The Making Of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories
(The Making Of GRAMMY-Winning Recordings … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of music's biggest recordings. The series' current installments present in-depth insight and details about recordings that won 56th GRAMMY Awards.)
(As told to Roy Trakin)
For a 73-year-old, the GRAMMYs was more than a helluva evening … it was a bloody miracle. Daft Punk asked me to write lyrics for the album because of a movie I made in 1974, Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise. They saw it more than 20 times in Paris, one of only two cities — the other was Winnipeg — where it was a hit. It played there for years.
What I loved about [Random Access Memories] was they didn't come with a finished house and ask if I'd put up some wallpaper. [Producer] Thomas [Bangalter] handed me a book that was probably 20–30 years old, on life after death experiences — people who had died and come back. I had read it maybe 15 years ago. We never identified the person who would be singing "Touch." Is it somebody coming out of a coma? The lyrics are almost childlike: "Kiss, suddenly alive/Happiness arrive." Not "arrives." It sounds like somebody who isn't familiar with the language. Maybe a space traveler who's been in an induced cybersleep so they can be awakened upon landing, or even a robot who longs to be touched.
The task was organic. What did I hear in the music? They played these two beautiful melodies that I wrote lyrics for, and then surprised me by asking if I'd sing "Touch." "Beyond" talks about these accelerated emotions: "Dream beyond dreams/Beyond life/You will find your song."
In many ways, the lyrical content of the album is very spiritual and celebratory of that fact. In the old days, we used to listen to records from beginning to end, pointing the speakers at our ears. It's a wonder I can even hear at this point. From the very start, this album is like a time-travel trip back to the '70s. But then they do things that project into the future: "You are the end and the beginning/A world where time is not allowed."
Compound that with the fact [we were] in studio A at what was A&M Records, listening to my singing on an album produced by two robots. I turned to the guys and pointed out a second-story office. "That's where I wrote 'We've Only Just Begun,' 'An Old Fashioned Love Song' and 'Rainy Days And Mondays.' Over there is Brian Henson's office, where I met with him for The Muppet Christmas Carol movie." It was a physical location that had been a part of my life two or three different times. Listening to the album was almost like the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Keir Dullea looks at an older version of himself, and becomes that version. For me, the album was like that, but in reverse. It was a wonderful, creative experience.
One of the things I love about Daft Punk is their anonymity; what they do is more important than having the audience recognize and become enraptured with who they are. They took a chance to sail into waters with a little more emotional depth on this album. I can't say enough about their generosity of spirit.
(At the 56th GRAMMY Awards, Paul Williams won for Album Of The Year as a featured artist on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. Williams co-wrote two tracks on the album, "Touch" and “Beyond," in addition to singing vocals on the former. Williams won two prior GRAMMYs, including Song Of The Year with Barbra Streisand in 1977 for "Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)." He is the current president and chairman of the board of ASCAP.)
(Roy Trakin, a senior editor for HITS magazine, has written for every rock publication that ever mattered, some that didn't, and got paid by most of them.)