A song that struck like lightning

If you have access to music, you probably know what I mean. Every now and then you come across a song that sticks with you. Sometimes it’s just because it’s catchy, even if the song’s not that good (like the theme from Diff’rent Strokes), or because it really speaks to you – again, whether the song’s popular or not.

For me, for example, songs like this include Jethro Tull’s “Requiem” and “Black Satin Dancer,” Evanescence’s “Going Under,” Jay-Z’s “Dig a Hole,” Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine,” Tom Waits’s “Telephone Call from Istanbul,” Drowning Pool’s “Tear Away,” and Curve’s “Chainmail,” among many others.

But sometimes there’s a song that does more than just stick. It lodges deep in the core of your being, caught and fused there by some strange, unreasonable resonance, only to arise unbidden at the strangest of times. It comes to you like that face in the crowd that you could swear was your high-school crush, or like the smell of your favorite relative’s homemade whatever that just stops you in your tracks. Songs like truly haunt you, and they don’t come along very often; now that I’m on the far side of 30, I’m glad to say I have a couple under my belt.

The one I’m thinking of right now, that I woke up with this morning, is “Fade to Black,” by His Boy Elroy. No, it’s not a cover of any other songs by that title; it’s an original. It first showed up on HBE’s debut, eponymous album back in 1993, but I heard a special radio single later on, probably in the summer of ’94, when I was an undergrad in central Iowa.

There’s a pretty good review, titled “A Moment of Perfect Beauty,” written by a person who evidently feels much as I do about it. The thing is, as noted in the review, this radio version is actually not the same as the version on the album. I have not heard that album, but the reviewer’s description of the song was pretty right on. It didn’t make me weep whenever I heard it, but it always caught my attention, always touched me and shifted the direction of my thoughts and my day. It had angsty, depressed lyrics and an insistent driven-ness that are found with hard rock, but it was dominated by an acoustic guitar and strong, clear vocal work.

I believe that what we heard – and fell in love with – is actually an acoustic version of a more rock-n-roll-style original.

I say “I believe” because I don’t actually own this song. I couldn’t find the album back in the day, and I moved to Chicago in ’95. Every now and then the song would pop into my head – I can still hear almost every note of it – and I would go online in search of it. For several years, I couldn’t find any mention of the song. I came tantalizingly close once, when I found a page (it seems to have disappeared now) that had both “Fade to Black” and “His Boy Elroy” appearing in its content. The album review I found was resoundingly unflattering, and I thought that they couldn’t be talking about the same band. Eventually, by 2003 or so, I gave up on the search altogether. In fact, I came close to believing that I had the song name or band name wrong, and I was simply doomed to live with it only in my memory.

Which was not tragic, actually. As I said, I remember almost every note to this day.

But this morning, I woke up with the tune in my head, and I decided to go looking again on a whim. Turns out that the song’s author posted a response to “A Moment of Perfect Beauty.” Johnny Fly is his name. (There’s another response in the wake of his post, too.) There are also mentions of the song elsewhere (like Yahoo! Music and last.fm), and the out-of-print CD can be found on eBay and Amazon, among other places. There’s also, incidentally, a dance/electronica artist going by the name “hisboyelroy,” which makes the search a little harder. Of course, what really stood out was that there was still no radio version to be had, and the one real review I could find (actually posted in more than one place), while positive, confirmed through its wording that the album version is not the radio single I treasure in my audio soul.

What is the import of all this? Two things. First, with the advent of the techno hisboyelroy, I fear that the data trace, the shadow of this tune I love may be lost. Therefore I write this to memorialize it, in my own way. Second, though, I did find one disc on eBay that looked promising. It was a single, “Fade to Black” by His Boy Elroy, “RARE 3 TRK DJCD.” Could this be the long-lost radio single? The photo of the case shows the three tracks: the first is “Remix”; the third is “LP Version.” But track two is listed as “Acoustic.” Oh my! Dare I get my hopes up? Well, I’ve dared. The thing was $1 plus $2.85 s/h, so I didn’t have much to lose.

We’ll see…

Song of the moment: "Fade to Black," His Boy Elroy


11 Responses to “A song that struck like lightning”

  1. johnnyfly Says:

    I occasionally Google myself, like I’m sure everyone does from time to time, and came across this. Curious…did it stand the test of time? Remarkable to find any mention of this stuff so many years after the fact, and, very cool, as well.

    The whole record was a real labor of love that quickly fell off track and only got worse as the year recording it went along.

    Thanks for keeping the memory of it alive!

  2. It will live at least as long as I do. The tune totally stands up to time, if you ask me. Keep in mind that I’m talking only about the acoustic version – I still haven’t listened to the original.

    But the acoustic version is awesome. The vocal work is sometimes strong, sometimes delicate, but always rich. Structurally, the song is true to the best aspects of the rock tradition even in its unplugged state: strong rhythm, a good and memorable musical hook, and lyrics that, while uncomplicated, are neither too maudlin nor too cheesy or light. I’m sorry you had such a bad time of it with the album, but this track, if no other, is a gem that still shines.

  3. Wow – I’m the original author of “A Moment of Perfect Beauty” and just noticed the traffic coming from this entry. Thanks for the heads up on the CD, my taped-off-the-radio version is really on its last legs.

    Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of email about that review, so you and I are not alone in remembering this song.

  4. Ana Claudia Vieira Says:

    Dear guys,
    It´s funny how those stories resemble to the same type of histories we´ve been through.
    I always listen to this music in my head, over and over, and for many times it scapes as it comes.
    I always promise myself to write it down whenever it appears, and look for it somewhere else.
    And, amazingly part of lyrics came across my mind and then I decided to look after this song in web, once again. Surprisingly, I´ve found johnnyfly website and his soft history, and now yours.
    The Fade to Black song I heard years and years ago is the same one you all did, and it is the same one we still can´t find. I keep on looking for that, but I´m happy that I´ve found you, looking for the same sensations this simple song left in our lives.
    Hugs to you from Santos, Brazil.

  5. Same here.

    I, like Ana Claudia, used to live in Santos too. It was around 1994, if memory serves me correctly, when that song got a lot of radio play in our city – and I never forgot it. Funny thing was, I never knew the name of the song or who was singing it.

    Years went by, and from time to time I would remember that song. I decided to look for it on the internet; just typed in the little I remembered about the lyrics, and bingo!, found “A moment of perfect beauty”.

    That set me on a search to get the song, but I just couldn’t find a place where to download it. Even youtube, where you can find just about everything, did not have it… and still doesn’t.

    That really is not only a catchy song (I mean the acoustic version), but also a song that makes you ponder about life, the dreams you had when you were young, the disappointment, aging and conformity.

    So I guess we have an agreement that, whenever one of us do find a link, we’ll inform the others, eh?


  6. Hello there! I recorded the acoustic Fade to Black from the radio back in 1994 (a stroke of luck actually because this song got little but significant airplay) here in Brazil and I don’t know why such an obscure song got into Brazilian radios. It is missing a few seconds in the beginning and in the end but the rest is pretty much intact.

    The only way I kept this song alive before my tapes would fade with time was to convert to MP3. If anyone’s interested drop me a line.

    • Forrest Breese Says:

      Please email me the MP# of the “off the radio recording” of His Boy Elroy, Fade to Black. Thanks, Forrest – the HBE bass player!

      • Ana Claudia Says:

        Please please, also email me de mp3 of Fade to Black. I have part of the lyric glued in my computer. I´m desperately looking for this song. Thanks, Ana

      • Ana Claudia Says:

        After a very very very long time, Fade do Black full.

        ForrestBreeseTV. Thank you, Forrest. !!!

  7. So…what was on the CD?

    I was oddly enough an undergrad in Central Iowa at the same time (Drake U.), and heard the song as well. Probably on the same station you did, even – KFMG 103.3.

  8. Bola C. King-Rushing Says:

    Jason: Good question. I believe it was basically an EP that included two versions of Fade to Black and a few other songs – but, sad to say, none of them were memorable at all.

    Funny the small world something like a song creates!

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