When we spoke with Thomas Dolby in 2011
, he told us that he wrote this '80s classic so he could direct a video using a silent movie motif in the style of the old Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films. Said Dolby: "This was just when music videos were starting to come to the fore, and I was very keen to try out my talent as a music video director. I saw music videos as really a silent movie with a soundtrack, and so I managed to persuade my record company to let me take a shot at writing and directing one. I came up with a script, as it were, just like visiting a home for deranged scientists and this sort of mad professor type played by Magnus Pyke and all these loonies around the place. And a gorgeous Oriental assistant whom I was madly in love with. So that was how the song 'She Blinded Me With Science' came about. I was pretty much writing it to accompany a video."
This song is about a scientist who falls in love with his lab assistant. Dolby told us it's "probably about the most frivolous song that I've ever written," but he still loves it. "When I play it now, I still get a big kick out of it. I mean, I'm perfectly proud of the song, and it's got a great groove and loaded with hooks. And when I play, it's iconic, I think, for many people. Especially people who were around the first time. It makes people very happy," said Dolby. He adds, "I have no regrets over that because I think that it provided a sort of starting point for people to get into the more serious, more personal aspects my music."
Want to jump into more Thomas Dolby? Some of the songs he suggests are "Screen Kiss," "Budapest Blimp" and "I Love You Goodbye."
Dolby calls the character he created in this a "Slightly forlorn mad scientist." He says some of his personality is in the character.
This was Dolby's only hit in the US, although he had a few hit singles in England. Commercial appeal was never the point for Dolby, who told us, "I don't cut any corners, I don't write simple pop relationship songs. They are pretty deep and a lot of my heroes when I was growing up were marginal cult artists that weren't easily pigeonholed, and certainly weren't adorning the charts week in week out. And I might easily have been a cult artist just like them were it not for the fact that I managed to have some mainstream success, and that opened up a whole new fan base to me and provided a way to get them into the more intense side of my music."
Most of the effects and the bass line were made with a Moog synthesizer. At the time, this was no easy task. Said Dolby: "When I started out writing songs, synthesizers were still quite a rarified luxury. They were quite hard to get hands on and quite hard to operate. And when you did, there was still quite a lot of resistance in the mainstream to music made electronically. And so that was a natural place for me to be, because I wanted to be challenged and stimulated like that.
But over the years, the whole realm of our choices become more democratized, shall we say, to the extent that on your iPhone today for a few bucks you can probably have more powerful synthesizers and samplers than I had in my entire studio back in the early '80s."
Mutt Lange sang backup on this track. Here's the connection: Dolby was busking in Paris when he was 19 years old, and he sent a tape with some of his songs to a London music publisher Lange worked for. The super-producer heard the tape and called Dolby in to work on Foreigner's 4
album, where he played the synth intro to "Waiting For A Girl Like You
." Lange also had Dolby work on Def Leppard's Pyromania
album, shortly after The Golden Age Of Wireless
The speaking voice parts were done by Magnus Pyke, a famous TV show host for a children's educational show in England. His trademark was yelling "Science!" throughout the show. Dolby, who was raised in London, liked the idea of bringing Pyke to an American audience, and thought he was a perfect character for the video.
In 2004, a part of this song was sampled on the song "Got It Twisted" by rapper Mobb Deep. Two years later, Kevin Federline sampled "Got It Twisted" without permission, prompting Dolby to write this on his blog:
"Britney Spears' husband Kevin Federline, whom I'd never heard of until a few days ago, appears to have illegally sampled one of my compositions. On his MySpace site you can download an MP3 which uses a looped sample from Mobb Deep's 'Get It Twisted', which in turn copped the string line from my own song 'She Blinded Me With Science.' Now, Mobb Deep did it the right way and had his label BMG come and ask for a license. They paid me a fee and a royalty on the sales of Mobb Deep's record. However K-Fed, as his fans affectionately refer to him, did NOT ask permission, he just went ahead and did it. He is therefore blatantly violating the copyright law. And laws aside, he owed it to me as an artist to ask if I minded that he recorded a vitriolic rap over the top of my music. It starts off 'This is for the HATERS...' and goes on to blast the media, paparazzi and all his other critics, sparing no expletives along the way. BMG Records have also had their copyright violated, as they own the master to Mobb Deep's record. But BMG don't want to rock the Britney boat so they are turning a blind eye. It's pathetic! Turns out K-Fed has no management, label or lawyer, so it's going to be hard getting hold of him. So K-Fed, if you're reading this, I'm asking you nicely to take the track down ASAP. Or maybe you'd prefer me to come after some of your wife's ill-gotten gains?" (thanks, Otto - Miami, FL)
Dolby remains mostly known for this song, but he also became a successful producer and computerized music innovator. He has written music for video games and a few movies (including Howard The Duck), and became the music director at the TED conferences.
Is image is that of a tech geek in tune with modern machinery, but he told us that his true talent is songwriting. Dolby explained: "The big difference between my songs and many of the other sort of electronic records of the day was that you could actually sit down at a piano and do a decent version of one of my songs, because they had fundamental songwriting ingredients to them. They had verses and choruses and intros and lyrics that told a story and a personality behind the words. So yes, that is what I think I'm best at, and I think that is the rarified form in this day and age, because there is a lot of music out there that is really based on a groove, based on the sound textures, and that's fine. But it's not the place for me to be."
The first episode of the hit TV show The Big Band Theory used this song as its theme, as it went along with the scientist main characters. This episode was used to pitch the show and never aired, and when the show got picked up, an original theme by Barenaked Ladies was used.
Dolby wrote the line, "Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto" because he wanted a Japanese woman to appear in the video. "I was boldly ahead of the times in fetishizing Asian women," he said in the book I Want My MTV.