Saturday, August 29, 2009

Somebody Else Remembered So I Don't Have To

And now for something marginally different, or perhaps just marginal.

Theme From An Unimaginative Western (5.22MB mp3) Download from MediaFire

This is from the late 1980s, but I'm not sure of the date. What I do remember is that my brother Jim, who at the time was operating a small recording studio in NYC, invited me up to spend a few days of studio downtime recording some of my tunes. And so I brought a few guitars, synths, a drum machine and my so-not-a-laptop computer into the city with the two songs I had ready to record - or so I thought at the time.

The other song I had was called Something Really Stupid. Once I was back home and had a listen, I realized it had a serious problem, mainly in the choruses but also the way I sang it, so it got scrapped. Some day I'll record a proper version of it.

This song was luckier though - it didn't have any lyrics, which also meant that I couldn't ruin it with my singing. HOORAY! It also doesn't have any guitars. That's right, it's 100% synths, samples and drum machine.

And you know what that means.

It means everything actually plays in tune.

I had graduated to a much nicer drum machine, so to compensate I was trying to do too much with it. It's not so noticeable until you get to the second, faster half. Then it gets...well, I really cringe at my too-busy drum parts.

One thing I don't cringe at is my attempt at synth whale sounds. I was clearly still in thrall to Star Trek IV, which featured a giant alien space probe destroying everything around it because it really, really wanted to sing with whales, making it either the scariest, most psychotic tree-hugger in movie history or Woody Harrelson.

Anyway, I still like that sound.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Casual Recordings: Don's Boat Number Four

The whole inedible saga of the Don's Boat recordings can be found here.

Well, I finally ran out of excuses for not doing one of the even-numbered songs and decided that since this tune was already pretty rock-y, simply recording it with guitars would be enough of a change for this one. And I think I was right. Which is remarkable in itself.

This is another song that I wanted to do as a vocal number, mainly because when I was working on it, I was hearing lyrics in my head. Sadly, I never got past the couplet So call me a cannonball / I'm flying right into the ground, and eventually I just gave up. Just as well I expect.

Don's Boat Number Four AKA Cannonball (2.29MB mp3) download with MediaFire

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Casual Recordings: Don's Boat Number Seven

I already covered the saga of Don's Boat last year, so I won't repeat myself.

Here is Don's Boat Number Seven AKA Hi, my name's Ben (3.28 MB mp3, Download from MediaFire). If you were paying attention, and know your numbers, you may suspect some sort of pattern at work: First Numbers 1, 3 and 5, and now 7? So, what up? Heck if I know. Those are just the ones I thought were most promising. I swear there's a #4 I'm thinking of doing, but I can't figure out how to make it sound different.

Like the previous three, #7 sounded like BMBPDJ (Bad Marching Band Plays Disco Jazz), and, well, now it doesn't. I had actually done most of this right after numbers 1, 3 and 5, but as a vocal number. At the time there was an amusing phenomenon on the Intenet concerning an apparent attempt to create a viral publicity whatsis for a bodybuilder who wanted an acting career, or something. It was all very confusing as no one was taking responsibility for what they were doing and for all I know it could have been some sort of weird conceptual art piece done using a piece of found video.

At any rate, while I was working on #7 I suddenly heard words being sung to it, as happens now and then, so I started doing it as a vocal piece. And then a whole lot of Real Life happened and I didn't get back to it until now and I don't feel like doing the vocal any more. But you can sing it if you like, as I'm including the lyrics. Just sing along with the acoustic guitar (except for the first half of the second verse, as I was apparently planning to do a solo there).

It was gonna be called Hi, My Name's Ben.

Hi, my name's Ben
You may have seen me at the five and ten
Or where I used to work at the A&P
I still go in there now and then
But I'm way
Don't wanna waste another day
In this life I'm living.

My name is Ben
And I've been awesome since I don't know when
Just look at my handsome smiling face
I'm like a walking 8 by 10
I'm like a sun ray
You can't look the other way
Even if you want to.

My wheels are spinning round and round in this
two-bit nowhere place
I'm gonna find my fame and fortune and
next time you see my face
You're gonna know who I am.


Hi, my name's Ben
Say hello to my little friend
You better not make me angry yeah
or you could come to a sticky end
It's like a nightmare
But it's finally coming clear
What I gotta do now.

They've been ignoring my existence in this
godforsaken place
I'm gonna be all over the nightly news
And next time they see my face
They're gonna know who I am.

Friday, August 07, 2009

I Know What I Did That Summer But I Have No Idea What I Was Thinking

More debris rescued from the moldy old tapes I recorded in a spare bedroom in the early 1980s.

Well now, what we have here are three of what a neutral observer might describe as "odder" entries. Each of them, however, is odd for a reason. Mind you, I'm not saying it's a good reason, but each of them does have a reason.

Two of these songs are odd because they started out as lyric writing exercises. You see, when I started out trying to write songs, I quickly realized that I sucked at it, just as you realized when you downloaded one. So to help myself grow and learn, I made a point of not only writing something every day, but now and then giving myself a "special task" as a sort of challenge.

I'm not saying I actually got better as a songwriter, but I did produce some seriously goofy lyrics.

Baseball Players (3.13MB mp3) download from MediaFire

This started out as an experiment in cramming as many random visual references and metaphors as possible into a song. Hence the first verse:

Upset by dreams of unicorns, baseball players cry
Their tears tear tiny holes in the fabric of the sky
Which lies like electric blankets on the towns where they live now.

Somewhere in the chorus, I realized I kind of talking about baseball players but also kind of talking about life in general. So there was nothing else to do but to make the rest of the verses sound like they were kind of about life in general while actually being kind of about being a baseball player.

See? I told you there was a reason.

This song, like Toothpaste, is in 3/4 time. Why? Because the song insisted on being in 3/4 time, of course. Jeepers, such questions.

Every Time (I See Someone Eat A Hot Dog) (3.69MB mp3)
download from MediaFire

Another writing exercise, this time in writing a series of lines that work in sequence and eventually come full circle. This is an early version. One of the tapes that was ruined had a more developed take that was slower and had backwards guitars and stuff, very arty. With this though, I hadn't even had the time to work out those subtle variations in the guitar riffs that I like so much.

Two songs in a row that mention baseball. No idea why, I don't think I ever mentioned it again in a song.

Listening to it just now, I finally realized that weird little stutter in the organ solo is me trying to work in the "CHARGE!" tune. Weirdo.

Riding The Range (4.13MB mp3) download from MediaFire

Warning - song contains gratuitous Rolling Stones reference.

This one was actually labeled "1982", which makes it the earliest recording I have. Probably made soon after I bought the 4-track tape deck and my first programmable drum machine.

That drum machine changed everything. Before that I had a "rhythm box" from Radio Shack. You could choose one of maybe 8 rhythms and set the tempo with a knob, but it would just sit there mindlessly repeating the same pattern over and over and over and over, and if you tried to work on song ideas with it your songs would just become monotonous drones that never changed.

This new box though - Whoa Nelly! It made a little "bop" that stood for a bass drum, a little "speh" that represented a snare drum, two little "doo" sounds that were intended to be tom-toms, a "ch" and a "sssss" for a hi-hat, and a "pshhhhhhhhhhhhh" for a cymbal. It had 16 patterns of up to 16 beats in length, and for each beat you could have any of the sounds play, and you could also have certain beats be louder than others! And to top it all off, you could chain the patterns together to form a complete song!

The fact that it sounded like crap did nothing to take away from the fact that it was fantastic.

At any rate, with all that power I did what any tyro would do, and that's try to make it doo more than it could. Hah! I typed "doo" when I meant "do". Leaving it as is. That'll show me.'s this song. A very early songwriting attempt. Once again, a later version was on one of the ruined tapes, but I adore this one because good grief, what was I thinking in that middle section? Was I trying to do...reggae? The fact that I, the person who made this, have no idea if I was trying to do reggae should tell you all you need to know about my reach VS grasp situation. It is out to lunch lyrically, melodically, harmonically, and its aura is all schmutzed.

mood: schmutz

Sunday, August 02, 2009

I Still Remember What I Did in the Past - I'm Doomed to Repeat it Again.

Three more alleged songs rescued from my dank cellar. Rich folks may have wine cellars, but plebes like us have to make do with vintage dank.

These recordings, like the previous three, date from 1983 or so. At least that's what it says on the tape box. If they had a Wikipedia entry I could be 100% certain, but for now I'll have make do with my own handwriting and memory.

Newspaper Man (3.67 MB mp3) download from MediaFire

My mom claims to love this song. But then, she also claims that I was a beautiful baby. I've seen the pictures though, and unless you have some sort of amphibian fetish, I wasn't beautiful.

At any rate, I clearly remember how this song came about. I was visiting my brother Jim, who was living in a slightly-less burned out section of the Lower East Side of NYC, and when we stepped out on a cold winter morning to get some breakfast, I nearly tripped over a sleeping homeless fella who had accumulated a bunch of old newspaper for insulation.

The whole stilted use of pronouns was done just so I could say "Me lie across the walk" and have it sound like "Me Lai". At the time, I thought it was brilliant.

At the time, I probably thought I'd been a beautiful baby.

I never have asked my mom how she feels about amphibians.

Fetch This (2.77MB mp3) download from MediaFire

Finally a protest song! Naturally, it's a protest song from the standpoint of a misanthropic dog. Hey, we've all got issues. OK?

OK, I have issues. But if I was a dog, I'd have these issues. I know this because I have these issues now.

By the way, I have a dog now. And I give it water in a dirty bowl and feed it from a bag. Which makes me a dirty hypocrite. But at least I don't make it wear a jacket.

So I've got that going for me.

Nuclear Family War (1.84MB mp3) download from MediaFire

One of those songs that comes about because a phrase strikes you as funny, in this case the combination of "nuclear war" and "nuclear family". This one is really muddy sounding for some reason - heck, I boosted the treble as far as I could on the vocal track and you still can't hear the sibilance. Possibly just a quickie demo that I didn't bother doing a better version of.

I guess I should put sarcastic air quotes around the word "better" there.