certain pitch, he will pick another pitch, etc.

So it sounds like he is trying to entertain himself, and thus he is trying to entertain genius, So to us mortals, the result is ... Smiler
Neil's song characteristics are ever evolving, and i just don't think the guy is capable of being all washed up. He seems to have a bottomless pit of genius and inspiration. Lucky us!!

Oh, to be able to write like Neil Finn.....that would be something! I'll never attain it, but I'm sure enjoying trying. I'm learning so much in the process and still know only slightly more than nothing. But at least it's progress. Who better to have as a mentor than Neil Finn. The lessons are limitless. And the process is pure pleasure. There is just no one whose music takes me where his does.
xc, I am writing on acoustic guitar. I play by ear, and have a pretty limited chord repertoire. But thanks to Neil (Wanting to figure out what the heck those chords are that he is playing!), I've played around and discovered numerous 'nameless' chords.

Maybe I could call them Shauna 7th augmented, Shauna minor diminished, etc, etc, etc. Wink He he he

I'm enjoying learning from a teacher I've never met. The school of Neil..... His rates are cheap! Wink And the lessons are limitless! Smiler

One day when I get this multitrack recording program on my computer all figured out, and manage to record something at least half decent, I'll share...... It will be with both anticipation and fear that I share my stuff with my frenz, since I'll expect you all to be brutally honest. Eeker

Will we ever hear any xc originals? Smiler
Hi Half-full

Yeah Neil is the coolest teacher. Cool
And he never gets tired, and he doesn't overly criticize my inablility to grasp complex harmony.

Having the DVD's is a big help just to see how he fingers different chords. I never realized he capo'd for Don't Dream it's over, until I saw the DVD's. So much easier to play now, but just as hard to Sing! Wink

xc originals will have to wait a while Roll Eyes , but maybe someday I will write something worth showing. Maybe I should change my name to Finn, that seems to help for some reason. Razzer

But hey, I just enjoy the process of writing and singing, and learning Neil's songs and the Beatles songs, jammin with my brother, etc.

But if you have the guts, I won't be brutal if you post some half-full songs, just no half-empty songs please Smiler


PS: I wish Neil would release a book like the Beatles Complete Scores. That is the best book ever created. Every song, every melody, harmony, chord, drum part, bass line... all notated.
I congratulate you all for the guts to learn Neil's music! It ain't easy. Confused

I used to play a little guitar and piano, but frankly I never had the discipline, so I just stick to singing. I was a voice major for 2 years in college, but Neil's stuff isn't easy to sing either! My ex-boyfriend used to criticize me for singing harmony when I sang with Neil's CD's, but geez, I'm glad I can even do that!

I'm always looking for someone to sing along with, so get in touch sometime if you want! And, good luck on your original tunes. Cool

As long as you're not an Axe Murderer?? Wink

Yeah Neil's stuff is hard to sing for me..., He always has a couple notes in every song, I am convinced he put in there just for me.

Neil thinking to himself "Hmm, wait a minute now, I haven't put in a note that is just outside of xc's range... there we go... that should screw him good."

I think the key is to relax...

When you watch Neil perform, he is the perfect model of relaxation. He seems to be floating in space he is so relaxed. That is my new goal in life. Relax. Cool
From the brain of Neil Finn:

An unexpected note here, a completely unprecedented chord placement there, and now a complete change of direction......just to keep them guessing........just to drive them utterly mad! Lets see how long it takes you figure THIS one out by ear!!! Mwaaa ha ha ha ha ha Wink

And this is why I love him so......... Smiler

xo to you Neil!!!
Better than to be going mad than be bored out of your wits, eh? Or that's what they say anyway.

I think that it's nearly impossible not to listen to Neil's music without being inspired to write or play music ...

By the way, going right back to the beginning of this forum with the comments on using black keys, have any of you heard about colour associations with musical keys? Message To My Girl and She Will Have Her Way (which I both really love) are both in D flat major (if I hear right) which to me gives them a almost royal purple sound ...

Or am I just sounding mad here?

Anyway, funnily enough, it's the same key that the show composer Andrew Lloyd Webber deliberately uses for his big powerful ballads ...
Originally posted by Half-Full:
[qb] An unexpected note here, a completely unprecedented chord placement there, and now a complete change of direction......just to keep them guessing........ [/qb]
How true! It's easier for singers, because then you don't have to care about the chords so much...but singing some of those songs alone without any instrumental support is a major ear-training workout. It always seems so effortless when the stereo is on, though...

If I had to write a recipe for what makes Neil Finn songs sound like Neil Finn songs, though, it might look like this:


Imported from: MasterCompose
Serves millions of adoring fans

1 c. unusual key
2 c. verse in minor key with chorus in relative major key (may substitute modulation in middle of song instead of verse/chorus flip-flops)
3 T. totally unexpected but harmonically proper chord changes

Mix thoroughly. Add following ingredients steadily and in a slow stream:

1 astonishingly beautiful and catchy melody
1-10 harmonic voices (to taste)
1 driving bass line
3 c. solid drums
3-20 instruments not often seen in pop music

When fully blended, stir in the following lyrics gently (don't make lumps):

1/2 c. chopped references to a house, a room in a house, or an object in a kitchen
1/4 c. reference to an object directly over our heads (a bedroom lamp, the sun, a view high above the kitchen, etc.)
1-3 T. religious and somewhat Roman Catholic references/imagery
A liberal shake of something cryptic that will make the fans analyze to death for months
1 T. poignant reference to intimacy or longing in personal relationships that will make any listener paying attention stop and think (warning: do not overuse or spice will overpower dish)

Serve piping hot. Gently warmed. Chilled.

Cannot be frozen. Reheats well.


That was so unbelievably geeky...but really fun. And maybe the best way to explain without actually playing a song what I like so much about Neil Finn's (and Crowded House's) music!

That was just marvellous! Not geeky at all. Read up on some of my more 'creative' posts, and then you'll see what geeky looks like! LOL

That's one of the cleverest things I've read in here. I bet Neil would really get a kick out of that.

But I think you missed one ingredient......the weather!!!

A few examples:

* No time to place to talk about the weather
* Like a cumulo nimbus coming in from the distance
* Light rain and a head full of thunder
* Even when you're feeling warm the temperature could drop away
* Fork lightening in your hall
* And the clouds, they're crying on you
* And the windscreen wipers move in time
* A cool wind set upon the branches of a tree
* Low cloud moving cross the sky
* Anytime.....rain or shine
* As the clouds roll in, the party was rained out
* Weather With You (yeah, yeah, i know, it's by Neil AND Tim)

Once my daughter had a friend over, and i was playing the Recurring Dream CD. The girl must have been paying attention.....she asked me "Are these all songs about the weather or something?" and I said "Nope, some are about kitchens". Wink
If I recall correctly Neil Finn/Split Enz's video clip for 'History Never Repeats' featured and was based around Neil lying in BED.

Also here's another HOUSE or WEATHER reference from the obscure b-side to the Rest Of The Day Off Australian CD single 'Underestimated':

We're underneath the carpet cleaner
Get up for the miracle morning
Feel that smoke
In my chest
I can't give advice to anyone
When my boat comes to rest
On the reef
Scare that shock away
Ooh! You're right, Half-Full -- I completely missed the weather references. Very important ingredient. (Hey, is that why my souffles keep burning?...)

OK -- so amend the recipe to read:

1/4 c. diced references to weather, preferably unsettled/cloudy/rainy (may substitute sunny if no fresh cloudy weather available)

When I was writing it, I mentally filed "beds" under "things in a house"...but maybe they should be considered a separate item!

If Neil were to read that...oy. Smiler I can only hope he'd take in the respectful (awed?) Finnatic sense it was written -- not an attempt to satirize!
As you all know, Neil has been characterized as a very "Beatlesque" musician, a high complement indeed. Yet one of the things I find curious is that almost all of his songs can be viewed as "one to one " songs where he sings to the individual listener about individual, or personal, aspects of life and love. The Beatles, in their later years, wrote some brilliant songs that were both melodic and political - being about worldly issues. There are many examples but one that comes to mind is by George Harrison:

"With every mistake, we must surely be learning. Still my guitar gently weeps."

Neil does have some worldly views (dark forces out there that we do not fully understand) yet he seldom sings about them.

"Dr. Livingston" is an exception yet was not albumed due to the feeling it was too political(??). You could make a case for some other tunes also (In The Lowlands/Mansion In The Slums/Human Kindness come to mind), but perhaps I am being naive and he is just more subtle about it.

Neil is described as a devoted family man and his songs reflect this - they serve to teach others about relationships. I don't know if Neil is political or whether being so would make him more of a "target". I just feel that his incredible talent with lyrics could produce some really thoughful human condition songs that make you go HMMMM. Just something I would like to see him try in an album. Comments???

I'd rather he stay away from the political views -- whether I support them or not.

To me at least, musicians who enter this arena tend to come off as self-righteous or pretentious. I know others may disagree.

What makes a musician any more knowledgeable about these issues than anyone else? In fact, entertainers and musicians often live different lifestyles than the common, everyday person (as do many politicians for that matter Razzer ), so might tend to have views counter to the general population.

Anyway, I guess I prefer uniters rather than dividers at least as far as music is concerned. Leave the politics to the politicians (although they don't necessarily do a great job at it, either Wink ).

Obviously, though, it's up to the musician as to whether he/she wishes to make his/her opinions known, and it's his/her prerogative to do so.
Originally posted by safe in my head:
[qb] I don't know if Neil is political or whether being so would make him more of a "target".

Ian [/qb]
Interesting point. I wonder if Neil's desire to avoid politics in his songwriting has anything at all to do with not wanting to be a target. Even somewhat.
Neil is one of my favorite songwriters. I believe that every songwriter has a `trick-book` and I found out Neil uses many of the same structures in quite a few songs. This is funny as I found that out in Jeff Buckley his songs as well. I am a songwriter as well and i tend to get back to certain structures, in a way to avoid these cliches. If you need to get from a C to a G you can just do it like that, or change to Aminor Dmajor and them G for example. Thus creating a theme where you can build on from. Lyrically i admire Neil for his unique feeling of combining sounds with lyrics. Even the Beatles needed two songwriters. Neil does it by himself for the most part doesn`t he?
Perhaps the world "political" is indeed too negative a word. There are lots of positive ideas and images that are worldly in scope and, as far as I am concerned, need to be communicated to constantly remind us that there are more important issues than just our daily existence. Peace on earth, helping the less fortunate, cleaning up the planet - very general statements really that only become political when we spin them.

Again, perhaps Neil is aware of these but is more subtle in his presentation. The last words on the new album are, interestingly, a rather quiet background vocal:

"Find another meaning, in your life".

This appeals to current Finn fans, which generally, I consider to be more on the sensitive side. I still feel that the vast majority of music listeners (and people) need a more direct approach.

A line I heard recently, which still resonates:

"Sometimes you gotta put them in a headlock - or they just don't listen!" Frowner Roll Eyes Mad Big Grin Smiler Confused
Originally posted by safe in my head:
[qb] of the things I find curious is that almost all of his songs can be viewed as "one to one " songs where he sings to the individual listener about individual, or personal, aspects of life and love. [/qb]
To drop the "recipe" theme...yes, that's definitely one of the common elements to Neil's music that I've noticed too.

In fact, many of the most beautiful melodies he's composed are set to words that sound like they've been written to maybe one other person in the world. The references are so oblique that you really can't know what inspired them, or what specific event in his life he's describing. (I'm leaving out the more obvious ones like "Lullaby Requiem" here.) Half the time I catch myself singing them aloud and then wondering, "What the hell am I saying?"

On the other hand, the great thing about that oblique style is that Neil leaves a lot open to the listener. Who hasn't had the experience of a line coming straight out of the stereo speaker and bonking against your forehead, like a VERY well-targeted fortune cookie? And, perhaps a week or a few years later, having the same experience with the same line -- under completely different circumstances?

That's what makes true talent, IMHO. So good and unique that even I can't get it concisely into a recipe ingredient.
I think one of the biggest benefits neil has as a writer is that he's not from a particular music scene (ie new-york, manchester etc), and that means he's been influenced by a lot of rock 'n roll kinda music but it's all underpinned by something a little more mysterious - which I quite often think is a combination of (obviously) neil's amazing songwriting talents, but also the new zealand landscape he must so love.

The liner notes to Recurring Dream I think go someway to trying to quantify Neil's songwriting. His music is full of wonderful and subtle epiphanies, such as the ones described in those notes. His songs very often aren't immediate, but they possess this ability to kind of creep under your skin until you forget when you didn't realise it'd been there all along!

Finally, it's great to see that Neil and Tim (man do they bring the best out in each other - but that's another topic entirely!), still have 'it'. Just listen to the opening of 'Won't Give in'; the melody is deceptive, not the sort of thing that'll grab you by the collar, but at least in my case, they stay in your mind long after the song finished.

I don't know if all of this made a lot of sense, but just my two cents on why I think Neil is such an amzing writer
MERCER you've hit an in_finn_ite number of nails on the head with your explaination.

Maybe they should pay you next time to write liner notes for Neil/Tim Finn greatest hits CDs!!! Big Grin Cool Smiler Wink

An agnostic ( Wink Big Grin ) AMEN/HALLEIUJIAH to Neil writing about epiphanies, and songs that creep/lurk/linger/evolve/play under your skin/subconcious for days on end:

'The music's in your mind
And the windscreen wipers move in time
No one came to see
The oldest show in town'

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