Tag Archives: she blinded me with science

Toxic Synth-Pop Syndrome: Thomas Dolby’s Flying North

First off, I wanna start by saying that I’ve reached 500 views! Thank you to everyone who’s been reading so far, and everyone that chooses to do so in the future. In honour of that fact, I’ve decided to do a post on my 500th most listened-to song which, according to last.fm (http://www.last.fm/user/nicholasdaniel), is Thomas Dolby’s “Flying North”. This is fantastic news, as it gives me an opportunity to talk about Thomas Dolby.

Though classified squarely in the One-Hit Wonder category for the amazing “She Blinded Me With Science” for most, Thomas Dolby has a knack for two things – a melodic hook and technology*. Using these talents in tandem, he created the shimmering jewel of synth-pop that was 1982’s The Golden Age of Wireless. The album became a smash, due to the success of the “Science” single, even though any song could have been culled (5 of the 10 tracks did in fact get single releases). The album is shot through with concerns and observations about technology and its increasing effect on our lives, and uses that very same technology to produce its music.

“Flying North” looks at the restless life of a world traveller taking endless plane trips who feels at the mercy of the airport schedules and takes up one of the few constants for those of the jetset – alcohol. But even once home, there’s no getting comfortable for he’ll just be “flying North again tonight”. The song has a restless backbeat and a busy synthesizer riff in between choruses that sounds like a call sign transmission at first before it fills out, with all sorts of small echoed noises rising and shuffling and falling and skittering in the background. The atmosphere of the song is so detailed and finely tuned, that the main riff and melody are only a tiny part of the story, each piece locking into place to create a magnificent whole.

What a first may seem like a simple song opens it doors wide, and you realize there are so many moving pieces that add to the experience that you would never have guessed were there in the first place, such as the modulated ‘landing’ noise which kicks the whole thing off, or the subtle backing vocals that sound like they’re whooshing by on the wind. That’s the great thing about Thomas Dolby – his interest in synthesizers extends beyond which patch to use – it’s every echo, drum beat, sound effect, voice modulation and sample used to create a singular vision, all molded around fantastic melodies. Never had technology felt like such a living part of the music than when in the hands of Mr. Dolby.

*In his break from the music business in the 90s, Dolby pursued the technology bug, where he created the technology that produces ringtones in cellphones!

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