Over the Hill

The needle going into my shoulder was the easy part. For the next minute or two, I was desperately trying to think of song lyrics, counting floor tiles, examining my shirt laying on the chair three feet away, Hello Kitty… pretty much anything but the pressure and pain as I got the first cortisone injection of my life for my first rotator cuff issue. And that turned out to be nothing compared to having Andre the Giant twisting a vise grip on my arm for the next twelve hours.

Getting older sucks in a lot of ways. Yeah, yeah, yeah… it beats the alternative, yada yada. It still sucks.


And yet, I’m in a strangely great place. In my teens I was trying to get laid. In my twenties, I was trying to get famous. In my thirties I was trying to get rich and buy stuff. Then around 40 I started not wanting all of that stuff. Maybe some different stuff. Better stuff, but less stuff. And what was I doing here? What did anything matter? It was an angsty time. Well, more angsty than usual, anyway.

I’m still technically in my mid-40s, but not for long. Soon, I’ll arrive at the “almost 50” stage. And as a friend of mine recently put it, I have to face the realization that “there are more miles in the rear view mirror than out the windshield.” And as I start accepting that, I’ve looked around and noted that even though I’m the hermity type, the guy who’s never in the picture but taking it, I’ve become more and more appreciative of the people in my life.

This song is one of the “Ray talking to himself” variety. It’s written to me. It’s also written to you. You may have already gotten the point. You may have to get the point for yourself years from now, and you’ll then say, “Damn, Ray was a freaking prophet.”

It’s for Mary who probably figured all of this out many years ago and has been patiently waiting for me to catch up. It’s for Danny and Richard who are floating along with us. It’s for  my brothers, my father, their families, Mary’s family and their families. It’s for everyone who’s in a tube on the river and has figured out that the map isn’t as important as it used to be.

I have had a love/hate relationship with this song since I started it. I described it to someone as the song I was currently fighting. I like almost every individual thing about it… the lyrics, the hook, the harmonies… but the complete thing just didn’t ever feel right.

And yet, I can’t think of anything that I want to change. My friend Vern suggested a more 70s Chicago-style horn-heavy arrangement, and I can definitely hear that as a possibility, but that’s for another version later on. I’ve finally just decided to say “it’s done” and release it into the wild to see what it grows up to be. I may make some minor tweaks to the mix, but I think it’s pretty much as baked as it’s going to get.

Once again, I’m a sucker for giant vocal arrangements. Call it a byproduct of growing up listening to The Carpenters and Queen. The verses are solo, the chorus lead vocal is four-part, and the background vocals are three-part with four voices each. Digital Performer’s POLAR loop recording feature makes it almost too easy to do this type of arrangement.

Instrumentation is pretty simple, three synth patches, drums, and a live bass part. I took my time with the drum programming and am pretty happy with the results, but would like to hear what a talented drummer could do recording it live.

There’s almost zero signal processing in this one. Some EQ and verb on the vocals, compression on the kick and snare, and a master limiter to get the overall volume up a bit on the final.



  • MOTU Digital Performer 8 (sequencing, EQ, compression)
  • Kurzweil K2600XS (giant verby pizzicato strings)
  • Oberheim Xpander (warbly synth)
  • DSI Tetra (synth bass)
  • Ibanez Ergodyne Bass —> Rocktron Chameleon (electric bass)
  • Roland Fantom XR (drums)
  • Valhalla DSP Vintage Verb (lead vocals)
  • Valhalla DSP Room (background vocals)
  • Waves L3 (master limiter)


The basis for this piece, consisting of the pad sound and the drum track, was a quick scribble written the day before my birthday. Earlier this week I opened up the project in my “Sketches and Ideas” folder and a melody showed up in my head in short order. Some muted bell tones provided a little counterpoint and it was time to write lyrics.



Fired up BBEdit and had the words finished up about 30 minutes later. Interestingly, I thought I was writing about one thing, but after singing it for awhile, I discovered that there was a completely separate and maybe even more appropriate interpretation. For that reason, I’m not going to explain it – I’d like to know what other people think it’s about, and this is one that will probably mean more to people if they have their own explanation and aren’t saddled with mine.

Lyrics copyright Ray E. Toler, Jr. All rights reserved.When I’d sing through it, there seemed to be something missing in the overall sound. I wanted something that would provide that slightly jarring, teeth-on-edge sound that you get from electronic devices. The patch I found combines some electrical noise with some mechanical scrapings that were just what I was looking for. In a way, I think I was subconsciously emulating the radio sounds in “Airwaves” by Thomas Dolby, one of my all-time favorites.

Last night, I put down a scratch vocal track and went to bed. This morning, I started to do a second take and decided instead to do punch-ins on the phrases that I wasn’t happy with. This is a weird range for me – not quite falsetto, but it might as well be since it’s sung so quietly and up on the mic.

After I posted this, I got a Facebook comment from a long-time friend who recalled a recording we made of a song of mine back around 1990 (my first studio sessions ever). Whenever he pushed my vocal up in the mix I was “horrified,” which is certainly an apt description. Call it artist angst or lack of confidence, it’s always something I’ve struggled with. But this is part of my new music approach – don’t fiddle too long, write what I enjoy, and tackle the demons head on.



  • MOTU Digital Performer 8 (EQ, compression)
  • Kurzweil K2600XS (Pad)
  • Spectrasonics Omnisphere (Muted bells, electric noise)
  • MOTU Model 12 (Drums)
  • Neumann TLM-103
  • Focusrite Voicebox Mk II (Signal chain)
  • Valhalla DSP Room (Vocal reverb)
  • Valhalla DSP Vintage Verb (Synth and noise washes)