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Learning My Lines


I must confess I’m a serial singer. I seldom listen to the radio and never in the car. The reason is simple. I like to sing along to music, and it just so happens that the music I like is the kind I can sing along to – the radio just tends to play manufactured rubbish these days. This started many years ago when my friend Scott (also a serial singer) explained that singing loudly when you’re doing a long drive at 2am from some far-flung part of the country is a great way to stay awake – much more effective than coffee. I tried it (the singing, not the coffee) and he was right – I’ve stuck to it ever since.

The end result is that I can sing my way from start to finish through almost every album I own (and I have rather a lot). This means that as soon as I hear a line from a song I know on the radio (I do listen to it sometimes, like when someone else is driving) I can instantly join in and sing the rest of it (much to the annoyance of the driver). But when I buy a new album I have to learn all the lines to all the songs and it takes a bit of time. This is the reason that I never buy more than two CDs at once or else I’ll get overloaded with music and that’s not good.

Take, as a random example, the new Belle and Sebastian album I mentioned before. It’s fantastic and a great return to form. There are plenty of tunes I want to sing along to and I’m gradually getting there. Here’s how I do it (you may have a better technique and if so let me know). I’ll start by playing the album through several times on repeat. I’ll play it in the house if there’s nothing on TV, I’ll play it in my garage while working out, I’ll play it in the car when I go to the shops and pretty soon it’ll be playing in my head when I’m trying to go to sleep at night.

This initial phase will tend to force the choruses into my memory so I’ll be able to sing along to those parts of the song (I’ll also inevitably learn the backing singer’s lines but I always wanted to be the lead singer so that will go out the window). I can usually use this method of playing the album over and over again and eventually the words will sink in (and then 5 years later I’ll discover that I’ve been mis-singing the line “maybe not baby, maybe not baby” as “maybe now baby, maybe now baby” and feel like an idiot).

However sometimes my patience to learn the words this way will grow too thin – usually because it’s such a good album I want to be exercising my incredible vocal range to its’ fullest. When this happens I have to resort to the dreaded CD inlay. Quite often the lyrics are neatly printed there for you and you can sing along to them. Although in the case of Belle and Sebastian they seem to make a good job of deliberately printing the wrong lyrics – for instance how can “has he ever seen Dundee?” be printed as “north of Scotland has he seen?” for Seymour Stein? I ask you…

But after a while of reading the lyrics I’ll go back to the repeat play method and suddenly before I know it I’ll have the words lodged in my head and the best thing is that they’ll stay there forever! Well, until I go senile / am killed / get part of my brain blown out and live like the lead in Memento. So good is my memory for useless information that I memorised pi to 50 decimal places when I was at school and I can still remember them to this day! Pi, for those who can’t remember, is the circumference divided by the diameter of a circle and is an endlessly long number – it’s slightly over 3. It’s no wonder I don’t have women flocking all over me…

Having said that, I don’t tend to keep that much genuinely useful information in my head if it can be easily found. For instance, I don’t memorise class libraries and methods when writing software, even though I’ve been using the same ones for years. The way I see it I can look it up in 2 seconds on MSDN so why waste precious neurons on it when I can task them with remembering the fifth verse of I’m A Cuckoo. It’s all a question of priorities really. Or maybe I should have just tried the coffee technique instead…

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

12 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. All those years we worked together, all those trips into Skipton, the many songs that played on the radio – and I never heard you sing, dammit!!


  2. Neil, we need to work on your attention span…

    And Steve, it was very difficult to not sing in front of you but I can assure you it was for your own good!


  3. If it’s any consolation, I spent about 3 years singing “living out baby, living out baby” instead of “maybe now baby”…… (Deacon Blue, Real Gone Kid).

    At least Ricky Ross annunciates clearly – I’d like to see you try to sing your way from start to finish through a Pearl Jam album….!


  4. Honestly, I don’t know why I bother some time! Oh, wait a minute, yes I do…

    And Sam, I don’t have any Pearl Jam albums so maybe I’ll have to buy some and see.


  5. You’re not supposed to understand what Scottish (or to really [piss them off, Scotch) bands say.

    It’s a on-up-man-ship thing.

    Like when the welsh start spitting their national anthem.

    Such joy.

    Fancy a pint tomorrow Mr C or are you going to spurn yet another invite into the metropolis?


  6. Trying to learn the Snow Patrol’s Final Straw as I type. Heard it anyone?

    Hmmm, is this a Scot-Rock thread?


  7. Snow Patrol’s album is on my list as recommended by my brother (which means I’ll like it). Like I said though I only buy them 2 at a time so it’s next along with Air’s latest offering…


  8. I’ve spent many a trip from Reading to Edinburgh (and back) excercising my questionable vocal skills on various albums. It’s sad but the last time I travelled up to edinburgh, I managed a complete Radiohead marathon: all of Radiohead’s albums, back-to-back.

    I totally agree with you: it’s a great way to pass away an 8 hour trip without dropping off. Maybe in the UK, us scots-living-afar have a greater tendency to be closet (or not so closet) lead singer wannabes than others? 😉 it’s a nice thought (probably not so much for my neighbours but meh)


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