The above picture is of Lesa Aldridge (in the red dress) and Karen Chatham (in the blue robe). I like it. You can read a bit about it here.
Lesa and Alex Chilton were an on/off couple for a good few years, and there are some interesting stories about their troubled relationship during the time of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers album. If you don’t have that CD, you should probably stop reading this and buy it. And then you should probably buy the previous two Big Star albums, just to experience that glorious music, and to have a chance to hear on Third how commercial failure, bitterness, and self-destruction can profoundly change a songwriter in such a short period of time — and what wonderful music can come out of committing commercial suicide.
You should also probably read Robert Gordon’s book It Came from Memphis, which is like a collection of short films in book form. It not only contains some of those fascinating stories from the time of Third/Sister Lovers, but it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read about music, culture, racial integration, people, and spiders. I’ll even lend it to you if you want. And then I will murder you if you either (a) don’t give it back or (b) desecrate it in any way. But I promise to speak eloquently at your funeral.
Moving on. Remember how I said I was on the fence about a few songs I recorded for this new album? Well, I’m not so on the fence anymore. After ignoring them for a while and working on other things, I decided to give them both another listen and was surprised to find they were both in better shape than I thought they were. Maybe I just needed some distance from them.
The electronic workout on bad drugs is definitely a keeper. It just needs a little more sonic wallpaper and then it’s finished.
The piano ballad is another story. It has to be one of the bitterest ballads I’ve ever written, and it had an odd time arriving at its final destination. It was first written on an old 1940s parlour guitar with a rather propulsive rhythm while watching the Grammy Awards in bed, hoping against hope that Mickey Rourke would get a taste of victory. It wasn’t written about anyone in particular, but the defeated atmosphere was very much in keeping with what I was feeling at the time thanks to the person who inspired a good chunk of IF I HAD A QUARTER.
I sat on it for a while, not sure if it was worth recording. It didn’t even get a look-in on the album I wrote it for. About halfway through the recording of this album I thought I’d take a stab at turning it into a piano song instead, more or less winging it while recording and changing some of the chords in the process.
The challenge then became taking what felt like a pretty uninteresting piano ballad and fucking it up to make it more interesting. I added some synth and vocoder, but it wasn’t doing it for me. So I left it alone.
Now I kind of like it. And I’m still not sure if it’s really album material. I think if I included it, there might be one downcast song too many. But I like the words. The vocal is a scratch track I eventually came around to liking enough not to replace with a better take. I kind of like that it’s a little uncertain and imperfect. You can hear me experiencing a moment of brain freeze after the line, “Stringent as we were that first night,” trying to remember the words without the lyrics in front of me.
The plan was to build up layer upon layer of synth, guitar, and vocals to create something sort of orchestral. I decided I was too lazy to do that. So the melody remains intact in spite of my best intentions to destroy and bury it. There was a lot more vocoder in there to begin with, but I decided it was a bit too much and cut out some parts. I also got rid of a silly vocoder-only coda.
I don’t know. You tell me if it’s CD material! My gut tells me maybe, but maybe not for this particular album. It would fit in if I got the sequencing just right, but it might come off as being filler. In any case, here it is, to give you an idea of what happens right now when I end up recording a piano ballad in spite of myself.
There’s one song left to record, one that needs to be mixed, and then I think this thing is done. I’m going to try and get it all wrapped up tomorrow. I’m about as tempted as I usually am to just keep going and make it a double CD, but I mustn’t do that. After all, I just said it would be a shorter album in the last post. Must…resist…urge…to…ignore…promise to self.
Okay, scratch that. After reading the comments down there and having a bit of time to get naked and personal with this song and the other one I was on the fence about, I’ve changed my mind. The vocoder-enhanced piano ballad gets to stay after all. The twitchy electronic track is now going into the recycling box instead. Once I mixed that second one, I realized it just isn’t up to par with the other songs, or at least it doesn’t feel like it is to me. It’s too bad, because it was going to be the most amusing song title on the album by far.
Oh well. What can you do? I guess you’ll have to wait a little while longer before you get to hear me sound like I’m really trying to ape Thom Yorke.