by Stephen Thomas ErlewineThough he never had many hits, Thomas Dolby became one of the most recognizable figures of the synth-pop movement of early-80s new wave. Largely, this was due to his skillful marketing. Dolby promoted himself as a kind of mad scientist, an egghead that had successfully harnassed the power of synthesizers and samplers, using them to make catchy pop and light electro-funk. Before he launched a solo career, Dolby had worked as a studio musician, technician, and songwriter; his most notable work as a songwriter was New Toy, which he wrote for Lene Lovich, and Whodinis Magics Wand. In 1981, he launched a solo career, which resulted in a number of minor hits and two big hits — She Blinded Me with Science (1982) and Hyperactive (1984). Following Hyperactive, his career faded away, as he began producing more frequently, as well as exploring new synthesizer and computer technology. Dolby continued to record into the 90s, but by that time, he was strictly a cult act.Dolbys interest in music arose through his interest in computers, electronics and synthesizers. The son of a British archeologist, Thomas Dolby (b. Thomas Morgan Robertson, October 14, 1958) originally attended college to study meteorology, but he was soon side-tracked by electronics, specifically musical equipment. He began building his own synthesizers when he was 18 years old. Around the same time, he began to learn how to play guitar and piano, as well as how to program computers. Eventually, his schoolmates gave him the nickname of Dolby, which was the name for a noise-reduction technology for audiotapes; he would eventually take the nickname as a stage name.In his late teens, Dolby was hired as a touring sound engineer for a variety of post-punk bands, including the Fall, the Passions and the Members; on these dates, he would use a PA system he had built himself. In 1979, he formed the arty post-punk band Camera Club with Bruce Woolley, Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Matthew Seligman. Within a year, he had left the group and joined Lene Lovichs backing band. Dolby gave Lovich his song New Toy, which became a British hit in 1981. That same year, he released his first solo single, Urges, on the English independent label Armageddon. By the fall, he had signed with Parlophone and released Europa and the Pirate Twins, which nearly cracked the UK Top 40.Dolby started playing synthesizer on sessions for other artists in 1982. That year, he appeared on Foreigners 4, Def Leppards Pyromania and Joan Armatradings Walk Under Ladders. Also in 1982, he wrote and produced Magics Wand for Whodini; the single became one of the first million-selling rap singles. Even with all of these achievements, 1982 was most noteworthy for the release of Dolbys first solo album, The Golden Age of Wireless, in the summer of 1982; the record reached number 13 in England, while it was virtually forgotten in America. Windpower, the first single from the record, became his first Top 40 UK hit in the late summer.In January of 1983, Dolby released an EP, Blinded by Science, which included a catchy number called She Blinded Me with Science that featured a cameo vocal appearance by the notorious British eccentric Magnus Pike, who also appeared in the songs promotional video. Blinded by Science was a minor hit in England, but the EP and the single became major American hit in 1983, thanks to MTVs heavy airplay of the She Blinded Me with Science video. Eventually, the song reached number five on the US charts and it was included on a resequenced and reissued version of The Golden Age of Wireless, which peaked at number 13 in America.The Flat Earth, Dolbys second album, appeared in early 1984 and was supported by the single Hyperactive. The single became his biggest UK hit, peaking at number 17. Though The Flat Earth reached number 35 on the US charts, Dolbys momentum was already beginning to slow — none of the singles released from the album cracked the American Top 40. Nevertheless, Dolby was in demand as a collaborator and he worked with Herbie Hancock, Howard Jones, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, and Dusty Springfield. During 1985, he produced Clintons Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends, Prefab Sprouts Steve McQueen (Two Wheels Good in the US), and Joni Mitchells Dog Eat Dog, as well as supporting David Bowie at Live Aid. Also in 1985, he began composing film scores, starting with Fever Pitch. In 1986, he composed the scores for Gothic and Howard the Duck, to which he credited himself as Dolbys Cube. That credit led to a lawsuit from the Dolby Labs, who eventually prohibited the musician from using the name Dolby in conjunction with any other name than Thomas.Aliens Ate My Buick, Dolbys long-delayed third album, appeared in 1988 to poor reviews and weak sales, even though the single Airhead became a minor British hit. That same year, Dolby married actress Kathleen Beller. For the rest of the late 80s and early 90s, Dolby continued to score films, producing and he began building his own computer equipment. His fourth album, Astronauts & Heretics, was released in 1992 on his new label, Giant. Despite the presence of guest stars like Eddie Van Halen, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Ofra Haza, the album was a flop. The following year, Dolby founded the computer software company Headspace, which released The Virtual String Quartet as its first program. For the rest of the 90s, Headspace occupied most of Dolbys time and energy. In 1994, he released The Gate to the Minds Eye, a soundtrack to the videotape Minds Eye. Also that year, Capitol released the greatest-hits collection, Retrospectacle.