Music

Let’s Break It Down: Christmas’s Weirdest Musical Pairing

There are some things that just don’t go together. Two like magnetic poles…Felix Unger and Oscar Madison…or (as some argue) pineapple on pizza. By all accounts, these “odd couples” are so called because they inherently clash. They stand in opposition to one another, whether ideologically or physically. Forcibly bringing them together often leads to disaster.

By all accounts, that’s what should happen during a collaboration between a flamboyant British rockstar and a wholesome American crooner. But by God, David Bowie and Bing Crosby defied those odds. Was it a Christmas miracle?

poa-ldb

“Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” was recorded in 1977, just five weeks before the death of Bing Crosby. It was to be aired on a Crosby Christmas special, prefaced by dialogue between the two about their holiday traditions. Bowie’s “Peace on Earth” lyrics, sung in counterpoint to Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy,” were written specifically for this collaboration. And, in true virtuoso fashion, the recording was sealed after less than an hour of rehearsing.

Of course, you can’t capture lightning in a bottle without getting zapped a few times. For one, Bing Crosby wasn’t actually fond of the “Little Drummer Boy” song. Producers were also worried that he wouldn’t know who David Bowie was; that concern was later found to be a non-issue.

In the years following this encounter, the record became one of Bowie’s highest-charting singles. Which brings us to the following question: is it really fair to assume the worst about a musical pairing before it actually comes together?

I think the moral of the story is that great art can be found in the unlikeliest of places. There really was no good reason to have Bing Crosby sing with David Bowie, but some innovator out there thought it was worth a shot- and we wound up getting a new holiday classic.

This season, I hope all of us find the courage to break boundaries and make important connections with other people…no matter who they are.

Advertisements
Music

L.A.M.B. Album Appreciation Post

Is it just me, or does one of these “guilty pleasure music Appreciation Posts” pop up on my blog every year? First it was for Teenage Dream, then Spiceworld, and now…2004’s Love Angel Music Baby, the solo debut for Gwen Stefani. Can I start by saying that this album has one of the weirdest covers ever…and that it’s totally awesome?

r-352861-1283046307-jpeg

I would probably like this artwork more, though, if the shapes/colors weren’t morphed and gel-like. But what can you do.

Anyway, my first exposure to the record was actually from hearing my mom’s favorite track on the radio. Since then, that song- “What You Waiting For?”- has become one of my favorites as well. With Gwen’s signature vocals and a pounding electro-beat, it has an energizing effect on the listener. Mom wound up purchasing the CD for herself, but I basically stole it, and I don’t believe she’s noticed. It’s been over a decade.

I guess you could describe the underlying theme of the music as…megalomaniacal? Almost all of them are about love, fashion, money, or any combination of the three. So hey, it may not be great art, but sometimes you need that level of fun.

What makes L.A.M.B. unique is the fact that it spawned an entire franchise here in the United States. Gwen Stefani has a notorious fascination with Japanese street culture, so she used this album to share her love with us. Clothing, perfumes, and (really cute) fashion dolls were just some of the paraphernalia.

Unfortunately, that created quite a bit of controversy related to cultural appropriation…particularly when she went on tour. You see, Gwen had four backup performers at the L.A.M.B. concerts: young Japanese women she called her “Harajuku Girls.” This dynamic generated many ill feelings, as the girls were referred to as “modern day Geisha” by critics. I’m not looking to generate a discourse here; I will only say that their concerns are pretty valid.

Nevertheless, Love Angel Music Baby‘s controversial elements don’t prevent me from enjoying the record itself. If you feel like indulging in some “Bubble Pop” sound or acting like a “Rich Girl,” this is how you do it. So “what you waiting for?” Go B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Music

Songs You Probably Didn’t Realize Are About Dark Things

Mind=blown.

clock room AT GRAND CENTRAL.jpg

The clock at Grand Central Terminal waits for nobody.

“Blown Away,” Carrie Underwood. What it’s about: In this song from Underwood’s album of the same name, the story centers around a girl with a dead mother and an abusive, alcoholic father. When a tornado hits their Oklahoma home, the girl leaves her passed-out father as she locks herself in the storm shelter. We can assume that he is destroyed when the twister rips through the house. Ouch!

“Unworthy of Your Love,” Stephen Sondheim. What it’s about: At first glance, this number from the Broadway show Assassins sounds like a standard, beautiful love ballad. But it takes on an entirely different tone when you realize it’s being sung by Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley- a wannabe Manson follower and Jodie Foster’s stalker, respectively. These two also attempted to assassinate U.S. Presidents in an effort to win their beloved’s attention. Now that’s what I call tainted love!

“I Don’t Like Mondays,” The Boomtown Rats. What it’s about: This staple rock song is deceptively catchy for such dark lyrical inspiration. The title comes from a quote by Brenda Ann Spencer, a troubled teen who was asked why she sniped ten people in a playground (two died). Though composer Bob Geldof received some flack for allegedly “exploiting a tragedy,” which he denies, the record became the Boomtown Rats’ biggest hit.

“Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster the People. What it’s about: In a similar vein, the earworm-worthy hook of this band’s debut single masks some morbid subject matter. When closely listening to the lyrics, it becomes clear that the song is about a school shooter, in the vein of Columbine. “Pumped up kicks” refer to the designer shoes worn by the narrator’s intended victims. The lead singer, Mark Foster, said that he wrote the piece to raise awareness for teen mental illness.

“Sweet Painted Lady,” Elton John. What it’s about: A majority of the tracks from Elton John’s smash Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album manage to be incredibly fun while telling some grim tales. In this slow, sea-soaked jam, a sailor sings of the prostitute he’s hired for the night and wonders how she feels about the life she leads. With its thoughtful lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the song achieves a certain poignancy.

“At the Ballet,” Marvin Hamlisch. What it’s about: This number from A Chorus Line is a semi-torch song for a trio of women. Typically sung by soubrettes, it conveys three distinct dramas that have something in common: their heroines all found relief when they went to the ballet. Sheila’s parents had a loveless marriage, Bebe’s mother made her feel unattractive, and Maggie’s father was absent entirely. Audiences who get lost in the glitter of the show tend to forget the inherent sadness of this scene.

Music

Daily Prompt: Record

We’re halfway through March and it seems that spring should be just around the corner here in New York City. Sadly, we are expecting a foot or more of snowfall tomorrow. But you could argue that a blizzard is the perfect excuse to kick back with a mug of tea and listen to some vinyl records.

Speaking of which, today I’m going to share five of my favorite “morning songs.” These are tunes I most like to crank up when the weather is sunny and warm. For one reason or another, they’re a perfect soundtrack for the crack of dawn.

5. “Suddenly I See,” KT Tunstall: Maybe it’s because of this song’s role in the opening montage of The Devil Wears Prada, but “Suddenly I See” practically brims with inspiration and admiration. As you wake up and the sun shines through your window, it’s hard not to imagine Tunstall cheering you on as you chase your dreams in a big city.

4. “Opening Up,” Sara Bareilles: The version of this number that Bareilles performs on the What’s Inside album is sure to get you pumped for your day with its rousing drumbeat and infectious chorus. With any luck, it will put you in a good enough mood so that when a Starbucks barista pours your latte, you’ll want to say “Hello, how ya been?”

3. “Another Day of Sun,” La La Land Cast: Sure, everyone talked about what happened to this movie at the Oscars, but it’s hard to deny that its score makes for great listening. This song in particular is full of energy, with an earworm-inducing hook. You don’t have to live in Los Angeles to let “Another Day of Sun” brighten the morning.

2. “Beautiful Day,” U2: There are certain songs that I associate with specific mental images. For “Beautiful Day,” I envision driving along an empty highway in the summer, just as the sun is beginning to rise. The song’s three-note riff is instantly recognizable and the lyrics are just as life-affirming.

1. “Mr. Blue Sky,” ELO: “Today’s forecast calls for blue skies.” This Jeff Lynne-penned hit song practically had to make my list. Lynne was even inspired to write it by beautiful weather in Switzerland. With its upbeat rhythms and bright vocals, the tune has not only become a radio staple but a popular addition to several Hollywood films.

la-la-land-audition-2

Theatre

Critically Thinking- Spring Awakening and Sex in Art

I have never been a fan of the popular musical Spring Awakening.

springawakening_363x2861

Granted, the recent Deaf West Broadway production had a fascinating angle and I was curious to catch it. As a whole, though, am I missing something?

Let’s leave the subject matter out of it for a second: strictly music and lyric-wise, Spring Awakening is a fairly mediocre piece. Unless I’m really dense, which is entirely possible…the lyrics are a bit nonsensical. “My Junk” is all over the place, while words like “oh, I’m gonna be your bruise” feel very forced. Not to mention the Act 1 finale is literally made up of 10 words repeated over and over. How this score managed to beat Grey Gardens for the Tony that year is beyond me.

Look, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the internal rhymes and insightful syntax of Sondheim. And various styles speak to everyone differently. Who am I to judge what is great art?

Okay, moving onto the book and characterization. I get it; Spring Awakening is about generation gaps and emotional repression and the struggles of growing up. But I blame the OBP’s marketing team for people thinking that its content is “teenagers having sex.” Because that’s what they emphasize in like half the promotional material. As we all know, sex sells. Perhaps if more emphasis had been placed on the show’s underlying themes, folks like me wouldn’t make that assumption.

But at the same time, I’m brought to my other point. I almost feel as though the direction of the piece (or at least the OBP) decided to milk those teenagers having sex. Did we really need to see Lea Michele’s bare chest, Jonathan Groff’s ass, or Hanschen’s “self-loving” out in the open to understand the action and its implications? It appears to be gratuity for the sake of gratuitousness. Basically: if you want to tell a meaningful, compelling story, focus on that and not how graphic you can get onstage.

Well, that’s all I can think of right now. Feel free to challenge me on any of my opinions here. In conclusion, though, I want to add that I don’t think the entirety of Spring Awakening is a lost cause. There’s some good stuff to work with here- I just don’t think it was executed correctly. As occurs frequently to artists when they try to create a game-changer. Ain’t life a bitch?

Music

Puccini Does a 30 Song Challenge

So, folks…because I just found this challenge on another blog and feel like spinning the gears in my brain…the post I originally planned for this week has been postponed. Don’t worry- you’ll get it in time for October 1st! But let’s cut right to the chase.

free-music-wallpapers-hd-for-pc-1

  1. Your favorite song- As of now, it’s “Wish That You Were Here” by Florence + the Machine, but ask me again tomorrow.
  2. Your least favorite song- I’d say “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus, but again, that could change tomorrow.
  3. A song that makes you happy- Totally cliche, but “Firework” by Katy Perry always lifts my spirits!
  4. A song that makes you sad- There are so many, but one that comes to mind is “She Used to Be Mine” from the musical Waitress.
  5. A song that reminds you of someone- Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” always makes me think of my boyfriend.
  6. A song that reminds you of somewhere- “Learning to Fly” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers makes me think of the Bronx. Don’t ask.
  7. A song that reminds you of a certain event- “Break Your Heart” by Taio Cruz always brings me back to Sweet 16 parties.
  8. A song that you know all the words to- Super random one…Sondheim’s “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” cut from the musical Follies.
  9. A song that you can dance to- I’m not a good dancer at all, but I love to boogie to some “Night Fever” by the Bee Gees.
  10. A song that makes you fall asleep- “Eternity~Memories of Light and Waves” from Final Fantasy X-2 always puts me in a calm, slumbering mood.
  11. A song from your favorite band- I’ve already mentioned them, so here, have a “Refugee” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
  12. A song from a band you hate- “Christian Woman” by Type O Negative scares the hell out of me. Yuck.
  13. A song that is a guilty pleasure- Easily “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy. I don’t care what anyone says, that was a 90s masterpiece.
  14. A song that no one would expect you to love- Since I normally don’t like EDM, you’d probably be surprised to know that I love David Guetta’s “Turn Me On.”
  15. A song that describes you- “Strangers Like Me” from Tarzan sums up a lot of how I feel regarding my interactions with the world.
  16. A song that you used to love but you now hate- I wouldn’t say I hate it, but I don’t love Britney Spears’ “Sometimes” like I did when I was a kid.
  17. A song you hear often on the radio- Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” featuring Sean Paul. I love her, but it’s not one of her very best songs.
  18. A song that you wish you heard on the radio- I wish Kelly Clarkson’s “Invincible” got more radio play. It was released as a single, so not sure why it doesn’t.
  19. A song from your favorite album- “Last Friday Night (TGIF)” from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream helps me relax and have fun!
  20. A song that you listen to when you’re angry- Definitely “Speechless” by Lady Gaga. It’s such an emotional song, and it often fits.
  21. A song that you listen to when you’re happy- “Let It Go” from Frozen! It makes me feel like I can do anything.
  22. A song that you listen to when you’re sad- I think “Human” by Christina Perri is both comforting and relatable for a sad person.
  23. A song you want to play at your wedding- Since forever, I’ve wanted my first dance song to be Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
  24. A song you want to play at your funeral- Ugh, how morbid. I guess if I had to pick, it’d be “Fix You” by Coldplay.
  25. A song that makes you laugh- Music doesn’t really make me laugh, per se, but “The Song That Goes Like This” from Spamalot is a good one!
  26. A song you can play on a instrument- I’m a singer, but I did teach myself to play “76 Trombones” from The Music Man on piano.
  27. A song that you wish you could play- I’ve wanted to play “All I Ask of You” from Phantom because it makes for a gorgeous instrumental.
  28. A song that makes you feel guilty- I don’t have a great answer for this one…maybe John Mayer’s “Half of My Heart.”
  29. A song from your childhood- “Too Much” by the Spice Girls. They were a childhood obsession for me!
  30. Your favorite song at this time last year- Most likely, it was “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift. I still love it, but it’s not quite as relevant to me now.
Personals

Daily Prompt: Recharge (or, Because I Have Writer’s Block and Why Not?)

“I’m no princess. I have no carriage. I do not even know if that beautiful slipper would fit. But if it does, will you take me as I am? An honest country girl who loves you?”

Hi friends. Sorry I’ve been scarce. It’s been a stressful couple of weeks, and as you may know, I don’t always cope well with external stressors. Le sigh. But, I’m feeling better, and I am going to get stronger. And then, as the above quote from Cinderella implies, I’ll be able to ask it of someone…secure enough in my own skin…

I suppose you could say I am recharging my own batteries at the moment. I just need to believe that after it’s all said and done, I will be brought closer to where I wanna be, not further away. I do that by listening to relevant music (Elton John and Rachel Platten, anyone?), drinking lots of tea, and (of course) writing. In fact, I just sent one of my plays to a professional playwright for some feedback. And he actually had good things to say about it! He had some criticism, naturally, but overall it was a positively-spun evaluation. Thank goodness. Now if only I could determine how to apply his suggestions without a total revamp of my story…

Have you ever noticed that I use a lot of ellipses when I write…? I have.

Anyway, to make up, I will be penning a second entry this week. It’s going to be a review of something fun! Stay tuned- and thanks for sticking around.

tumblr_n79zgyb7wh1s2wio8o2_500

Uncategorized

Tuneful Pokemon- Take the Poll!

Music

One Song, Two Singers: Who belted it better?

“Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do anything better than you!” sings Annie Oakley to her future husband Frank near the end of Annie Get Your Gun. For many, competition is the fuel that keeps their blood pumping. Nothing gives them more of an adrenaline rush than the feeling of victory. Myself included, to an extent. As a child, I was ridiculously competitive and a sore loser. Nowadays, I take a stealthier approach to competition…kill them from the inside out, but wear a poker face until the bitter end. Then you can cry into your pillow, if you want.

The world of music and theatre is no stranger to this. For years, great songs have been covered by multiple great artists, and that naturally sparks debate over who provided a better rendition. This one had a prettier voice- but that one felt the emotions so much more! The factors are endless. In this week’s post, I’m gonna present some of my favorite examples of musical competition. Then it’s up to you to decide which songster or songstress struck the right chords.

ROUND I: “She Used to Be Mine.” Jessie Mueller Vs. Sara Bareilles. I suppose this one is a little unfair because both women are key components of Waitress, the musical for which the latter wrote this song. I’ve listened to both of their performances, and although Mueller and Bareilles have very distinct voices, I think they both “got” the emotion of the number- just differently. I think the former’s is raw and tearful, while Bareilles brings a more subdued and contemplative side.

ROUND II: “They All Laughed.” Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga Vs. The Nice Work OBC. In a bizarre twist, I heard the Nice Work interpretation of this classic Gershwin tune first, but it wasn’t until Bennett and Gaga sang it on the Cheek to Cheek album that I realized how brilliantly written it is. It serves as the finale for Nice Work If You Can Get It, so all the principal characters sing lines, which is really fun. By contrast, the cheeky duo offers a more stripped-down interpretation. Both versions, however, incorporate horn sounds generously in the song.

ROUND III: “Reflection.” Jackie Evancho Vs. Christina Aguilera. I’m leaving Lea Salonga’s version of the Mulan power ballad out of the equation because it is quite different (lyrically and musically) from these two. Aguilera performed the song for the movie’s end credits, while Evancho covered it on her Songs from the Silver Screen album. Though both ladies have incredible vocal ranges, their timbres couldn’t be less alike. As “Reflection” calls for more of a pop sound, I do think the latter is better suited to it. The former is more at home with classical styles of music.

ROUND IV: “All I Ask of You.” Josh Groban & Kelly Clarkson Vs. Patrick Wilson & Emmy Rossum. Josh and Kelly dueted on this iconic Andrew Lloyd Webber number for his album Stages. On the flip side, Patrick and Emmy did the song in-character for the film adaptation of Phantom. Surprisingly, the orchestrations for both versions are fairly similar. Then again, this song wouldn’t exactly mesh with an acoustic guitar. Or perhaps it would?! Vocally, Kelly Clarkson is remarkable in a song that would appear out of her range. It calls for legit soprano, and she is more of a belter…but she pulled it off. Emmy Rossum’s portrayal of Christine Daae has its critics, but I do feel this song is one of two (the other being “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”) that she sings exceptionally well in Phantom. The men are on pretty equal footing, I think.

ROUND V: “All I Care About.” Chita Rivera Vs. Every Billy Flynn actor ever. And now for a fun one! Kander and Ebb’s intro song for the greedy Chicago lawyer has been sung many times- notably, by Richard Gere onscreen. But I don’t think there’s been a rendition quite as memorable as the one Chita Rivera nailed at last year’s Broadway Backwards event, benefiting BCEFA. The living legend, clad in a tuxedo and surrounded by showgirls, has more rhythm than performers young enough to be her grandchildren. It’s just amazing. Seriously, folks, go watch the video. You won’t regret it!

Music

SPICEWORLD Appreciation Post

Oh, how the childhood feels flood every cell of my body.

a86d6a3a8da68b325d4a55466f5250de9f6c0f90

I know what you’re all thinking. “It’s crap!” “The Spice Girls sucked!” “Is she kidding me with that fluff?!” But that’s okay. Imma block out all you haters. Because this album defined me between the ages of 5 and 8. The Spice Girls were to me what One Direction is to most pre-tweens of today. Back then (wow I feel old), I only had cassette tapes, and I listened to the Spiceworld one religiously. I can still hear every track in my head. There wasn’t a bad piece of fluff to be found.

Oh, my fandom went far beyond the music. I had Spice Girls action figures. I bought bubblegum lollipops simply because their pictures were inside the wrappers. I watched the movie of this album, widely considered one of the worst flicks ever made, several times a week. Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham) was always my favorite, but I really liked Sporty Spice (Melanie Chisholm) too. Looking back and rehearing songs as an adult, I especially have an appreciation for Melanie/Sporty’s gorgeous harmonies and token descant. My favorite example of this (and probably my favorite Spice Girls song overall) appears in the ballad “Too Much.”

But the thing is, you can never have too much of something that reminds you of a simpler time. No matter how much my taste in music has grown, nothing can replace the love I have for the sound of Spiceworld. Is it Stephen Sondheim greatness? No way. But does it make me feel super happy? Oh hail to the yeah. And I think that’s ultimately what propels it to “artistic viability.” It’s meant to be feel-good music, the kind that you gotta dance to…and it’s got plenty of that energy. Many years after the fact, actually, I found this album at a yard sale- as a CD! Needless to say, it is now part of my music library. And a proud part, at that.

I really have zero shame that I always “shake it to the right” when “Spice Up Your Life” plays on my iPad.