V8 I've found the same. I'm no master song smith, but studying the greats is a favourite pastime. I've even developed a bit of a game for myself, although it's a bit off-topic, I'll explain the principles, coz I think think they can be of benefit in writing:
A while back I became obsessed with movie soundtracks. Found I liked some composers more than others:
- John Williams, obviously, but he quickly gets old; same old, same old. You've heard one motif, you've heard them all. Instantly identifiable.
- Hans Zimmer is quite cool, like the way he mixes it up; synths and live instruments together, there's that Jean-Michel Jarre thing about some of his music, but he's also somewhat identifiable; less so than Williams.
- Homeboy Trevor Rabin, really enjoy his stuff. Quite versatile, almost always a surprise when his name shows up in the 'Music By' credit.
Anyway, the game is as follows:
You go to the movies
You guess the composer before you see the name
If you're right, you win
Best played with two or more players, but can be played alone. So long as you don't cheat.
Why I think it's possibly applicable here is that studying a songwriter and/or band can have a similar effect. You can really get into that person's groove. Start to understand what motivates them to make certain moves (within, between and to different keys, etc). What drives the melody, what moves the beat, etc.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin have always been of particular interest to me. For instance, Taupin intended the song Crocodile Rock to be slower, a more maudlin and introspective look at the 50s. But John immediately saw the boppy potential of the 50s-inspired lyric, and hit his first US number 1. Would that have happened with a single songwriter? Who knows.
Some of my other faves are Simon & Garfunkel, ALL the Beatles, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, Queen (who have the incredible and probably unbeatable record of being the only band thus far in music history where every member of the band has written a number 1 hit song [in the UK I think]), Nirvana... oh, and Lady Gaga.
That last one is true. Seriously. Look her up. Ok, it's not true, I don't like the music she writes. But if you want to write catchy pop, you seriously can do much, much worse than study the shite she writes for herself and other artists. Besides, she has an awesome voice, and plays a damn fine piano.
I'm going on a bit here, but I think you get the general idea.