“All I Wanna Do” — Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” is one of the most chilled-out tracks to visit the upper reaches of the pop charts.

I’m not sure how it manages to come across quite so chilled-out.

There’s an insistent drum track that pretty much inhabits the record from start to finish. Back in 1993, when “All I Wanna Do” was recorded, it would have been live drums too, so I take my hat off to the drummer. Keeping such a constant motif going pretty much without a break isn’t nearly as easy as you might think.

The bass is set well back in the mix, but that’s pretty insistent too.

There’s a little bit of rhythm guitar here and there and some pedal steel as well. But “All I Wanna Do” is a pretty stripped-down track, musically speaking.

The chilled out feel comes largely from the lyrics — both the words themselves, adapted from a Wyn Cooper poem, and Sheryl Crow’s delivery of them.

Writing credits for “All I Wanna Do” go to Sheryl Crow, Wyn Cooper, Dave Baerwald, Kevin Gilbert and Bill Bottrell.

Baerwald, Gilbert and Bottrell were founder members of an informal songwriting group which called itself the Tuesday Night Music Club. Sheryl Crow joined the collective whilst dating Kevin Gilbert — and “Tuesday Night Music Club” would go on to become the title of Sheryl Crow’s multi-platinum breakthrough album in homage to those gatherings.

At one of those casual songwriting events…literally on a Tuesday night after a few beers during the afternoon…Bill Bottrell brought along the words to a poem called “Fun” by Wyn Cooper.

You’ll recognise the opening verse from “Fun” as “All I Wanna Do” pretty much used this lock, stock and barrel…

“All I want to do is have a little fun before I die,”
Says the man next to me
Out of nowhere, apropos of nothing
He says his name’s William
But I’m sure it’s Bill or Billy, Mac or Buddy
He’s plain ugly to me
And I wonder if he’s ever had fun in his life

That pretty much set the pattern for “All I Wanna Do”. Wyn Cooper’s poem, with a few relatively minor adjustments along the way, formed the verses and, depending on whose version of events you choose to believe, either Sheryl Crow on her own or the entire Tuesday Night Music Club came up with the chorus…

All I wanna do is have some fun
I’ve got a feeling I’m not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
I’ve got a feeling I’m not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard

I say Wyn Cooper’s poem was the basis for the verses in “All I Wanna Do” — that’s only true for the first three verses, and a couple of lines from the fourth verse. The other verse-and-a-bit don’t make the cut.

Which may be part of the charm of “All I Wanna Do”. In Wyn Cooper’s poem, he brings the story to a close in the “missing” verses. Without them, the song never reaches a conclusion and just goes on into the indefinite distance, ambling towards the horizon but never quite disappearing over it.

It’s an observational slice of life, but from a place where life is going on 24 hours a day and nothing ever comes to a complete standstill. Like the old Bob Hope line about “if you don’t like the weather in England, just hang around for 10 minutes because something else will be coming along instead”, that’s my impression of life “in the bar that faces the giant car wash” too.

You feel that, as night turns into day, the well-heeled people in their suits and ties go home, leaving the bars and the streets around them for people more naturally inclined to life during the hours of darkness.

Until, of course, “the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard” when the cycle begins all over again.

“All I Wanna Do” is one of those intriguing songs which asks more questions than it answers. And Sheryl Crow’s delivery really makes the difference.

She conveys the sense that not only isn’t she going to explore any hidden layers, or answer any further questions, she has no interest in even contemplating the possibility that she might.

Whether that’s because she already knows the answer, or can’t find herself bothered enough to care, adds another layer of intrigue to an already intriguing set of lyrics.

As does Sheryl Crow’s delightfully idiosyncratic vocal delivery, especially on the verses, which she delivers half-sung, half-spoken with a heavy overtone of ennui, paying little attention to the insistent drum track propelling the song along, or the normal rules of music performance.

Sheryl Crow captures the mood of someone sitting in a bar all day watching a guy peel the labels off beer bottles for fun perfectly.

As always, creating a “one off” is difficult. It takes a lot more skill than just doing something broadly similar to whatever everyone else is doing.

Thankfully Sheryl Crow has a degree in classical music and spent some time teaching music before fame and fortune came her way, so we can take it she has a thorough enough knowledge of the rules to know how to break them successfully.

Bill Bottrell worked as a producer for some of the biggest acts in popular music — Michael Jackson, Madonna and Elton John among them. David Baerwald and Keving Gilbert were both accomplished, and critically-acclaimed, record-makers themselves. And Wyn Cooper was a great poet…if largely undiscovered until “All I Wanna Do” came along.

Somehow, the heady mix of people and talents at the Tuesday Night Music Club, after a few beers, I’m sure, pulled together the song that would become “All I Wanna Do”.

Who did what remains the subject of discussion in some quarters, but I hope we can all agree that without the unique individual talents of everybody there…augmented by Wyn Cooper’s talents, who wasn’t there… we wouldn’t have had one of the most unusual and intriguing songs of the 1990s, still a personal favourite of mine today.

Here’s Sheryl Crow with the double Grammy-winning “All I Wanna Do”…

PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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