Monday, October 18, 2010

SpinTunes 2, Round 2, Process Notes 1

So this challenge, announced late Friday night, is to produce a sequel to a famous song (one which made it to near the top of the charts). Erm. Um. Wow.

This one is a little tricky to me. The first step, of course, is to pick a song to continue. And while good songs are supposed to tell a story, in theory at least, that you could pick up ten days, a year, or 30 years later -- in truth an awful lot of songs that actually charted are pretty static and closed; very often, they don't describe a story, they describe a situation, and it's usually a pretty bland version of romantic love. Not that's love isn't all well and good, but to quote Gang of Four, "I don't think we're saying there's anything wrong with love -- we just don't think that what goes on between two people should be shrouded in mystery."

Besides, the songs that charted that I enjoy seem to tend towards folk, techno, new wave and punk, and I'm not sure they chart, for the most part, do they? Did The Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" chart? How about a sequel? Big raging tornadoes? I wrote down "Don't You Want Me, Baby" by The Human League -- that one seemed potentially promising; "Tainted Love," "Jack and Diane," and "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson. And went to bed in mild despair.

Saturday I didn't get much time, but I played with the idea of covering "Don't You Want Me, Baby." I didn't record anything, but I played around with some synthesizer sounds. It wasn't really going anywhere.

On Sunday Grace took the kids out to their grandmothers, so I had a chunk of time. I determined that in fact Thomas Dolby's song "She Blinded Me With Science" did, in fact, chart in June of 1983. I was a huge Dolby fan, collecting all his vinyl albums (including the European release of Golden Age of Wireless), EPs, and albums and EPs of collaborators including Lene Lovich and Adele Bertei. I recorded Dolby's King Biscuit Flour Hour concert off of K104 radio in Erie, PA. I remain a Dolby fan, and a few years ago I took my son Isaac to see him play in Detroit. Now he's working on new material. I think it will eventually be on a new album, but if you join his online fan club you can get access to the songs he's finished.

Anyway, "She Blinded Me With Science" is pretty much Dolby's silliest and least meaningful song, but it is pretty recognizable, and it does have the germ of a plot, at least as I see it: a mad scientist with a beautiful lab assistant. He has a love-hate relationship with her because she's "tidied up and [he] can't find anything! All [his] tubes and wires -- and careful notes! And antiquated notions." Despite the line "and now she's making love to me," I always thought of that as kind of his fantasy -- I imagine he's just too nerdy to do much but nervously dance with her at an office party and fantasize from afar. (Maybe I should go watch the very silly video).

So now it's almost 30 years later. Our mad scientist is semi-retired, and immensely successful. One day he gets a knock on the door. Why, it's his old lab assistant! And their positions are somewhat reversed -- he's gone ruggedly handsome with age. She's still beautiful -- his archetype of female pulchritude, in fact -- but alone -- and she needs a job.

I scribbled down these lyrics (actually imagining that these parts are spoken):

Goodness, Miss Sakamoto, is it really you? Do come in!
My my, you haven't aged a day!
May I offer you a cup of tea? Or maybe something a bit stronger?

And a scrap of a verse:

Once I was blinded by beauty
In the guise of technology
But these days I'm a nature lover
Give me a human woman under the covers

I inserted:

I loved to play with electronics
Producing all kinds of crazy sonics

I'm that, like in the original video, the mad scientist was a thinly disguised version of Dolby himself. And Dolby himself, after Wireless, took an interesting turn -- although he had injected a lot of humanity into his electronics, he became something rather different on some of his later songs: a jazz artist, sometimes singing white soul ballads, although of course he still loves his studio gear and fat waveforms and ear candy. So I imagined the mad scientist is much less nerdy in his old age -- not to mention rich.

So I started riffing in Logic with drum loops, grunts, squeaks, hiccups, shouted words, and keyboard parts that sounded vaguely like the Moog sound Dolby used in the original. But -- while I refereshed my memory of the original lyrics -- I did not listen to the original. I didn't want to accidentally recreate a melody too closely, if that makes sense.

Before I went to sleep Sunday night I had two little test bounce files that seemed to be promising enough to go forward. (I won't be able to work on this one much this coming weekend, so I have only a few evenings, whatever scraps of time I can get, to finish it -- and it's going to go really fast; there's no time to change approach radically or start over).

I wrote down the following revised and fleshed out lyrics:

Once I was blinded by beauty
That I mistook for technology
I loved to play with electronics
Producing all kinds of crazy sonics
But these days I'm a nature lover
Give me a real human under the covers

I imagined this next bit as a chorus, but I think it is going to be a bridge instead. Here is what I wrote on paper and recorded as a scratch vocal, mostly to determine timing (fleshed out and edited a bit from my paper notes):

BEAUTY mistaken for
SCIENCE in the service of
MONEY producing new
ThinkPods and GeekPads and things that warm up
Devices that vibrate, chips that make music
Psionics, dildonics, good old telephonics
Machines that go "bing," Science chthonic,
Rectangular screens that glow
so many things you can know
Connections, rejections
Way too much introspection
It's too much to handle
And it can't hold a candle to
(beat... beat...) you

The song might not have a true chorus, but will instead bounce between verses and spoken-word sections. Here are a few more scraps of verse:

My meters are all a-quiver
Your touch gives me the shivers
Your machinery's in order
Every system in working order
You know that science is dandy
But come on honey, give me some candy
I want to study biology
In specific, your anatomy

Although that's not quite right, it's too long, and I need a third verse. But Dolby's becoming a bit of a dirty old man in real life (as am I, apparently). If you've followed some of his recent songs, he is often quite suggestive. It seemed appropriate to have his "mad scientist" avatar behave the same way.

So that's how it stands now.

Now, it only needs:

Revised and tweaked percussion with ear candy and shifts as the song changes section
Rhythm guitar that hints at the original
Re-recorded verse 1 vocals
Finished verse 2 and 3 melodies (mostly the same as verse 1, but it needs to track exactly
Recorded verse 2 and 3 vocals
Bridge melody
Recorded bridge vocal
Synth bass
Perhaps some synth chords/pads to flesh out the backing
Harmony vocals if and where I can manage
Some percussion hits for kind of an outro that suggests the way the original ends
Oh, yeah -- A title

That's all. And a video, if I can manage it. Good Lord, I'm in hell again! Why do I get myself into these things?

In my fantasies, Dolby gets wind of this one, doesn't immediately sue me, likes it, tweets or blogs about it, and it goes viral.

Errr... perhaps I'd better lie down for a moment until reality returns.

If I keep doing this, though, it does seem at least plausible that at some point, one of these songs might gain some serious eyeballs and earholes... but for now, I'd settle for just making the cut of round 2. Please don't suck... please don't suck...


If you're visiting due to Mr. Dolby's tweet, thank you for following my progress!

I'm competing in the SpinTunes 2 songwriting contest, round 2, having passed the round 1 judging by the skin of my teeth.

My track will be posted in this Bandcamp album by midnight Sunday, and available until I run out of free downloads. It will also be part of an album of this round's entries (to be announced).

I'm an amateur, doing this in my spare time -- so please, don't set your expectations too high, and be kind!


Anonymous said...

I came here because of a Tweet by the man himself, so I guess he approves!

I look forward to hearing then end result.

Anonymous said...

ThomasDolby Somone's writing a sequel to 'She Blinded Me With Science' and blogging it... give the lad some encouragement!

Anonymous said...

I followed the tweet from @thomasdolby, I like your idea, he seems to also.

I have wondered about "Ride like the wind" the Christopher Cross song where rather than marry his girl, he fled to Mexico, which is a bit cowardly but then perhaps freedom seemed a better option.

Did he do ok, or did his life fall apart... and what led to this decision? hrmmm prequel? ;)


Mortifyd said...

He tweeted you - go for it!

Podblack said... Looks like you got your wish! :p

Anonymous said...

Saw this after TD twitted. Very cool, look forward to your project!

Rupert Goodwins said...

Be careful what you wish for...

Paul R. Potts said...

Wow! No pressure : )

Anonymous said...

If Thomas himself gives his blessings, do him proud, good man. ^_^

Anonymous said...

To go back to the form of English I used when "She Blinded Me with Science" charted: Dude! That is so awesome!

It's delightful that you are not only maintaining the spirit of the song in your composition, but the spirit of Mr. Dolby as well. Congratulations on the gentleman recognizing your endeavors and good luck in this contest.