Curtis Mayfield - Little Child Running Wild [purchase]
Superfly isn't the greatest movie, but I defy anyone to come up with a better, funkier soundtrack. The obvious move here is to go with "Pusherman," the most recognizable tune from the film and a stone-cold classic in its own right. But, I'm opting for the first cut from the album, "Little Child Running Wild." This might be Mayfield's finest moment as a producer and arranger (in collaboration with Johnny Pate), skillfully integrating Hammond B-3, strings, congas, drums, tenor sax, and wah-wah guitar. Lyrically, "Little Child" is a masterpiece of social commentary, a sympathetic narrative of inner city dysfunction that is, sadly, still relevant. As a bonus, I've tacked onto the beginning of the track an excerpt from a Mayfield interview, recorded a few years before his death in 1999. I think it nicely contrasts the intensity of the subject matter with the sensitivity of his artistic methodology.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova: Falling Slowly
I received the DVD of the movie Once as a Christmas gift last year from a dear friend, who knew I had tried to see it in the theatres when it came out but never could manage the time - the recommendations came to me from too many directions to ignore...
My daughter and I watched it together soon afterwards (my second viewing, her first) and there is a scene in which the male character begins playing this song and encourages the female character to chime in on piano and vocal accompaniments - Sarah looked at me and said, "yeah, sure... what are the chances of that happening?".
I dreamily gazed back at her and proudly said, "in my world, that happens all the time"... and I experienced a rush of memories of songswaps and house concerts and campfires in which I was privy to people who had never before met sharing songs and intuitively adding instrumentation and voices, with angelic results - I cannot verbalize enough how truly blessed I am to run in circles of magic and harmony...
The nomination of "Falling Slowly" for the best original song Oscar was questioned because of the different versions previously released on The Cost and The Swell Season. The AMPAS music committee determined that, in the course of the film's protracted production, the composers had "played the song in some venues that were deemed inconsequential enough to not change the song’s eligibility". "Falling Slowly" won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original Song.
The soundtrack was nominated for two 2008 Grammy Awards, under Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media and, for "Falling Slowly", Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. It won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Music, and it was ranked at number two on the Entertainment Weekly 25 New Classic Soundtrack Albums list (1983–2008).
Glen and Marketa's 2007 Academy Award acceptance speeches:
Glen Hansard: "Thanks! This is amazing. What are we doing here? This is mad. We made this film two years ago. We shot on two Handycams. It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred grand. We never thought we would come into a room like this and be in front of you people. It's been an amazing thing. Thanks for taking this film seriously, all of you. It means a lot to us. Thanks to the Academy, thanks to all the people who've helped us, they know who they are, we don't need to say them. This is amazing. Make art. Make art. Thanks."
Marketa Irglova: "Hi everyone. I just want to thank you so much. This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are. And so thank you so much, who helped us along way. Thank you."
The term “soundtracks” can apply to works for the stage, as well as the screen. And the screen in question may be the small or the big one. But the posts this week have been dominated by works written for the movies. There is, of course, a great body of work available in movie songs, and we can only scratch the surface in one short week. But now I would like to present a pair of songs which made their first appearance on stage.
I am referring to the London stage in the late 1800s. The movies, and some of the inventions that had to precede them, had not yet made their appearance. Hit songs were not judged by the number of downloads, or the volume of record sales, or the number of plays on the radio; all of that technology was still years away. But many people had pianos in their homes, and knew how to play them. If you went to the theatre, and heard a song you liked in a show, you bought the sheet music and learned to play and sing the song. And hits were measured by the volume of sheet music sold.
One of London’s biggest hit makers was the team of W S Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Gilbert wrote the words and Sullivan provided the music for a series of comic operettas which graced the London stage. Although Gilbert worked a lot of topical humor into his librettos, his lampoons of human nature have proven to be timeless, and his characters retain their appeal. And Sullivan’s music has withstood the test of time. Over one hundred years later, the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan are now performed worldwide. The Pirates of Penzance was adapted into a Broadway show, which was then adapted into a movie. And filmmakers still tell the story of Gilbert and Sullivan themselves; the most recent example of this was Topsy Turvy.
I could have presented, for this post, recordings of songs from the operettas themselves. But I decided that the musical style was too far afield from what we feature here, so I have chosen a pair of Gilbert and Sullivan covers. If there is enough interest in the sound of the originals, I would consider doing a post at Oliver di Place in the future.
Richard Thompson: There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast
Richard Thompson gives us a song from The Mikado. In this song, Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, must win the heart of Katisha, the Mikado’s Daughter-in-law Elect, and “an acquired taste”, in order to save his own life. It’s a long, hilarious story.
Peter Paul and Mary: I Have a Song to Sing, O
Peter Paul and Mary chose a song from The Yeomen of the Guard. Jack Point, a strolling jester, introduces himself to the other characters and the audience with this song. Sir Arthur Sullivan always wanted to produce a serious opera, and The Yeomen of the Guard is as close as Gilbert and Sullivan ever came. In the end, Jack Point loses his love, and he reprises this song at the end in despair. This makes the song an odd choice for one of Peter Paul and Mary’s children’s albums. But they perform it beautifully.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Bjork: I've Seen It All
The saddest movie ever? This is the movie I would say in a heartbeat if asked that. I've watched it numerous times and each time I ball my eyes out.
The 2000 Lars Von Trier film caught my attention by the press it was getting, as it won for both best picture and best actress at the Cannes film festival that year, and simply because Bjork was the star. I was curious as to what sort of actress she'd be and what sort of film she'd appear in, not to mention how they'd work her experimental electronic sound into a musical.
Perhaps needless to say, it's amazing. Without going too much into the movie, as I could say quite a lot about it and really it must be seen for yourself, the soundtrack is breathtaking. The lyrics were mostly written by Triers and some other writers, with Bjork contributing, and then Bjork composed the music and sang. The electronic feelings of the music, though somewhat muted from her usual material, work seamlessly with her environment somehow, and the outcome is music that is both distinctly Bjork, and also a lot more personal and touching to match her character in the movie, as well as fitting with the film's themes.
In the film, Bjork is losing her vision. She and her friend (who'd like to be her love interest) Jeff, sing this together conversationally as Bjork fantasizes about being in a musical on top of the train that passes as they talk. On the soundtrack, she is accompanied instead by Thom Yorke of Radiohead and they sing more as a duet than as a conversation. The song was nominated for an Academy Award the following year, the ceremony in which she first appeared in her famous swan dress. She sang an edited version of the song for the Oscars, and did it solo. I felt it lost its magic. But this version is wonderful.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Neil Young: Home on the Range
Soundtracks are a great source for cover fans - both because including a souped up familiarity is an excellent way of bringing comfort and the recognition of hip modernity to the film experience, and because it's often cheaper to solicit a new version of an old song than it is to license the original. And though I have an affinity for the pop trailertunes which so often pepper modern mass-market cinema, I also have a deep respect for those much rarer covers from before the west was worn, most especially this keening, yearning cover of a classic tune gone sparse, which frames the title of 1980 Hunter S. Thompson biopic Where The Buffalo Roam.
The cult status of this film is legend and well-deserved, though deeper underground than the previously considered Harold and Maude. And sure enough: where the Harold and Maude soundtrack was eventually released, here I find myself recommending used vinyl, and you can't have mine. But as with that previous themesong, the songs of Home On The Range are best served within the context of the film itself, because, really, how can you resist Bill Murray playing a loony, ironic, drugged-up Thompson two decades before Johnny Depp took on the role? And opposite a middle-aged Peter Boyle, to boot?
In addition to the cover and several atmospheric Neil Young originals, the soundtrack songs here are eclectic, ranging from popular Dylan, Hendrix, Creedence, and Temptations tunes to a hilarious take of Murray drunkenly warbling Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds which I used to include on mixtapes as a gag. I'd say more, but Aquarium Drunkard covered this one so well last summer; links there are dead, but head over for the film synopsis, the original theatrical trailer, and more praise.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Cat Stevens: If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out
Most movie buffs know that the dark, existential cult comedy favorite Harold and Maude, which revolves around a relationship between a suicidal young man and a giddy woman old enough to be his grandmother, was critically ignored when it was first released in 1971, though it would go on to make several of the American Film Institute's top 100 lists in and around the turn of the century. But less people know that, despite the relative popularity of Cat Stevens' other output, the two songs which he composed specifically for the movie did not appear in any audio format until their release on a 1984 compilation.
In fact, though a nominal soundtrack containing a different set of tunes was released in the late nineties, the real Harold and Maude soundtrack, which featured a particular set of relatively delicate Cat Stevens tunes carefully cultivated by Stevens to match the movie in pace and premise, was not released until 2007, and then only in a limited edition of 2500 (though links such as the one above still net you import compilations which serve as functionally complete soundtrack disks, as cobbled from other sources).
But whether you have to do it piecemeal of are willing to pay the big bucks for the collectors editions, these songs are worth having, and hearing, both in and of themselves and as the set that Stevens and film director Hal Ashby intended. In the film, and in sequence, the songs lend a sense of youthful vigor and absurdity to the interplay between the emotionally stunted and severely suicidal Harold and his spry septuagenarian fascination. And just as the extant pieces Stevens borrowed for the soundtrack led full lives of their own before the movie, the two songs he wrote for the film -- If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out and Don't Be Shy -- stand on their own as well, retaining the poignancy of their setting, though they seem a touch lighter without the sense of irony and context which sprung so effectively from the dissonance between the bounciness of Stevens' echoing voice and acoustic strum style and the death fascination of its subjects.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Tom Waits: Little Drop Of Poison
So it’s 2004. My wife and I take our daughter to see Shrek II. And we come to the scene where the king sneaks off to this seedy dive to secretly buy a magic potion. The king walks in to the place, and there’s a song being played by a creature at the piano. Of course, he’s a product of CGI animation, so he looks however they want him to look. But I’d know that voice anywhere. I turn and whisper urgently to my wife, “OMG, that’s Tom Waits!” We check the end titles and sure enough, it is.
The surprise was finding Tom Waits in a children’s film. Waits actually started appearing in films, both as an actor and a songwriter, in 1978. In the film Paradise Alley, Waits contributed two songs to the soundtrack, and appeared as the character Mumbles. Very few people ever saw the film, (I never did), but when I found the reference, I remembered why. Paradise Alley was Sylvester Stallone’s ill-fated attempt to prove that he was a serious actor. Audiences could not accept him in this light, and the film died a quick commercial death.
But Tom Waits continued to appear in films, and continued to provide songs. He even wrote and performed, (with Crystal Gayle!), all of the songs in One From The Heart. To me, his most memorable acting turn was as Renfield in Dracula. And, along the way, he obviously made enough friends in Hollywood that somebody thought of him for Shrek II.
Tom Waits: Underground
The next year, 2005, saw another OMG moment, and Tom Waits second song in a kid’s film. The film was Robots. The writers imagined that robot hell would be the place where obsolete models go to be dismantled and melted down as scrap. They call it “the chop shop”, and the first time we see it, appropriately hellish music is playing. The song is Underground, by Tom Waits.
Unlike Shrek II, Robots did not use original songs. And Underground was left off of the soundtrack album. This one first appeared on Tom Waits album Swordfish Trombones. So I’m cheating a bit by including here. I offer it to complete the set of Tom Waits songs used in kid’s films to date.
Aimee Mann: Save Me
The PT Anderson film Magnolia came out in 1999 and starred many notable actors, including Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore and John C. Reilly. The film explores a number of different characters all going through life crises and introspection. These characters are all connected, one, by all living in the same area, the San Fernando Valley, around Magnolia Ave. and also through life circumstances and coincidences. Another way they all become connected within the movie is with its music. Near the end of the movie all the characters find themselves listening to an Aimee Mann song, all of them have reached rock bottom and all of them are singing along. The song in question isn't the one I post here today only because that song wasn't specifically written for the film.
Mann and Anderson were friends before he started writing the script for the movie, and he got many of his ideas for the film through listening to Aimee's music. Within the liner notes of the soundtrack he states that he heard a line from one of her songs and wrote backwards from it to get the whole movie. In the end, most of the music that appears on the soundtrack was already in the works before the movie, but a few songs were written specifically for the film. One was "Save Me", a melancholy song that Mann wrote about how the film's characters all are in a dark place and looking for a savior of one kind or another. The song beautifully closed the film off, and was nominated for an Academy Award for best song the following year.
Monty Python: The Galaxy Song
Monty Python: Every Sperm is Sacred
Monty Python: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
Monty Python: Camelot Song
When I first got word of this week's theme, my first instinct was to do a Monty Python mega post complete with songs from each of the major Python films. So that's what I'm doing.
I love Monty Python's Flying Circus. I love how they created their own brand of comedy that could leave me confused by absurd philosophical debates one minute and then laughing at the low-brow lunacy of The Gumbys or Mr. Creosote the next. And while nerds around the world (myself included) could spend hours reciting line after line of dialogue from the movies (Ni!) and the BBC television series (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!), the musical output of the group can sometimes be over looked.
"The Galaxy Song" and "Every Sperm is Sacred" come from 1983's Meaning of Life. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" is from 1979's The Life of Brian. This song was first addressed here by boyhowdy back in June as part of Advice week. Finally, "Camelot Song" comes to us courtesy of 1975's Monty Python & The Holy Grail. Here's a slightly different version of that one as well...
And since the original e-mail for this week said we could include songs from television soundtracks as well as movie soundtracks... Here's one more Python classic from the tv show.
Monty Python: The Lumberjack Song
Harold Faltermeyer - Axel F
The Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack won a Grammy for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special in 1986 largely because of the popularity of Axel F.
Written and performed by Harold Faltermeyer, the title comes from Eddie Murphy's character's name in the film, Axel Foley. It topped musical charts in 1985 and remains a popular remix track to this day (Crazy Frog anyone?). In addition to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, the song also appears on Faltermeyer's 1988 album Harold F. as a bonus track. Reportedly, Faltermeyer was against including it, but MCA insisted, as it was his most recognizable track.
Faltermeyer recorded the song using three synthesizers: a Roland Jupiter-8, a Roland JX-3P, and a Yamaha DX-7. The drum part was created with a LinnDrum drum machine.
Iggy Pop: Repo Man
If there was ever a Punk Rock film director, it would have to be Alex Cox, who brought his idiosyncratic style to films as Sid & Nancy and Walker.
Repo Man is a Cox romp that artfully mixes repo men, UFOs, the CIA, thieves and Punk Rock. It also has an amazing soundtrack that includes seminal Punk bands like the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, The Plugz and Fear, all at the top of their game, along with a theme song by the Godfather of Punk himself, Iggy Pop.
Take my advice and put Repo Man in your NetFlix Que. This way you can learn all about the Rodriguez brothers, John Wayne's two-way mirrors and just what the hell is in the trunk of that '64 Chevy Malibu.
Monday, January 12, 2009
The Police: I Burn For You
It's no secret that tensions were high among the members of The Police in the last few years before their mid-eighties break-up, and Sting's rising ego and fame as frontman, coupled with an increasingly disparate musical interest and goals among all three men, is generally treated as the root cause of their deterioration. Which makes it especially odd that The Police would agree to come together to record three songs for the soundtrack to the 1982 Sting film vehicle Brimstone and Treacle, which emerged during the band's sabbatical period between penultimate album Ghost in the Machine and their final, award-winning release Synchronicity.
Brimstone and Treacle is an odd little movie, and the soundtrack is no less so. The Go-Gos tune We Got The Beat and Squeeze synthpop track Up The Junction jut out like sore notes among what is otherwise a split bill between Sting and his soon-to-be-ex band. And though Sting charted that year with his version of Spread A Little Happiness, a simple old coversong from that same album, the vast majority of the Sting solo tunes here are just plain atmospheric pap.
But happily for the world, Sting's role as soundtrack archivist and lead actor must have served the ego enough -- or, at least, the ego boost it provided did not blind him from the good sense to give the best tune of the whole damn flick to the fuller sound of his band. The result is a stroke of genius. Moody and pulsing, crashing like waves from peak to slow burn, this is, quite possibly, my favorite Police song - rivaled only by similarly obscure B-side Murder By Numbers - and I'm proud to share it with the larger audience it has always deserved.
Oingo Boingo: Weird Science
Oingo Boingo was a band that had a short string of hits in the 1980s. Their success was great enough that the powers that be in Hollywood thought of them when they needed someone to write the theme for the movie Weird Science. The film was one of those teen sex comedies which proliferated during the 80s, this one with a science fiction twist. I still have a fondness for many of these films today, at age 48, even though I was technically too old for them even then. I don’t think that this type of film has been done as well since then.
Danny Elfman: Sally‘s Song
The band Oingo Boingo did not last much beyond the 80s. Their leader, Danny Elfman, might have been expected to form another band at this point, or start a solo career, but that’s not what happened. Somewhere in there, Elfman met director Tim Burton, and Burton started using Elfman to compose the music for his films. And Elfman turns out to have a real gift for it.
Although Tim Burton has sometimes used other composers, and Elfman has worked with other directors, there was no question who would do the music for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Elfman’s music showed a full command of the orchestra, and even the influence of Kurt Weill, best known for his music for The Threepenny Opera. And Danny Elfman returned to the microphone to sing the lead part of Jack Skelington. But I have chosen to present here a song Elfman wrote for Catherine O’Hara’s character, Sally. Sally’s Song highlights a side of Elfman’s songwriting that is not often heard. It is a tender ballad, not overwritten or oversung, which shows off what a beautiful and subtle songwriter Danny Elfman can be.
Danny Elfman: Remains of the Day
Corpse Bride was Tim Burton’s return to animation, and once again, Danny Elfman was on board to handle the music. Remains of the Day shows Elfman’s love for a certain kind of jazz music. Think Minnie the Moocher. And Elfman never loses sight of the most important part of composing music for films; the song fits the scene perfectly
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Long-time Wizard of Oz fan chiming in here - I read the books as a child, I watched the movie on our black-and-white television when it aired every year about Easter time (even now, watching a full-length DVD, I can still sense when all the commercial breaks should appear)... and I was absolutely amazed when we got our first color TV and I found out the witch's face was green!
Who doesn't relate to the entire concept as metaphor? - every life has its share of yellow brick roads ("it's always best to start at the beginning"), wicked witches ("I'll get you, my pretty... and your little dog too!") and ruby slippers ("you've always had the power"). It's the typical hero's (in this case, she-ra's) journey, with three of the best friends anyone could hope to have - brains and heart and courage, oh my... :-)
I'm so committed (don't say obsessed!) that my e-mail address is OzWoman321, my blog is Optimistic Voices, my former booking agency was Horse of a Different Color Booking and my house concert series was Heart's Desire House Concerts, after Dorothy's epiphany at the end of the film (scroll about halfway down)...
"Over the Rainbow" (often referred to as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") is a classic ballad song with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. It was written for the movie The Wizard of Oz, and it became Judy Garland's signature song.
The song's plaintive melody and simple lyrics depict a pre-adolescent girl's desire to escape from the "hopeless jumble" of this world, from the sadness of raindrops to the bright new world "over the rainbow." It expresses the childlike faith that a door will magically open to a place where "troubles melt like lemon drops".
The song is so popular that it tops the "Songs of the Century" list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. It also topped the American Film Institute's "100 Years, 100 Songs" list.
A time-honored story tells that this classic song was cut from the film after a preview, because MGM head Louis B. Mayer thought the song "slowed down the picture" and that "our star sings it in a barnyard". Most of the music in the film is medium-to-high energy, in contrast to this gently paced melody. However, the frequent instrumental references to the song throughout the film, including its title sequences, meant that the deleting of the song was short lived. Harold Arlen, who was at the preview, and executive producer Arthur Freed lobbied to get the song reinstated in the film, which it was.
It was not until 1956, when MGM released the first true soundtrack from the film that the film version of the song was available for sale to the public. The 1956 Soundtrack release was timed to coincide with the television premiere of the movie.
Over the Rainbow survived to become one of the most memorable anthems of the century, covered by everyone from Tori Amos to Willie Nelson - I've mentioned previously that I compiled a mix of 19 different versions of the song (goodness knows there are hundreds)... and here are just a few, beginning of course with the definitive version by Ms. Garland...
Auntie Em: Find yourself a place where there isn't any trouble!
Dorothy: Some place where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain.
Judy Garland: Over the Rainbow
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: Over the Rainbow
Nestor Torres: Over the Rainbow
Gene Pitney: Town Without Pity
Gene Pitney started his music career with Gene & the Genials; by the time of his death, he had over 20 songs chart in the Top 20. He also wrote hit tunes for others, such as He's a Rebel for The Crystals and Ricky Nelson's Hello Mary Lou.
His first big success came in 1961, with his performance of the title song from the film, Town Without Pity, which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song. Pitney was the first Pop singer to perform at the Oscars, singing Town Without Pity at the 34th Annual Academy Awards show.
Gene would've had two soundtracks under his belt if not for a squabble between his music publishers and Paramount Pictures. Though The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was a Top 10 hit in 1962, business decisions caused it to be left off the John Ford film of the same name.
Pitney last charted in 1989 with a duet with Marc Almond of a remake of Gene's 1967 song, Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart. It brought him his first UK #1 hit in 1989, staying there for 4 weeks. In 2002, after three decades in the music business, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Pitney died in 2006 at the age of 66. Fittingly, his final show ended with an encore of Town Without Pity.
Take these eager lips and hold me fast
I'm afraid this kind of joy can't last
How can we keep love alive
How can anything survive
When these little minds tear you in two
What a town without pity can do