“Rose Parade” by Elliot Smith Tutorial for Guitar

In addition to being a songwriter, I’m also a music fan and a teacher. Therefore, I was happy when a longtime client approached me with the possibility of creating video tutorials and tablature for some of his favorite songs, including this one by Elliot Smith. Incidentally, they are some of my favorite songs, too.  This tutorial is fairly thorough, moves pretty slowly, and doesn’t assume a lot about your guitar skills. I hope that you’ll find it a useful tool!

If you enjoy this free tutorial, please look around Custom Serenade and consider getting a custom song from us!


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Singer/songwriter Elliot SmithIn 2004, some months after Elliot Smith’s untimely passing, I was asked to participate in a tribute concert in which musicians from the Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh area performed some of Smith’s songs. It seemed like a nice way to deal with a lot of the feelings that come up when someone you admire so much passes away, and I was eager to participate. When asked what song I wanted to do, my immediate response was “Rose Parade.” Unfortunately, it was the first choice for numerous other acts, and someone had already claimed it. It was and is probably my favorite Elliot Smith song. It’s kind of amazing that the main pattern  is comprised of all major chords, yet sounds so melancholy – the ever-present riff within the pattern emphasizing the emotion. Then there are the lyrics. Imperfect, mysterious, and gritty. There’s a lot to like about this sad but beautiful song, and I hope that you’ve gleaned something from this tutorial.



Kiss Kiss Bang Bang! A Collection of Gun-Themed Vintage Valentines!

Valentine’s Day is a big deal here at Custom Serenade. Personally, one of my favorite things associated with this romantic holiday are vintage cards, and I have a special affinity for the strange ones. In perusing numerous old valentines, I started noticing that tucked amongst the flowers and cute puns were a lot of guns. Yes, that’s right, guns! And ammo! And even artillery! Deadly weapons don’t seem like natural companions for hearts and candy, but the past often seems weird, and weird is good, right? So, here for your viewing pleasure, is a collection of gun-themed vintage valentine cards.  If you’d like to celebrate VTD with a little less explosive powder and a lot more romance, consider ordering a custom song from us!

vintage valentine #1
Nothing says love like being hunted by a bug-eyed boy with a loaded rifle!

…except maybe being held at gunpoint by someone in a black mask.

strange vintage valentine #2

strange vintage valentine

Perhaps the abundance of available gun puns is the reason that they were so popular?

But then they struck gold with “aim”…

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Finally, we have two suicide-themed valentines.

Pretty sick, huh?
If you enjoyed these vintage valentines and want to see something equally bizarre, check out this post that features meat-themed valentines! If you’re looking for a fantastic Valentine’s Day gift that doesn’t involve meat or guns, how about a ordering a custom song? Regardless, I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day full of cards, music, and love!


Christmas Music for People Who Hate Christmas Music


Let’s face it, some people love Christmas music and others don’t. I understand both sides of the coin. I love Christmas music in general, but I think I’d rather pour hot tar in my ears than hear Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” one more time. Here are some suggestions for holiday playlists that will keep the mistletoe fans happy while not driving the aural Scrooges crazy.

Look for new versions of the classics.

Mainstream music has a tendency to choose a microscopic sample of available content in any given genre and run it into the ground. Holiday music is no exception, and hearing not only the same songs, but the same arrangements and recordings of these songs over and over again can drive you crazy. So, find different versions of the classic songs and see if they don’t go down a little easier. Consider these:

Lew Stone and His Band – “Winter Wonderland”

Going vintage is a good way to find different versions of the standards that offer a fresh perspective. Here’s one from the late 1930s.

Chet Atkins – “Silver Bells”

Guitar great Chet Atkins’ take on the winter holidays is one that will please fans of great guitar work and yuletide enthusiasts alike. Here’s a wonderful rendition of “Silver Bells.”

Go instrumental.

Sappy lyrics are a frequently cited reason for hating seasonal songs. Regardless of where you stand on Christmas music, you have to admit that some lyrics are maddeningly precious. So, take them out of the equation! You won’t have to look far to find a plethora of instrumental versions of nearly any Christmas song. Here are a couple to get you started.

The Ventures – “Sleigh Ride”

I don’t know how anyone could dislike this version of “Sleigh Ride” by surf rock legends the Ventures. Despite the obvious conflict of surf vs. snow, this genre of instrumental rock has a lot to offer during the holiday season.

Moog Machine – “Silent Night”

Electronic music buffs will love this, and hopefully everybody else will too!

Find songs that are new to everyone.

As I stated earlier, hearing the same songs over and over again can get old, even if you’re a fan. So, why not dig into the nearly endless treasure trove of songs that have slipped through the cracks? There are some great ones out there, such as:

Holly Golightly – “Christmas Tree On Fire”

Here’s a novelty country rocker that will keep the hipsters at bay.

Staple Singers – “Who Took the Merry out of Christmas”

Holiday or not, this is a soul powerhouse! Even if you’re at odds with the religious message, you’ll groove with this.

Hopefully these tips will help resolve any music-related squabbles that can put a damper on the merriment. Best of luck coming up with a playlist that will please everyone. Here’s one that I made on Spotify that you can use to test the (frozen) waters.

Best Christmas Dad Ever


He’s a football fan and a fisherman
and he makes up silly songs
the holiday season is the time he finds most pleasing
too bad it isn’t all year long

His decorations are a sensation
his house a winter wonderland
he’s going to write the next great American carol
and it’ll be cooler than a snowman

He’s the best Christmas dad ever
he’s Santa’s right-hand man
jingling bells and singing Noel
are all part of the holiday plan

Carols start playing
the day after Thanksgiving
there are reindeer on his roof
he’s the best Christmas dad ever
he’s got even got a yule tattoo

If Santa ever needed to take a year off
he’d surely give Derek a shout
and say “I need someone who’s motivated and fun
to come and help me out”

(he would say) “Jake and Grant will make great elves
they’ve been such good boys
your dog Carly can pull the sled
and you’ll deliver all the toys”

One year the reindeer got a little lost
as they were flying their annual route
but Dasher said “I smell some FINE smoked bacons and eggs”
and they knew they were at Derek’s house

Sharing the season with his family and friends
is a holly jolly priority for him
Merry Christmas from Jake and Grant
to the best Christmas dad on the planet


Great music videos that you missed in the ’80s!

If you love ’80s music and cheesy music videos, then you’ve found gold! Here are ten songs that you’ve probably never heard before that will expand your ’80s playlist and keep the crowd dancing, while giving Men Without Hats a well-deserved break. They mostly come from Europe, where pop music and fashion thrived in the ’80s. They contain all the signature sounds you’d expect, and the videos take the clothes, dance moves, and hair styles to a whole new level! It’s hard to believe that some of these songs weren’t international hits, but then, if they had been, we wouldn’t have the pleasure of discovering them now!


Wish Key – “Orient Express”

This is the song that started me down the path of ’80s Euro pop and Italo Disco. The video made a little splash on social media, mainly for its retro kitsch factor, but I personally really liked the song. The hard-driving bass, the melodic riffs, the train sounds, the dramatic vibe, and the subtle backing vocals overshadowed the fact that it looks like they’re performing in a basement with weightlifting equipment. In most English-speaking countries, Italo Disco is a term used to describe a strand of synth-heavy European pop music from the ’80s, and although the genre did originate in Italy, a lot of the music came from elsewhere. But Wish Key were real deal Italians, and “Orient Express” is a great place to start this musical journey!

Silent Circle – “Touch in the Night”

A widow’s peak that puts Eddie Munster to shame is just the tip of the iceberg that is vocalist Jo Jo Tyson’s hair, which is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the visual treats this video has to offer. Music-wise, a prominent bass line and electronic percussion work alongside an almost Caribbean-sounding synth in this danceable love song from West Germany’s Silent Circle.

Rockets – “Galactica”

Rockets hailed from France and were the kings of a genre called space disco that had its heyday in the late ’70s. Here they are bridging the gap between the two decades, looking more than ready to embrace the future. Outrageous doesn’t begin to describe their look or their cosmic analog sound. Gotta love a band with a theme!


Shanghai – “Ballerina”

Enter the keytar, enter the mullet, and top it all off with a fluorescent cut off t-shirt and you have Shanghai, who were actually from Sweden. Featuring an androgynous look and some really tight vocal harmonies (keep in mind this is well before any auto-tuning or pitch correction was available), this group is perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come for Sweden, which is now the pop music songwriting capital of the world. Side note – if anyone has any idea what kind of guitar that is, please let me know!


Vanessa – “Upside Down”

All right, I’ll admit it. This song by Dutch diva Vanessa is my favorite song on the list. The video offers a gazillion watts of eye candy coming from all directions (Vanessa herself once posed for Penthouse), but the truth is, I’ve listened to the song a lot more than I’ve watched the video. I love the basic progression, the electro percussion, the Sweet meets Abba vocal harmonies, the sweeping strings, and the overall uplifting feel of the song. (Go here to get a cheap custom song.) For me, it went from being the cheeseball Youtube find of the year, to a guilty pleasure of sorts, and has since graduated to being my go-to “get cheered up or wake up in the morning” song. Put this on at a party and see if it doesn’t get a reaction!

Stop – “Wake Up”

Here’s the only instrumental on the list. The origins of the group Stop are hard to suss out. Wake Up was recorded in Los Angeles but seems to have had the most success in Spanish-speaking countries. As someone who was a voracious fan of music in the ’80s, I can tell you that it never saw the light of day in the U.S. At any rate, this song is sure to please fans of Gershon Kingsley, Herbie Hancock, or anyone interested in the origins of EDM. The video is AMAZING! Stop motion, claymation and flying records – need I say more? It’s a true gem. Even the most cynical hipster would have to raise an eyebrow over their glasses for this one.

Lian Ross – “Fantasy”

More Käse from Germany! A keytar produces a dramatic and catchy groove on top of which vocalist Lian Ross can do her thang, which consists of rocking an intense mullet in an outfit that makes her look like a garish triangle. She’s a good singer though, and as recently as 2009, was making records that still topped the charts in various parts of Europe. But 1985 found her in mismatched gloves dancing in the midst of a modern art installation with a proto-goth bassist and an ubernerd keyboardist. Welcome to her world of Fantasy!

Trans-X – “Living on Video”

Let’s momentarily leave the old world as we feast our eyes on Canada’s Trans-X. This video transcends kitsch and lands in the realm of pure surrealism. Backing vocalist Laurie Ann Gill’s minimalist dance moves in front of a bank of televisions in combination with her INSANE hair are PURE GOLD! The song itself may or may not be a nod to the Buggles’ similarly themed tune, but it’s definitely a hypnotic minor key ostinato sprinkled with all kinds of tasty electronic flourishes and even robot voices! The lyrics are kind of cool, too.


Kazino – “Around My Dream”

Now for Belgium’s only entry into the fray. “Around My Dream” was originally performed by Italian disco singer Silver Pozzoli, and although musically Kazino’s version differs only slightly, the video for the song is much sillier than the original. In fact, it’s one of the only videos that I came across in which the band seems to have a sense of humor about what they’re doing. We get to see artsy shots of mannequins, a tongue-in-cheek Saturday Night Fever dance, and wow! That bass player looks great in drag!


Propaganda – “Duel”

This song is markedly more complex than the others gathered in this post. With jazz chords and lyrics such as “The first cut won’t hurt at all, The second only makes you wonder,” this song, and Propaganda’s music in general, is less focused on the dance floor and more concerned with deeper musical exploration. The video follows a nice film noir narrative interspersed with the band performing in a Maxfield Parrish-influenced set. “Duel” charted in a handful of countries in Europe and it’s almost baffling that it didn’t find its way to MTV and the charts here in the U.S. 

Here's what I looked like in the 80s!
Here’s what I looked like in the ’80s!

During the process of reviewing songs for this post, I’d often find myself thinking, “Wow, this is more ’80s than the actual ’80s were.” If you were raised in rural America like I was, then MTV was your window into the pop world, but the songs and videos collected here took things a step farther than MTV was willing to go. The hair was bigger, the songs more repetitive, the outfits more outlandish, and then there’s the dancing. Some find it funny, some would say unprofessional, I say it’s just really human, and I’m kind of drawn to it. I’m guessing the resources weren’t there for choreographers or to hire professionals, so the performers (who were probably singers first and foremost) just put on their weird clothes and danced! If you think it looks silly, try filming yourself dancing! There was no shortage of great material for this list and I tried to pick songs that I thought were good and had an accompanying video that was somehow noteworthy. I also tried to avoid having too many videos from any particular country (I could easily have done ten from Germany alone). I hope that you enjoyed these aural and visual delights from a bygone era! Please feel free to leave a comment!

Custom Serenade is a custom songwriting service. We write and record original songs as gifts or for any reason at all. Please poke around our website and keep us in mind for any occasion that might benefit from a custom song! You could even reference one of these songs or genres in your order, as in, “make it sound like Italo Disco!”

Here are some additional Italo Disco songs that you might enjoy.