Every Song Tells A Story: Mall Girl

The Story

“Mall Girl” has a long history. It was written in 1994 when I was a spry twenty-four year old. At that point, I had already been working in retail, usually in malls, for a number of years. I mainly worked in record stores or music stores. I was still single and in a band called “The Automatics”. It was a fun era that seems so distant now.

Friends always ask me if there was a real “Mall Girl” and the answer is yes. This song was written about a girl who worked in the same mall I was working in (Garden State Plaza – Paramus, NJ), upstairs at one of those clothing stores like The Limited. I don’t remember too much about her other than the fact that she was blonde and her eyes had a yellowish tint to them. She was friendly and pretty. I was a little intimidated for whatever reason. She was a regular customer for a while and I’d see her a few times a week usually. Her name was Doris. I thought that was pretty cool.

At some point I alluded to going out for a date and she agreed. We had one date. We saw a really bad film called Threesome. It had a Baldwin brother in it. It was awful. She liked it. I found out later that she was actually nineteen so I guess that makes sense. In any case, she didn’t seem too interested in following up so I let it go but for some reason the whole affair stuck in my head and one creative day, I sat and wrote this song about the whole thing – which really wasn’t that big of a thing but it was enough for a song, right?

The song was important for me because while I had been in bands before and had written things here and there, this song marked the first time I had done everything myself. I wrote it and recorded it alone, all in one day. I had just gotten a Yamaha 4-track recorder. I wrote down the lyrics, miked up the drums and played the song through based on what I felt the structure would be. From there, I added the rest of the instruments and voices. I used this funky Fender Fuzz/Wah pedal and the song came out quite well for a demo.

I played it for the guys in my band and we instantly added it to the set list. The song went over well and we played it until the band split. After that, I played a bluesy acoustic version (which I’ll record one day) for a bit but the song was put aside when I put music aside for a number of years, along with a few other songs.

I recorded it again in my friend Brian’s basement one time along with another song when I thought I’d make a real record of my own. The demos were finished but the album never made it past those two songs. The other song we recorded down there was “One Step Closer”.

One thing I don’t like to do is throw songs away or disregard them. If I’ve put the time and energy into writing and/or recording a song, I want to keep it around. So when it came time to start writing music again and think about putting out a full album of original material, I thought back to songs like “Mall Girl” and thought it might be time to finally put them out there as part of a record.

As far as the lyrics go, I was just out to have fun. I wanted it to be funny but still tell a story of a guy who likes this girl who prances around the mall like she owns it (“…high class manager flair”). Many of the lines are honest. The whole upstairs/downstairs thing is true. She was upstairs selling clothes while I was downstairs selling music. She did have these big round eyes. I used to say hi to her every time when she passed by to open the store or whatever. So it’s authentic, in a way, but generic enough to be enjoyable to most people.

The song was always fun for me and I have fond memories of writing it and playing it live with the old band and at some acoustic gigs. People seemed to like it, probably because it gave them a chuckle, and that makes it worth keeping around.

The Recording

While I was in the middle of recording some other songs for what would become the album I eventually called Damaged Goods, I found myself thinking about “Mall Girl” again. I had already recorded it a few times and remembered the main parts so I figured I’d re-record it one more time and see what happened. The old demos weren’t bad but they were final mixes and the quality was a bit low.

When I record live drums, I usually make sure I have at least two songs to play. Another older song, “One Step Closer” was also waiting in the wings, so I put those two on the list and recorded the drum tracks on the same day.

After drums, I usually lay down a bass track so I can have a full rhythm section to play along with. Again, I was able to lay that track down in a short amount of time. The song just came right back to me, not that it’s anything all that complicated.

With those tracks in the can, I moved on to guitar. This is where things got a little hairy. I play a Fender Telecaster, which can sometimes be noisy. For the older demos, I used the aforementioned huge, vintage Fender Fuzz/Wah pedal to create a certain effect without which the song would lose much of its flavor. This thing is also a noisy beast but so much fun. I plan on using it live, if I can.

All that noise on multiple tracks made for a noisy recording. To be honest, though, one of the things I enjoy about the song (and the original demo) is that it’s noisy and boisterous. So, the fact that there was all this noise all over the tracks was something I could easily overlook. It did make mixing the thing a little hairy, however.

After laying down the main guitar parts, I added a solo track, piece by piece, until I had something I was happy with. I’m not very good at lead guitar so I usually have to record solos a phrase at a time, unless I get lucky.

I didn’t go all out on the vocals this time. I did three part harmonies on some bits for the old demos but stuck to two this time. I’m not sure why, really. Sometimes the song just says, “Hey, don’t need it.” Perhaps live, I’ll do something else. The songs are going to sound a little different live, I’m sure.

I’ll admit, I was a little impatient with mixing the song at first. It’s a simple song so it shouldn’t be difficult, right? I still hadn’t gotten a handle on compression and things like that, so I was having trouble getting the drums to stand out. They sounded buried. I resorted to EQ for a lot of these issues and as a result, the first mix of the song that I released sounded a bit washed out and way too bright. I released it anyhow, just so I could move on to other songs and keep the forward momentum going.

Move on, I did. Still, every time I happened to hear the track it always bothered me. So recently, I revisited the mix, stripped off a lot of the EQ and effects, and played with the compression some more, bringing things out and pushing things back. By this time, I had had a little more practice and played around with the settings. I felt a little more confident. The resulting mix was a definite improvement and I replaced the old mix with the new mix everywhere I could. Because of all the noise and stuff, however, it’s still not the best mix in the world, but it works for me. At least it won’t make me cringe anymore.

Looking back, it was always a fun song to play live, but I was usually on drums or playing the acoustic version. I’m really looking forward to playing this song live, fuzz/wah and all. I hope people still get a kick out of it.

The Lyrics

Now when I’m downstairs at my store I wait for her to pass my door
Cuz she’s the one that lights up my day
She’s got big round yellow eyes, her hair is blonde, need I say more?
I’m always her first stop of the day

Mall Girl strutting down the aisle with her high class manager flair
Mall Girl oooh she flash a smile, make my heart and soul beware

She’s too cool for conversation, fills me with elation every day
when she opens her store
Upstairs she sells the clothes, body suits and panty hose
She got everything you need and more more more, cuz she’s my…

Mall Girl strutting down the aisle with her high class manager flair
Mall Girl, oooh she flash a smile, make my heart and soul beware

Hey baby what do you say me and you go down to the food court and uh…get some food?

I’m happy that I’m there in that record store downstairs
Cuz she buys all her music from me
She never is defensive and though the music is expensive
She knows that my love is free – yea!

Mall Girl strutting down the aisle with her high class manager flair
Mall Girl, oooh she flash a smile, make my heart and soul beware – yea!

Mall Girl – Mall Girl – Mall Girl – Mall Girl…


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