Category Archives: Sound
Original recordings of my songs.
The Police is one of my all-time favorite bands. While Invisible Sun is arguably their best tune off of Ghost in the Machine, I have always been drawn to this little gem. The soaring synthesizers and Sting’s falsetto give me goosebumps. Being an unplugged performer, I presented myself with a challenge to somehow meet the original at least half-way in capturing the emotions that the band conveyed so ethereally.
Initially, I was compelled to cover the tune for academic reasons. Through much coaching, I found that allowing my voice to flip back and forth through different registers, instead of fighting it and causing strain, would be the best use of my vocal abilities. Since Sting did the same—he starts in chest voice and sings the chorus in mixed—I thought playing the song would be a great exercise for me.
With just the acoustic guitar to accompany me, I wasn’t happy with singing the chorus so high. It just didn’t sound right. I retooled the melody to sing the majority of the song in chest voice, and switched to mix to add drama to the performance to compensate, for lack of a better word, for the diminished fullness and production of the original song.
I also changed the chords up a bit. I kapoed the guitar at the 7th fret, but retained the correct chord shapes. So, for example, the A-minor of the original became an E-minor. Even though I still sang it in the same key of The Police’s version, the ringing alternate chords add an interesting layer.
Attached is the initial recording of just me and a guitar. Then, for the second one—the “Deluxe” version—I added a second guitar, bass, and backing vocal. For that second vocal, I sang the chorus in Sting’s range to both tip my hat to him, as well as add more fullness to the sound.
These mp3’s aren’t super robust when uploaded in this format. Please turn all volume controls completely up.
I have been very interested in musical mashups—the product of combining two or more songs in one piece of music—of late. Besides giving me an opportunity to learn more tunes, it is a great songwriting exercise, as it requires creativity to find common threads or write new ones in order to tie the concepts together.
Last week, I realized that I had forgotten what the original recording of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower sounded like; I automatically would think of Hendrix’s version. As I was listening to it online, boom! it hit me—I sensed similarities to Neil Young’s equally brilliant Ohio. At the time I did not know why, but I immediately downloaded the tabs for both songs to try them out. I was wonderfully surprised at my findings.
First off, Dylan’s music is basic enough that other chord progressions could be substituted as harmonizing compliments. In this case, only one was needed—Young’s D5. I noticed also that the syllable count for each lyrical passage was the same or similar. I had to re-work the cadence a bit, but Dylan’s lyrics fit over Young’s famous riff.
More significantly, the respective messages could be tied together. Ohio was based on a specific event—four unarmed Vietnam protesters were shot to death at Kent State University in 1970 by the National Guard as they set to stop the demonstration. I saw All Along the Watchtower as a theoretical dialogue and the ensuing doom at the folly of fighting for a principle that eventually led to that fateful day. Dylan’s joker and thief represent the crowd of students rising above the establishment—in this case, the invasion of Cambodia—to only be shot down by the wildcat that symbolized corporate society (and the National Guard). Young’s chorus could be woven into Dylan’s poetry as a possible solution to the joker and thief’s dilemma. How do we fight an entity that is bigger than us? I sang Dylan’s last line and the wind began to howl in a foreboding way that could segue to Young’s anthemic rant. No matter what we do, something akin to this happens: Four dead in Ohio.
This is a very rough demo. I did it with one track, multiple takes. I had to keep re-recording for many reasons beyond my control. It took several passes before I realized the ticking of the wall clock could be heard on the recording. Then, during one take, the lyric sheet inexplicably fell off the table and caused a rustling sound to accompany the tune. By the time this version came around, I was pretty fatigued overall, but already resolved that night to finish this. Recording is a laborious process, to say the least.
I wrote this song about a dozen years ago. The idea was already on my mind when the incident that propelled me to write the tune occurred. I saw a terrific episode of Homicide where Vincent D’onofrio’s rather belligerent character was pushed during his rushed, morning commute to be pinned between the platform and the train. It took an hour (with commercials) to find enlightenment and peace during conversations with Andre Braugher’s character, then finally die. I was in tears towards the end. Because, it only took one second for someone to decide his fate. It was just so unfair. He was minding his own business, yet didn’t appreciate what he had until it was taken away. The fundamental message of that show stayed with me long after it aired. Life seemed so precarious. It is so easy to be stymied by that realization.
Several weeks later, I was to find out a guitar player I knew was walking out of a convenience store. He was struck in the eye by a BB gun pellet shot from a group of kids that were horsing around. There was a chance that he could lose his eye, but it was definite that he would no longer see out of it. As I rode the train home, I drew parallels between that show and this real life incident. The lyrics just evolved from there as I wrote them in my head. When I got home, I went straight to my guitar and fleshed out an idea I’d already being toying with, then sang along with the chords. The core song was written within an hour, if memory serves. I haven’t had such a fluid and organic songwriting experience since. (The doctors saved his eye, by the way.)
Now, to the recording. I dusted this song off recently and decided that this will be the song I take to the studio this year and sell on iTunes. I recorded this with no editing, so it is rough and lacking needed EQ. No matter for these purposes, as first and foremost, I am working out what I want to do for the final, more professional recording. I also need to work on my vocals, perhaps make them less “pretty,” but definitely stronger and more crisp. The lyrics are an important aspect of the song, and I don’t want to deliver them rife with mondegreen fodder. My voice used to be my strongest instrument, but age, life-long bad singing habits, and a major illness has changed that. Weekly vocal lessons are helping me to take that back.
I got an ‘A’ in my art marketing and self-promotion class, believe it or not. I like to talk things down so that you’d expect the worst but be pleasantly surprised at the end. Just like doctors do!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy, and feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions about it—good or bad (but be gentle.)
“Why can’t you see one second, as a grain of sand? It weighs so little in the palm of your own hand.”
I did the attached recording after buying my first 12-string guitar a couple years ago. I wrote the rhythm part in about 10 minutes, recorded it, then improvised on top of that—all in one take. I call it 12-String Stew, partly for lack of a better name, but also, because I got ideas for a few songs from that experiment. Essentially, it was a reverse amalgamation. That may be a made up term, but that is a fairly concise way to explain it.
Since it was a first take and is not edited, it is a bit rough and is far from mistake-free. I am sharing it so that you can get a sense for my writing style until I can record and post more polished work.