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A - L
Baby Go Bye Bye
I wrote the hook (the insidiously catchy background part) of "Baby Go Bye Bye" on the corner of Second Avenue and Eleventh Street in NYC on August 8, 1995. I love the rhythmic interplay between the lead vocal and the backups; one barely finishes and the other starts. The lead vocal is almost a melodic rap. Jeff drummed his ass off on this, and in only two takes! I doubled the backups for the full stereo effect. I also blended in some plucky-sounding mouth-guitar.

I think this recording captures the pagan-idol spirit of a love gone amuck. I'm particularly proud of the autobiographical lyrics, which accurately describe my discombobulated state of mind in the aftermath of my divorce. I'm also psyched that I used "meshugge" (crazy) in this song, increasing to two the Yiddish words I've used in my pop ditties (I referred to "gefilte" -- a white blob of reconstituted carp fish, in "Everything To Me").

Those are grunting and then squealing pigs in the chant/breakdown section, which I got from a sound-effects record. My pal Wendy added the baby's voice at the very end to achieve the comedic "button" effect.
Be My Friend
The chorus idea began festering sometime in 1995, but I didn't write verses and lyrics until March, 1996, when Jeff came over to lay the mouth drums onto my Tascam 688 eight-track cassette. I finished the demo in a few hours in September of the same year.

To me, this song is a spiritual cousin of "I Like You Very Much" -- flirtatious, sarcastic and suggestive in an unthreatening way. I botched a line on the demo (on seanDEMOnium); I sang "Don't fight, don't fight, just hold tight, all night" when, in fact, the lyric is "Don't fight, don't bite..." To repair it would have required risky micro-surgery on four tracks, so I said fuck it.

I really like this vocal arrangment, especially the rhythmic interplay between the lead and the backups in the later choruses. For your amusement, here are some lines and images I rejected for the last verse:

Your lack of talkativeness
My chronic disruptiveness
Your leaky like a sieveness
My penchant for forgiveness
My darned/rare/true compulsiveness
My charming defectivenenss
My tacky/clingy/sticky adhesiveness

I performed "Be My Friend" for the first time at the East Coast A Cappella Summit in Boston on June 28, 1997 with Five O'Clock Shadow.
Come My Way
In the immediate aftermath of my marriage's implosion in February 1994, I went on a spectacular creative tear; pain plainly tickled my muse more than pleasure ever could. Most of the songs I bled in the first few months were expressions of anger, bitterness and bewilderment ("For The Love", "Person," "Married Man," "Far Away" and "Julie Gone" among others). As any dime-store self-help book or woman's magazine will tell you, however, romantic breakups engender a broader spectrum of emotions. In the midst of my hellish whirlwind, "Come My Way" emerged as a tuneful voice of reason -- a shimmering beacon of forgiveness and love cutting through the fog of misery.

It was two days after my birthday -- May 11, 1994 -- and Rockapella was taping Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? in Queens, New York. My notes say "in a more forgiving mood @ Kaufman Studios" and, in fact, forgiveness is the most prominent theme:

Come my way into the garden home and melt your butter
Everything forgiven, every bug is livin' love, come my way...

My East Village apartment does have a backyard garden but, being a city boy, the word "garden" and all images of nature have a grander meaning for me: they represent purity, simplicity and honesty -- an untainted green universe. The recurring "butter" image (melt your butter, draw your butter, drink your butter) represents luxury, sexuality, and physical comfort (think dipping lobster into warm butter sauce. Mmmmm...)

Did I think this analytically when my wife had just dumped me and I was dressed as a fucking lima bean, scribbling rhymes between takes of a kiddie TV show? Of course not; this self-important gobbledygook is all Monday morning quarterbacking, and all the more insidious for my attempt to pass it off as genuine. In truth, who the hell knows *what* was going on in my mosh pit of synapse misfirings that afternoon. For all I know I might have eaten a garden salad with butter dressing; maybe that explains the whole damned ditty!

Be that as it may, one of my fave lyrical moments, for its autobiographical accuracy, is:

& If you're down I'll convert you with a missionary zeal
& guard your heart with a mercenary cool
& if you're drained I will fill you up with my love until you know
The glory of an other-worldly fool

I intended for the bridge to be like Jamaican rapping (toasting); but on me it came out sounding like an auctioneer at the Nashville chapter of Hadassah. Good idea, though, eh? The words are train of thought; they're meant to be tasted, not swallowed. If anything, the confused dark imagery is more akin to the other songs I was writing at this time:

Gift o' the gab but the Bible warns o'
the bad taste in my mouth o' talkin' in tongues
Blow to the head at the bar-room brawl
gonna leave me peelin' myself right off the wall
Bow to the bobbin'-headed icon
bleed my mind down my brain to a crawl

Ouch. That sounds painful, especially around the face, neck and head areas. The "bobbin'-headed icon" refers to those cute bobbing head-on-springs Ceramic figures, often visible in the backs of cars on midwestern highways. I have a Boston Red Sox one which gives me hours of bobbin'-headed pleasure.

As an avid student of song craft, I'm particularly proud of this song's musical structure. Most pop songs have but three musical themes (verse, chorus, bridge), but I managed to sneak a fourth in through the back door -- the "Come my way into the garden home..." section which starts the song, makes a mid-song appearance after the second chorus and then returns, triumphantly, to end the song. It just goes to show that none of the rules matter as long as the song works.

I finished the 8-track demo that summer ('94) just as Rockapella went into NYC's Electric Lady (Hendrix's studio) to record Rockapella Five: Out Cold. At my suggestion, the song was a last minute substitution for "I Walk With You." Billy Straus produced the track, and Scott Leonard was especially helpful in creating a drum loop from a Jeff Thacher vocal percussion line. For 1995's Primer CD, Rockapella re-recorded the song live-in-studio at Connecticut's Sonalyst Studio. For my 1999 alt.mania album, I and the Muscular Band (Tony James, Winston Roye, Matt Detro) recorded parts at Treehouse Studios and producer Billy Straus' house. I sang the eight tracks of vocals in my house.
Daisy Simone
"Daisy Simone" won The Contemporary A Cappella Society's 1997 CARA award for "Best Original Pop Song," my unsurpassed third in that category ("Carmen Sandiego" and "My Home" are past winners). The go-go dancer who inspired the song wasn't really named "Daisy" but her stage moniker was, in fact, "Simone."

For a detailed explanation of how this song was spawned, read "Daisy Simone - Fact or Stription?." I wrote the verse melody in Hawaii in July of 1993 (on the honeymoon of my ill- fated marriage, no less), and wrote the lyrics and chorus melody in NYC that autumn. Jeff Thacher laid down the mouth drums at my apartment in NYC, and I schlepped my portastudio to Las Vegas' Luxor Hotel to finish the vocals during Rockapella's Vocobeatalbum photo shoot. Alas, the song never made it onto that CD, and burned an impatient hole in my pocket for several years. I actually gave "Daisy" a copy of the demo, which she liked, but not enough to date me. I submitted the song for the Demi Moore flick, "Striptease," but it was rejected, and I think that's why the movie bombed. For Lucky Seven, Rockapella learned the song quickly and, by necessity, recorded it piecemeal: first drums, then bass, then the backups doubled, then the lead vocal, then "ear candy." I love this recording of the song, because it captures the seedy spirit of the nightclub. I quit Rockapella before we ever performed the song in concert.
Falling Over You
This is one of my most recorded ditties.

The first incarnation was a work-in-progress, micro-cassette version performed by me and my then-bride during our Hawaiian honeymoon in July, 1993. I played guitar and sang the chorus in gibberish, she clapped her hands on two and four, and the pacific waves crashed in the background.

Later that summer, Billy Straus invited me to collaborate with him on a couple of song submissions for the Sister Act sequel. In the scene, an urban high school a cappella group wins a talent contest. Billy and I fleshed out my "Falling Over You" idea, churned out a bare-bones treatment of "I Found Sugar," and Fedexed thirty-second demos of each to Los Angeles. Alas, the scene was cut from the movie before the producers could even consider songs! Billy and I dusted ourselves off, wrote verse melodies and lyrics, and re-demo'd the songs for Rockapella's consideration. I recall playing the demo for the band backstage during a computer trade show gig in Las Vegas.

Rockapella's 4eight-track digital Vocobeat (1994) recording is memorable for Jeff Thacher's layered vocal drum intro. The song didn't blossom, however, until we started performing it live, usually as a show opener. The arrangement became so second-nature that we occasionally performed a swinging "Mills Brothers" version in sound checks and once in Osaka, Japan.

Rockapella's live-in-the-studio Primer (1995) recording captured the concert intensity and organic groove that audiences loved. In December, 1996, we donned absurd white suits and lip-synched that recording for the network TV broadcast of the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami (see "Miami's Vise"). For 1997's studio seanDEMOnium, Billy plugged my $75 used Alamo guitar into his wah-wah pedal, fired up his junky bass and let the James Brown vibes flow. I'm grateful that this song lives on.

May it outlive us all!
I wrote the verse and chorus music for "Fan" in 1994, when the working title was still "I'm Your Man." Then my Rockapella bandmate, Scott Leonard, played me a fine song of his with nearly the same title, and that prompted me to change my lyrical concept to accommodate the new title.

I'm constantly amazed at the power of TV and other performance media to forge strong emotional bonds (albeit one way) between viewers and performers. I speak from experience: I was madly in love with Mary Tyler Moore's "Laura Petrie," Barbara Eden's "Jeannie" and and that buxom fox who played "Ellie May" on The Beverly Hillbillies. On a purely intellectual level, I knew that their stage personas likely differed from their private selves, but that detail never stopped me from fantasizing pell-mell. With the empathy that comes from having peed on both sides of the tracks, then, I wrote lyrics exploring an imagined fitful romance between fan and star. Can either party get past their predisposed misconceptions about the other? Not likely, but in a song anything goes, and love sometimes conquers.

I wrote most of the words in Missouri during Rockapella's Fall 1995 Heartland Tour. Jeff Thacher spit the mouth drums onto my eight-track Tascam the following June. I finished the lyrics under a Hawaiian palm tree at a Rockapella corporate gig seventeen months later (February, 1997), after I had already announced my resignation. My pal Hugh Browne laid the dirty guitars and bass in May, 1997, just one week before seanDEMOnium was sent to the pressing plant. I enjoy the contrast between the recording's overall garage vibe and the bridge's psychedelic "underwater" effect.
Hazel Eyes
Damn, I love this song! It's not as musically quirky as others; it's not as lyrically dense; it doesn't even contain the words "missionary," "butter" or "gefilte." Still, Hazel Eyes is happily lodged beneath my skin, like some sublime, blood-gorged tick.

I wrote the verse and chorus music in about ten minutes on November 5, 1996, just after a particularly painful Rockapella conference call. Our long-awaited American record deal seemed in jeopardy, and personal/creative differences seemed poised to tear one of us from the fold; in fact, a mere two months later I announced my resignation.

The music for "Hazel Eyes" was thus composed in that pensive and mournful frame of mind; but still, I had no lyrical direction. Nine days later I met a babe whom I found so visually and intellectually compelling that, during our first date, I was already mentally sizing her for a wedding gown. I typically don't write songs for people until they've already exited the Seanosphere, but in her case I eschewed tradition; the words began tumbling like stars from lyric heaven during my lonely cab ride home. In a wine-buzzed, euphoric fog, I wrote most of it in one glorious fell swoop, and I was determined to gift "Hazel Eyes" with a demo of her ditty before Rockapella left for Japan in early December. I cranked out the recording in a few hours of dazzling, romance-fueled mania. I gave her the demo then left for Japan, and wouldn'tcha know, I never saw her again. The lyrics predict the relationship's sudden demise with frightening accuracy, and I dig the song all the more for its poetic, psychic prediction.

The girl looked more than a little like my ex-wife, and in a wicked, hopeful glance backward, my last verse lyric is "...but maybe, Hazel Eyes...I see her devil face but you're just an angel in disguise." Yeah, maybe...but maybe NOT! Fuck this... I'm swearing off of tall slender brunettes! They're nothin' but heartache, I tell ya.

Here's the technical skinny: I played the two acoustic guitar parts on my Ovation Celebrity, cranked through a Small Stone phase shifter to obscure my frequent flubs. In the bridge I added a burly Seattle distortion, and I sweetened the whole recording with tambourine, shaker, and falsetto backup vocals. Everything was recorded and mixed on the my Tascam 688 eight-track cassette thingie. This is the only recording on seanDEMOnium on which I played everything by my wee li'l lonesome. Yay for me, but did I get the girl...?
I Walk With You
I wrote "I Walk With You" with Billy Straus in the summer of 1992, with the intention of submitting it for the Steve Martin flick Leap of Faith. Billy's divine "Change In My Life" had already been accepted, and the producers asked him to submit some more material. I recall lying in a hammock in Vermont writing words, with my travel-size thesaurus and rhyming dictionary on my stomach. Every half-hour or so I'd come back into the house and we'd compare notes. The serene rural setting definitely influenced the lyrics.

After lying dormant for almost two years, the song was slated to be on Rockapella Five: Out Cold. At the last minute, however, to correct an apparent overabundance of slow songs, I finished off a new one, "Come My Way," which replaced "I Walk With You" on the CD. Two years later, the song finally saw sunlight on Rockapella's Lucky Seven album. The song's first public performances were at the 1996 East Coast A Cappella Summit, and at the wedding of Rockapella's then-road manager, Phil, that same weekend. For Lucky Seven, Jeff Thacher recorded a vocal drum track, but we ended up mixing it without percussion to keep it softer and sweeter.
I Won't Mind
I wrote the music in mid-1995 and finished the words and the demo in rapid succession in February, 1996. My college friend Hugh Browne played three guitar parts on the demo, which appears on seanDEMOnium: two hard- panned acoustics run through my $60-used Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phase shifter, and one electric-sounding part that's really the same acoustic guitar as the other two. I had just bought the Small Stone at a guitar show in Pennsylvania, and I was so enamored of its summer-of-love- acid-droppin'- free-lovin'- don't-bogart-the-joint- you-show-me-yours- and-I'll-show-you-mine- two-stray-dogs- humping-in-a-field- of-freshly-bloomed-poppies psychedelia that I used it on all my vocals, too. I knew I had done well when my friend Shannon, a downtown diva bombshell hipster, said the recording really moved her. The bridge still makes me cry, so I know that I struck a nerve, if only in myself.
If I Knew Then
Noel Cohen and I had already written five songs together ("My Love's Roses," "Beautiful Liar,"Unhappy Anniversary, "Mindy's Mine and "Heart of The Beholder") when, in February 1999, he faxed me the chorus lyric idea that would become "If I Knew Then." Our initial intent was to pursue a Marshall-Crenshaw-meets-Roy- Orbison vibe -- a bit country, a bit pop, and entirely wistful. The instant success of "Unhappy Anniversary" had plainly whetted our appetites for more mournful songs with universal appeal.

We sprouted this tulip in four two-hour sessions (pretty good, for us) and, in the process, allowed it to morph into a sexier-grooved, Jobim-style tune. This is Noel's musical forte (strange, given his NYC Jewish roots); in fact, I had often admired the Brazilian-sounding ballads he had co-written with my friend Ivy Markaity.

The lyrics are not precisely autobiographical for either of us. In this romance-gone-sour scenario, the narrator withheld his love from a woman who offerred hers first. She wisely dumped him, and now he's left playing pathetic monday morning quarterback.

One moment haunts me from that July
She spoke of love and got no reply
While I was shrinking
From her was she thinking
About her goodbye?

The chorus' 20/20 romantic hindsight theme hits close to home, as does the Temptation to hyper-scrutinize the minutia of a failed relationship in order to explain its demise.

If I knew then what I know now
She'd still be mine someway somehow
If I knew then, if I knew then, if I knew then...

Oh sure, Sean...and you would've invested in Microsoft, too. Fat fuckin' chance, numbnuts. You made your sadsack bed, now quite belly-aching and lie in it, ya piss-ant pussy.

My rinky-dink vintage Korg drum machine has eight latin rhythm pre-sets and, for the 8-track demo, I selected "bossanova". Ole! Noel laid two identical nylon string finger picking parts and a simple, arpeggiated bass line (on Billy Straus' cool Gretsch bass). I recorded a quick reference lead vocal and sang a subtle Squeeze-like low octave to give the choruses added warmth.

Over the next few days, I played this quick'n'dirty demo for a few friends. The collective response was very positive, all agreeing that the song, in all its sad 'n' pensive glory, suited me nicely. I hope to include a version on alt.mania.

2/15/99 Began with Noel's chorus lyric idea
2/22/99 Finished chorus; begin verse melody
3/01/99 Lyrics complete except for bridge
3/08/99 Finished song
3/15/99 Noel records classical guitar & bass onto DA-38, Sean sings reference lead
3/30/99 Debut @ The Den with Matt Detro, Mike Pieck & Noel Cohen
4/01/99 Wrote this songnote
I'm Waiting
"I'm Waiting" is a reggae ballad I wrote in 1994 and demo'd in 1995. I especially like the confessional lyrics: me pining and whining like a damned sissy. This is my only reggae composition and it's one of the few songs I can actually play well on the guitar, although I've never recorded it accompanied. Rockapella's Lucky Seven recording is remarkably true to my original demo, which appears on seanDEMOnium .

This recording marked a new level of eight-track home studio knowledge for me; I finally had enough arrangement foresight to record the three main backup parts, bounce them to one track, re-record the same three parts, bounce those to another track, and, voilą: six voices in glistening stereo, with six tracks to spare! These are the kind of low-fi achievements that low-rent musicians live for!
Julie Gone
Damn me for not remembering more about this song's conception. My notes tell me that I wrote the music in August of 1993 but didn't finish the words until February, 1995. Intuition and plain old logic dictate, then, that I was married when I wrote the music, got divorced, and then wrote lyrics based on my farblondjet state of mind. I suppose this reluctant hybrid makes the song all the more interesting, and explains why the peppy verse music belies the distraught lyric -- like superimposing a eulogy on a Sousa march.

Jeff Thacher laid the mouth drums onto my eight-track Tascam 688 in March of 1995, and I finished the recording that month. Because the demo was earmarked for Rockapella and I wanted the vocal arrangement to be obvious, I panned the lead vocal slightly right and the backup trio slightly left, which makes for a quirky '60s early-days-of-stereo vibe. Another tidbit: on headphones, you can pick out my vocal "guitar" countermelody (right ear) in the latter choruses.

Rockapella performed the song twice at the Bottom Line in the fall of 1995, but our live performance never fulfilled the bouncy promise of the demo and the song died a pitiful death at the hands of that sinister bitch, Democracy.

I've always loved this song's alternately blatant and cryptic autobiographical references, and the fact that the narrator isn't sure of anything; it's all "I guess" this and "I guess" that. The pathetic bastard (oh shit, that's me!) doesn't really fess up until the bridge, when he admits to being hopelessly discombobulated. Once again, pain proves to be inspirational -- GOD BLESS IT!

The demo proudly occupies ID #16 on seanDEMOnium, wedged appropriately between "oooh-Angst" and the not-so- "Perky Interlude."
Kingdom of Shy
Elliott Kerman and I have known each other since the fall of 1979, when he and the rest of the High Jinks of Brown University inducted me into their tuneful fold. After graduation we formed Rockapella, and the rest is meticulously documented. Twenty years of singing beside Elliott and hearing him play piano qualifies me to comment on his remarkable melodic gift: the man oozes timeless pop melodies like a ripe Vermont maple dishes sap. Cool, jazzy melodies that belong next to the classic American standards of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and George Gershwin.

In 1993, after a year of hearing him play one such infectious song whenever a piano was in sight, I asked him if I might have a crack at setting his music to words. The timing was right; I was just gaining confidence as a wordsmith, Rockapella was looking for a new jazzy Elliott solo, and El trusted me to take his prize hotrod for a lyrical test drive.

I had two clear objectives: to write lyrics in the same classic '40s pop style of the tune, and to paint a lyrical picture that El could embrace as a soloist.

In concert, each member of Rockapella had begun to nurture his own stage persona ą la John, Paul, George and Ringo. I adopted the role of the wise-cracking game-show host, Scott Leonard was the sexy rocker with the winning moves and Disney smile, Barry Carl was the menacing grizzly with a golden heart, Jeff Thacher was Harpo, and El was the sweet shy one. What perfect fodder for a biographical song! Of course, El's not particularly shy in real life, like when he cross-checked that mugger senseless with an umbrella, but this is showbiz; it's about bold, broad strokes. I was both grateful and relieved that Elliott liked my lyrics.

Mine is the Kingdom of Shy
I'm a monumentally meek kind o' guy
Is there some paperback I can buy
That'll teach this pony to fly?

XTC's "Mayor of Simpleton" surely influenced the first line, and that phrase established the ongoing metaphor. From there I tried to stay true to the classic jazz-pop genre. My gradeschool exposure to Gilbert & Sullivan is evident in the wordplay, which I feel is some of the best I've done. Some songs cry out for "heartfelt" but this one plainly required Noel Coward cleverness and irony. I'm very proud of these lyrics, particularly because they're unlike any I've written since.

Such is the Kingdom of Shy, for me -- the quintessential quiet guy
You can't teach a pony to fly, but I try, Lord knows how I'm tryin'
And one day you might see this pony fly
Straight up in the sky with a lottery smile
Direct non-stop one-way-out from the Kingdom of Shy
I am the monumental monarch of the Kingdom of Shy...guys...

Elliott and I worked out the intricate vocal arrangement in an afternoon, replete with a fetching two-part countermelody for me and Scott, and a comedic "tick-tock" step-out line for Jeff. Within a few weeks the song was adorned with smooth, tongue-in-cheek choreography, and it became an audience favorite.

For Rockapella's fourth Japanese release, Vocobeat, we embellished the live arrangement with a third background part, a cappella "horn" blasts and a so-called "saxophone" line. The live-in-studio version on Primer is true to the band's live presentation, but for the retro old-radio effect on the opening verse.

Spring 1993 Written, debuted
Summer 1993 recorded Vocobeat version @ East Hill Studios
Summer 1995 recorded live-in-studio version for Primer @ Sonalysts Studios
SongNotes M-Z
SongNotes M-Z

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