Posts Tagged lene lovich

Having A Production Sound: Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby Back In The Day

Thomas Dolby Back In The Day

As a kid in the early 80s when I heard brand new ear candy on the radio I waited for the 411 from the announcer at the end of the song, scraped together some coin, grabbed my bike from the garage and rushed to the record store to get that hot pressed wax in hand. Some of the most urgent bike rides occurred after hearing these songs:

In order, you’re listening to the haunting synth pad intro of Foreigner’s ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ followed by the rock-funk atmosphere of ‘Urgent’ (another single from the same album), then the new wave whip-cracking of ‘New Toy’ by Lene Lovich and finally the tight slab of synth-funk that is Thomas Dolby’s ‘She Blinded Me With Science’.

I like all kinds of music but something about synthetic textures, from classic Pink Floyd to current Electro, has always held extra-deep excitement. Checking the liner notes 20 years later I realized there was no coincidence that these songs pressed similar buttons for me: they were all touched by Thomas Dolby’s electronics.

For a moment in the early 80s Thomas Dolby exemplified the potential of modern synthesized pop.  On one side he played keyboards and programmed drum machines for mainstream rock bands like Foreigner, on the other he was called in to write and produce for underground phenomena like Lene Lovich.

Blinded By Science

Blinded By Science

Born Thomas Robertson, he acquired the ‘Dolby’ nickname in high school when fellow students mocked his obsession with his tape recorder.  (Dolby Laboratories later filed suit against him.) When it came time to launch his solo career, he sampled british mad professor television personality Magnus Pike for ‘She Blinded Me With Science’, and was then photographed running from an ancient mainframe computer in full science teacher garb for the cover of the ‘Blinded By Science’ EP. The debut album that followed was titled ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless,’ in reverence for the magic of early radio, vaccuum tubes and all. Even with his unabashed romanticization of all things geeky, however, he escaped total nerddom by maintaining an edgy new wave leaning at all times.

Dolby certainly had a clear identity–lyrically, vocally and imagewise–but what was most remarkable was the way he asserted his identity within his production sound.  I don’t know what brands of synthesizers and drum machines he favoured, but the choices he made with his sounds were unmistakable.  Keyboards were haunting and drums were at once synthetic and funk-infused.  Not everything was electronic.  Guitar, bass and real drums were weaved in tastefully. His output carved out a singular, stylized sonic niche…he achieved a goal every producer aspires to.

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