Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chapter 14: Lies

This is the first chapter in a 4-part series within a series ably authored by an abstruse riddler wrapped in an enigma while using his zillion-piece white sand puzzle box as a maraca.

This song series, codenamed "Well Ain't She-Suite", is a mini-musical melodrama about betrayal, mistrust, denial, and finally contrition.

In November 2008 (at the Mμne’s onset)—when I played "That Said" [see Chapter 3] over the phone for my firstborn:  Maceo, he commented, "Pops…doing it old school."  It was my intent to produce that late 2008 composition with a funky 70's feel.  "Lies" is different, and is probably early old school…maybe pre-school, for that matter.

It has been my observation that popular music has a twenty-five to thirty year turnover cycle.  Think of all the Beatles Sgt. Pepper-esque affectations in the past few years. …as well as Coldplay's Viva La Vida-tour garb in 2008.  Late last century (in the nineties), Rap performers and producers began utilizing P-Funk elements in their products, and the term and concept of old school became the new thing all over again.  Where I grew up, the best dances were held in a building that was literally literally an old one-room schoolhouse, so old school even means a different thing to me.

"Lies" is a pre-school groove stylistically, as it has that 1987 Minneapolis music-heyday feel that hasn't quite yet rolled up in the chamber.  The thing about "Lies" is that it was actually written and produced in 1987, and is current for that time.

…the Second Coming of Motown?

           I had heard so much about those good old days from Motown™ Records alum friends like Paul Riser, Johnny Bristol, Barrett Strong, and Sylvia Moy.  Then, fresh out of university with my brand new bachelor's degree in Jazz & Commercial Music, stranded in a has-been music industry ghost town, I could only grieve my not having been around for their music biz bustling era.  It was like showing up late for an amazing fireworks show to catch only the ecstatic gasps and waning sulfurous wafts of a thing that will gain in greatness each time it’s recounted.

It was the summer of 1987 when I began to see it happening again all around me.  I was independent-contractor newly hired at United Sound Studios.  Years prior, I had struggled to make ends meet with my own production company—doing a little session work here and there, and catching a few demo-producing jobs.  Overall, times were tough.  Sarah was almost a year and a half, and Niles was in riders, to your starting gate-mode—in utero.  I had been sure music was the perfect career choice, but suddenly it didn't seem such a great idea.

To remind myself that the music industry really did exist and wasn't just something somewhere else for anybody but me, I'd walk three miles to visit United Sounds Studios, and hang out with, then chief engineer, Mike Iocapelli.  Mike had been the assistant engineer and Oberheim™ 8 Voice® (SEM) programmer on my very first USS session in 1981—“Back in School” w/Herschell Masten.

Six years later, owner Don Davis had decided to open a MIDI room at USS.  As one who'd gotten into MIDI before there was MIDI […in 1983 having early-adopted the first MIDI synthesizer: the Sequential Circuits® Prophet 600®, half a year before the first Sequential Circuits™ Commodore 64-compatible MIDI interface would even be available], I was a 4-year MIDI expert highly qualified to snatch the position as MIDI room operator.

My first outside client just so happened to be George Clinton.  I worked with P-Funk lieutenant Mike "Clip" Payne—sequencing material for Paisley Park Records' release of George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars' "Cinderella Theory" album—on Prince's Warner Bros. imprint label.  Shortly thereafter, business was booming for all three rooms (Studio-A, Studio-B, and Studio-C—the MIDI room).  This is not at all to suggest that it was due wholly to George’s unholy presence at the studio—although it may well have been a significant contributing factor.

From that 1987 summer through 1989, there on Second Avenue, it was as busy as a beehive.  Along with steady clientele like George, notables the likes of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, The Rolling Stones, Whoopi Goldberg, and The Four Tops would come through to record.  There were also in-house songwriting production and recording sessions going on for owner Don Davis' Groovesville™ music publishing company.  And notable of those in-housers was Keith Washington (formerly an in-house talent who—by the time of my '87 arrival—was soon on his way to gold success with “Kissing You”) and Don's prize products:  the multi-platinum Dramatics and (then) current-day equivalent:  For Girls Only, or FGO.

After his 1984 Buster Douglas-esque de-throwning of Michael Jackson [with the superior acceptance of "Purple Rain" over the Jacksons' swansong "Victory" tour] the Purple reign had begun.  The Minneapolis sound had become—for a short time, at least—a Motown-like Pop music metric.  Michigan had hit with a counterfeit purple-hit "Oh Sheila" from Flint, MI-based Ready for the World.  Aforementioned FGO was designed to snare in some market share with a handsome quintet of formidable musicians and a marquee-able lead singer with nearly the vocal range and fluidity of a Stevie Wonder.  FGO was categorically a 1987 pre-cursor to Minneapolis product Mint Condition.  I saw an opportunity to make my presence known, so I ingested the purple vibe, laid down a booming drum machine track, and let my funky-fingers do the pimp-walking.  The piano track on "Lies" was the result.  Admittedly the end-product was more Sly, Larry Graham, and Ray Parker (on the changes).  I let Mike ¹Boila hear it (¹then Groovesville™ A and R, who later found employment with Bob Seger's publishing operation).  Mike liked it, and presented it to Don who liked it as well.  However, when I was presented with a publishing contract offering a dollar payment in advance, I declined.  I had two of those deals from Sylvia Moy that had yet to yield for me my two bucks.  I mentioned that to Don who told me that it was a clause that basically gave the publishing company a chance to pay it at the time of contention—should any such arrive for lack of fulfillment on the dollar clause.

As such, "Lies" is not merely a pre-old school front-side throwback.  Like a southern conference champion East Westchester Northstars returning for the hall of fame induction of Tyrone Shoelaces, it is an alumnus.

I wish I could have used the original piano on this track—the Roland MKS-20.  There were sound aliasing issues at close listen (unavoidable with the pre 24-bit digital clarity in our brave new audio world), but the acoustic piano on it had a way of finding its own sonic real-estate.

I think the lyrics came to me almost in real-time.  The vocal intro is from a 1978 composition—“I’ll Get By”—aimed at the pre-“Jump for My Love” Pointer Sisters.  I was feeling a little angry one day while I happened to be listening to the then latest “…Mμne-Pi Parables” iteration.  For some reason the lines from “I’ll Get By”…

You don't love me, you don't need me
I'm a reason for your lies
Since I don't need you, I'll release you
Don't you worry; I'll get by

           I rearranged the order of the lines so that the segment ended with I’m a reason for your lies.  What I feel this has done for the lyrical story is added emotional description to the heroine—taking her motives from maybe being read as being purely vindictive, to painting a woman who’s weary from a neglectful relationship perceived as one-way…his way.

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