Song writing advice from a hit maker

Bob Merrill was one of the most successful songwriters of the early 1950’s. He wrote “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, the biggest selling record of 1953. He also contributed to the Broadway hit musicals “Funny Girl” and “Hello Dolly”.

Here is an excerpt from a N.Y. Times article describing his songwriting methods. He’s funny and self-effacing but there’s a lot of truth here as well.

‘‘Don’t get me wrong,’’ he told Cue magazine in 1953. ‘‘I’m no Tchaikovsky. I can’t read or write a note. I compose all my songs on this toy xylophone I bought at the five-and-ten for $1.98.’’ He said he put numbers on the keys so he could easily transcribe the melody. ‘‘You can’t fool yourself with fancy arranging,’’ he said. ‘‘All my hits have a very simple, hummable melody.’’ After his songs earned more than $250,000, he bought a more expensive xylophone. That cost him $6.98

His hits had a common denominator, he said. ‘‘They are all about America, they are all wholesome, and they are all happy.’’ They made liberal use of cliches, as Mr. Merrill cheerfully admitted, telling how he filled notebooks with them. ‘‘Cliches make the best songs,’’ he said. ‘‘I put down every one I can find.’’

They also had a way of sticking maddeningly in the brain. Mr. Merrill – who said he was sometimes confused with Robert Merrill of the Metropolitan Opera – once explained his sales by saying that for every customer who bought a hit record like his to play at home, two others bought it to smash it to bits.


There’s something to be said for his simple methods. I think this is still a valid way to write good music. I think the beauty of it was his use of a xylophone. If you can strip a song down to it’s very basic core (and the most basic of instruments) and still have a melody that is memorable, you’ll have something special.

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He nailed it!

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And he malleted it (his xylophone). :slightly_smiling_face:

Incredible ROI for musical gear. Quite a formula for success. Maybe Taylor Swift does something similar, but hers aren’t always happy … unless she gets really happy about publicly humiliating her ex-boyfriends. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:


Hey, they know what they’re getting into when they hook up with her! :stuck_out_tongue:

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And someone once said, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. :thinking:

Yeah, the value of notoriety, one lousy (poor quality) picture of Billy the Kid ( a convicted criminal ) sells for $5 million. Take a picture of any legitimate hero and see what it’s worth. The fur trader band needs to rob a bank!

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Ha, so those nanomasks will come in handy after all! :sunglasses:

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