Play Safely

Play Safely visualized with lyric
Photograph: Trarete; Color: Del Mar Richardson

“Play Safely” is the first song on Bachelors Anonymous’ unreleased second album, In the Land of Nod, remastered and released digitally. Bachelor David Hughes tells the story behind the song.


Sometime in 1987 Rob came to me with a tune and a title: Play Safely. I wasn’t all that keen on appropriating an AIDS PSA slogan (see others in the series, which featured Zelda Rubinstein). But in retrospect, in 2020–2021, I’m trying to recall any COVID-19 comparable. I suppose that “Wear It For Your Mother” (in reference to masks) has the same sentiment as “Play Safely”—but it doesn’t appear to have been rolled out, according to this article on the subject of such slogans from a year ago.

In any case, I went to work. I think Rob had suggested that the song, given its title, could hold an element of danger. And so Rob, singing the lead, leads off with, “Look me in the eyes and say that again.”

I decided to riff on the notion of playing around, from kids playing “doctor” to men playing drunk. Of course lyrically I lifted from The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night).” But whereas the object of the Prunes’ affection, after a restless night, was “gone, gone, gone,” the Bachelor’s buddy was in bed: “And I guess it’s just the beginning.”

Because the third verse references AIDS implicitly (implicitly is a wiggly word that means both tacitly and absolutely), we can say that the Bachelors repertory included three songs that seemed apropos of what we were experiencing. The first we released last year: our cover of “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)” from Hair. The third was “The Bells of La Brea”; stay tuned for its story.

About the Recording

I wondered why the drums sounded so good on several tracks of this album, including “Play Safely.” That’s because I didn’t play or program them, as I was reminded when I passed the songs by Del Mar Richardson. “‘Play Safely,’ I played on,” he told me by email. “After some takes, you’d quantize,” meaning that he’d play a passage on our Octapad, an input device that interfaced with our drum box. Quantizing allowed us to true up the timing of the passage before committing it to tape. “Then I would add fills over them.” Del Mar continued:

Playing a drum kit, I had all four extremities, two hands for ride and snare and toms. Coming from always having played acoustic drums, playing an Octapad was a small challenge for me. What was difficult to control was tempo without the bass drum, which meant having to either add the bass drum last, or lay a basic snare-bass foundation and build on that. I could imagine what I wanted to hear for the song in my mind, but being unable to produce it immediately threw me off, meaning errors and re-takes. This was time consuming. Not that we were in a hurry. But it required overdubs and quantizing.

I think at some point, we got me a bass pedal to use with the Octapad, remember that? When the addition of the pedal came, it opened me up to control better what I was doing with the physical dexterity and what I was accustomed to hearing from playing a full kit, and I think it might have freed up another pad. If they were small percussion adds like timbales, or congas, it wouldn’t have been a challenge, since I would only need two hands.

In live performance the Octapad also allowed Del Mar to trigger a sequencer that would stream music over which Rob would play keyboard and Del Mar would drum.

Del Mar told me that “Play Safely was a running joke about having too much to think.” I asked him to explain.

Feeling displaced, and pondering how to turn my life around while bunking with you gentlemen, I had insomnia. Sometimes my mind reeled with anxiety. The phrase “I had too much to think last night” was a phrase I used when stumbling downstairs to get a hit of coffee to wake me up from the last night’s sleeplessness and exhaustion. Other times, especially after recording and hearing multiple playbacks, a song would play on a loop during my nocturnal toss & turn, something that would occur again later on in my life with Glenn Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” It went on for two weeks, day and night. Concerned about this I saw my doctor and we discussed the Wrecking Crew and Jim Webb. The doctor gave me a script for seven 50-mg phenobarbital and told me to take a couple before bed. “That’ll get him off the line,” he said.

That’s quite an ear worm, kinda like “The Star Spangled Banner.” The first LP ever I bought was Johnny Rivers’s Rewind, for which Webb was arranger, conductor, and liner notes author; the two had collaborated on getting the Fifth Dimension up and running.

Getting back to the phrase, it turned into a running joke because Rob and I would be sipping joe in the morning and he would say that he had too much to think last night. Later, I think it turned into “too much to dream….” Either one I remember, became a standard substitute for “Good morning!” which meant that one of us got actual sleep the night before.

Lyrics

Look me in the eye and say that again
I bet you say that to all the men
You had too much to drink last night
Don’t remember a thing
I had too much to think last night
And I guess it’s just the beginning

Play safely… Play safely…

Men like you are a dime a dozen
A younger brother, an older cousin
You had too much to drink last night
“Can’t remember a thing”?
You said it all in a wink last night
You said everything
But it’s nothing that’s real

Chorus
Play safely or you’re gonna get hurt
Play safely, nothing too overt
Play safely, you’re getting in deep
Play safely, you’re playing for keeps

Men like me, they say we’ve been marked
Now I have a right to be afraid of the dark
I had too much to drink last night
And you “can’t remember a thing”
I was pushed to the brink, alright
I can’t get used to the sting
But it’s something to feel

Chorus

Men like me, they say we’re so sensitive
What we can’t get we can always give and give and give and give
We had too much to drink tonight
You hoped there wouldn’t be strings
But it’s all out of sync tonight
You’ll do anything
Well, that’s no way to steal

It’s not a question of love, it’s not a question of hate
It’s just a question of la-la-la-la
It’s not a question of luck, it’s not a question of fate
It’s just a question of la-la-la-la-la

Lyrics Reprinted by Permission

Credits

See album credits

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