Los Angeles is a city rich with live music, but there has been no live music event that pays tribute to the songwriting talent in this city quite like TopTune, part talent showcase, part songwriting competition, part improv comedy - a "Circus of musical alchemy" and a rollicking good time. Held monthly at Busby's East (5364 Wilshire, just west of LaBrea), TopTune is the brainchild of L.A.-based musicians and consummate showmen, Jonathan Menchin and Tom Tully, who come from the extended family of Chicago Second City actors, comedians and writers.
TopTune works like this: Six singer-songwriters (who do not know each other) are promptly paired up to write a song in 17 minutes based on a random theme. The pairs work feverishly offstage composing some of the best songs I have heard on the L.A. stage. Truly.
Leonard Bernstein once said "To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time."
Erick Macek & Michael Miller's TopTune song It Threw Me Into Yeah:
Writing to an assignment actually liberates a songwriter -- the work of the initial spark has been done in the title they receive, so they can just proceed to crafting a song, which they all know how to do. And secondly, there's no time to doubt, so they have to trust first impulses and great things come from that. And thirdly, they are writing with a songwriting partner who pulls them in a new direction. WIth the exception of a few brilliant songwriters like Irving Berlin or Bob Dylan, most of the great songs we love and stand the test of time, were created collaboratively by two songwriters.
Dan Navarro and Kristen Toedtman's TopTune song Speaking Spanish In Bed:
A panel of three celebrity commentators chime in and judge the songs with a wicked dash of humor. Judges have included Keegan-Michael Key, Joe Mantegna, Dave Mason, Ray Parker Jr, Jim Belushi, Fred Willard, Nicole Sullivan, and the late, great Taylor Negron, to name a few.
TopTune almost comes across like a very distant homespun, funnier, more lighthearted cousin to the primetime TV singing competition shows. However unlike those extravaganzas, TopTune isn't in it for the money or the splashy prizes. This is about the art and craft and magic of songwriting, and the waves of goodwill, inspiration and humor along the way.
Kevin Fisher and Annie Boxell's TopTune song It's Like The Circus Came to Town
I am most proud of the relationships we've formed. Between ourselves and the performers and between all the musicians and actors and comedians themselves -- we've introduced lots of people to each other who have gone on to form friendships, collaborations and professional alliances. I feel like we've been of value to a lot of people.
Another feature of the show which audiences love is the house band of LA's top session players, Johnny Mench & The Thirsty Models. They play all the songwriters songs and even jump in on the new songs. Past members of The Thirsty Models have played and recorded with Lucinda Williams. Keith Richards, John Mayer, Merle Haggard, Richard Thompson, Shakira, Charlie Rich, Shelby Lynne and many more.
The Clive Davises of the world should take note, TopTune's stable of musicians, singers and songwriters are a hot bed of talent - and something fresh and underground that deserves a wide audience. Much like what The Moth does for storytelling, TopTune does for songwriting. And mark my words, there is a hit TV music show and a whole recording industry that could be born from TopTune. Over one hundred songs have been written at TopTune, and over half can be found on Youtube - there be big hits in them there hills!
Check out TopTune this Saturday, January 17 at 8pm - and the Facebook page for all the updated information: