Watch the Roland High Life perform remotely for NPR's Tiny Desk Contest

When I'm not writing things on Boing Boing and elsewhere, I also play in an indie rock band called the Roland High Life. We're all huge fans of NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series, but we're all a bit scattered across the northeast right now, and coordination can be hard. So back in January, while we were together in person recording our new EP, we had the idea to do a remote video entry for this year's Tiny Desk Contest.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. And suddenly, the idea of a remote tiny desk concert was … much less clever and original.

But we did it anyway, complete with a Tiny Death Star, and you can check it out above. Given the quarantine circumstances, we were a bit strapped for gear — I'm on my back-up guitar, sans pedals, with a limited selection of mics — but I think we did all right. Hopefully Bob Boilen agrees.

Here's the original (or at least, the album version; the original demo was a bit more Billy Joel-sy, if you'd believe it).

We're in the process of mixing our new EP, tentatively titled "Songs About Comic Books and Mid-30s Malaise," which should be out in the summer. In the meantime, I'll let you speculate on the songwriting subject matter.

The Roland High Life on NPR's Tiny Desk Contest Read the rest

The enduring beauty of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and one of the greatest musical couplets ever written

Lithub has a wonderful piece on the classic Jimmy Webb composition, "Wichita Lineman," one of the most enduring pop songs ever written. Made famous by the late Glen Campbell, the author of piece describes the song as one that "defies the injustice of repetition."

And then, there's that amazing "I need you more than want you" couplet.

There is little ambiguity about the greatest couplet ever written. The punchline—the sucker punch—of “Wichita Lineman,” the line in the song that resonates so much, the line that contains one of the most exquisite romantic couplets in the history of song—“And I need you more than want you / and I want you for all time”—could be many people’s perfect summation of love, although some, including writer Michael Hann, think it’s something sadder and perhaps more profound. “It is need, more than want, that defines the narrator’s relationship; if they need their lover more than wanting them, then naturally they will want them for all time. The couplet encompasses the fear that those who have been in relationships do sometimes struggle with: good God, what happens to me if I am left alone?” Hann is certainly right when he says that it’s a heart-stopping line, and no matter how many hundreds of times you hear it, no matter what it means to you, it never loses its ability to shock and confound.

Read the rest here.

Here is Glen Campbell singing the track on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in the late 60s. Read the rest

A pair of musicians recorded every possible MIDI melody just to get around copyright law

Motherboard has an interesting new piece about musical copyright law, and the fact that there are only so many musical sequences using half-step frequencies possible. What happens when they're all used up, and the copyright trolls take everyone to court for any song that even remotely resembles another one, just by virtue of the fact that it relies on the same music theory?

Think about Lana Del Rey accidentally ripping off of Radiohead, who had accidentally ripped off of the Hollies. It's not crazy to write a song that goes from the I to the extra tension of a Chromatic Mediant III before resolving on a IV, which then walks down to a minor iv and returns to the tonic.

(Or, in simpler terms, as Motherboard puts it: Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" ripping off of Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down")

To get around the potential future copyright trolls, Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin developed a MIDI algorithm to automatically generate a series of melodies, then released those datasets into the public domain using a Creative Commons Zero license. The method for achieving this is pretty neat:

To determine the finite nature of melodies, Riehl and Rubin developed an algorithm that recorded every possible 8-note, 12-beat melody combo. This used the same basic tactic some hackers use to guess passwords: Churning through every possible combination of notes until none remained. Riehl says this algorithm works at a rate of 300,000 melodies per second.

Once a work is committed to a tangible format, it's considered copyrighted.

Read the rest

Celebrate Valentine's Day with this playlist of love songs that other songwriters wish they wrote

Just in time for Valentine's Day, NPR's All Songs Considered spoke with a bunch of celebrated songwriters such as Phoebe Bridgers and M. Ward and asked them about the love songs that they wish they'd written — the masterful melodies and heartfelt turns of phrase that other poets envy and only dream to one day emulate.

It's also just a really great playlist of songs. And now it has me thinking of which song I would choose myself.

Since both "First Day of My Life" and "Love Song" were already chosen for this list, I think I'd have to go with "The Way I Feel Inside" by the Zombies or "She Is Beautiful" by Andrew WK.

What would you pick?

The Love Song I Wish I'd Written [Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton / NPR] Read the rest

Paul Simon explains his song "Mrs. Robinson" to Dick Cavett (1970)

I'm really loving these old clips from The Dick Cavett Show on YouTube. Here's a 5-minute clip of Paul Simon telling Cavett about his music making process, his involvement in The Graduate, and how he wrote "Mrs. Robinson."

This is as good a time as any to share a theory about The Graduate that my late friend Mike Vodneck told me his high school teacher had about why Mrs. Robinson was willing to destroy her marriage to keep Ben from dating her daughter, Elaine. It's because Ben and Elaine were half-siblings. Try watching the movie with that in mind and see how it holds up. Read the rest

Semisonic's "Closing Time" is not the bar room party song you think it is

I'm a huge fan of the Song Exploder podcast, which brings musicians to talk about the process that went into writing and recording their hit songs. Even if you're not a fan of a particular artist or song, each episode is still a digestible and insightful look into different creative processes (and they're usually less than 30 minutes long, too).

One of the more recent episodes features Dan Wilson of the band Semisonic discussing their hit "Closing Time," which helped rocket him to fame as a co-writer for songs by such as artists as Taylor Swift, Adele, John Legend, the Dixie Chicks, and others.

But that song holds a special place in his heart for another reason: the birth of his daughter.

I had heard part of this story previously on the Art of Process podcast with Aimee Mann and Ted Leo — how the song was not, in fact, about a bar, but was actually about a child being born. But for the Song Exploder segment, Wilson goes even more in-depth into the delightfully literal inspiration for the song; his deliberate attention towards double entendre in lyric-writing to let the listener to draw their own conclusions; and the various ways the song intertwined with the complicated first year of his daughter's life.

Maybe the story behind the song just hit me different this time, as I'm both coming out of the recording studio with my own band, and looking ahead to starting to my own family. But it's an inspiring, tear-jerker of an episode. Read the rest

Update: "The Electric Slide" is *not* about a vibrator, according to songwriter

[UPDATE 7:20pm PT: Snopes reports that Electric Slide's songwriter "Bunny Wailer" Livingston denies that the song was about a vibrator. "Although many shared this rumor as if it were a fact, this claim is based on little more than an interpretation of the song’s lyrics...As this rumor picked up steam, published an article reporting that the song’s writer, Neville “Bunny Wailer” Livingston, had confirmed the subtext of its lyrics...This is not a reliable story; the alleged “confirmation” comes from an anonymous third party, despite what the site said in the article’s title."]

The line dance song that's popular at celebrations like weddings and bat/bar mitzvahs is about a SEX TOY. LGBTQ news and entertainment site Aazios is reporting that Neville Livingston aka Bunny Wailer, the songwriter behind "Electric Boogie" (the song also known as "The Electric Slide") has confirmed rumors that it's about a vibrator:

Rumors of the songs meaning began circulating on social media a few weeks ago and everyone has been desperate for answers. According to a source close to Livingston, word of the question about the origins of the song reached him in Kingston, Jamaica where he currently resides and he put the rumors to rest. "I'm surprised it took people this long to figure out" the source tells us he said. Apparently Livingston wrote the song after a girlfriend told him she didn't need him because she had a toy she nicknamed the "electric slide"

Here's a taste of those naughty lyrics:

It's Electric!

Read the rest

Animated interview with Leonard Cohen

“I don’t feel any compulsion just to stand under the spotlight night after night unless I have something to say," --Leonard Cohen, December 1974

(Blank on Blank)

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