Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist I recently learned of when he reached out to me about his song “Social Robots“. Born and raised in Wabash, Indiana and now based in Great Falls, Montana, Johnny has had a lifelong interest in, and love for, music. He started learning to play piano and drums as a young child, and went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago, and last year earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as providing lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation.
Released on March 19th, “Social Robots” is Johnny’s debut single. He states it was “inspired by human behavior regarding social media consumption following the tragedy of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL in 2018.” In a recent interview with Noah | MUA, Johnny explained that he originally wrote the song three years ago as a way for him to process the tragic event, and never planned on releasing the song as a single. But the events and traumas of the past year led him to decide to release it after all, as the lyrics seemed especially relevant to the times.
For the song, Johnny played piano and drums, and sang vocals, with guitar played by Charlie Petralia, and bass by Dale Guernsey. The track was produced by fellow Columbia College Chicago alumnus Brett Grant, who’s own single “Reanimate” I wrote about just last week (it was after seeing that review that Johnny reached out to me). The beautiful artwork for the single was created by Attie Schuler, who Johnny attended high school with in Wabash.
The song opens with sounds of a phone ringing, accompanied by a man’s voice slowed down to the point where it sounds creepy and disturbing as he speaks the first stanza addressing the pernicious effects of social media:
It is not the habit which addicts me,
But rather the enveloping feeling of escape.
It digs its fangs into my brain,
Slowly spreading its roots,
Hooking me eternally.
The song then abruptly transitions in both tone and feel, as Johnny sings his pointed lyrics about how we become social media robots to sounds of his lovely but melancholic piano keys. Soon Charlie’s chiming guitar, Dale’s subtle bass, and Johnny’s measured drumbeats enter the mix, creating a resounding backdrop for his plaintive vocals that grow more impassioned as the song progresses, only to calm back down at the end as he sings the final line “We’re all sad motherfuckers” with a sense of bitter resignation.
“Social Robots” is a fascinating and brilliant song, both musically and lyrically. While not immediately catchy or melodic, it has an unusual meandering flow that’s quite compelling, keeping a firm grasp on our interest as the song proceeds and the narrative unfolds. It’s an impressive debut from this promising young artist, and I can’t wait to hear more of Mr. Ritchie’s music.
Shackles on all our lives
Not on our wrists but on our minds
Tiny little screens with big fat lies of light
Oh don’t you think
Yeah don’t you mind
Just keep on scrolling you’ll be alright
Distractions, I see them in every way
They tell us the right thoughts to think and the words to say
But nobody ever goes outside to play
No don’t you think
Yeah don’t you pray
Just pretend like it’s still a beautiful day
Tell me no, we’ll see about that
Kick me down, I’m wiser if I don’t fight back
Oh I’ll learn from you and be better off
You may laugh or scoff but just go jerk off
You robot, you sad motherfucker
The crutches we lean on everywhere
They help us breathe in all this polluted air
They help us choose our favorite style of hair
Oh don’t you think
Yeah don’t you care
Just be a copy and no one stares
The voices we seek out for advice
We’re taking all their bullshit as something that’s wise
But nobody is ever thinking twice
So don’t you blink
Just take your vice
Just play your part, you’ll be alright
Robots looking for something that’s real
They’re all trying to think out what to feel
And kisses help, and so do hugs
And not to mention all the drugs
But we’re all robots
We’re all tied up in the same cords from our own plugs
We’re all robots
We’re all sad motherfuckers