New Songwriter Show Tells the Story Behind Hits by Garth Brooks, Kelly Clarkson, Aerosmith and More
Veteran Nashville tunesmith Victoria Shaw gathers her talented friends to sing and share about the "art and magic" of writing songs
Songland, a breakout hit of summer TV, turned millions on to the magic of creating a new song. Now, a brand-new series debuting Wednesday completes the story, offering viewers a captivating look inside songs that have gone on to become country and pop hits.
On Songland, says Shaw, “you get to see the beginning. On my show you hear the backstory of iconic songs. I think the audience is ready to understand that there’s a process to it and an art and magic.”
Each hour-long episode features Shaw, 57, and two hit songwriters, all of whom take turns singing and telling the stories behind their songs. Shaw has handpicked the songwriters from her long and eclectic list of songwriter friends, and though they may not be household names, their music is instantly recognizable.
On just the first episode, for example, Desmond Child sings “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” which he co-wrote with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” a co-write with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora for Bon Jovi. Child is joined by Brett James, who sings “Jesus Take the Wheel,” which he co-wrote for Carrie Underwood, and “Mr. Know It All,” a co-write for Kelly Clarkson. Each show also features a special guest, and for the first episode, Erika Ender sings the 2017 global blockbuster, “Despacito,” which she co-wrote.
Other guests on the seven-episode series include Jeffrey Steele (Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most”), Marcus Hummon (the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away”), Julie Gold (Bette Midler’s “From a Distance”), Beth Nielsen Chapman (Faith Hill’s “This Kiss”), Angela Hunte (JAY-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”), Gary Burr (Patty Loveless’ “I Try to Think About Elvis”) and his wife, Georgia Middleman (Keith Urban’s “I’m In”).
Though Shaw is based in Nashville, the show was filmed at the Birdland Theater, an intimate venue in New York, her home-away-from-home where she’s been hosting songwriter shows for more than 20 years. Their long-running success is what caught the attention of producer Brad Fuss, who successfully pitched the series idea to All Arts, a new broadcast channel and streaming platform.
Shaw says she’s especially excited for viewers to get a peek inside the tight-knit songwriting community, where genres often know no boundaries and members are as supportive of one another as they are competitive.
Among the treats of the shows is hearing the writers perform such familiar songs in unfamiliar ways. “It is like you’re hearing it for the first time when a songwriter interprets it,” Shaw says. “It doesn’t make it better. It’s just different.”
The stories behind the songs also can lend new meaning to the music, Shaw notes. She was especially struck by what rocker Patty Smyth, who appears on the seventh episode, said in her introduction of her hit ballad “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough.”
“She told the story that it was actually written when she got divorced from her first husband and had to move with her daughter,” Shaw says. “She was moving to New York and leaving LA and trying to do the right thing for herself and trying to do the right thing for her daughter. Now when I listen to that song, it will always hit me in an even deeper, different way. I had no idea, and I’m sitting up on stage and I’m learning something.”
Shaw, whose storied career includes an ACM song of the year (John Michael Montgomery’s “I Love the Way You Love Me”) and producing credit on Lady Antebellum’s platinum-selling debut album, tells her own story about “The River” on the first episode. The inspirational ballad was co-written with Brooks in the living room of her tiny east Nashville house when both were unknowns.
Afterward, as the two listened to the demo they’d recorded, Shaw recalled, Brooks told her, “Can’t you just imagine a stadium full of people waving their lighters and singing this song?” Shaw confessed to her audience that she thought Brooks was “delusional.” But a few years later, in 1997, she opened for Brooks at his mythic Central Park concert, and she watched about a million people sing along and wave lighters.
Shaw says she never tires of singing “The River,” though she now hears a different song from the one that two young dreamers wrote.
“I’ve gone through a lot of transitions in these last few years, and it’s taken on a whole brand-new meaning,” she says, but then, she adds, “isn’t that what music’s supposed to do?”
Songwriters Under the Covers premieres nationally Wednesday, Oct. 16, on streaming platforms and the All Arts website, as well as on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. It also will be broadcast in the New York area on the All Arts channel at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and in the Nashville area on NPT/PBS at 9 p.m. Thursday.