More Than Merely A Man Of Science

(reposted from Tuesday sans music)

I once convinced a co-worker that cooking show host Alton Brown was actually musician Thomas Dolby, having adopted an American accent and working under a pseudonym.

I didn’t really, but tell me that Alton couldn’t be Dolby twenty years after She Blinded Me With Science.

And as Dolby pretty much didn’t exist for most music listeners other than that song of science, it isn’t so farfetched to think that he might have reinvented himself as Alton Brown. I mean, Alton is known for offering the scientific details behind things like brining the Thanksgiving turkey.

(I felt as though I had discovered fire the first time I brined the annual bird – it might have been one of the greatest moments in my life)

But, as far as I know, Thomas Dolby is not Alton Brown (or vice versa).

And it’s unfortunate that Dolby is known to few for an intriguing and diverse career. I’d forgotten that he performed on Foreigner’s song Urgent and Waiting For A Girl Like You (and isn’t it the keyboards – his keyboards – that make the latter?)

He also appeared on Def Leppard’s breakthrough Pyromania.

I knew more of Dolby’s music than most because of my friend Chris. Yeah, he dug The Golden Age Of Wireless, but it was that album’s follow-up, The Flat Earth, which he played constantly during the summer of 1984.

I remember that the video for Dolby’s cover of Dan Hicks’ I Scare Myself got played a bit (maybe on Friday Night Videos), but The Flat Earth was pretty much ignored.

That was quite unfortunate. It’s a lost classic.

For the next decade, Dolby would issue an occasional, underappreciated album. He also produced a trio of brilliant albums for another criminally ignored act, Prefab Sprout.

But Dolby hasn’t released new material since ‘92’s Astronauts & Heretics. He is rumored to be readying a new album for this year.

And I do so hope that his management books him a spot on Alton Brown’s show as a musical guest or pairs them in a buddy-cop flick.

Some recommended songs and personal favorites by Mr. Dolby…

One Of Our Submarines
from The Golden Age Of Wireless

I actually seem to recall hearing One Of Our Submarines on 97X, the one alternative rock station to which I had access, back in the day. The keyboard passage in it always reminded me of the theme to the television show The Six Million Dollar Man.

The Flat Earth
from The Flat Earth

Yes, Dolby has a well-deserved reputation as a techno boffin, but, despite the gadgetry, he somehow imbues his songs with more humanity than most more acoustic-based acts. The title song from The Flat Earth is strange and lovely – “The earth can be any shape that you want it to be.”

Screen Kiss
from The Flat Earth

The bittersweet, wistful Screen Kiss scrapes the sunny superficiality from the surface of Hollywood dreams and the myth of Southern California and finds a lot of crushed hopes and heartache.

Budapest By Blimp
from Aliens Ate My Buick

Dolby’s 1988 album Aliens Ate My Buick was a mixed bag. Working with folks like George Clinton, much of it is brittle funk that doesn’t always succeed in living up to its ambitions. On Budapest By Blimp, the funk is handled with a lighter touch (although the mid-section of the song has some searing guitar) and the song is one of the album’s highlights.

It really wouldn’t surprise me if Dolby had actually made the journey of the title track. He just seems like that kind of guy.

Eastern Bloc
from Astronauts & Heretics

Eastern Block with a nifty Bo Diddley beat is a musical sequel to the song Europa And The Pirate Twins from The Golden Age Of Wireless. That song told of a childhood friendship with a young girl who would grow up to be a supermodel. Apparently, Dolby has such an experience and, years later as an adult, the girl blew him off when their paths crossed in an airport.

Instead, he married actress Katherine Beller.

I Love You Goodbye
from Astronauts & Heretics

Aside from The Flat Earth – this might be my favorite Dolby song. Another song for people who think they know Thomas Dolby because they’ve seen the video a thousand times on VH1.

A cajun-inflected tale of corrupt local sherriffs and stolen cars on the road from New Orleans to the Everglades…I Love You Goodbye is evocative and mysterious.


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