Capitol’s “Songs Without Words” Contest

Songs Without WordsEither Capitol Records was exceptionally hard up for decent songwriters in 1961, or their “Songs Without Words” contest was one of the most dream-fulfilling opportunities ever to hit the record-hoarding public. American Idol for songwriters, and some 41 years prior, Capitol’s “Songs Without Words” contest was an unprecedented marketing ploy that boasted a $500 advance against royalties for publication rights to the Better Homes & Gardens reading, fuel pump-changing, plastic hat-wearing, Leave it to Beaver-style, June and Ward Cleaver-minded entrepreneur with aspirations for stardom, and a little free time on their hands.

The skinny, in a sleeve-shaped nutshell is this… all the enthusiastic, future Paul Simon had to do was acquire the “Songs Without Words” contest album (Capitol Records T-1601 and ST-1601, mono and stereo respectively), listen to the ten, instrumental tracks of varying genres (6x popular, 2x Country & Western, and 2x Rock ‘n’ Roll), isolate the one, don’t mess this up or your future is doomed track that spoke to the lyric-writing demon inside of them, and print or type their lyrics in the space provided on the entry blank located on the back of this sleeve (sleeve desecration was required, and scissors were necessary for cutting along the printed, dotted lines).

BackEntries were, quite stylishly, judged against three separate categories, each based on a 33 1/3 point system (all totaling 99.9 possible points… I see what you did there, 1961 Capitol Records. Kudos to you!) based on the following:

– Appropriateness and suitability (the manner in which the structure and content of the lyrics fits the melody)

– Composition, distinctive style and poetic flair

– Commercial appeal (suitability for presentation to today’s listening audiences)

Apparently nobody (on the internet) knows who any of the 10 winners with executive-pleasing lyrics were, but little forgotten moments in record publishing history like this are certainly entertaining to discover on an otherwise, calamitous Thursday morning.

7 thoughts on “Capitol’s “Songs Without Words” Contest

  1. Just think a young Bob Dylan could of sent his in while he was bumming around the University of Minnesota and have been told that “Blowing In The Wind” was totally inappropriate, uncommercial and lacks flair. Guess that might be why Capitol records blew off signing him. Nice post

    • One shudders to think of the endless possibilities that missed opportunities could have provided. I tend to forget there is another midwesterner afront. 🙂

  2. A George Sperry wrote a lyric that was selected for the melody that Harry Warren wrote. The title of his lyric was “St. Tropez” and his lyric is as follows:

    It was St. Tropez, it was music and sunshine and laughter and it was May;
    St. Tropez, warm of wine and of wind from an indigo bay.
    We chose love as the game to play,
    Its excitement at night meant delight in each new-born day,
    Lazy moments at St. Tropez, with a breakfast of bliss.
    And moon-ripened kisses to start the day,
    We would stroll by the ocean in motion with tides at play;
    Clouds of grey soon descended and ended the joy of our holiday,
    Where the sea meets the golden sand, did my love disappear?
    There are teardrops at St. Tropez, St. Tropez this year.

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