Ed Robertson Offers Songwriting Tips For Tunes That Soar Through Sentiment

As most songwriters will tell you, the most resilient compositions are those that are borne from actual circumstances. Ed Robertson affirmed that fact during a YouTube “Behind the Mic” session for American Songwriter, when he performed a few songs and offered some anecdotes relating to their origins.

As guitarist, vocalist and composer for the hit-making band Barenaked Ladies, his expertise in that area is undeniable. And yet, for a group that’s known for taking a somewhat whimsical approach to their material — as evidenced by such fan favorites as “If I Had $1,000,000,” “Brian Wilson,” “Be My Yoko Ono,” and, most famously, the theme to the hit television show “Big Bang Theory” — there are often deeper meanings that reside just below the surface. With that thought in mind, Robertson reflected on one song in particular that he had conceived as a particularly touching tribute. 

After opening his set with “Pinch Me” — “the song that made me a three-hit wonder,” he noted — he chose to share the backstory of one of the band’s more beautiful ballads, a song titled “Am I the Only One.” Written about his older brother Doug who was killed in a fatal motorcycle accident when Ed was 21, the song sounds, at least on the surface, like a romantic ode to a recently departed lover. However, as Robertson explained, there was another parallel purpose involved. Robertson offered to elaborate with what he referred to as “songwriter insight.”

“The song is about losing someone you love, and about relationships,” he explained. “There’s a line that goes ‘Am I the only one who loves when you leave, Your hair down in front of your eyes?’ In the song I’m referring to a woman with very natural, tousled hair. But it’s also a very specific line about my brother’s shaggy hair.”


The double meaning is implicit. “It was a tough song to write, and it’s still a tough song to sing,” he admits. “We weren’t that close, but I looked up to my brother and I admired him. When he died, it really took me for a loop.”

In a very real sense then, “Am I the Only One” allowed him to excise his emotions in an effort to come to grips with his emotions. He said he also believed that it might help others dealing with the same sort of circumstance.

“It’s a very specific reference,” Robertson maintained. “I find that the more specific and literal I am, the more people can relate. When I’m dealing in generalities, the song doesn’t have a center to it. So that’s why my songs tend to be super literal.”


When a viewer asked what it feels like to look out on an audience and see people still enjoying songs that are nearly 20  years old, Robertson offered a decidedly simple reply.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “And it’s even more amazing that I still enjoy playing them. I love to see that audiences still enjoy them. It’s amazing to think that our songs are touchstones for so many people’s lives.”

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