Throwing in the Towel

THROWING IN THE TOWEL – Tom Sanderson | download mp3

Throwing in the Towel
lyrics and music by Tom Sanderson

It’s the forth and final quarter
Score is 49 to none
All the first string have been sidelined
and the rest feel like they’re done
And the playbook’s been exhausted
The whole squad is feeling foul
Though the odds are stacked against them
they won’t been throwing in the towel

It’s the middle of a conflict
and both sides they can’t agree
Words are fired from the shadows
Bystanders pierced in the melee
They pray for an end to fighting,
if but heaven will allow
Though the tender hearts are broken
they won’t be throwing in the towel

Could you make a difference
if it was up to you?
You say you’ll be stronger
when this is all through
Will you cross the finish line
when the world is filled with pain?
Will you gather you composure?
Rise to your feet again

It’s the middle of the city
and the books are in the red
Rent increasing to the skyline
Barely keeps the family fed
Is the daylight soon approaching
in the place where sirens howl?
With the pressure sufficating
they won’t be throwing in the towel

Could you make a difference
if it was up to you?
You say you’ll be stronger
when this is all through
Will you cross the finish line
when the world is filled with pain?
Will you gather you composure?
Rise to your feet again


The title of this song traces back to thoughts while jogging. I tend to think more clearly when I am exercising and it’s a great place to collect ideas. Perhaps I filed it away for a few weeks. While Lori and I had a brief getaway to southern Utah this March, I finally had some free time and decided to demo a song idea. This title came back to mind and I believe I imagined a soul/rock ballad not far different to some of Steve Winwood’s work in the mid-1980’s.

Normally, I start a song with a musical idea – a melody or a chord sequence at least. For this song I started with the lyrics, though I might have had some melodic framework in my head. My personal experience with writing lyrics tends to be one of two varieties: (1) a quick dump of writing where the concept and execution flows efficiently (2) a slow process where a line or two comes quickly but the rest feels stuck for days or indefinitely. Much of my lyric-writing of the last few years tends to be of the second variety and I have been glad to have help by Alan and Lori for many projects. Fortunately, the lyrics came quickly on this one, except for a few lines which fell into place later.

After writing most of lyrics, I figured out the song structure on my parents’ keyboard. This also was a fairly streamlined process. I made a quick demo. Lori really liked the lyrics and the demo recording. I shared it with Alan who also gave positive feedback. Alan and I actually had our first face-to-face meeting since the pandemic started shortly before writing this song and we met up in Enoch, Utah at his dwellings shortly after.

A few weeks later, I worked on putting music to Lori’s lyrics called “Blueprint.” After that project was completed and a few collaborations were in progress, I turned back to the song fragments I had not yet developed. This song was one I considered scrapping either partially or entirely, and both Lori and Alan convinced me to keep it intact.

Since this song felt like a ballad that I connected musically with the 1980’s, I wanted to use some ques to that era. I took a long time diving through the Roland menus to find the most appropriate patch for the lead and supporting sounds. After I had taken the sequence to 6 minute territory, I workshopped the ideas to my brother Brian and also my cousin Alan who both offered valuable suggestions. Brian suggested since it was a long song that I strip down the first verse to only its essentials. I applied his idea by removing the bass and simplifying the percussion in this spot and it worked well. One of the four verses was either intended to be a solo or perhaps it was added added in error. I decided at this point to perform a radical edit where I changed this solo/third verse into a dropout, borrowing the chord sequence of the intro and outro. On this middle dropout I again took out the bass and supporting keyboards initially.

When I had exported the sequence, I applied another of Brian’s suggestions which was to replace the sequenced bass with an electric bass (there is a small remnant of the sequenced bass on the lowest notes and first few notes in the intro). I recorded two supporting guitars playing similar parts but one had overdrive and a different pickup setting in some parts. I had a very clear idea in my head for the backing vocals in the outro. My original idea was recorded with five voices and two parts and constitutes the first two repeats. I then tried layering the vocals on the last two repeats with two more parts and four more voices.

I recorded a simple lead vocal. Alan suggested I reference the original demo for some great melody ideas I failed to capture. I re-recorded the vocal and added some effects, thanks to Alan’s ideas. The guitar solo tried to be a bit of an over-simplified John Mayer. It would be better if he played it, for sure. After the third mixdown, I felt like I’d captured what I wanted to capture. It was easy to bring this recording to a fairly good level but took 80% of the effort taking it to a slightly better spot.


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