Monday, August 11, 2014

Shadow: The God of All Small Boys

For SpinTunes 9, Round 3. The challenge:
SCORE! - Finally! Your favorite book is being made into a decent movie! The producers need a title song to promote the film and hopefully win an Academy Award. You're hired. The song must have the same title as the book. (2 minute minimum length) 
Uniquely, this song was actually written concurrently with the book. The book is "The God of All Small Boys" by none other than SpinTuner and Master of Song Fu Joe 'Covenant' Lamb. The book reached completion at about the same time as you were writing your songs. Joe provided me with an advance draft, which I read and for which I wrote this song specifically.

It's a tale about a group of pre-teen boys; a coming of age story set in Dundee, Scotland during the Great War (WWI). The lyrics were based on a description of a "den" constructed by the boys, and depicts a single scene, on a grassy hillside into which the den is dug. Joe was then kind enough to write the song back into the book, thus it is quite literally a scene from the book. The book is being submitted to a writing competition, and will be released shortly after that. Now all that's needed is a movie producer. Having read it, I can tell you that it is a movie I'd like to see. I highly recommend it.

This arrangement of the song itself was written for SpinTunes, but there's a "Covenant" version that's intended for radio play. Based on feedback, that's what I'm submitting. I like both, so here they both are.


The God of All Small Boys

A dreary Autumn's day 
Just west of the sea 
Beside the Law and Tay 
You will find me 

A shelter from the storm 
Some corrugated iron 
A bit of chimney pipe 
A paint pot filled with fire 
Will keep me warm... 
Will keep me warm... 

And The God of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
The God Of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
On me... 

Listen, you can hear 
Echoes of a war 
Our fathers shed their blood 
There is nothing more 
That we hold dear... 
That we hold dear... 

And The God of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
The God Of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
On me... 
On me... 

The God of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
The God Of All Small Boys 
is looking down 
is looking down 
On me... 
On me... 
On me... 
On me...


Monday, July 28, 2014

Shadow: Nothing But Love

I'm so ashamed.

It's about the SpinTunes 9 challenge for round 2:
Write a song about unconditionally loving someone who plainly isn't worth it.
I was driving home from work, and I was humming Amazing Grace to myself, and I thought what a cool response to the challenge something built around that would be. After all, we don't say who isn't worth it, or who is doing the loving.

So I thought Grace could be the girl's name, and it would be a secular song where the guy is a cheating SOB and the woman loves him anyway. I got all caught up in it, thinking that it could even be a duet, with her part telling him that she loves him and my part being all repentant. That would hit the challenge from both POV at the same time. And it would be tear-jerky and sweet, with a country Gospel flavor.

I'm still going to finish Amazing Grace. I have a melody and counterpoint. I actually have a chorus and some verses, and was trying to think of some more when I thought of the line, "She has nothing but love for me". It didn't fit, but I started wondering what if that were literally true? What if she has absolutely nothing to offer but that? And then I wrote this in something like five minutes... Not a gospel at all... more like Rockabilly, which transformed itself into a Ray Stevens pastiche. This kind of stuff is why I won't be winning any Grammys. It sort of... escalates.

And these jokes feel like I've heard them before, but Google found nothing. So if somebody else wrote the gist of this, as Marta would say, that "doesn't alter the fact that I wrote it again yesterday."



Nothing But Love

She won’t answer the door, she won’t cook or clean
She won’t chip a nail on the washing machine
She won’t change the channel on her own TV
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.

She won’t touch a duster, won’t pick up the phone
She won’t fry up the bacon that I bring home
If I press her to do it I’m afraid she'll flee
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.

But ooooooooo-weee!
I’m in LOVE, helplessly!
And my baby, can’t you see,
Has got nothing but love for me!
                                               (NOTHING!)

She can’t find the kitchen, she won’t scrub a pan
She’s afraid of the sink and those dishpan hands
She once used a broom -- on Playboy TV
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.

She’s not a big fan of societal norms
She’s been to college - but only the dorms
She’s an honorary member of the fraternity
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.

[whistling solo]

But ooooooooo-weee!
I’m in LOVE, helplessly!
And my baby, can’t you see,
Has got nothing but love for me!
                          (ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!)

At night when I’m tired and ready for slumber
She’ll meet me in bed, if I’ll just take a number
I’ll even get lucky, if I’ve got the fee,
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me.
She’s Got Nothing But Love For Me
My baby's got nothing...
                           ...but love....
                                           ...for me!

.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Spintunes Shadow: O Hail To You Fidonia


The challenge: "Write a new anthem for a fictional country."

The backstory... regarding the definition of a "country", I had told the other judges that in my view, "if a bunch of fleas formed a government, the dog they lived on would be a country."

This is their song.



O Hail To You, Fidonia

O Hail To You, Fidonia
A land of comfort and ease
From your collar to tail-bone-ia
The Homeland of the Fleas

Your rolling hills
So muscular
Are to us heaven-sent
We drink our fill
Corpuscular
From your flowing nourishment

O Hail To You, Fidonia!
O Hail To You, Fidonia!
O Hail To You, Fidonia!

Your luscious coat, preeminent
With never mange or thatch
Your tolerance, magnificent
You never roll or scratch

O Fido, fair
Beneath your hair
We live our lives in peace
And sing to you, 
Fidonia
The Homeland of the Fleas
We sing to you, 
Fidonia
The Homeland of the Fleas!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Judging Criteria for SpinTunes 9

For the first time in forever, William Hoover actually asked me if we were going to compete in Spintunes. And I'd have really loved to compete in ST9 except for the fact that I've got some personal business coming up that may preclude that. I don't like to promise what I can't deliver. However, I will be judging with William's help, and this time I have the Judge's badge to prove it ;)

Made by Michael Carroll's Badger software.

We usually like to start off with an introduction and some indication of what we look for so that the contestants know where they can take risks. Normally I put that in my first reviews, but I think I'll give you a week's warning this time. Understanding that all judges are different and have their own tastes, here are a few of Dr. Lindyke's slightly self-contradictory criteria.
  1. It's all about the challenge. If it's stated, it's typically required, unless it specifically says not. I don't care if you're John Williams, Mozart, or Michael Jackson; if you didn't meet the challenge you will be ranked at the bottom of my pile. I don't care if the other judges choose not to disqualify you. My first, utmost concern is "did you give us what we asked for?"  Just make sure you hit the intent of the challenge. Now, that doesn't mean you can't get clever. The title isn't part of the challenge, and anything that's not forbidden or required is optional. Often that means that a HUGE risk is better than a little one. I'd rather see somebody surprise me with wild creativity than see them obviously explaining away the challenge. Avoiding the challenge for the sake of being 'clever' isn't clever, it's suicide. For Pete's sake, take the risks, but make sure they're worth the possibility of failure.
  2. It's all about the song. By that I mean it's about the composition, not the production. I know there are other competitions that are looking for some kind of polished radio-worthy output, but this is a songwriting competition. Generally speaking, if I can imagine your song produced in a way that is really, really appealing to me, I'll rate it highly. I've done it before, and gone on to cover the song, too! (hmm. I need to remaster that) That's no assurance that I'll like a crappily produced song, and certainly no guarantee that any other judge will rate your composition above your performance, but for my own part I will shine that ray of hope. That said, there are a lot of songs in the first couple of rounds, so it's asking a lot of the judges to interpret your songs. You'll do yourself a favor if you do your very best to get the idea across on your own, because I can't guarantee I'll "get it" every time
  3. Production still counts. I personally don't much care about production, but production is a factor. To me that's not contradictory. I've done this enough times to know that especially in the later rounds the differences in quality between songs is infinitesimal. If your song is just as good as the other artist's, and she performed hers better, then she gets the edge. Sorry, them's the breaks. But I also take into account whether the production is appropriate to the song that was written. Basically, if you've got a really killer idea that sounds good with a washboard and kazoo, you're going to do OK with those instruments. So do a little honest introspection, look at your strengths, and write songs that play to those. One of the best examples I can think of here is Steve Durand's "A Beautiful Voice". After a couple of rounds of feedback on weak vocals, Steve was faced with a round in which no instruments could be used. His answer was sheer genius, and won the round:
  4. Genre doesn't matter.  Again, this goes for me alone. I don't care if it's Hip-Hop or Pop Rock or Folk or Baroque... I'll listen with open ears. Your choice of genre is one of those risks you take. Go far afield, and you'll stand out in either a good way or a bad way, and that's up to you. Generally speaking, I like good surprises, but I'm the weird judge. 
  5. Song biographies help. In an ideal world your song should stand on its own. But sometimes, and for some challenges more than others, it helps if the judge knows where your head was at when you wrote it. You have the opportunity to turn in a brief statement about what your song is about. Spin will publish that on the Bandcamp site along with the song. I read those. Even if only one judge does, I advise you to leverage every advantage you can get. Turn in a song bio, even if it's just a sentence like, "This is about a girlfriend who stole my dog." The more inside information in your song, the more this will help you.
  6. You WILL get constructive feedback... If I can find it. I'm not here to tear you down or tell you that you suck. Tastes differ. You are still OK even if I don't personally like your entry. And if I don't like the song, I'll try to tell you why if I can put it in words. And you should know this... if I don't rate your song highly, but you get a lot of feedback, you should take that as a compliment. It means I listened to you a lot and saw potential there that deserved comment. If your song just flat-out sucked it doesn't take a lot of words to tell you why. In the past I've noticed myself giving special attention to "concept" songs that were a bit too ambitious (see #3).
That's all I can think of for now. With that in mind, the current challenge is:
Imaginational Anthem - Write a new anthem for a fictional country. (examples: Gondor, Utopia, Narnia, Val Verde,  Freedonia) (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due Sunday, July 13th 11:59PM)
I know there were questions on interpretation, but honestly folks, this one's not complicated. You know the sort of countries for which anthems are written. Examples are examples, not rules... if they can be "interpreted" more than one way, then they should always be interpreted in accordance with the actual challenge given. Weigh your risks, get creative, do your best, and good luck.



ADDENDUM: 
Some folks quantify their rankings with some scoring system. It can be simple or complicated, like breaking it down by lyricism, musicality, performance, etc. I've tried that, but I don't do it any more. Why? Because all of the scoring of the individual criteria...? They're subjective, too. And as it turns out, musicality isn't necessarily as important in one song as it is in another. Neither is any other category. 
Even when responding to the same challenge, songwriters attack the problem from completely different places, with completely different mindsets. I personally have found my own attempts at "objective" scoring to be a Procrustean bed, so I've discarded it. 
Instead what you get is my holistic judgement, for better or worse. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

SpinTunes 8 Round 4 Reviews

Heres' the challenge:
Painful Progression - Write a song about PHYSICAL pain, and do so using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 23rd 11:59PM)
Here's the album:

OK, here's the deal. I'm reviewing the round, but I didn't rank our votes. William did that. I'm also not telling you what order he put you in. That's because I'm evil. However, I am writing reviews, and I'm doing that without the benefit of looking at his rankings and without his input. So as far as how we affect your rankings... this says nothing. 

Told ya. 
Evil.

In listening party album order:

Jenny Katz - Clear 04:20
I love the poetry of this, and the sentiment, and the fact that it completely and most unambiguously meets both the content and technical challenges. Rather than reflect on your own pain, you choose to offer sympathy for another. That's even better. It makes the song not only about his physical pain, but also your emotional pain. I loves me some layers of meaning, and the vocals are stellar. On the downside it sounds a little bit rambly in the verses, which might make it sort of "moody". The pre-chorus and chorus are much tighter.

Ryan M. Brewer - Christ Speaks 03:56
I'm torn a little bit on this one. I'm pretty sure Christ would approach the subject differently; so the editorial hand of the author is revealed a little too soon and a little too obviously. Knowing the true subject helps to understand why, but a broader audience wouldn't know that. The "golgotha" rhyme is clever but a bit clumsy. On the plus side, it does clearly communicate pain, and manages to be listenable, at that. Ryan has, I think, the most "professional" sounding production of the batch.

Jutze - The Bleeding Dragon 02:57
This sounds like the sort of thing that Hobbits would sing at the pub. Really demented, sick hobbits. Hobbits who need therapy. Who in his right mind writes a song about a menstruating dragon? Nobody, and that should tell us a thing about Jutze. However, this is the form of insanity that's just really, really entertaining. For some reason I hear this played behind conversation and clinking glasses. Is this brilliantly perfect or too over-the-top? I'm not doing the ranking. We'll see.

Edric Haleen featuring Heather Zink - I Wanna Go Dancing 04:10
Poor Edric. I will personally cheer the day that he avoids that "theatrical" label. In the listening party, Zoe dubbed this style "Theatrical Pop" (I think I'm not the only one imagining that crane shot in the music video!). He's batting a thousand. Per S.O.P., Edric has written a song bio (I wish everybody did... as a result I get to say more) explaining his creative process. In it he says, "I will take issue with anyone who suggests that the pain of a breakup is purely emotional and can’t also be physical..."  I certainly would agree to the extent that I wouldn't disqualify the song. I bet you some might, though. I'm not ranking, but given that the word "physical" was capitalized, and given that I grade with fuzzy logic and not with a binary "met it or didn't" criteria, I'd have to compare the emotional pain here and see how that part of the challenge stacks up against the others. On the other hand, it's tight and well produced and has a catchy melody, and Edric's clearly pushing his boundaries if not quite breaking through them. I'm as interested as anybody to see how well this, taken as a whole, does against the others.

Shadows

Glen Raphael - Hangnail (Shadow) 03:00
The simple subject masks awesome rhymes and arguably the best wordplay on the album, delivered in the Itinerant Troubadour's signature style.

Dr. Lindyke - Relief (Shadow) 02:53
OK, I admit to this one. I even like it, deliberate lo-fi, vinyl pops and all. The song is about pain, yeah... but the deeper topic is the singer's faith. Here's a song bio.

Caravan Ray - Pain (Shadow) 03:01
A very shadowy shadow. Caravan Ray does a great job with the arrangement.

Zoe Gray - Apologize (Shadow) 02:52
This song is why Glen Raphael's song has only "arguably" the best wordplay on the album. The reveal in the last verse takes this from "professional courtesy" to "personal", and a whole different kind of hurt. Most excellent job.

Jailhouse Payback - Back Pain (Shadow) 04:09
I was thinking this is maybe about back pain. Then I realized it turned into something else ;)  I wish I could play guitar even a fraction as well as Jailhouse Payback. I love this sound.

Red Watcher - Change (Shadow) 03:04
Very impressive arrangement and production, and the tune is great. As a shadow it's "woo-hoo!", but if this were an official entry I might have a small beef about the ambiguity of the pain. There's a forest fire, but those are plants, and I'm not so sure that the singer's pain isn't entirely emotional or figurative.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Is There A Doctor In The House? (Shadow) 04:03
I can neither confirm nor deny that a "Doctor" had anything to do with this. I do know for certain that when one of the composers saw the lyrics, he knew that the iconic bassline simply had to appear in the song. Then the only trick was transitioning that to the required progression in the chorus. And the BYD know how to interpret "war sounds!" It runs long, but you can blame the BBC for keeping the show on the air for so long.

Boffo Yux Dudes - I'm In Love With The Pain That You Give (Shadow) 03:11
This sounds exactly as if the BYD ran out of time to produce the song and simply submitted the super rough demo intended as a guide for production. Huh. Tom Lehrer's "Masochism Tango" concept cleverly re-imagined as a waltz. Somebody better go back and practice.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Pain (Shadow) 02:33
I think this one may be the victim of a mixing malfunction. Sounds like the rhythm track got mis-aligned. But it exists, and is somewhat song-like.

The Boffo Yux Dudes with TC Elliot - Put The Hammer Down (Shadow) 04:28
See, now, that's better!

Boffo Yux Dudes - Window Pain (Shadow) 05:09
This sounds exactly as if the music were slapped together by some jerk with a guitar after the listening party pre-show had already started. The lyrics are good, though. Runs long.

Dr. Lindyke - Gotta Pee (Parody) (Shadow) 02:58
Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous. But it has a song bio.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Relief

("Damn, Dave, your last debacle was called "Gotta Pee" and now you've got one called "Relief"?? What the hell is wrong with you?"  Patience, please.)

As a reminder, the SpinTunes 8, Round 4 challenge is as follows:
Painful Progression - Write a song about PHYSICAL pain, and do so using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 23rd 11:59PM)
Having gotten the previous song out of my system, I turned my hand toward creating an actual shadow entry, from actual lyrics from William Hoover. More talkee after the lyrics.


Relief

I’m not a whiner 
I’m not a shiner 
And I’ve got religious belief 
Behind a curtain 
The future's uncertain 
Lord I could use some relief 

Lord, I could use a little relief 
Lord, I could use a little relief 

I'm not the man that I used to be 
Consumed by a fire that no one can see 
I feel it inside me, it cuts like a blade 
As my life and my energy fade 

And Lord, I could use a little relief 
Lord, I could use a little relief 

We pray for miracles 
That sometimes don’t arrive 
In time to save a single soul 
I can't say I fear at all 
I know I won't survive 
But Lord, this takes a heavy toll 

I hear the stories, I sing the blues 
I listen to jazz, but I turn off the news 
Kiss little babies, Stay true to my wife 
And I've prayed to you, Lord, for all of my life 

But Lord, I could use a little relief 
Lord, I could use a little relief

Musical Notes

Since the technical challenge is a big part of this, I'll start with that. Obviously, we have the I-V-vi-IV progression as required. There are a few notes transitioning from one chord to another. But one could only complain about that through supreme ignorance, since they are not in any way connected to the chord before or behind. They are transitional single notes.

By the way, in addition to the fact that the challenge only requires the chord progression once in the chorus, there's nothing in the challenge that restricts the verses or bridge in that fashion.

The chorus, if it's not obvious, is the repeated line, "Lord, I could use a little relief".

The song begins with a record needle being placed on the vinyl, and ends with the record bumping against the label. Throughout there are the scratches and pops of a vinyl recording. It's a lo-fi recording, and I sort of wonder what some of the younger listeners will make of the noise. It's there because the singer himself is not at full fidelity. The record sounds at the end signify that this is the last performance of the album that represents his life.

Lyrical Notes

The performance starts out stronger at the beginning. By the end, his resolve is breaking down, and he's reduced to pleading with God, stating his case, as the pain overwhelms him.

I think it's important that we DON'T know what this guy's malady is. Needles to say, he's dying, and it's a slow and painful death. But the actual details of his pain...? That's not important to the song, only to the listener; so you should feel free to interpret it as something important to you. This song isn't about the cause of his pain. It's about his relationship with God.

BUT, in case such things matter... I imagine that the singer has leukemia. Despite the gender, the sentiment is that of my mother.

Gotta Pee (parody)

(Damn, Dave, are you actually going to write a song bio for this one?  'fraid so)

The SpinTunes 8, Round 4 challenge is as follows:
Painful Progression - Write a song about PHYSICAL pain, and do so using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, March 23rd 11:59PM)
To say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. This is probably the most common chord progression in all of popular music. For those who are music theory-impaired, it simply means you start with the C chord, followed by G, then A minor, then F.  Then do it some more. If you were to do that, then transpose it to any other key, you would still have an I-V-vi-IV chord progression.

Now, the judges "clarified" this. *sigh*. That's never good. So here are the restrictions. There are to be no substitutions & variations of chord progression of any kind.
"I think we should say no, he can't harmonize with four-note (or more) chords, he should stick to the basic chord tones. If Edric wants to add bass notes making, say, C/D (a slash chord, C major played above a D in the bass) I think we are in agreement that these embellishments should not be allowed in the portion of the song that uses the required progression. This is different than inversions, where he might play a C major chord with the lowest note an F or a G, which I think is fine (guitar players do that all the time from the day they learn the most basic chord fingerings)." - A Judge's response.
There are so MANY songs written with this progression it seems wasteful to add to all of the noise pollution. So I decided that to maximize my artistic expression to communicate exactly how I fell about this, I could just pick one at random, since without variation they'd all sound a lot like this anyway (and more talkee after the lyrics, including a little secret):
.

Gotta Pee

When the clock goes off at ten til seven, 
Mother Nature calls to me 
Time to hit the bathroom 
Gotta pee 

And in this hour of darkness 
I stumble, wishing I could see 
I can't find the light switch 
Gotta pee 

Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
I feel the pressure building 
Gotta pee 

And when the toilet's occupado 
I think we can all agree 
Painful is the waiting 
Gotta pee 

I may not last another minute 
It may be the sink for me *
These are new pajamas! 
Gotta pee 

Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
I'm not going to make it, 
Gotta pee 

Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
I can't communicate the 
Urgency 

[Instrumental]

Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
Gotta pee, Gotta pee, 
I simply can't avoid 
Necessity


Musical Notes:

Are you kidding? This is the Beatles', not mine.

Note this careful reading of the challenge:  "...using a I-V-vi-IV chord progression in the chorus". There's not a requirement to use more than one. Despite all the attempts of the judges to lock this down to the simplest chords ever, they really fail spectacularly. You don't have to be anywhere close to this progression anywhere in the song except one time in the chorus. And they can "clarify" the challenge all day long, but they can NOT change what's published.

Barracks-lawyer for the win. BOO-yah.

Nevertheless, this song doesn't meet the challenge. The Beatles used the progression in the verses, not the chorus.

Lyrical Notes

Bladder pain is physical pain.

Now, regarding the lyrics, I realize that they are commonplace and uninspired. No problem, so are the chords, so this is also a deliberate artistic choice. I also realize that many other people have used the same concept and even done parodies. I've heard some of them, and as sad as it may sound, I think this one's better. May Heaven help us.


* "Credit" for the line "It may be the sink for me" goes to Tom Giarrosso of the Boffo Yux Dudes. That totally wasn't my fault ;)