Striking Similarities Between Carrie’s “Blown Away” and Jaclyn’s “Sirens”
This happens pretty frequently. A star releases a song that sounds so incredibly similar to another that suspicions and eyebrows are raised. Most recently, this happened to Dierks Bentley with his song “Home.” A singer-songwriter named Jason Isbell started pointing fingers and claiming that Bentley and company lifted the chorus of their hit single from his song, “In A Razor Town.” Here at WBKR, we listened to both tracks on air and you cannot deny the similarities. Dierks’ chorus for “Home” sounds JUST LIKE Jason’s for “In A Razor Town.” Like I said, this kind of thing happens all the time. Sometimes, sadly, it happens intentionally. Other times it occurs purely by coincidence. Each time, it’s nearly impossible to tell. And, thankfully, it had never happened to us. Until now . . .
I had a copy of Carrie Underwood’s new CD, Blown Away, sitting on my desk for days, but I hadn’t had a chance to pop it in the computer and listen. So, as of last Thursday, the only track I had heard was the lead off single “Good Girl.” But, then, I watched the American Idol results show Thursday night and saw Carrie perform the title track, “Blown Away.” In case you missed it, here it is . . .
If I had the nerve to launch the remote control through my high-definition flat screen, I would have. Because what I was hearing sounded all too familiar. I felt like Jason Isbell must have when he heard “Home” for the first time. I felt as though I was listening to a modified version of Jaclyn’s song “Sirens.” And trust me, the sirens were blaring in my head. The Emergency Broadcast System was echoing through my living room.
DJ Potter and I wrote “Sirens” years ago. I wanted to write a dark, thunderous song inspired by Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.” A sort of sequel to that song . . . or, at the very least, a retelling of its themes with a Sleeping with the Enemy twist. I just wondered what life would be like for someone who ran away from an abusive situation to start a fresh life, but learned that you can never truly escape your past. And I had this chorus in my head for days . . .
A tire swing blows in the wind, a storm is brewing again. The clouds open up and pour her past life at her feet. She doesn’t seek shelter though she knows she should. She doesn’t run away though he thought she would. She won’t let the rain wash away the new life she has found. Let the sirens sound. Let the sirens sound.
I knew I was on the brink of a really special and powerful song. I called DJ, went to his place and we finished the song while his wife Nicole was cooking dinner in the next room. As soon as the storm imagery started to brew, the song just literally rained out of us. I remember us getting the first verse on paper, then singing it with the chorus for the first time. Nicole came into the living room and said, “Oh my god. I love it.”
We have written dozens of and dozens of songs together, but “Sirens” has always held a special place in our hearts. It was the song that first inspired us to head down to Nashville to get it heard. We thought we had real songwriting chops, but, for us, that song proved we could hang with the best of them. I remember sitting in David Preston’s office at BMI (one of the world’s largest music royalty and licensing companies) with “Sirens” in hand. David routinely meets with new, aspiring writers and gives them his impressions of their music. He listened to our song with his eyes closed and when it was over said, “Wow! That is amazing. Where does a song like that come from?” We just laughed and said, “Well, we just kinda made it up. In the living room floor.” He leaned back in his chair, hit the play button again and closed his eyes once more. He was on board. That song was blaring through the first floor of BMI. He had our demo cranked. We were in heaven.
Anybody who creates something from scratch will tell you they just know when it’s right. And we knew this idea, this “stormy” framework for the tale of an abused woman who turns the tables on her abuser, was the perfect way to tell it metaphorically. Apparently, Carrie’s songwriters, Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins, thought so too. In “Blown Away,” they paint a very similar stormy tale.
After her Idol performance Thursday night, Carrie explained in exclusive video for American Idol’s website about how “Blown Away” was inspired by Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.” That reminded me so vividly of the night we debuted “Sirens” with our friend Katie Beste. It was September of 2008 and I was the headliner at Goldie’s Best Little Opryhouse in Kentucky. Headliners typically performed eight songs in a Goldie’s show. I sang a few originals myself, but REALLY wanted the audience to hear “Sirens.” So, I invited Katie (who has a ridiculous Underwood-like range) to sing in my showcase as a special guest. Before I brought Katie to the stage, I gave some of the background of the song. I gave mad props to McBride’s “Independence Day” citing it as the inspiration for “Sirens.” Then Katie came out on stage and blew the roof off of Goldies. I had chills. Songwriters live for the moment a singer brings a song to life. And Katie let it fly. It was, pardon the pun, tornadic. A month later, at her own headlining gig, Katie performed the song again and just rocked the rafters. She was sensational. Watch!
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But the similarities between “Blown Away” and “Sirens” do not stop at sharing their inspiration. Look at the second verses of each song. We’ll start with Carrie’s . . .
She heard those sirens screaming out. Her daddy laid there passed out on the couch. She locked herself in the cellar, listened to the screaming of the wind. Some people call it taking shelter, she called it sweet revenge.
Here’s the second verse of “Sirens.”
The weathervane spins as the hinges shake. Leaves swirl in the yard as a window breaks. Through the howlin’ wind she hears the cellar door. But she’s not afraid of the thunder anymore. There she is, as lighting crashes all around. Hail rains from the sky, but she stands her ground.
Frankly, I am “blown away” by how thematically and lyrically close those two verses are. That said, the one interesting difference in these songs (besides the obvious differences in the melodies) is the heroine in each. In “Sirens,” she’s a mother who has fled her abuser and set up a new life for her children out of harm’s way. When the storm clouds brew and deliver him to her years after she fled, she is ready to face that thunderstorm head on and does. Lighting may be crashing all around but the heroine of this story stands her ground. “The sky lays low” but she stands there ready to face the weather at its most severe.
In “Blown Away”, the heroine is the daughter of the abuser. Mother is an “angel in the ground” and the young girl has had no defense from her alcoholic father. “There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma to wash the sins out of that house.” So, when “the weatherman calls for a twister”, the heroine prays that the twister blows her house down. This gal doesn’t have the strength to take out her attacker. As this storm brews, she takes shelter in the cellar, while her father is passed out upstairs. She prays that Mother Nature finally does the deed for her . . . and boy! Does she!
Shatter every window til it’s blown away. Every brick, every board, every slamming door, blown away. Til there’s nothing left standing. Nothing left of yesterday. Every tear-soaked whiskey memory blown away. Blown away.
It’s funny. When DJ and I wrote “Sirens” we imagined a voice like Carrie’s singing it. That’s why we chose Katie to debut it for us. However, when Jaclyn was making her 2010 CD Tailgater, we really encouraged her to include it because we all agreed it was one of the best songs we had ever written. Though Jaclyn always felt like the song was “above her” we knew she could give it her own unique interpretation. Thankfully, she did. And thankfully we had some great Nashville musicians playing on it and really well-known Nashville engineers mastering it. And our producer, Matt Gray of Gray Sky Music, did a bang-up job. We are SO proud of this song and the story is tells. Here’s Jaclyn’s album version of it. Regardless of her insecurities about singing it, I think she KILLED it. Listen . . .
I said to David Preston when we met with him at BMI . . . and my buddy Sam Cerami (who works as an independent record promoter for some of Nashville’s biggest stars) when we shared the song with him on Music Row . . . that if Carrie Underwood got a hold of “Sirens” that I truly believed we could win Record of the Year at the ACM’s or the CMA’s. Funny thing is . . . that may just happen. Underwood may actually snag a Record of the Year trophy. But, if she does, she will do it with a different brand of sirens.
But heck! I suppose there’s SOME validation (and consolation) from the early reviews of Carrie’s song. Deborah Price of Billboard Magazine calls “Blown Away” an “instant classic.” And, Monica Pressley of RoughStock.com wrote “Traditionalists will gripe (because it’s more pop than country) . . . but it’s a brilliant moment giving Underwood something she desperately needed.” I knew this was a good idea. Actually, I knew this song was a GREAT idea. And this just proves what DJ and I were thinking when we drove to Nashville with our demo in hand years ago. We CAN hang and write with big boys. Now we just have to find someone to record our song. I wonder what Kelly Clarkson is doing . . .