The first thing I noticed was that the light was on. This seemed very strange to me, as I could see daylight through the window, and I could tell I was lying in a bed. Why would I be in bed with the light on during the day? It made even less sense, in those first few seconds of consciousness, that not only was I lying in that bed during the day with the light on, but I was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt and sneakers. Also, my arm was bent behind my head at such a severe angle that my shoulder burned and my upper arm was numb.
Awareness flooded through my senses, and as strange as the light and the clothes seemed, the most shocking realization came a second or two later: I was in my own bed, just a few feet from Bob’s bed, inside our yellow cinder-block walled dorm room! This was all so confusing because just minutes before … no, SECONDS before, it had been nighttime, and I was awake, enjoying myself drinking beer at a party a few blocks away! It made no sense!
I sat up quickly. “Think! Think!! I was in that apartment, with team mates from baseball, I was with my friend, Dave (not Dr. Dave but a different Dave, who actually went to high school with Dr. Dave, but that’s another story), and I was … what was I doing? We were at that party, I remember that. I was talking to that guy … How did I end up back in my dorm? Wait … this is getting weird …”
A head appeared in the doorway, which opened into the kitchen of the 4-bedroom suite – the typical dormitory for freshmen at this college.
“You alright in here? Sounded like you might have overdone it last night.” It was a suitemate, “Heat” – so-nicknamed because to the seven immature 18-year old suitemates of his, the conflagration-hued hair atop his 22 year old head, coupled with his large-frame 80’s style spectacles, immediately brought to mind the character Heatmiser from the classic 70’s TV Christmas special The Year Without a Santa Claus.
I attended Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science for two years after high school. It was a small school, about 1,200 – 1,500 students, located in the University City section of West Philadelphia, just a couple blocks from Penn and Drexel, the schools that gave the neighborhood its name. It is now known as The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. I had come to Philadelphia from a rather rural area, and I had led a rather subdued life. I didn’t go to parties in high school, I didn’t get together with friends and drink alcohol, I certainly didn’t take any drugs, apart from those prescribed to control my asthma … I was kind of a dork.
Wait! That’s inaccurate. I was TOTALLY a dork, and in fact, a famous movie was made about my transition to college.
When I got to Philadelphia, I decided to try to hide the fact that I was a dork. This was a futile effort, really, no matter how cool I tried to be, as any school with the words “Pharmacy” and “Science” in the name is sure to attract a significant number of dorks, geeks AND nerds and in a school full of them, the only title one is truly striving to be is “King of the Dipshits.”
(I think the fact that this didn’t occur to me is probably the best evidence of all of how dorky I was!)
But be that as it may, I wanted to try to be somewhat “cool” in my new environment and I decided to start saying “yes” to The Herd – a group that I had usually avoided (but whose approval I secretly sought) during the first 17 years of my life – even when I thought The Herd was making unwise decisions. I started going to bars, like The Track & Turf
and Off the Wagon, which apparently got shut down in 1992 – unsurprising, since it served alcohol to pretty much anyone, as long as they could provide ID (Identifiable Dollars). I went to frat parties, apartment parties and house parties. I found out that I liked to drink beer. I discovered a fondness for tequila. I liked the sensation of getting tipsy, the way it seemed to magically enable me to speak to people – even women! – and make them laugh. I began to notice that I’d show up at parties or bars with my friends, and I seemed to be someone people enjoyed talking to. Sometimes people would just come up to me and – get this – start talking to me! People I had never even met!! This was all very exciting and new.
I saw myself in a new light.
“You alright in here? Sounded like you might have overdone it last night,” Heat (under)stated.
Indeed. I had overdone it. I had overdone it in a way that I would continue to overdo for several years to follow. I had overdone it to a point where several hours of my existence had been deleted from my hard drive. I could query to my heart’s content, but all that would be returned was this:
It was frightening. A little booze had been fun, and exciting, but there seemed to be a point at which adding booze no longer increased the fun and excitement, but began to have a negative effect: it began to erase portions of my memory, hours at a time. I had overdone it, and whenever I overdid it, I saw myself in an even different light:
I bring this up about myself as evidence that I deeply understand the concept of “overdoing it.” Of doing something too much. I am extremely familiar with the concept of taking a good thing, and doing it more and more until it becomes … well, a bad thing. Making a good thing a bad thing. It can happen before you know it. For example – this paragraph you’re reading right now …
Overdoing it in music is very common, and it can happen in a few ways. I’ll go over some of them, with the help of YouTube. (And I’m not saying that overdoing it is necessarily bad – I like some overdone stuff, but I’ll get to that later.)
At the basic level, one can overdo the construction of a song. Too many verses, for example – when an artist feels that the listener needs to hear about those “haunted, frightened trees” and “circus sands” the seventh and eighth time through the melody instead of just leaving it be with two nice lines about “swirling ships” and a “dancing spell,” which clearly was all the song needed.
Artists can also run through a song’s riff too many times, or add extra sections to songs, or extend the fade-out for extra minutes. The Grand Funk Railroad song “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” employs all these tactics AND throws in scary mutiny-at-sea lyrics sung in the first person which are themselves overdone. This song may be the best example ever of taking a pop song construction, and adding too many sections (all with hyper-repetitive lyrics) and doing each part too many times – and creating an overdone Frankenstein’s Monster of a song.
If the song had just been cut down a bit, it would have been really cool, I think. But try to sit through the whole thing without thinking, at some point, “Wait … Is this still that same song?”
Pay particular attention to the section from 2:00 to 2:20. It sounds like they started playing that riff and forgot that they were actually recording a song. Like they were just grooving along, digging that riff, man, each with a couple bowls already in their lungs, a smoldering pipe resting on the amp, imagining themselves cruisin’ down a wide-open, redwood-lined Highway 101, on a custom Hog, the old lady ridin’ bitch, everyone’s hair a-flyin’, and no sign of The Fuzz anywhere in sight …
… oh SHIT! We gotta get back to playing the song again, bro! Sorry, dudes!
At that point there are still about 7 and a half minutes left to go in the song – and the listener is already wondering if the needle is stuck in the groove (if this were 1970).
Overdoing song construction is only one way of overdoing it. Another way is to add extra instrumentation to the song, anything from a tambourine to full orchestration. A good example of this is the Beatles’ famous song “The Long and Winding Road.”
Brief Beatles Lesson: when the band broke up, it had the Let It Be album recorded, but it wasn’t mixed. Apple Records hired famous producer and as-yet-not-a-murderer Phil Spector to finish things off, and one of the techniques he employed was to add a whole lot of orchestra. The Beatles weren’t thrilled … so much so that in 2003 Paul remixed the album with all the orchestration (and a few other things) removed and released it as Let It Be … Naked. To demonstrate what Paul felt was “overdoing it,” let’s hear both versions of “The Long and Winding Road.”
Sometimes these additions work, and sometimes they don’t. And much of it – like all music appreciation – boils down to personal taste. Again, although the words “overdoing it” have a negative connotation, I’m not saying I think it’s always a bad thing.
For example: “Progressive Rock.”
Prog Rock artists from the early 70s, like Yes and ELP and Rush, were HUGE proponents of overdoing it, and they overdid it in ALL WAYS POSSIBLE. Unnecessary verses, unnecessary instruments, unnecessary sections, even unnecessary sound effects!!
As a teenager, I was drawn to these artists who overdid it. Give me 10 minutes of “La Villa Strangiato,” with its 6 different time signatures and 4 different solo sections … or 19 minutes of “Close to the Edge,” with all the extra bullshit PLUS the sound of a babbling brook and birds, and I was in heaven! It was mind blowing, man!!!!
However, even the Prog Rock sounds eventually got to be too much for me. Tracing a path of Yes songs from “Roundabout,” in 1971 (8 minutes long, cool; overdone compared to most songs, but pretty tame by Yes standards) to “Close to the Edge,” in 1972 (19 minutes long; definitely overdone, but really in a sweet spot for my ears) to “The Gates of Delirium,” in 1974 (22 minutes: what the fuck!?!), one can tell just by the song titles that things are spinning out of control. Comparing these songs to my drinking in my young adulthood, “Roundabout” is that first beer where I’m saying hello to the young blond woman who smiles back; “Close to the Edge” is about the third beer, where she’s laughing at my jokes and finding me somewhat charming; and “The Gates of Delirium” is the 12th or 14th beer, where I’m speaking to her incoherently about how nothing matters on Earth except Barney Miller, and that if my eighth grade guidance counselor hadn’t screwed me over I’d have gone to fucking Yale and you’re the only girl I’ve ever met who, wait, where did she go, wait, dude, is no one else left at this party? cuz I got a buck or two if anyone wants to go on a beer run, but my ride left so is that anybody else’s beer there on the back of the toilet? cuz dude it’s like almost full so I’ll finish it and do you care if I just lie down, this is your house, right? or whatever, man, I don’t care if the dog had her puppies on it, it looks comfortable just for me to rest on for a while …
(Extending the Yes Music analogy – waking up the next morning on a stinky dog blanket with no recollection of most of the past evening, and no familiarity with the other people sleeping in the house, no apparent way to go home, and mounting nausea and paranoia and self-loathing would collectively encompass the entire 1978 album Tormato.)
I’ve heard A LOT of overdone music during the last 14 months of CD listening, and I’ve come to believe the most egregious form of overdoing it is in number of songs. This happens when an artist records, say, 20 songs – maybe 8 of which are incredible, two of which are pretty good, and 10 of which suck – but decides to just put all 20 songs on the album because, I guess, “each song is like one of my children …” And okay, I get it. But this is why the artist needs people around to tell them the truth. Let’s face it, you might not be able to fairly distinguish between the characteristics of your own brood of kids, but your friends and neighbors know EXACTLY which one’s got “C.E.O.” written all over him, and which one’s got “D.O.C.”
Here are some albums that could’ve been whittled down to VERY EXCELLENT works if their makers had just had an honest friend in the studio to say, in essence, “We’re comfortable with Jim or Jane babysitting our child, but face it: Teddy’s a psychopath.”
A double album. Rare indeed is the double album that IS NOT overdone. I actually like this record a lot. One disc is full of rockin’ songs and the other disc is full of mellow. And while there are 20 very good songs included, they could have chosen the best 12 and made an INCREDIBLE record. Let’s face it, Foo Fighters’ bread and butter is raucous, loud rock, and while it’s nice to see an artist stretch a little here and there, most of the songs on the mellow disc could have been reserved for something else. Maybe a bonus disc? B-sides? (Do they make B-sides anymore?) Songs like “Still” and “Miracle” and “Friend of a Friend” weren’t necessary to put on here. “Virginia Moon” … well, as far as Dave Grohl duets go, this song with Norah Jones is somewhere below his version of “Leather and Lace” with Will Ferrell.
They shoulda kept “Another Round,” “Razor” and “What if I do” and put those three onto the first disc, while ditching “The Last Song” and “Free Me,” and we’d be talking about one of the great records ever. On a scale of overdoing it, this record is somewhere around having a third martini, or taking a second shot of Jeagermeister on a dare: not terrible, but probably not a good idea.
Physical Graffiti. Led Zeppelin.
I love Zeppelin, and I love this album, again a double. It’s got a ton of classics: “Custard Pie,” “Houses of the Holy,” “Trampled Under Foot,” “Down by the Seaside,” “Ten Years Gone,” “Boogie With Stu,” “Bron-Yr-Aur,” “Black Country Woman” and, of course, “Kashmir” … They shoulda stopped right there. But they couldn’t. They had to put out a damned double album, and they threw in songs (“In My Time of Dying,” “In the Light,” “Sick Again,” “Night Flight,” “The Rover,” “The Wanton Song”) that weren’t horrible, but that just weren’t as good as the others, and really served no purpose other than to make me think, “Man, this record’s too long …” Maybe this is where Foo Fighters got the idea? On a scale of overdoing it, this is worse than In Your Honor, because this would’ve been an even greater album without the overdone-ness. This record is the equivalent of filling your empty, recently-guzzled “Mad Dog 20/20” bottle with Pabst Blue Ribbon from the keg.
I tend to think U2 are a better singles band than album band. I like a lot of their albums, and I own most of them, but I find I skip over many songs. It’s tough to call a single album of 10 songs overdone, but I place it here because the good songs are SO GOOD, and the bad songs are SO NOT GOOD! This coulda been the best EP ever!! I understand they put out Under a Blood Red Sky just before this and Wide Awake in America just after, so it’s unreasonable to think they would put out three EPs in a row, I guess, but why not leave “Promenade,” “4th of July,” “Indian Summer Sky,” “Elvis Presley & America,” and “MLK” off this record? Then it would just be “A Sort of Homecoming,” “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Wire,” “The Unforgettable Fire,” and “Bad.” Perfect!! OR – why not keep “Indian Summer Sky,” which wasn’t too bad, and add “The Three Sunrises,” from Wide Awake in America? I guess that’s only 7 songs … This is a tough one, really, but it’s bothered me since I got the tape in 1984 that there was such unevenness. Maybe it’s not all that overdone after all. I don’t know – let’s call it the equivalent of three beers on an empty stomach after playing basketball for 2 hours: marginally overdone, but still regrettable.
Holy moley!!! When this came out in 1980, it was a TRIPLE ALBUM!!! That’s right, three big vinyl LPs in one product. Thirty-fricking-six songs!! Most bands don’t write 36 decent songs in an entire CAREER, let alone in one album. That’s a lot of songs to put out at once, and you gotta have a pretty big set of balls to do it. And Mick Jones and Joe Strummer certainly had ego to spare.
However, it’s not hard to see why they’d attempt such an effort. To this point in their career, they’d put out three LPs: The Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, and London Calling, for a total of 43 songs, plus 5 singles, and Goddammit if all 48 aren’t at least Very Good songs! It was an amazing string of songs, really, which was topped off by the 19-song extravaganza of London Calling, perhaps the greatest rock record ever produced! (Aside from all the Beatles records.) From 1977 to 1979 The Clash went (pretty much) 48 for 48 in songwriting (and cover songs). Sure, not every song was a home run, but all were solid base hits, at a minimum, certainly no whiffs.
So, if you’re in that position, why not expect that you could just saunter into some New York studio, with no songs written, no ideas in place, and just pull an album’s worth of hits out of your collective asses? And you know what happened? THEY DID IT! They wrote (or covered) 10 or 12 excellent songs, once again! “The Magnificent Seven,” “Hitsville U.K.,” “Junco Partner,” “Somebody Got Murdered,” “One More Time,” “Lightning Strikes,” “The Sound of Sinners,” “Police on my Back,” “The Callup,” “Washington Bullets,” “Charlie Don’t Surf,” “The Street Parade” … That’s a great fucking album right there! But you know what else they did? They kept writing and recording and writing and recording. And pretty soon they had 36 songs, not 10 or 12. And hey, if 12 is good, 36 must be three times as good, right?! The same as drinking shots of mezcal!
Anyway, here’s Joe Strummer’s opinion of my opinion:
But the truth remains, this album was way overdone. Way WAY overdone. Extremely. It’s hard to overstate the overdone-ness of this record, but then again our drinking scale would terminate at the high end at Death by Alcohol Poisoning, and certainly Sandinista! isn’t in the same category as total systemic organ failure. So, let’s say this record is the equivalent of waking up in the morning in your own bed, fully clothed, with a light on and no memory of how you got there, and having a cartoon character smirk at you and say, “Sounded like you might have overdone it last night …”
(Other CDs with too many songs include Teenager of the Year, by Frank Black, and Nonsuch, by XTC.)
Please comment with any music you think is overdone.
NOTE: I’m up to album #350 in my listening project. I think I’m into the final 20 – 30.