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Why You Should Like… Thomas Dolby

Dolby

Ah, Thomas Dolby. No, please don’t instantly yell “SCIENCE!” Yes, he’s primarily pigeonholed as a one-hit wonder, with “She Blinded Me With Science” still getting played nearly daily on ’80s flashback radio, but that novelty unfortunately blinded (heh) many people to the superior musical and lyrical talent buried in those deep album cuts. Dolby struggled to match that fluke success with more serious work to little avail, finally taking a nearly 15-year break before returning to the concert stage last year. He’s currently tinkering on his first studio album since 1992. So, why should you like Thomas Dolby (and I’m not just telling you why because I came in second place playing Thomas Dolby in the North Ridgeville, Ohio, Spanky’s Nightclub Teen Night Lipsynch Contest in 1984, either!)? The evidence, please …

Dolby, New Wave Pioneer: Debut LP The Golden Age of Wireless is one of the top ten greatest albums of the ’80s, hands down, with nary a stinker in the bunch, no matter what version of the album you choose (it was released and re-released and re-re-released several times with several different track listings). Yes, it has that song on it, but songs like “Radio Silence” (download) (here in its original “rock” version) and science-fiction ballad “Airwaves” (download) reveal much more than mere novelty. Every song is jam-packed with hooks, lyrical wit, and narrative innovation.

Even seemingly tossed-off B-sides like “Puppet Theatre” (download) feature melodies and grooves lesser musicians would kill for. Wireless set a high bar for Dolby, one that he would struggle to match for the rest of his career. Luckily, he didn’t do too shabbily.

Dolby, Master of Funk: Casual fans of that wacky “science guy” were probably struck dumb when presented with the second single from The Flat Earth, “Dissidents” (download), a straight-ahead funk number complete with popping bass, slashing funk guitar, and lyrics about … Russian dissident authors and journalists. Not exactly the subject matter to pack a party’s dance floor, but that’s part of Dolby’s charm.

Dolby also featured funky bass in quite a bit of his catalog, hitting an apex in his collaboration with P-Funk’s George Clinton in a combo dubbed Dolby’s Cube, dipping into the novelty well again with May the Cube Be With You. While not quite a success, it didn’t deter Dolby from being one of the first new wave artists to liberally integrate funk and early hip-hop into his work (see also “Get Out of My Mix,” a track worn out by breakdancers back in my high school days).

Dolby the Collaborator: Speaking of hip-hop, Dolby produced tracks for Whodini, then crossed genres back over to Lene Lovich, Prefab Sprout and their legendary Steve McQueen LP, then over to AOR-ville, playing keyboards for Foreigner and Def Leppard, then back to arty synth-pop with Ryuichi Sakamoto. His single with Sakamoto, “Field Work (Long London Mix)” (download), is an overlooked classic, never seeing a U.S. release:

His Crowning Moment: Tucked away at the end of a fluffier third album, Aliens Ate My Buick (that title alone is warning enough that it’s not Dolby’s strongest work), is “Budapest by Blimp” (download), an evocative, sprawling epic that begins with a simple funk bass riff and builds from there, adding a squealing guitar solo, operatic vocals, and sinister synths, eventually ending with a choir-punctuated release not unlike a street riot or uprising. It’s a swirling pinnacle that makes you forget it shares album space with songs like “Airhead” and “Hot Sauce.”

There’s plenty more to discover — I haven’t even mentioned his final studio album, Astronauts & Heretics, a pleasing return to form. I suggest starting with the deliciously sequenced compilation Retrospectacle, then working your way from Wireless up. If you only know Thomas Dolby from that song, you’re in a for a treat.

Purchase music by Thomas Dolby at Amazon or on Thomas Dolby




  • http://destinyclontz.blogspot.com destiny clontz

    I think that The Flat Earth is one of the best produced albums of the eighties. Most records that were produced mainly with the Fairlight sound so dated and and generic today. But listen to Screen Kiss and and Flat Earth, the sound is so incredibly multi layered and transparent.
    I often play the title track in my car and everybody who hears it for the first time asks immediately what it is.

    During the last years he was actually composing ringtones professionally.

  • http://destinyclontz.blogspot.com destiny clontz

    I think that The Flat Earth is one of the best produced albums of the eighties. Most records that were produced mainly with the Fairlight sound so dated and and generic today. But listen to Screen Kiss and and Flat Earth, the sound is so incredibly multi layered and transparent.
    I often play the title track in my car and everybody who hears it for the first time asks immediately what it is.

    During the last years he was actually composing ringtones professionally.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • kar

    I agree with you all. “I Love You Goodbye” is amazing. So lush a sound. I still play it regularly. I also adored the title track of “Flat Earth.” That simple, simple refrain, “Hold me, baby” won't go away.

    One of my all-time favorites would be from his first album, “All of Our Submarines.” I remember calling up the radio station for it years ago when the Kursk sunk. Added a poignancy that you wouldn't expect to the lyrics.

  • Rob

    Hi – I may be a stranger in these parts, but I couldn't agree more.

    TD is a bit of an idol of mine, musically speaking.

    I can't believe that no-one has mentioned The Neon Sisters … a sad epitaph to the mighty drums of Budgie, and TheWhite City…

    Glad that I Love You Goodbye and Howard have been mentioned.

    I MUST check out Synth Jam…

    Thanks.

    ob

  • Rob

    Hi – I may be a stranger in these parts, but I couldn't agree more.

    TD is a bit of an idol of mine, musically speaking.

    I can't believe that no-one has mentioned The Neon Sisters … a sad epitaph to the mighty drums of Budgie, and TheWhite City…

    Glad that I Love You Goodbye and Howard have been mentioned.

    I MUST check out Synth Jam…

    Thanks.

    ob

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Buster

    Wow, Someone who thinks like I do. Mr. Dolby was and is a Musical Genius, to say the least. That is maybe why for me the earth is flat.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • Philomath

    Dolby was truly ahead of his time. I remember in 1984 right after “Science” became a huge hit, he was on the TV show Solid Gold. I think everyone was expecting to hear “Science” but instead he unveiled “I Scare Myself.” The look on Dionne Warwick's face was priceless, and the rest of the crowd apparently agreed. That was the beginning of his decline in the U.S., but I still bought his albums and remained a loyal fan.

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • DolbysCube

    Excellent article! Great to see all of this Dolby positivity. I have been a fan since 'that song' was released. A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of The Flat Earth in high school. Dolby became my musical hero for many years. His music has always resonated in a special way. It is sad that so few people are aware of his stuff. Extremely underrated. I love that he also delved into funk with George Clinton and the Lost Toy People. I met TMDR at the Cleveland Undercurrents Music Conference in 1992. For some reason, that Spanky's gig sounds vaguely familiar. May the Cube be with You!!!

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.

  • tdolbyfan

    I love everything released by Thomas Dolby. I can think of a million reasons to love his stuff. Anyways, his career involved at least 3 bands. Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club, The Fall Out Club., and Low Noise. All great songs.