Songs can come from the strangest places. Last week I was biking to work, stopped at a red light at King and Spadina. All the while there's a busker on the corner, strumming what sounds like the opening riff to The Who's So Sad About Us. Just your basic folk-rock riff in A; nothing terribly special, right?
Green. I proceed through the intersection and suddenly, an original melody pops into my head over that riff, complete with nonsense words: "Saw a rabbit just the other day, uh-huh." We call these "dummy lyrics" in the music biz: something to hang the tune on until the real words are written at a later date. A famous example: "Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs" ... which became "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away."
Anyway, I ride along Wellington Street, singing continuously about the rabbit I didn't actually see so I wouldn't forget it. A short time later, I pull into my workplace and park the bike. I'm 15 minutes early and have my portable voice recorder with me, so I can hang out in the parking lot and start turning this doggerel into a song now.
In situations like this where I have no access to an instrument, I'll hum riffs and melodies and give myself instructions where necessary, like "now change to D." Following where the melody leads, I might be lucky enough to write a complete part. In this case, I got a full verse and about a quarter of a chorus, and my 48-second work tape ends with me humming an F# and saying, "minor chord here." And really, all I knew about my new composition at this point is it wouldn't be about rabbits.
Six days later, I've finished a song called "Making Rainbows from the Sun." My original melody and chords, as far as they went, have remained intact. The key is now E, not A—actually, my work tape was in Bb because the busker's guitar was out of tune—and what do you know, I ditched the rabbit but kept the "uh-huh." I do, however, thank the mysterious hare for transporting me from here to there. Props to the busker and Pete Townshend, too! And that's but one wacky example of how a song can come out of nowhere.