Rocktober – Automatic Madness
My wife was watching Todd’s One-Hit Wonderland and said I might be interested in a song Todd mentioned – “Automatic Man” by Michael Sembello is apparently what “Mr. Roboto” would sound like if written by Hall & Oates.
So of course I had to check out the video…
This video is beyond incredible. It’s a Frankenstein monster of music. It even alludes to this (probably unintentionally) with the line “like some Frankenstein.” A mad scientists dances his freaky dance while constructing a male android that looks suspiciously like the TV character Automan shortly before Automan even premiered, and the verses sound like Hall & Oates going on about robots while stealing chords from Olivia Newton-John, with elements swiped from the Doobie Brothers (the pre-chorus is reminiscent of “Taking It To The Streets” and the chorus is similar to “It Keeps You Runnin'”) as Sembello channels Michael McDonald in both vocal style and beardness. The entire thing sounds like random samples automatically(!) pasted together in a music console program, and the video looks like someone at Nickelodeon tried to recreate Star Trek with a $17 budget while tripping on industrial-grade acid.*
The solo features a futuristic stringless guitar that Guitar Hero only wishes it had.
All of this was before I even watched Todd’s video. Turns out there’s a loose Halloween connection to Sembello’s “Maniac” – it was originally written as a song about a serial killer. Knowing this, the lyrics make a LOT more sense. Todd also made mention of Sembello becoming a sort of poor man’s McDonald. The repeated electronic chant of “Ah-be-auto-we-bo-we” sounds like nothing more than a cyberized Michael McDonald, head kept alive and connected to a pirated mixing console in some dark, post-disco apocalypse.
I have to wonder if I’d seen this video back in the day and forgot about it. If, like me, you’re old enough to remember the early days of MTV and, like me, weren’t smart enough to stay away from it, you know that MTV was so saturated with these kind of faux science fictionesque videos that were so weird they made Philip K. Dick look about as surreal as an insurance salesman that they all kind of blurred together. I also believe Sembello’s video didn’t receive much airplay.
But if I don’t recall Automatic Man, I do remember about a dozen songs called “Automatic” or with that word in the title. And Automan. It was the 80s.
* Leonard Nimoy was at Nickelodeon circa 1983, hosting a show called Standby: Lights, Camera, Action, which featured behind-the-scenes info about movies.