This time we provided a simple challenge: “Write a song to a childhood toy,” and 11 days to think about it and get it done. All the entries are of decent quality; and as the challenge is so simple, I'm giving it a huge amount of weight because... well, I have to separate you out somehow, and I really think the challenge aspect of this game is not optional. Now some folks in the Facebook group picked up on the nuance here pretty quickly... you’re challenged to sing to the toy. Most of you did that.
So, my first cut is based on whether you met the challenge. A lot of you didn’t. I’m not proposing to DQ anybody, but there should be a consequence for not paying attention. This is a sad task because I wind up having to put songs I really like at or near the bottom. As for other criteria... this time I decided to just kick back and hope you guys surprised me. I didn’t really decide on how to rank them until I heard them. But here are some of the other factors I found myself considering:
- Is there a nostalgia factor?
- Did the song evoke invoke the feel of the toy?
- Does the song have heart? Does it make me feel?
- Was it creative? Did you surprise me in some way?
- How well was it produced, and was the production appropriate to the source material? All other things being equal, how did you represent yourself?
I then shuffled things around based on these other factors. So flubbing the challenge might start you out at the bottom of my list, but great execution and a catchy song might get you back out. It might get you through to the next round, but I don’t think it’s a really good plan.
But after all of that, the final cut boils down to “what did I like?”
Here are my reviews, ranked from top to bottom:
MC Ohm-i - Furby Life
challenge: hellz yeah
Pure fun. This is the best thing I've heard from MC Ohm-i. This has great, infectious rhythm, dense self-referential lyrics, great flow, some great punches. I love it when someone is having a lot of fun with one of these challenges, because you get to feel it. My two cents... when you’re pulling emotion out of an audience, the hardest one to get to is genuine joy. Ohm-i, the last time you were here I was critical that your work was clever, but lacked heart. This time you nailed it. This is easily my favorite song of the round.
Ominous Ride - Teddy
challenge: well met
If Pink Floyd did piano rock, they might have come up with a song like this. Clever lyrics and concept. I like the introspective lament, I like the emotion, I like the execution. First rate production. Great job!
Edric Haleen - Twenty Years On
challenge: well met
I have a very soft spot for Calvin and Hobbes, and this song hits me in the same place as this painting by Craig Mahoney: [link]. As always, Edric sticks to the letter of the challenge, leaning as far over the boundaries as he can without setting a foot outside them. We never said the toy had to be real, or yours. So here, an adult Calvin considers his infant son in a monologue addressed to his beloved stuffed tiger, Hobbes. It’s beautifully done, with the right amount of schmaltz. There are a few things that keep it from being completely successful. The first thing is that you know you’re being manipulated. The second is that it feels like we’ve been here before. There are some ways to have avoided that, but it wouldn’t have been the same song; and that’s more an observation of Edric’s entire body of work than this song.
Edric, regarding the song currently at hand, if I may quibble... the last Calvin and Hobbes appeared on the last day of 1995, almost 18 years ago. Some of the judges and a sizeable portion of the audience weren’t far removed from zygotes then. Merely recognizing the subject doesn’t clue them in to the fact that Hobbes is a toy. Many people simply know him as a tiger. But beyond that, a number of your listeners don’t even recognize the subject matter, though Hobbes’ name is fleetingly spoken. Part of this could be helped by having Brandi address the singer as “Calvin” or “Calvin, honey,” though I strongly suspect you wouldn’t want to do that, preferring to let the audience figure it out. In any case, Brandi’s speaking part is mixed so low that it’s easy to miss entirely. And far from being ancillary to the song, it gives the important information that the child, and not the singer, is Brian. Without it, the line, “Will he play ‘Brianball’ as we used to do” is somewhat misleading. Brandi’s part needs to come up a bit in the mix and be added to the lyrics sheet. But well done!
TurboShandy - (The Mandatory Retirement Of) Action Man
I like this. Beyond just being imaginative, this song gives us a glimpse of how the toy was played with. It was nicely nostalgic for me, as I got a great deal of play out of my own G.I. Joes (the original 12” variety). The song comes across as sincere; it has a nice beat that doesn’t drag. Good work!
Blimp Exhaust - My Nerf Gun And I
The things I wrote about TurboShandy’s song all apply here; nostalgic, imaginative, sincere, well done. I’m not entirely certain why I place this one below that one. Maybe it’s just that “My Nerf Gun And I” has a harsher, edgier sound. I really don’t know. So I’m chalking it up to “personal preference.”
RC - The Pong Song
OK, I’m going to feel horribly guilty writing what I’m about to write, because this is easily the best produced song of the round. It sounds just GREAT. And that is the problem with it for me... it’s over-produced. This is the kind of music that is perfect for a buddy-movie montage. Boy and his dog, romping through the fields. The music here far outstrips the subject matter. Pong itself is so simplistic the original didn’t even have a single player mode. The sounds it produced were basic bleeps and bloops having nothing in common with the sound of a cellulose ball on a wooden paddle. The lyrics here decry the fact that other games got too complicated, but that’s pretty much what the music does. And if I strip out all the production and pay attention to just the lyrics and melody, they still don’t really seem to mesh. But it really is impressive production.
The Orion Sound - Turn You On
This is how to do a video-game-as-toy song. Clever lyrics, rockin' piano and vocals. Finally, a song from The Orion Sound that’s not cringe-worthy... which is great because this kid has so much legit talent he doesn’t need to sabotage himself. Even the suggestive lyrics here are clever and appropriate, as the title itself is double entendre, and a Gameboy is pretty accurately described as “the first boy I ever turned on”. The fact that this is sung to the toy itself (the Gameboy) as opposed to one of the games is a very pleasant plus. And a really impressive performance that could be made even better by starting earlier in the week to allow for some practice time. Good job, though.
Menage a Tune - Perfect Place
There’s a lot of good in this song, starting with a good story: a little girl and her Chatty Cathy doll get stuck in a refrigerator. In refrigerators built prior to 1958 (when they were re-designed with magnetic door seals), this was an all-too-common and often-fatal occurrence. At the time Chatty Cathys were common, this would have been a realistic and horrific scenario. The music production here captures it perfectly, sounding for all the world like a Tim Burton musical number. I’d’ve never guessed Ted provided the voice of Cathy. Though JoAnn does well sleepily delivering the lines in the refrigerator, I think this is one song that would have benefitted from bringing in a ringer for the vocals (as Edric did with Zoe Gray’s guest appearance in “Disaster Girl”). I’d love to hear a remix to bring in that extra touch of horror that only an actual child’s voice could provide. Also, I think that this song and Edric’s may be the only two entries that are sung to a toy that are not also about the toy. There’s nothing wrong with it being both, but that distinction makes these stand out creatively for me. This little girl is playing with the doll as a little girl would... I like that.
Emperor Gum - Guardian
Remember, we never said the toy had to be real, or yours. Emperor Gum provides the second totally fictional entry of the round, based on this excellent painting on the deviant art site: [link]. The image of that little Teddy wielding his wooden sword to fend off a dragon is a study in courage, worthy of song, indeed! The orchestration reminds me of The Neverending Story, and brings in the right touch of fantasy. The vocals are shaky, but the lyrics are generally strong, despite the contortion of “when I sleep it’s me you save” and the uncomfortable contour of “Standing ever watchful over every girl and boy”. That line could probably benefit from a re-phrasing to decouple it from the accompaniment so it doesn’t sound rushed and unnatural. Overall, though, one of the best ever from Emperor Gum.
Steve Durand - Fireball XL5
I don’t know how many people reading this have ever actually seen Fireball XL5 (and I think I was only about 4 years old at the time), but it was a “Supermarionation” sci-fi series by Gerry Anderson, who later brought us Stingray, Thunderbirds, UFO, and eventually Space:1999. The toy Steve is singing to is a model of the rocket from that show. Trust me, those of you who grew up on CGI don’t know what you’re missing. I bring this up because knowing the astoundingly cheesy ballad that played over the closing credits of that show really adds to the nostalgia factor of this Steve Durand number. Steve’s got the twangy early-60’s style pop guitar. He’s got the right meter and rhyme-scheme for lyrics that are pure reminiscence. There’s a touch more mariachi than heroic fanfare in the brass, but still good. We won’t discuss the vocals.
Riker's Island - Play Doh
I like the lyrical style that tells the story not through exposition, but through a series of quick-cut imagery. I like to say that there are “story” songs and there are “mood” songs... this one straddles the line. There are two parallel unrelated stories here. I think there was a missed opportunity here to bring boy-and-girl together a bit more cohesively than you did. You could have created more than an ode to the Play-doh itself. I like that it's a simpler rhythm than Kevin's given us in the past; in a couple of places it’s still ever-so-slightly too complicated for my taste. I found myself getting pulled away from the song to listen to the drums.
Mariah Mercedes - This One's for Blankie.
challenge: met, with reservations
A blanket? OK, sure, I can go with that. I like the beat, and it’s pleasant to listen to. The bridge is perhaps a little over-dramatic. As to whether it meets the challenge, I’m seriously at odds with myself. It’s certainly not addressed to the blanket, but is also certainly dedicated to it. So I’m calling it met, though it’s weak on both toy-ness and to-ness. On song-ness, it’s very nice.
Boffo Yux Dudes - Super-Elastic Bubble-Plastic Fabulous Rubber-Stretch Man
Well, this is one way of saying “Stretch Armstrong” without running foul of someone’s trademark. I found myself imagining that the BYD are singing to some off-brand Chinese rip-off... the kind you get at the dollar store. The music is, of course, unmistakable as anything but the trademarked “BYD mode”. I don’t quite know what that buzzy instrument is that’s making the piano sound weird; the end result reminds me of an Atari 800XL.
Army Defense - Stretch Armstrong
This sounds rather nice. However, I don’t understand the lyrics at all. I hear them; I know the words that you’re sayin’. But I’m not comprehending any overall meaning behind them. In my view, the groovy sound makes up for the incomprehensible lyrics.
Jailhouse Payback - WillieTalk
I have a confession. I told the other judges I thought that if a kid played with his... er... himself it counts as a toy. So when I saw this title, I thought "Whaddya know, somebody did it!" I was both mildly disappointed and greatly relieved to realize it was a ventriloquist dummy. Like Riker’s Island, Jailhouse Payback goes with more of a mood piece, more imagery than narrative. Unfortunately it sounds messy. Every instrument is clamouring for attention, which doesn’t really do it justice. I’m probably the last person who should be giving engineering advice, but I think it could benefit from a re-mix with some decisions made concerning what it’s important for the audience to hear.
Niveous - Eat Your Hair
challenge: not met
I really like the concept on this one. There’s just something really “Chuckie” about a Cabbage Patch doll chewing on your little darlings as they sleep. I like the quirky arrangement, too; but there’s something a little “off” about the backing vocals in the chorus. There’s only one real problem that keeps this from shooting up quite a bit higher in my rankings... the challenge is to write a song to a toy, and this doesn’t do that. Instead the toy is singing. I love a great P.O.V. piece, and this is one. But that’s not what we asked for. Nevertheless, I’m marking it up for creativity and because I have a sick sense of humor.
Sid Brown - 8-Bit Skies
challenge: mmmrrr... ok... met.
Mario. *grumble* I don't much like using the game as the toy. The console, yeah OK, that’s a toy; but the game is something you can do with it. And this isn’t really even about the game, but about a single character in the game. But I suppose I can overlook that in a world where virtual people have virtual friends and virtual belongings that they bought with virtual money in a virtual world. The music doesn't really much match the subject matter. As filk it’s OK... it has a little Serenity vibe to it; but I didn’t really get that feeling of nostalgia I was hoping for, and it didn’t evoke anything of the game for me.
Glen Raphael - I Like Pong
challenge: not met
I like the Pong sounds from the guitar. Very clever. I like the simplicity of it... just like the game. And Glen gains some geek-points (as if he needed them) by name-dropping the inventor. But this song is not sung to Pong... it's about Pong.
Jasper Lewis - Slinky
challenge: not met
I wish I could play guitar even half as well as Jasper Lewis. This sounds like the sort of thing you’d hear from a busker on the street corner... and I’d put some green in his guitar case myself. As a P.O.V. song, this would be great, and really, it’s one of my favorites of the round, despite the harsh recording. But we didn’t ask for a P.O.V. song.
Governing Dynamics - You'll Shoot Your Eye Out.
challenge: not met
OK, I’m having a little dilemma with this one. First, let’s get this out of the way; the tune is fine, the chorus catchy, and aside from a glitch here and there (ex. 1:20 ?) the execution is really decent. Now I’m stuck looking at the challenge again. “Write a song to a childhood toy”. Not everything a child has is a toy simply because it’s owned by a child. This song is sung to a gun. And the last line of this song begins, “Guns are not toys”. I agree. You should have written a song to a toy.
Trader Jack - Baseball Cards
challenge: not met
I can accept just about anything as a toy if you present it as such. On my son’s 2nd Christmas, my sister gave him a dinner plate. A plate. And he played with that plate more than anything else. It was a mask, a hat, a flying saucer, a steering wheel. The hallmark of a toy -- even if it’s just a plate -- is that you play with it. And I could certainly accept baseball cards as a toy if you did that in some way... even if it’s just imagining the players on the field. But buying them for an investment and then staring blankly at them wondering what to do with them just sucks all the toyness out of them. Also the song is sung about the cards, not to them. Capping it off, it was just kind of... annoying. That’s really subjective, I know. And it’s probably not fair to Trader Jack, as I know the music mirror’s the protagonist’s frustration, but I didn’t care to share it. Sorry.
SHADOWS (not ranked)
Glenny - My Zorlon Cannon (Shadow)
I really like the instrumentation... particularly the drums. Vocals a little muddy and hard to understand. The counterpoint and backing vocals could stand to be potted down a bit. The reggae bridge was a surprise.
Ross Durand - Old Tin Top (Shadow)
Nice bit of homespun. Vintage Ross Durand. It's about the toy, not to it, but it’s a shadow.
Cherry Pi - Among the Clouds (Tribute to a Childhood Stud Muffin)(Shadow)
Lando Calrissian - the Kenner toy. I think “sing”’ is probably the least of what Pi did to that poor doll.
Wait What (LBC) - Stick (Shadow)
I've said a couple of times that anything's a toy if you played with it. This is exactly what I'm talking about. It absolutely sucks that you didn’t get this in before the deadline. I’d’ve ranked this way up there. Really. Honestly. For true. I luvved it good, despite the racism. Seriously, it would have been one of my top picks, because I’m feeling it. The song, not the stick, perv.
Dave Leigh writing for Dr. Lindyke