Tuesday, February 26, 2013

SpinTunes 6 Round 3 Reviews

Wow... tough round! I'm glad the judges are doing the judging. I'm going to give you opinions anyway.

First, the songs:

And, so there's no guesswork about it, here are my picks for "The Final Four" (in order of preference):
Ross Durand - Don't Send Them Away
Jenny Katz - Next Nice Town
Edric Haleen - On The Matter Of Bullying
The Middle Relievers - Love Builds Homes
Now the whys and wherefores (in album order):

TurboShandy - Guns 
Catchy and well-executed (can I say "executed" for this song??) but lacks subtlety.

Jenny Katz - Next Nice Town 
Witty, clever, and easy to listen to. It's a scathing rebuttal of First World insensitivity that has a bit of that Joni Mitchell "They Paved Paradise" vibe, and which suprised me with a little Hendrix homage. This is one of my picks for the final four.

RC - An Equal Start 
This has a great melody and sound. To my ears it's the best produced song of the round. Like TurboShandy's entry, I think the lyrics lack a little subtlety. 

Edric Haleen - On The Matter Of Bullying 
Edric starts this song in the "kiddie pool" and wades into progressively deeper waters. Not content to describe bullying, he punctuates his point with an assault-weapon barrage of words that will resonate with anyone who's been bullied. And once he posits that the adults will have a solution, he goes on to prove they don't. It's a great illustration that bullying reaches far beyond the playground. One of my picks for the final four.

Ross Durand - Don't Send Them Away
This is the quintenssential protest song format and subject. Ross bullseyed the challenge with this folksy military lament, and he makes it personal by adopting the voice of a wounded veteran. One of my picks for the final four, and my number one choice overall.

Steve Durand - Just War 
"Is it a just war / or is it just war?" I like the hook, I like the funk. As a war protest I don't think it carries the same kind of emotional impact as Ross' entry.
Steve has written a song bio.

Jerry Skids - The Separation Of State And Nothing
I was initially put off by the harsh vocals and the fact that it initially seems to be a bunch of aimless bitching, switching targets from verse to verse, finally resolving in the bridge into a protest against the Pledge of Allegiance. Then it hit me that the delivery (complete with explosive plosives) and the rambling seem to follow the pattern of a George Carlin-style monologue.  It became a lot more clever. Carlin had pretty much the same opinion of the Pledge.
Jerry has written a song bio.
“I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.” -- George Carlin
The Middle Relievers - Love Builds Homes
Instantly brain-catching song which makes it's point through illustrative storytelling, not bludgeoning. I wish the vocals were cleaner. It sounds like in a place or two the choice of note may have been up in the air. Nevertheless, one of my picks for the final four.

Brian Gray - Walk (Live From Woodbury)
Love the 9/4 time (which I mistook for 6/4 on first listen). It's clever, but as a protest song "about something you strongly believe", I think this Walking Dead tribute takes too many liberties with the challenge to hit the final four.
Brian has written a song bio. (I admit to not catching the hunger angle at all.)

Dr. Lindyke - The Square
Competent drums and piano this time, but given the dated material, weak vocals, and the strength of the other entries, I think it would be a travesty if this weren't our last round.
I've written a song bio.

MC Ohm-I - If You Don't Like Gay Marriage
I like everything I've heard from MC Ohm-I, and on this particular subject he's preaching to the choir. That said, this loses me a bit in the statistics. I think the Middle Relievers tackled this subject more convincingly, pulling both the intellectual and emotional strings. MC Ohm-I is missing the emotion.

Kevin Savino-Riker - Dinosaur Sam
This challenge was tailor-made for KSR's distinctive vocals. This has some really clever wordplay... and the West Coast funk is spot-on. I think it's edged out by my top-four pics, though.
Kevin has written a song bio.


"Buckethat" Bobby - Knock Off (Shadow)
The most polite protest song you will ever hear... a true Canadian protest. Stop fighting, eh? It's a shame it didn't make the deadline. I don't think it needs the bass.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - Eat The Whales (Shadow) 
I keep threatening to analyze the distinctive "BYD mode" of which this song is a prime example. I started to do that here, but it really deserves an essay, and maybe a government-funded study.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - The Ballad of the Last of the Hackers (Shadow) 
There will NEVER be a last hacker. ;)

Dr. Lindyke - Memory Of A Future Past (Shadow) 
This protests nuclear proliferation by means of a vision of the future. It's my first attempt at a live electric bass guitar, and I'm fairly happy with the way that turned out.
I've written a song bio.

Dr. Lindyke - It's A Joke, Not A Dick (Shadow)
The full title is "It's a Joke, Not a Dick (don't take it so hard)". Some people have suggested this should have been our official entry. Nah. This is a joke, and it's for a very limited audience of people who I hope have a sense of humor. Making it official would have ruined it as a joke and made it an insult.
I've written a song bio.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Square

When I (Dave) first saw the lyrics, I said, "William, Tiananmen Square happened in 1989!" He said, "Yeah, but it's been bugging me." As this song is written in response to the Spintunes 6, Round 3 challenge, it's supposed to be about something you feel strongly about. I'd say 24 years of simmering qualifies.

A painting of the infamous "Tank Man"
The incident struck a chord with us, as it did with most Americans, touched by the spirit of the Chinese students who stood up for their Liberty. Like our own Founding Fathers, they made a difficult choice to seek Liberty over their security. In an oppressive society you can accept the security of state control or you can fight for individual freedom; you cannot have both.

We're not telling you in this song what you should choose, though I think our own bias is pretty clear. This isn't a cop-out... it's part of the message we're sending. This is a protest against political complacency. We're sick to death of people telling you what you want. The people of this world demand societies that are both free and socialist, to various degrees. To us, what's more important than whether you choose either individual liberty or security is that you make the choice. Don't let someone do it for you. And once you've made your choice, stand up and defend it. Be the Tank Man.

Notes on the music continue after the lyrics.


We are the children
Of Tiananmen square
So little and so much has changed
Since our comrades died down there

We thought we could cure the world
Of a desperate disease
We'd find a way to make it work
Not just for freedom, but for peace

Peace or Freedom
The choice is up to you
Fear itself often frightens me, too
But every battle needs survivors
There are some things you should fight for
And with courage and with will
We can fight for them still!

We marched a million strong
To parade upon the Square
We were sticks and stones against the storm
We had nothing to compare

Our signs and banners
They never stopped a thing
But though the cause seems lost right now
We will return again in the Spring
More than a billion strong!

Peace or Freedom
The choice is up to you
Fear itself often frightens me, too
But every battle needs survivors
There are some you should fight for
And with the courage and with will
We can fight for them still!


As for the style of the song... in the first place, I'm not Chinese, and I don't know enough about the culture to make intelligent musical decisions; so no, I wasn't about to try for some Oriental song stylings here. It would wind up sounding like "Hong Kong Fooey".

In the second place, the event was one in which the students involved were trying very much to adopt Western-style democracy (up to and including displaying a statue of the "Goddess of Democracy", so very similar to the Statue of Liberty that graces New York's harbor). A Western-style song seemed to me to be in order. I started with a 12/8 time signature, reminiscent of the old Perry Mason theme song, which reminds me not only of Justice, but of the L.A. Chinatown near which the fictional lawyer practiced his profession. The distinct "nightclub" feel allows for the dynamic range pretty much demanded by the chorus.

I tried delivering the vocals in various ways, but always wound up belting out that last chorus when it got to the "every battle needs survivors" line. Though my voice is not ideal  for this, I finally just gave up and went with it.

A few lyrical notes... 

I agonized more over the use of the word "comrade" than anything else in this song. Originally, William wrote "fathers", and that gave us the problem where we switch perspective after the first verse. Unacceptable. After a couple of attempts to re-write the verse, I decided on "comrade", even though it could be considered to be uncharacteristic embracing of the principles these student demonstrators were rejecting. I used it for two reasons: 1. it's the best word for the job; despite the leftist connotation. These are friends, compatriots, comrades. 2. used in the modern day context, it's ironic. Yes, they attempted to embrace Democracy, but they lost. Today you can't even do a web search for "Tiananmen Square" in mainland China without shutting down your Internet connection. So in referring to the fallen, they do so from within the confines of the yoke they are forced to wear.

"Fear itself often frightens me too" harks back to FDR's statement, which in context was this: "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

When the Chinese students determined that they'd make it work "Not just for freedom, but for peace" their cause was doomed. American independence worked because we fought for it. Indian independence was won because they persevered. But the fact that these students stood up, even for a short time, is something to be admired. They have the spark. They need the flame. They needed to persevere, rejecting their fear of the tanks and the guns.

The only way for that to happen is to keep the spark alive, and try again when the season is right. Hence, "we'll return again in the Spring", invoking the memory of the recent "Arab Spring". And of course the actual date and time of that "Spring" is irrelevant. That verse is about Hope, and hope springs eternal.

Taken together, these verses are not about inciting people to a new protest, but encouraging a protest that is already underway.

Memory of a Future Past

This is a protest song against nuclear proliferation. As children of the Cold War starting school in the 1960s, we remember a time when "Duck and Cover" wasn't funny.

These days, the Cold War is over, but is the world safer? Instead of known enemies who fear us as we fear them, we have unknown enemies who may strike at any time, and are motivated by a fanaticism that leaves no room for fear. At the very least it should give you pause.

This song doesn't attempt to persuade you intellectually, but emotionally, by painting a picture of disaster from the point of view of a person in the future, remembering it. (much as the Dwarves sing retrospectively about the coming of Smaug in The Hobbit.) In this case, that "memory" is a vision of the future. I know, it's a little complicated. Thinking about it is optional.


I saw the city's silhouette
From a distant blinding light
Through the trees and clouds
The flash was seen
For miles throughout the night.

And the snow was almost blinding
With the water still as glass
Reflecting bursts of fire
The smoke was sent on higher
It happened all too fast.

The beauty soon was gone
As the shock waves finally came
The men began to run
From the fury freed from a captive sun
Soon followed by the rain.

The birds refused to sing at all
The streets were filled with death
Survivors soon were late
The earth had passed away
While no one had been blessed.

It had only taken moments
To fill the skies with pain
But now all Time has gone
And life has done the same

Then I awoke to realize
The visions I have seen
Beheld by older eyes
Are memories of how things will have been
For no one escapes disaster
Not the victims, not the master
What's the use, there's no excuse
When the rain has quit can you live?


On a technical note, this is (to the best of my recollection) the first time I've ever tried to play live acoustic bass on a song. My other bass tracks have either been electric piano, sequenced MIDI, or poorly played acoustic guitar. I'm actually pretty happy with the results, despite a little fret buzz... I'm still learning that this thing takes a very light touch.

I felt it needed the "bottom", and once it was in there, I proved myself right. With the acoustic, it gives the song a little "spaghetti Western" feel that invokes a picture of the quiet wasteland I imagine for this story.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It's a Joke, Not a Dick

Our round 2 song was to write a fight song for our favorite sports team. We did exactly that... for the USC Gamecocks football team (affectionately known by the fans as "the Cocks"). It seems a few judges hail from regions of the country that don't quite grasp the culture here... thus they interpreted our double-entendre as "a rape joke". That couldn't be further from the truth. (Oh, the sheltered innocence of those who've never heard of BDSM!)

When the opportunity arose in the very next round to write a "protest song" about something you feel very strongly about, and then someone in chat jokingly suggested protesting the last round, this came to mind. More after the lyrics... be warned, I'm going to vent.

Should this step on anyone's toes, especially a judge's, kindly remember that instead of jumping down your throats we took that completely off-base and inflammatory charge in good humor, and this is presented in a continuing spirit of good-natured fun. As the title says,

(don't take it so hard) 
Some folks are educated at the School of Hard Knocks.
But Lindyke studied letters where the athletes are called Cocks.
And we protest most strongly on behalf of our beloved jocks
And all of their adoring fans
Spread out to many distant lands
By crass attempts at judge's hands to besmirch their reputations

It seems that multiculturalism
Is excluded by the prism
They employ to spread the jism of their lamentations
(We say "jism" in the sense of "seed"
They spew in hopes that we should heed
Ideas that very honestLY
Are widely "off the reservation")

You see, football is a game in which
The rules REQUIRE we force our way past
Our opponent's strong defence
And thusly penetrate the end zone.
They call this scoring;
Not to be boring,
But it's the difference between warring
And a friendly past time played between some well-informed adults. 

(Cherry Pi: "And at half-time we get to switch sides, right? Mmmm... Go Cocks!") 

And if you find it bears some passing similarity to rape
That's an unfortunate coincidence we simply can't escape
Since the context is quite distinct
The two can't seriously be linked
And must be analyzed with very different results.

"They said no but they meant yes"
Are lyrics in our song invention
Some got it but as for the rest
We'll spell it out, to allay contention

When the Line defends their rear
The "NO!" they cry in their frustration
Is their part to play within the game for which they seek ovation,
But of their own accord they freely chose to play this game,
Thus the "YES!" that is contained in our refrain!

To make it very clear that we intended this to be
We enlisted Cherry Pi to cry enthusiastically
So you might know that this is simply welcome fun
Instead of concluding it was rape and jumping to your gun.

We simply cannot meekly take such nasty, vicious libel
So take a long walk on a short pier and go there to thump your Bible.
Though a scientific mind like yours might not be quite so tribal
(You know, it must be very sad to be an atheist AND a prude
You'd have nothing of your own to thump -- oh wait, I guess you do.)

And to answer one more question
(to our minds, the very best one)
No, we never get tired of sexy fun; if we did we'd be doing it wrong.
But we don't, and that is why we keep it UP so very long.

(Cherry Pi: "Football... isn't that the game where you try to ram it between the goalposts? Sounds easy.")


So yeah... rape. That particular dysfunction is limited to the interior of the craniums of the judges who commented on it. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the FOURTEEN people, male AND female, who collaborated on that song, not one of whom had rape on the brain.

At least three of the judges balked at the innuendo in our song, and two hinted that it contains the "rape joke". The judges who decried the sexual innuendo in a song for a very real team called the Cocks failed to take into account the equally real collegiate culture of that particular school... a school we were honor-bound to support under the conditions of the challenge. We provided a mini-bio on the lyrics page, as solicited by Spintown, and it's a shame that it was ignored by some. In the same vein, one judge dropped the multi-cultural ball on Jenny Katz's dead-on accurate fight song for Arsenal, and labelled the Chocolate Chips' song "Win for India" as "racist", completely ignoring the exquisite irony of saying that it also didn't sound much like an "American" fight song, as if the challenge contained that provincial requirement. "Screw the Africans" in the last round got nary a peep, but a pro-India song in this round is racist. Furthermore, the same who found our sexual double-entendres so very unacceptable found it perfectly normal and acceptable ("hilarious", even!) to blatantly threaten wilful and deliberate murder. <joke>Well, then! At least we know where they draw the line!</joke>

Now, as I discuss this, I want you to remember that the intent here isn't to call out a judge or judges as racist, or actual purveyors of physical violence (I don't believe that they are either of those things). It's to point out that we have a documented basis here for a protest song. It's to argue for the sake of this challenge that the judges specifically selected criteria for the last challenge that required analysis of context in terms of culture and of intent. And then some of them failed to perform the effort demanded by their own requirements.

In our song, for example, the line "They said 'no' but they meant 'yes'" is NOT there as a "rape joke", but is set in the primary context of an offensive line pushing past a defensive line that strenuously resists their efforts to enter the end zone and score. Now that's about as perfect a metaphor for rape as there is, and we would be well within literary bounds to treat it as such.  However, we didn't. The secondary meaning in the double-entendre is explained in the lyrics above, but also is in the context of a game... not the football game, but a game of sexual play amply illustrated by the enthusiastic "YES!" of Cherry Pi. This is CLEARLY NOT RAPE. The clue was put there on purpose, and it's disheartening to the max to have to explain the obvious. You should be able to connect a few dots. You should know when something is fiction and when it is reality. The unhealthy mental blurring of this distinction leads people to call for the ban of Tom and Jerry cartoons for promoting sibling violence, or Elmer Fudd cartoons for violating gun restrictions. These examples are as ludicrous to us as the idea that our song in some way condones rape.

We were very cognisant of the risks we took when crafting that song. We knew that songs with multiple meanings tend to do poorly, even when context is explained on the lyrics page. We certainly knew that not everyone would get past the blatant innuendo to even recognize that this is a real team, at a real university, with real alumni that actually do wear "YOU CAN'T LICK OUR COCKS" T-shirts, which is why we posted the longer bio with pictures here on Blogspot, which we also knew not everyone would bother to read even though it was linked on the SpinTunes site and on Facebook. And we knew that some people just don't like "impropriety"... unless they do, and that it's impossible to predict when.

We're perfectly okay with our scores and with the judges' opinions of the song, as it was our choice to take that risk. So I'm not writing this to bitch. Hell... we got through to the third round, so there's nothing to bitch about. Rather, the purpose of me explaining all this right now is to establish that a protest of this aspect of last round's judging as suggested in chat legitimately meets the criterion of "something you strongly believe". We also think we legitimately uphold the requirement to "try to convince" even if you walk away still disagreeing with us.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

SpinTunes 6 Round 3 Challenge

Well, we made it to Round 3 by the skin of our teeth. A number of the judges weren't terribly fond of innuendo, which is a risk we took. We understood at the outset that folks who had never visited the University of South Carolina may not appreciate the fondness we have for our beloved Cocks. Nevertheless we're through, and that's what counts.  This week's challenge:
Occupy SpinTunes - Write a protest song in which you try to convince your listeners about something you strongly believe. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due February 24th 11:59PM)
Oh, joy! This would appear to be the sort of thing that William can sink his teeth into, and I think it's best that we run with whatever idea he has, and give him most of the week to work on it. I also think we should expect elimination.

Spintown and the judges may believe they have a well-defined challenge here (and it is about as good as you can hope for), but the wiggle room here isn't for the competitors... it's for the judges. I'm fairly well convinced that we'll see evaluations based largely on how well we convince them... and should they have dearly held views that at odds with our own strongly held beliefs, then no convincing is possible, and no decent score is forthcoming.

Be that as it may, we shall buck up and do the challenge as written... no guessing at what might be a popular belief, or what the judges might agree with. No meaningless "crunchy-vs-smooth peanut butter" avoidance of the challenge. At least I hope not.

Wish us luck.


Update: In the first round we wrote right out in the open. In the second round, due to the surprise value, we said nothing. Here I'll be a little more reserved than in the first round, but will share a few thoughts.

First I'll note a couple of items of reference. Wikipedia has an article on protest songs. In addition to averring that protest songs are of a socially relevant nature, we also learn the following:
"Protest songs are frequently situational, having been associated with a social movement through context. "Goodnight Irene", for example, acquired the aura of a protest song because it was written by Lead Belly, a black convict and social outcast, although on its face it is a love song. Or they may be abstract, expressing, in more general terms, opposition to injustice and support for peace, or free thought, but audiences usually know what is being referred to."
At the moment we're still considering topics, but I personally am leaning toward a more abstract, minimalistic style for this performance. Just me and the piano. I've asked William to keep that in mind.

Since the challenge is wide open as to what we can actually protest... the only limit being "something you strongly believe", we kicked the tires on everything from spousal abuse (I'm from a broken home, so that's something I could get into, performance-wise) to nuclear disarmament (unlike many of the contestants, we were children of the Cold War and actually remember a day when "duck and cover" wasn't funny).


A possibility we rejected is the results of last round's judging. That was actually floated as a joke in last night's chat, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it could make a pretty damned decent protest song, if your mind is capable of separating fact from fiction.


Well... we did reject it. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would actually make a good song. And since the only people it would offend are those that actually earned it, I went ahead and did it, and I've moved that discussion into another post.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SpinTunes 6 Round 2 Reviews

 Before reviewing the Round 2 songs, let's parse the challenge again...
Song Fight - Write a fight song for your favorite sports TEAM.  It doesn't have to be a professional team.  This should be about the team, not 1 or 2 athletes working together. (1 minute minimum) (your submission is due February 10th 11:59PM)
 Looking at just the first sentences, I'd say this is a pretty clearly defined challenge. The word "favorite" gives you a lot of wiggle room, and it's completely impossible to check up on, so any team anywhere in the world is fair game.I would also be happy if it were left at being for the team. That would also give you a lot of leeway.

Unfortunately, the judges didn't leave it at that. They felt the need to explain away any semblance of clarity, as usual. We're directed that must be about the team, which is very different from being for the team. Whatever. I think we safely get a pass on sloppy language. We're not lawyers, after all. While the word "athletes" suggests an athletic competition, there's nothing in the basic challenge that actually requires it to be an athletic team. I suspect there will be discussion on that point that will necessarily include non-athletic subjects.

Then the judges came back with further guidelines stating that fictional teams were OK. I'm puzzled why they did that, but there goes the dam... if fictional teams are OK, the fictional sports must be, too... and they don't even have to be athletic. Taken too far, this is virtually an invitation to ignore the challenge and write whatever you want. I'm surprised that most of us stuck as closely as we did.

I'm going to pretend that there is a line to draw somewhere. For our own part, we understood that we were being challenged to write a song for an athletic team to inspire them in an upcoming competition. That's a fight song. We tried to meet the challenge rather than avoid it or explain it away. But that's only our interpretation, and I suspect that others may do what they want without much fear of penalty.

Without further adieu, here's my review of the Round 2 songs (and yes, I realize that they're more a discussion about whether we earned disqualifications. I like all your stuff, folks):

the song player is at the bottom of the page

TurboShandy - Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch FC
Sport: Football (Soccer)
Team: Llanfairpwll Football Club

The song is awesome, with great Welsh cultural flair! Oddly enough, I recognized it as soon as I saw the title. I will never again see the name of this town without chanting this song. I'm not sure if this one or Jenny Katz's is my favorite of the round.

Glen Raphael - Gunn High Chess Team Fight! 01:09
Sport: Chess
Team: Gunn High Chess Team

Did you know that Chess is a sport recognized by the International Olympic Committee? Well it is. I like this concept, I like the tune; but I thought the delivery was a little dull. Even if you do think Chess is dull, I like the absurdity of getting excited about it. Besides, I never heard so much trash talk as when I was in a Chess club. This song led me to discover that Chess.com has really improved their website.

Jenny Katz - Load The Cannon, Light The Fuse 01:09
Sport: Football (Soccer)
Team: Arsenal

I love this for sheer uniqueness, and for the classy delivery. It is most definitely a fight song, but it has that patented English reserve. And Jenny managed to work in the "Boom goes the dynamite" meme. It's full of clever lines about gun control and that being in Arsenals sights is "just like living in the USA". hah!
The Middle Relievers - Here's To Joe's 01:13
Sport: Softball
Team: Joe's Bar

I don't know if it's a real team, but that's really not necessary under the rules. This sings like an alma mater. The clinking of the glasses is a very nice touch.    

Brian Gray - Fei Gong! 01:30
Sport: er... uhm... Jian Ai? Can that be a sport? And does it matter?
Team: The Spring and Autumn Mohist School

Mohism is ancient Chinese philosophy of passivism and impartiality. "Fei Gong" means literally, "No Attack". That makes this something of an "anti-fight song". There's no mention of any particular sport, unless the internal struggle to love impartially is a sport. Then again, the rules were very clear that this round's songs were to be about the team, and they made no mention whatsoever about identifying the actual sport. We'll just assume that the school has some sort of sports team, and this is for them. All things considered, I like the song a whole lot. Whether it's a DQ hinges on what the judges consider to be a "fight song", but I think this is safe.
Steven Wesley Guiles - Minecraft Fight Song 01:28
Sport: Minecraft...?
Team: none
There are a few songs this round that skate around the fringes of disqualification. To be perfectly honest, I think this is the only one that's a clear DQ. Minecraft isn't a sport, much less a team sport. There are team sports that are organized within Minecraft, but this song's not about any of those. Having just written what I did about Fei Gong!, I should point out the distinction between not identifying the specific sport your team is playing, and pointing out unambiguously that your writing about neither a sport nor a team. On the other hand, I can imagine a parallel universe in which Minecraft is real, and therefore is a fictional sport within the letter of that silly judges' ruling.

RC - We Will Bury You 01:51
Sport: Some unidentified field sport: it's probably football, but could be a really violent form of croquet or competitive grave-digging.
Team: The Pittsburg Institute of Mortuary Science Cadavers

I know that the challenge said "your favorite sports team", but the judges sort of threw out that whole "favorite" thing when they decided that it was OK to use fictional teams. While I don't think the Cadavers is a real team, the PIMS (http://www.pims.edu/) is a real place, which makes this song, IMHO. This takes the fight song genre into rock-and-roll. Well done!
Edric Haleen - A Father's Fight Song 01:17 
Sport: American Football (based on context)
Team: The Fighting Dragons
(I'm assuming "of ICA")
Leave it to Edric to pull an internal monologue out of a fight song challenge! Edric wrote a fight song, no doubt about it... He even established the Dragons as his 'favorite' team by way of a 15-year-old shadow. And the fight song he wrote is wrapped up in this larger song that's really about a loving father's concern for his child. Is it "about" the team, as opposed to being about the father, or the child...? Well, yes, the song-inside-the-song is.

Army Defense - 72Dolphins 02:27
Sport: American Football
Team: the 1972 Miami Dolphins

The 1972 Dolphins finished their season undefeated and went on to win the superbowl... to date this is the only perfect season by any NFL team. This song captures some of the flavor of 1970s music (I was there)... then a little under a minute in it sort of just stops being a song in its own right and is a backing rhythm track for a Don Shula interview; this continues for another minute and a half. The problem I have with it for this round, though, is that it's not a fight song. It's victory song, but all the fighting's done, and there's no attempt to stir up the crowd and inspire the team. As nice as it is, it's post-climactic and cleanly misses the challenge. At least it's about sports. ;)

The Chocolate Chips - Indian Cricket Team Fight Song (Win For India​!​) 01:15
Sport: Cricket
Team: India

I was really hoping that someone would do a song about the Indian Cricket team. No foolin'. The Subcontinent is home to some of the most frenetic music on the planet, so I might have been hoping for something more along the lines of Bollywood than a hookah lounge... but I'll take this.

Kevin Savino-Riker - The 12th Man 02:10 
Sport: American Football
Team: The Buffalo Bills (by proxy through their fans)

This is an interesting approach. Any argument about whether it's about the team or the fans is hair-splitting. I think this song would certainly inspire the Bills if they heard it, so it hits the nail on the head. Just as the song's subject matter is a double entendre, so too is the style. It's a march AND a fight song. I like the way it builds, as if the Bills fans were marching down the street toward the stadium, their voices growing as they're joined by others.

Blimp Exhaust - Checkmate! 01:33
Sport: Chess
Team: The Jackson County Chess Team

Here, Blimp Exhaust is playing EXTREEEEEME Chess, bringing that excitement I was writing about earlier. The only real complaint here isn't with the song per se, but with delivery. The flow of the verses seems to be better than that of the chorus. That's easily fixed by contracting "We are" in the first line and moving the stress: "We're the JACKson COUNty Chess Team...". Similarly, "in formation" is rushed, becoming "information", and there's a little vocal awkwardness there that can be fixed with some minor re-phrasing. Not a big deal, and it's a very cool song!

Jerry Skids - Psyche 'Em Out! (The Beers Fight Song) 01:29
Sport: BASEketball
Team: The Milwaukee Beers
This song had to be what the judges had in mind when they modified the challenge to include fictional teams. This one's from the movie starring Matt Stone and Trey Parker. It sounds like an Irish drinking song, which is wholly appropriate for a team called the Beers.

Dr. Lindyke - Cock Fight 01:18
Sport: American Football
Team: The University of South Carolina Gamecocks

I'm not reviewing our own song. Besides there's nothing for me to say that I haven't already said.

Steve Durand - Put Your Mettle To The Pedals 01:48
Sport: Road Cycling (the Tour de France) 
Team: the United States Postal Service Cycling Team
Steve was born for this challenge, and brings his musical arsenal to bear in this period piece. With its frantic pace, telephony vocals, and muted brass, this sports anthem sounds as if it has time-travelled from the 1930s. The doping jokes aren't just tossed in there... Lance Armstrong once led this team. It's a clever reference. This may be Steve's round!
"BucketHat" Bobby - YTCWGWCT 01:11
Sport: Curling
Team: The Yukon Territories' Canada Winter Games Women's Curling Team
This is only the second curling song I've heard... ever. And the other one was from Jonathan Coulton. So when Bobby's pulling out quoted reviews for his album liner, "this reminds me of Jonathan Coulton" should certainly be there. And now it can be.
Ross Durand - Bigger In Texas 01:13
Sport: American Football
Team: The Dallas Cowboys
I love this song! It's about the Cowboys, has that Texan flair, and manages to nail the challenge while staying in Ross' signature style. Best use of the CW genre in a fight song! The only complaint I have is that the drums could be tightened and cleaned up. They get a bit sloppy in the fills, and it's distracting. Great entry!

MC Ohm-I - Let's Go Mets 01:08
Sport: Baseball
Team: The New York Mets
The first time I heard this I thought it sounded cluttered. Then I listened again with headphones and there's a huge difference. With stereo separation it's suddenly clear. I'm really impressed at the amount of work that MC Ohm-I churned out in only two and a half hours! It's a modern, urban interpretation of the fight song challenge for a modern, urban team.

Josh Holober-Ward - Let's Go Ravens! 01:25
Sport: American Football (sort of)
Team: The Baltimore Ravens
This is Josh, schooling us on how to write a football fight song if you don't know a thing about football. There are lots of little purposeful lyrical glitches in here "fumbled the scrimmage", "Powerball" (a lottery), "free throw" (basketball), "Nickelback" (a band). I love the bit about every player being important, although the singer can't think of more than one.


Edric Haleen - ICA School Song (Shadow) 00:55
Sport: Any
Team: the ICA Dragons
It's been a very long time since we've had a long spoken intro from Edric. We're told that this 15-year-old recording "represents the technical heights Edric was able to achieve with Finale 3.1 on his Performa 636cd computer." It's a cute school fight song, suitable for any pep rally, and having the very sensible length of about half of one minute.

The Boffo Yux Dudes - Go, Trenton Wolverines! - Boffo Yux Dudes (Shadow) 01:07
Sport: American Football
Team: the Trenton Wolverines
This song goes out to all the Al Bundys of the world. Something tells me that there are a lot more of them than we might expect. The Boffo Yux Dudes deserve a special Green Award for recycling for producing this song on a 15-year-old Performa 636cd computer they scored at a garage sale in Lansing, Michigan.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Cock Fight

UPDATE: Voting is closed, and of course we didn't win the round. The judges had a ... ahem ... unique perspective on our expression of team spirit, to which we've crafted a musical rebuttal (NSFW link).

OK, for Round 2 of SpinTunes 6, we have this challenge:
Song Fight - Write a fight song for your favorite sports TEAM.  It doesn't have to be a professional team.  This should be about the team, not 1 or 2 athletes working together. (1 minute minimum) (your submission is due February 10th 11:59PM)
Sports teams are not the center of my existence. I think it's fair to say that I'd be hard pressed to name a favorite team, but as William and I attended the University of South Carolina, we're honor-bound to support them above all others. So the Carolina Gamecocks it is.

The only real question is, given a team with a name like the Cocks, how were we to approach the subject? The answer is, we're going low. As low as possible. On our knees, as it were.

The lyrics and music are on Bandcamp. The only thing you really need to know is that there is absolutely nothing in here that is merely a dick joke. Even the rude flavor of the song is 100% in keeping with our school spirit. We've had T-Shirts on campus that say "My Cock is Smelley" (referring to Chris Smelley, our former starting quarterback). We've had bumper stickers and T-shirts that say "You Can't Lick Our Cocks" and "You Can't Beat Our Cocks" (expressed in our lyrics as "Our Cocks are un-beat-a-ble").

There is a reference to our collegiate rival, the Clemson Tigers (referred to in the song as "those pussies"). That's at my insistence. As Carolina is currently enjoying a four-game winning streak over Clemson, I felt the song could be more than just a fight song... it could be a fight song for a specific occasion, and the next Carolina-Clemson game is "it".

I find that the most horrible challenges are the ones that stretch you the most, and that's what this competition is about. It's not about winning, it's about doing things that you never would have done otherwise. That was true of the previous "most excremental" challenge (writing a rap song), and it's true of this one.

In this case, I had to get my head into the testosterone-laden aggressive mindset of sports fans. I thought I had an advantage here in that my kids are in their high school band, and they would line up some friends to help perform. So I set aside my early plans to do a baseball song (so I could play the organ), and started preparing for a football fight song, and researched the subject.

PROBLEM ONE: as it turns out, fight songs are short. I mean they're really, really short. Thirty seconds is not uncommon. Carolina's official fight song "Step to the Rear" is of above-average length at just over one minute. That includes a drum break and a reprise. Our challenge originally specified 1:45. So, armed with some stats from fightmusic.com I took to Facebook to make my case. A lot of the other artists had the same complaint, and we were successful in getting the length shortened to one minute. Still long, but palatable. I thank everyone who helped with that, and Spintown for agreeing to the change. (BTW, if you want to hear a great fight song, listen to Step to the Rear. It beats the p.o.s. I just wrote hands-down.)

PROBLEM TWO: My son informed me that they'd be happy to play the song, but they needed sheet music. So I proceeded to score the entire song. And being somewhat ignorant of high school bands, despite being a songwriter, I asked what sort of instruments I'd need to score. The answer was: Piccolo. Flute. Clarinet. Trumpet. Mellophone. Trombone. Alto sax. Baritone sax. Euphonium. Tuba. Bass drum. Snare drum. Crash cymbals. Tenor drums.

That's a lot of instruments, and I didn't even know their proper ranges. OK. I wanted the kids. So I started writing. Initially I used Rosegarden, but it had a heart attack or something, and not having the time to fix it AND get the work done AND do my day job, I switched over to MuseScore. Nice, but the sound wouldn't play in Linux. I scored a lot of it using the piano, then rolled up my sleeves and fixed MuseScore. (the Jack server has never worked properly for me, probably due to my ignorance. I admit it: I don't know Jack). So now I could score it and play it back to get some feel of how it would sound when played by the band (albeit my rendition was with crappy MIDI sounds). Everything was ready for Saturday's recording session.

PROBLEM THREE: The band bailed. No band. And my whole week was spent writing parts. And since I normally perform live, any MIDI on my computer was rudimentary.

Nevertheless, the deadline wouldn't change, so now was a perfect time to put Plan B into action. Plan B was to render the MIDI with soundfonts. I installed some soundfonts, and they did sound a lot better. Not great, though, because I still lost performance dynamics. And MuseScore, while it's great for describing a song to a human, isn't so great at rendering a performance, especially with percussion.  So I broke the song out into instrumental parts and had MuseScore export them all to .mid files. I then used VLC to render these with soundfonts as FLAC files, and from there they got converted to WAV files that my DAW, (Reaper, running in Wine) would understand.

PROBLEM FOUR: Percussion. Percussion is the bane of my musical existence. No matter what I did in MuseScore, the percussion sucked. So it was off to the Hydrogen drum machine. This thing is really great. You tell it what you want for each instrument including the velocity of the drumstick. The only problem I had with it is that I had some issue with the timing. It was simply the wrong tempo and resisted efforts to change it. And it's Saturday. Convinced that I was being stalked by gremlins, and on the verge of blaming Heather, I decided to play the drums myself. So that's me on the snare and the tenor drums (I don't really have tenor drums, so these are toms). The bass drums are done by laboriously pasting a single "thump!" over and over again into Reaper. So were the crash cymbals. In the case of both the bass and the crash, I manipulated things a bit so they didn't sound as robotic as they might otherwise have. They still sound fake, but it's not nail-bitingly horrid.

I had more luck with the vocals. Besides me, there are my two kids, one brother, and two Boffo Yux Dudes and Joe 'Covenant' Lamb appearing. Denise Hudson agreed to help me with the audience sounds. When it was clear that the "crowd" wouldn't sound right without more female voices, my Facebook shout-out netted quick responses from Jenny Katz-Brandoli, Heather Gray, Ashleen Curtis, Nancy Ware, and Kimberly Johnson. Thanks to all contributors!

Michael Leigh
Timothy Leigh
William Leigh
Everett Leigh
Tom Giarosso
Joe 'Covenant' Lamb
Allan Morgan                                           
Jenny Katz-Brandoli
Heather Gray
Ashleen Curtis
Nancy Ware
Kimberly Johnson


This is probably the best organized song I've ever done, if not the most memorable. Since a lot of this was either rendered or from submissions, I didn't have a lot of orphaned takes cluttering up the directories. Still, the sheer volume of tracks is way too much for my dinky machine to handle, so I had to break it out into sub-projects. There's a sub-project for the male vocals; the East grandstand audience; the West grandstand audience; the percussion; and the rest of the band. To keep everything aurally consistent, I had to create a chart showing where each instrument was physically situated with regard to the listener, and adjusted the pan accordingly. There's stadium echo off the far wall, so allowances are made for the relative distances from the wall. I'd never claim it as a production masterpiece, but rendering, performing, and mixing several dozen tracks was quite a lot of work for one ignoramus on a Saturday; I'm pretty happy with it.


Since you've read this far, I'll give you the lyrics, along with some notes on "plausible deniability"


We are the mighty Cocks!
Indeed... the University of South Carolina Gamecocks!
We have impressive jocks!
Indeed, the athletes of USC are talented and highly skilled 
Champions true it is plain to see

Four years straight we've licked those pussies
You betcha! Our feline foes, the Clemson Tigers!
We'll tear down their defence
They said no, but they meant YES!
We will not take no for an answer!
We'll thrust our balls into the end zone!


We'll dominate them all
Our Cocks are un-beat-a-ble

OK, that's a little hyperbole... a number of teams have licked our Cocks, but our team spirit remains undiminished! Seriously, this refers to the bumper stickers on campus that read "You Can't Beat Our Cocks"
Pounding again into the end zone!
Another touchdown!


Sunday, February 3, 2013

SpinTunes - Round 1 Results and Round 2 Challenge

I've had to revise this, as Debs and Errol's rankings were mis-reported.

Well, we've gotten through Round 1 in 7th place out of 30. The top 22 are moving on to Round 2, and this challenge:
Song Fight - Write a fight song for your favorite sports TEAM.  It doesn't have to be a professional team.  This should be about the team, not 1 or 2 athletes working together. (1:45 minute minimum) (your submission is due February 10th 11:59PM)
Hoo-boy. I hope William's got something because I don't. The closest thing to a sport that I follow (and then only sometimes) is NASCAR. I suppose you could stretch it to say that the driver and pit crew make it a sports team. But people always root for the driver, really. The only other thing I'd have is my kids' high school team or some farm league baseball team (the Greensboro Grasshoppers). I think I'll wait and defer to his lyrics before thinking about it.

We landed in 11th place, comfortably making into Round 2, though Debs & Errol voted to boot us off the island.

Travis Debs &
Niveous Graham Paul Joe Popular
10th  24th  7th  12th 15th 8th 11th

Hell, we'll take it. In this field, I was thoroughly prepared to pack up my piano and go home.  Overall, I'm impressed with the thought and effort that went into the reviews. Most of the judges seemed to take the task seriously. Previously, I said:
...This is a very short and specific list of memes. In the past we've had judges tell us that if they can't get the full meaning in the song that it's ranked lower in their estimation. I hope these guys do a bit better than that. You simply don't drop a specific list in someone's lap without knowing it inside and out yourself. We'll see.
Those that didn't know a meme could have gone to knowyourmeme.com to clear things up (as Spin suggested we do) or they could have clicked through to the "liner notes" on Bandcamp to remove all doubt. It was a little disappointing if they didn't, but overall the judges did a lot of hard work and research.