Category Archives: Music

New version of Ballad of Building Bad

In anticipation of the official U.S. release of my book, Building Bad, on Sept. 30, 2021, I made a more fully orchestrated version of my song, Ballad of Building Bad, along with a new, more elaborated, music video.

The original “live” version of the song, along with some fun facts and lyrics, can be found on this prior blog post.

Links to all my music and music videos are here.

Ballad of Building Bad

First, the book. Now the song. Worlds collide (apologies to Seinfeld).

[Sept. 17, 2021 update: I’ve made a new, more fully orchestrated version of the song!]

Ballad of Building Bad
Words and music © 2021 Jonathan Ochshorn

Verse 1
Flames shoot up from a couch by the front bay window
Toxic smoke quickly fills the room
Then works its way right up the stairs to the floor where the boys had been so
Fast asleep that they didn’t smell the noxious fume
And didn’t hear the smoke alarm with their parents out and the doors all shut tight
There is no law requiring sprinklers whose activation
Might have doused the flames and saved their lives that night
Perhaps the home builders associations that lobbied so hard to kill that legislation
    Will explain their tortured logic to Mom and Dad
    Building bad

Verse 2
Everybody’s talking about the fancy new library
Where you must climb up steps to get to these bookshelves
Asked about ADA mandates for access he says it’s customary
For disabled people not to get their books themselves
Now he’s pointing to the killer views you get looking out from those steel stairs
But when asked about excluding handicapped users
He says I won’t ruin my design just because of some strollers and some wheelchairs
This is a gift to the community and beggars can’t be choosers
    And it’s based on these watercolor drawings in my sketchpad
    Building bad

Bridge
Architects are trained to get their kicks with fashion an obsession
While utility’s constrained by politics and damaged by expression

Verse 3
There are leaks and cracks and mold but the building’s still standing
Like a party of drunken robots celebrating
Says the architect hired to promote the institute’s rebranding
He says it as a point of pride — not to be self-deprecating
I can’t hang my blackboard when these office walls are curved and slanted
Complains the famous linguist wondering why they’re convex
And why even configuring control layers correctly is something you can’t take for granted
Where the risk of failure grows and grows as forms get increasingly complex
    And fashionable dysfunction is more than just a passing fad
    Building bad

Unbeknownst to me, when I started writing this ballad, it took the form of a Shakespearian Sonnet, with these two modifications: (1) instead of three quatrains (abab, cdcd, efef) in each verse, there are two (abab, cdcd), followed, as in the Shakespearian model, by a couplet (gg); and (2) the accent in Shakespeare’s classic iambic pentameter (“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon“) is reversed, so it is more like trochaic pentameter (“Toxic smoke quickly fills the room“). And as the lines in my verses get elaborated, the meter becomes harder to detect, but it’s there!

Links to all my music and videos can be found here.

You Make My Dreams

As I have been alternating new (original) songs and covers, it’s time for me to re-imagine this hit (recorded in 1980 but released as a single in 1981) from Daryl Hall and John Oates, with Sara Allen also given song-writing credit. I can’t possibly replicate Daryl Hall’s energetic vocal or mimic the particular rock genre — characterized later as “yacht rock.” The tempo of my version is somewhat faster, but with the snare drum slowed down into a half-time feel and a decidedly more bluesy articulation.

Puzzle of the Heart

I wrote this song in January and February of 2021, then worked on the piano/vocal arrangement for another month or so, recording it live on March 21, 2021 (while simultaneously shooting the video using my iPod Touch mounted on a tripod perched precariously with one leg on the piano and the other two legs straddling my computer keyboard. This is a love song of sorts with my own intuited jazz-inflected chord changes. Try out a 14-bar verse yourself: | Cmaj7 | Eb | Dm | C# | E | Emaj7 | Dm – G | repeat. Or perhaps you would prefer to try the 9-bar chorus: | Cmaj7 | Fm – C# | B | Bb | Ebm – B | Amaj7 | Ab | C# | Fm | Dm – G |. And sorry for mixing up flats and sharps: it’s how I understand the changes, even if it doesn’t correspond to proper musical notation.

Find links to all my music here.

The River

In my chronological quest to record covers of songs that were somehow influential in my musical/emotional development, I’ve finally left the 1970s! Inaugurating the new decade is Bruce Springsteen’s fine working-class anthem, “The River,” first released in 1980. The truth is, I didn’t really know the song until much later, but still…

This version is recorded live, at least the basic piano and vocals, with the video recorded simultaneously from two vantage points: the sucky iSight camera in my old iMac, and my relatively new iPod touch mounted on a tripod behind the piano (visible in the iMac segments). I then added acoustic guitar, harmonica, and—using Logic Pro’s software instruments—drums and bass. I edited the video using Final Cut Pro, making everything black and white in order to work around the horrible color quality of the iMac video segments. In this respect, I must disagree with Paul Simon’s assessment in “Kodachrome” that “everything looks worse in black and white.” In fact, the opposite is often true.

All of my music and music videos can be found here.

Walking in Circles

This is a song written out of desperation: I needed some “material” and so decided to write about my daily walk down the hill to the Ithaca Commons (more or less) and then back up the hill. The images in the video that I shot to document the walk became the subject of the song, albeit with a bit of poetic license intended to draw some larger meaning from the experience.

Find lyrics and other production notes on the official “Walking In Circles” website. And find links to all my music and music videos here.

Acoustic Cover of Tom Petty’s “Here Comes My Girl”

I’ve been recording covers of songs—one from each year starting in 1963, with a different artist each time. I’m excited to be saying goodbye to the 1970s with this semi-acoustic cover of Tom Petty’s classic song from one of the best albums of 1979: “Damn the Torpedoes.”

Find links to more covers and original compositions on my music homepage.

Love Song for a Pandemic

[Updated May 31, 2020: I embedded a new, more elaborate version of the song and video below; the original “live” performance can be seen here.] I wrote and recorded this song—Stuck Here in a Box—over Memorial Day weekend, 2020, locked down at home during the covid-19 pandemic. The “box” in the song’s title references the multiple frames in a Zoom meeting, within which one eventually begins to feel trapped.

Lawyers, guns and money

I was only marginally aware of Warren Zevon back in 1978 when he released his Excitable Boy album, which contained the song, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” However, I did become a fan later, and I offer this more-or-less acoustic cover consisting primarily of vocals, guitar, and harmonica. I did add a bit of kick drum and bass to provide some propulsion in certain places; also I added some organ and piano in the bridge and some piano in the fade-out. These instruments (kick drum, bass, organ, and piano) are actually so-called software instruments played live on my midi-enabled Yamaha P-60 digital piano. I mixed it all using Logic Pro X and shot the video with my new iPod Touch, edited using Final Cut Pro. Oh, and the hand claps are really just my hands clapping.

Links to all of my songs can be found here.

Squints on a triple: live and acoustic

I decided to enter the NPR Tiny Desk contest by submitting a video of an original song. My entry is a song I wrote in 2008 based on a game of Scrabble. In fact, this was the first time that my daughter Jennie beat me, and she beat me on her last turn by placing the word “SQUINTS” on a triple-word square, with the letter “Q” on a double-letter square. As all Scrabble players know, “squints,” being a seven-letter word, gets you 50 extra points; doubling the value of “Q” gets you 20 points; and placing the whole thing on a triple-word square, well, that gets you so many points that—although I was comfortably ahead at that point and assured of victory—I actually lost the game in dramatic fashion on the last play. So, here’s the new video, live and acoustic (the original video and recording from 2008 can be found here).