September 2011


The title of this post was one of the top search results for this blog yesterday.  That means one of two things: either people are really hoping Second Set shows up on Comixology or one of the other legal, for-pay download sites soon, or they’re trying to find a torrent for the book so they can steal it.  I wonder which it could possibly be?

I don’t want to be too negative about this stuff, because I know that having an audience is important, and the idea that people care enough about what I’m writing to seek it out – legally or illegally – is still fairly novel to me.  But it still burns a little.  A friend of mine sold a few copies of an upcoming issue of his book at a con, only to see it hit the torrents the next day.  That meant that someone had to buy it from the creator, make small talk with him, look him in the eye (well, probably – you get some weird types at cons), and then turn right around and screw him as hard as he could.  I’m not necessarily even faulting the downloaders that much.  I don’t love that, but I understand it.  Books are expensive, and a lot of them suck.  Sometimes you want to try before you buy, or get something that’s out of print, or… hell, it’s just easier.  I get that (although it’s still crappy!)  But the SCANNERS… now those guys I don’t get.  It’s not like with a CD, where you just have to rip the MP3 and upload it.  That’s a two-minute process.  But scanning a comic book, at least as I understand how it’s done, takes a minimum of 40 minutes, and can be much longer for complex books with lots of 2-page spreads.

After writing that last paragraph, but before writing this one, I headed over to a chat room I know where a bunch of scanners hang out and started asking questions.  I learned that people do it for reasons they mainly think are altruistic (making books accessible, creating archives of old, out of print material, sticking it to the big companies who charge too much for middling-at-best books, etc.)  I didn’t get much of an answer when I asked about books from creators who have to pay to create their own books, and who live and die by monthly sales that can be influenced in a big way by piracy.

I heard a lot about “try before you buy,” and I can understand that, because there is a lot of bad stuff out there, and times are tough.  On the other hand, isn’t it really just that people want to get stuff for free?  I also don’t want to be hypocritical here – I’ve downloaded tons of stuff in my time, including comics.  My personal reasons weren’t much more complex than those described above.  Knowing that, there’s no way I’m going to go on some sort of moralistic rant about downloading.  But, again, scanning – what I heard was that most of the scanners call themselves “fans.”  They see themselves as Robin Hoods, stealing overpriced books from the rich conglomerates and giving them to the poor masses who can’t afford or can’t find the books.

But holy crap, man – when you do it to almost any creator-owned book, it’s most definitely stealing from the poor to give to the… well, probably richer, because the downloaders aren’t spending all their dough to make comic books.

I left the chat room just by asking people to consider supporting the indie books they like.  I think it’s okay to check out something before you invest in a trade or even floppies, but once you’ve done that and you realize you DO like it?  Continuing to download at that point is just the worst.  If that’s what you’re doing, then me and all the other indie creators whose books you like (and steal) think you suck.  In this day and age, there are endless ways to get books at all levels of obscurity even if you don’t have a cool shop near you, from great online retailers like Midtown Comics, to DCBS, to Comixology.  Prices are often deeply discounted, and you can get them in print or digital versions.  No excuses.

Well, here we are – the final day of the one-hit wonder challenge.  It’s been fun, and a good challenge, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m looking forward to a break from the daily grind of getting these recorded and out each day.  Still, for quick, down and dirty arrangements and recordings, I think the whole set of tunes isn’t bad, and hangs together pretty well.

My original intention for the final day of the challenge was to do something completely out of left field – a one-hit wonder, but something that wasn’t exactly what people would think of as one.  With that in mind, I looked at jazz standards, holiday tunes, TV theme songs and a number of other things.  For a little while, Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” was the front-runner, which I think would have been tricky and weird and cool.  Then, as the evening was dragging on (I did this one late last night), I realized that I’d been playing around all week with a jazz version of “She Drives Me Crazy,” the 1989 single from the Fine Young Cannibals.  Once I decided to focus on it, the arrangement actually came together fairly quickly, and there it is.  The lyrics to this tune lend themselves to a more subdued interpretation, I think – sort of a stalker vibe as opposed to the original’s “she’s so hot I can’t get her out of my mind” thing.  Here’s the original:

This song, of course, falls into the “18 and Life” camp, in that it’s not this band’s only hit – the Fine Young Cannibals also got to number 1 with their song “Good Thing” (which I loved, back in the day.)  On the other hand, I think this version worked out so well that I’m willing to bend the rules just a bit.  Beside, FYC didn’t last much past that one record, even if they did have two big hits from it (that’s what we call the Spin Doctors Syndrome.)

The video here includes clips from a cool Chinese movie from the 30s, Street Angel.  In case anyone’s interested (and they may not be), the random video clips I threw into the YouTube versions of these tunes were from a massive online database of free public domain video and movies at http://www.archive.org.  There’s some truly amazing stuff in there – pretty much anything you might need to slap something on top of a dumb YouTube clip promoting your comic book.

Speaking of such things, 27 Second Set #1 is out tomorrow, and I hope that you’ll check it out.  Advance reviews have been very positive, and the story goes to some really cool places.  And of course, if you’re here for some other reason and you aren’t familiar with 27, there’s a link to the right where you can pick up the first collection along with my other books.  Thank you to everyone for all the great suggestions and kind words over the last week or so – it’s made this grand endeavor a total blast.

Now, what you’re (possibly) waiting for, the music!

MP3:

She Drives Me Crazy

And the video:

(This tune is actually the second suggestion I picked from Jeremy Holt – good on ‘ya, Jeremy.  I got close to a hundred song recommendations over the course of the challenge, so if I didn’t pick yours just consider yourself in good company.  There’s a chance I’ll do this again at some point, and if I do I’ll definitely take a second look at the existing list.  Thanks again to everyone who commented, made suggestions or just listened!)

Back to the 80s pop world with today’s one-hit wonder: “I Melt With You,” by Modern English, released in 1982.  This tune has had a pretty massive impact in pop culture – it shows up all over the place, from movies to Burger King ads, and it’s already been covered by parties significantly more notable than I. (We’re talking The Cure.  We’re talking Bowling For Soup.  We’re talking FRED DURST, people.)  More than some 80s OHWs, I think “I Melt With You” has become an audio touchstones for that Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, John Hughes movie sort of feel.  I was just a kid in 1982, and I certainly wasn’t listening to British New Wave, but somehow the tune can evoke all of that for me from the first few notes.

See what it does for you:

 

 

My version is, as always, solo acoustic with vocals.  I’ve done all of these covers as one-take performances, with no overdubbing, edits or corrections.  I do a little eq-ing and add some reverb and compression, and out it goes.  I think this arrangement has some nice drive to it, and I might do a more fleshed-out recording at some point.

MP3:

I Melt With You

Video (with some melting stuff!):

 

 

(One more to go!  I haven’t decided yet what song to do, and I’m going to record it tonight.  I have a few ideas, but nothing’s stuck as a home run yet.  I guess we’ll all see tomorrow.)

For the seventh day of the one-hit wonder challenge, I decided to divert away from the previous patterns I’ve been sticking to for this whole project: using recommendations from fans of the 27 series, and sticking with rock tunes from the 70s-90s.  Today’s tune is one I picked, and it’s an R&B number from 1970 by the awesomely named The Five Stairsteps, “Ooh Child.”  I mean, there are one-hit wonders in every genre of music – Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D is probably the most famous OHW in classical music, for example.

The Five Stairsteps were a Philly-based band, a family group along the lines of the Jackson 5, but as far as I know this is the only tune they ever did that hit in a major way.  It’s a hell of a song, though – smooth and uplifting in just the nicest ways.  Here’s the original:

Not for nothing, but this one’s actually going up on the tenth anniversary of September 11, which influenced my song choice a bit.  Tomorrow’s a new day, and I’m sure some of you are reading this well after it’s been posted, but this tune seemed pretty appropriate for the day, at least lyrically.  I’m not going to write about my personal experiences with 9/11 here (I think if I ever do, I’ll put it in a book – although I’m sure in many ways I already have), but suffice it to say that I was living in NYC at the time, and… goddamn.

My version of “Ooh Child” takes all the beautiful, soulful singing and arrangement from the original and tosses a lot of it out the window.  I did twelve takes to get to the recording I’ve included here – my version might sound kind of simple, but it was a bit of a pain to pull together.  I hope you enjoy it, though.

Here’s the MP3:

Ooh Child

And the video (which I didn’t mix with silly video the way I’ve done with some of the others – I wasn’t feeling it today.  So, just the covers for the trade and the first three issues of Second Set, as I did with the first few uploads):

 

 

(This one, as I said, wasn’t a suggestion from a reader or friend, but the idea to delve into R&B came from my old friend Nate Chinen, who’s a massive music guy in his own right (like, for reals.)  It was a very solid idea, and it came just as I was getting a little sick of the rock/pop stuff, so thank you Nate!  For more updates on the challenge, or to keep up with my stuff, find me on Twitter or Facebook.)

We’ve moved forward in time about a decade and a half from the last tune, to the Cardigans’ 1996 hit “Lovefool.”  I think this song sounds less dated than other one-hit wonders I’ve been working with, and part of that may be because it has a more complex harmonic structure than most pop songs.  (On the other hand, I looked at Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy,” and that song has some wacky chords in it but couldn’t sound more of its time if it wore legwarmers and a Walkman everywhere it went.  So what do I know?)  Here’s the original:

With this version, I just put it into sort of a bossa feel for the verse, and went more rock for the chorus.  This is one where the solo vocal thing bugged me a bit, because I would have loved to have had some harmonies on the chorus.  Maybe when I do my one-hit wonder tour and hire a fourteen-piece band.

Here’s the MP3:

Lovefool

And the video, mixed with a Navy educational clip on the dangers of Ecstasy.  Why?  Er, why not?

 

 

Three more to go, and I haven’t recorded a single one yet.  If possible, I want to get another one in the can today, then two more tomorrow and be done with it – we’ll see how that goes.  Ambition!

(“Lovefool” was suggested by Magnus Aspli on my Twitter.  You can also suggest tunes on my Facebook, or in the comments here.  Any suggestion I pick gets a free signed copy of Second Set #1.  See you tomorrow!)

Here we are with day 5 of the 27 Second Set One-Hit Wonder Challenge, and this time around I picked Survivor’s kickass theme from Rocky III, “Eye of the Tiger.”  I had something else already recorded that I was going to put in this slot, but I decided it was too similar to some of the other stuff I’d already done.  I’ll still put it in the rotation (probably tomorrow), but I was jonesing for something a little more badass anyway, so here we are, with Survivor.  To forestall inevitable comments about one-hit-wonderness, I know Survivor is a fairly well-known band, but I think that’s mainly because of this particular tune.  I took a look at their Greatest Hits, and “Eye of the Tiger” was the only song I actually knew, so I feel decently safe picking this. The original version for your enjoyment:

Anyway, it’s kind of a bear (ha!) to record one of these, do up a dumb video (this time with tigers), write up the blog post, get everything in the proper formats, upload to YouTube and do the Facebook and Twitter notifications all in a single day.  Not that I’m complaining – it’s still awesome and I’m having a blast with it – but I really had to dig deep and find my own eye of the tiger to get it all set.

So, not much to say about the recording here.  It’s standard tuning, dropped down half a step from the original.  I played it pretty straight.  I considered doing sort of a novelty version, or really exaggerating the singing (because this is, after all, the theme to a movie where Rocky boxes Hulk Hogan and Mr. T), but when it came right down to it, I didn’t feel right getting all ironic with it.  “Eye of the Tiger” is totally sweet, and I’ll stand by that forever.

Here’s the MP3 version:

Eye of the Tiger

And the video – with a variety of tigers:

 

 

(Today’s pick comes courtesy of a suggestion from Jeremy Holt, so thank you Jeremy!  Four more covers after today, and I have yet to record three of them, so feel free to suggest tunes if you like, either here in the comments, or on my Facebook or Twitter.  All selections I choose will get a signed copy of 27 Second Set #1 sent to them, so pick well, and pick often.)

This is where things get a little weird.  “Cars,” Gary Numan’s hit single from 1979, is a synth-drenched oddity, apparently more an excuse to have a band composed of four keyboardists and a drummer than an actual song.  There are barely any lyrics (just four verses, with no chorus), and really, the song seems to be about hitting that slamming riff that opens the song as many times as possible, while throwing in the only other melodic figure in the song every once in a while just to mix things up.  It’s one of those tunes I can’t really understand as a hit – it’s like “She Blinded Me With Science” – not a novelty tune, but certainly not what you would expect the public to latch on to.  Give the original a listen and see if I’m being too harsh on it:

 

 

Weird, right?  In any case, for some reason (perhaps just perverse  curiosity), I decided to pick this as the fourth one-hit wonder I’m covering for the challenge.  This one was definitely tricky, and I’m not sure it was entirely successful.  I re-tuned my guitar to an open D tuning (D-G-D-G-A-D) to try and get a bigger sound, with lots of open strings ringing out to support the melody.  Then, I picked up the main riff and the second part and expanded them a little.  Finally, I swapped in sort of a chordal solo for the extended synth orgy that ends the original tune, and there we have it.  I’ll go back to something more traditional tomorrow, but I’m glad I made the attempt here, even if it’s a little wacky.

MP3:

Cars

And the video (I put some cars in there, just to vary things up a little.  If you like cars, this one’s for you.)

 

 

(The suggestion here came from Irene Vavulitsky, a longtime friend and colleague.  I never would have picked it in a million years, so thank you Irene!  I still have the back four slots open, although I’ve gotten a ton of suggestions.  I’m probably going to decide which ones to do tomorrow, so that I can record the tunes over the weekend.  Should be fun!)

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