Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Remake/Remodel #8: Do Re Mi's "Man Overboard"

It's common for an artist to take one of their own songs and re-arrange it radically, as the muse strikes. Bob Dylan seems to change the arrangement of his songs for each and every tour (I know of at least three different arrangements of "Maggie's Farm" on record by Bob - but more on that later). A lot of people may not know just how radically today's song changed...and why it did.

Do Re Mi were a Melbourne-based band who mined s similar cold, angular, robotic funk groove to Hunters and Collectors in their early days. They shared a stage with the Hunters regularly and were part of the same post-punk underground scene. They released two independent EPs in 1981-1982 before being signed by Virgin records in 1985, making them the first Australian band signed to Richard Branson's iconic record label.

Tucked away on their second EP "The Waiting Room", in the middle of side 2 (it hasn't ever been issued on CD) was a fast-paced punk-ish song called "Man Overboard". The lyrics buzz by at such a rate that it is difficult to comprehend them. Although the first verse is sung by vocalist Deborah Conway a capella, the rest of the song is done and dusted in just over 2 minutes.

The original 1982 EP version:

Most people who grew up in Australia in the 1980s know the more popular version issued in 1985, as the first single from the band's debut album "Domestic Harmony". It goes without saying that it is markedly different, and this time around the lyric is made crystal clear so there is no ambiguity whatsoever.

The famous 1985 version:

The interesting thing about this song is how the slow version came about. I had the good fortune to meet Do Re Mi vocalist Deborah Conway a couple of years ago at a small gig promoting her then current LP "Half Woman Half Man" and I asked her how the change in the two versions came about. She explained that in 1982, radio DJs played vinyl exclusively on air. "The Waiting Room", being a 12-inch vinyl EP and of a far shorter running time than an album, was pressed at 45 RPM. However, most people know 12-inch vinyl to be played at 33 RPM (unless of course it's a 12 single, but that's another story) and DJs often played the record at the wrong speed. The band often heard their song "Man Overboard" and other tracks from the EP played at a considerably slower speed on radio and realised that there may be something interesting in some of the songs if they played them a bit slower...

...and so, with a slower tempo, a sultry reworked groove and plenty of room for some well placed pauses-for-effect in the lyrics, the version we all know and love was born. Deborah Conway summons up a powerfully raw, woman-scourned fury that strikes fear into the hearts of men everywhere. It is truly spine-tingling, and yet you can't help but shake your butt along whenever you hear it. It's rare that relationship dirty laundry-in-song sounds so danceable.

The other interesting thing about this song is how the lyrics escaped the censors. How many Australian top 5 hit singles can you name that manage to feature the words "anal humour", "penis envy" and "self-abuse" in the lyrics and are still getting played on commercial radio to this day? Besides "Man Overboard" I doubt there would be many. (Oh, and Alanis Morrisette expletive-ridden "You Outta Know" doesn't count.)

Do Re Mi lasted for one more album in 1987 "The Happiest Place In Town" before splitting up. Deborah went onto have a prosperous solo career kicking off with a top 20 LP "String Of Pearls" and now tours with her musical (and life) partner Willy Zygier. She still remembers the Do Re Mi era fondly, and I was stoked that she signed my vinyl copies of "Domestic Harmony" and "The Waiting Room" at that gig...

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Until next time. Cheers!

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