Category Archives: Amazon Advent Calendar 2008

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 07: “The Man Who Sold The World”

The Man Who Sold The World (Live)

Nirvana

MTV Unplugged In New York: Nirvana

Genre: Soul

Amazon MP3: The Man Who Sold The World

This track is a compromise. Wait, I mean, I’m settling. Or do I mean that I’m knucking under to the crushing disappointment that the world is the way it is, not the way we want it to be?

The point is that I am recommending a David Bowie song called “The Man Who Sold The World.” It is a cover version recorded by Nirvana. Nice boys. I understand that the lead singer was a bit of a hunting enthusiast or something.

Nothing agains them. But it’s not as cool as the David Bowie version. And that version isn’t available on the Amazon MP3 Store or the iTunes Store.

“Wait, yes it is!” you say, fumbling to open a new tab and do a search. “Yes, right here!”

Sigh.

No, that’s just Bowie’s original version of the song. A trippy, dippy, hippie version that smells like a pair of orange velour pants that were worn to a party where a lot of pot was being smoken and not washed in the three days since.

No. I want this version:

This is a frame from an SNL from 1979, hosted by Martin Sheen. From right to left: Mr. David Bowie, Mr. Klaus Nomi, and Mr. I Must Google For This Information. “Joey Arias.” Fine. But this Nomi fellow was a sensation. He was a classically-trained countertenor. If you don’t know what a countertenor is, think “pre-operative castrato” and you’ve pretty much got it; he had the ability to sing female soprano range with male power and volume. He would have had a terrific career if he hadn’t died just a few years after this appearance.

And he made one hell of a contribution to this song. Bowie commissioned the fiberglass tuxedo for the gig but he also commissioned a new arrangement that was fresh, modern, relevant, and free of patchouli oil. Nomi’s birdlike highs were the perfect counterpoint to Bowie’s baritone.

WON-derful stuff.

But it’s never been released as a single, never been released on video, and as far as I know, that particular arrangement has never been recorded.

This QuickTime is an MP4 I burned from a YouTube. No, it isn’t still up there. I’ve looked, but I’m sorry. NBC’s flying monkeys are all over the video sites and any SNL content that hits YouTube is not long for this world.

I dig this version so much that I not only captured it to my hard drive but also GarageBanded it into an MP3. SNL has been releasing complete seasons on DVD at a rate of one per year…so with any luck, they’ll continue to do it chronologically and the 1979 season will come out soon.

When it does: Netflix ? HandBrake ? Quicktime Pro ? iTunes. In a heartbeat.

But again, these Nirvana fellows did a fine job with a version that’s true to the original Bowie recording without making you feel as though you’ve been sitting in a Barcalounger made from recycled soda cans for the past hour.

Buy it from Amazon MP3:

Amazon MP3: The Man Who Sold The World

Or you can buy it from iTunes. If you’ve hated everything I’ve ever written, said or done and you’ve been looking for a way to just strike back at me for every offense I’ve ever committed against you, both real and imagined, then go right ahead and buy it from iTunes. “I could have sent somewhere between a nickel and seven cents rocketing into Andy Ihnatko’s ‘I Want A VR-Stabilized Nikon Zoom Lens’ Fund,” you snicker, as you click the appropriate buttons. “But he didn’t deserve it. No. No, he didn’t deserve it. Feel the burn, you Mac-loving bastard!”

Juvenile. Now I’m not even sorry that I’ve been peeing on your newspaper every morning for the past three years.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 06: “A Beautiful Mess”

A Beautiful Mess

Jason Mraz

We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things

Genre: Pop

Amazon MP3: A Beautiful Mess

All across this great nation of ours, men and women return to their homes after a long day at work only to discover that a sniper or somesuch has barricaded themselves behind the front door.

Oh, wait, no: it’s just yet another day’s worth of deliveries. It’s just part of the ongoing aftermath of Black Friday online shopping. So far this week I myself have had to climb over little forts made out of DVDs, hard drives, books, and an HDTV.

Fortunately, this particular annoyance will soon be but a distant memory. First, because with the economy the way it is (current status: “Americathon,” with a 70% chance of widely-scattered “Road Warrior” by Q2 2009) the day of buying things is pretty much over. Except for more ammo, maybe. You can’t have the neighbors coming over and expecting a handout when they smell the Soy Sauce Packet And Used Paper Towel Roll Casserole you’ve got cooking.

Secondly, because now even digital downloads have become part of the overall Black Friday cultural mass-suicide.

I came to own Jason Mraz’ “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things” when Amazon selected it as one of 50 MP3 albums discounted to five bucks for the holidays. I liked the album art enough to click the link and sample the tracks. Then I shrugged and patted myself on the back for being the sort of financial heavy-hitter that could recklessly throw away $5 on a flutter.

No, I’d never heard of the dude before. And this triggered my usual hesitation. If I were a more evolved lifeform, I could enjoy a song sight-unseen on its own merits, and not worry that later on, I’d learn that this “edgy, agile practictioner of the ‘New Masters’ movement” as I’d described him on Twitter is actually a character in a Disney channel show.

But good, good: he’s the real deal. So what I said there stands. Oh, wait…I did make up the “New Masters” movement thing. Doesn’t matter. Mraz writes highly melodic pieces that exhibit a lot of care. I don’t think there’s anything accidental about how this music is composed and performed. Though the singing reminds me of a young Stevie Wonder in places, and a slide guitar wanders freely in and out just like in a good George Harrison tune, Mraz seems to be doing his own thing.

And the man knows how to write a pretty song, free of treacle and schmaltz. “A Beautiful Mess” comes around on Shuffle Play and your endocrine system obligingly dumps a few micograms of Contentment Juice into your pleasure centers. At the end, you tap the “Prev Track” button, shut out all distractions, and enjoy a rerun.

Hey, cool, it turns out that Amazon’s “$5 Album” deal is still on. This link goes to the track but o’course you can click around and get the whole thing if you’re so inclined.

Amazon MP3: A Beautiful Mess

Oh, and apparently it’s on the iTunes Store as well. 128K bitrate, DRM, etc. Look, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with this organization. But their refusal to give me referral kickbacks that I can apply toward the purchase of camera lenses and other knicknacks…that’s kind of suspicious, wouldn’t you agree? Hmm?

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 05: “Primitive”

Primitive

The Cramps

Psychedelic Jungle

Genre: Rock/Punk

Amazon MP3: Primitive

Never was a song so aptly named. Just listen to the sample. This tune crawls along on its belly and eats dirt. And just as your mind boggles that a species as unevolved as this could possibly have survived for the past 150,000 years, it’s made it to the grassline, clamps onto your ankle with razor-sharp teeth, and drags you clawing and screaming back into the swamp. And that’s the last anybody ever saw of you.

That’s to say: this melody is unsophisticated and uncomplicated and the whole works is probably powered by little more than a brainstem and a two-chambered heart. But it gets the job done, dammit.

And as a Big Stupid Male, I can attest that “Primitive” fits in that broad musical genre that has no accepted name but can be summarized as “I don’t care what all of my friends say; I think I look awesome in these sunglasses I got at Target.”

This song goes through your head and suddenly you’re in a scene from one of those movies that Quentin Tarantino used to make before he completely lost his mind. You know, the shot where you’re wearing the sunglasses and everything’s in slow-motion and they’re filming you with a real long lens, so you keep washing in and out of focus and it makes you look all enigmatic and dangerous and endlessly fascinating.

Inevitably, however, Lux Interior’s final howl crossfades out. The opening trills of “Theme From ‘Laverne And Shirley'” crossfade in, and then once again you’re just another dork in white plastic sunglasses. The truth hurts, Skeezix.

Buy it from Amazon MP3 and you’ll get the track at 256K bitrate, utterly untainted by the vile, greasy fingers of DRM. You’ll also set into motion a complex chain of events which will ultimately result in my getting a cool new lens for my DSLR without actually having to pay for it:

Amazon MP3: Primitive

…Or, you could buy it from iTunes. True, it’ll be a laughably-low 128K and you can never play it on any hardware or software that doesn’t have an Apple logo on it. But hey, freedom and high-quality audio are overrated don’t you think?

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 04: “Stay With Me”

Stay With Me (Single Version)

Lorraine Ellison

Best of Loma Records-Rise and Fall of a 1960’s Soul Label

Genre: Soul

Buy from Amazon MP3: Stay With Me (Single Version)

Utterly remarkable. “Stay With Me Baby” is an utterly, utterly remarkable song.

In fact, this song blows me away to such a degree that only upon a second reading of this opening paragraph do I realize that the word “utterly” means “to the extreme degree,” and therefore duplicating the word emphasizes nothing. Except perhaps my complete indifference towards grammar.

Come to think of it, the word “remarkable” has no varying degrees either. I really ought to just strike the adjectives entirely.

I seem to have wandered off the trail, here.

Well, “Stay With Me Baby” tends to have that effect. This song pits Ms. Lorraine Ellison against a full, forty-piece orchestra…and this woman forces the game into extra innings.

It’s a true landmark. From the first vocal line, Ellison asserts that the world has been missing something for lo these past 6,000 years. But thank God: she’s arrived with this song to correct the oversight. The basic story is a familiar one: man leaves woman, woman begs him to stay. It seems like the song is a healing and cathartic experience for the singer.

And this was no simple trick for her, either. If we may rewind a bit and pick up the baseball metaphor we left behind a paragraph or two ago: there are plenty of high school pitchers who can throw hard, but who have no control or consistency. And plenty more who can knock the eyelash off a hummingbird, but who throw so limply that said bird could comfortably land on the ball, check it for nectar, and then flit away again long before it crossed the plate. Summoning lightning down from the heavens and commanding it to strike precisely where and how you wish it to is a trick that very, very few can pull off…either on the pitcher’s mound or in the recording studio.

To illustrate, I call your attention to another recording of “Stay With Me” that I found while digging up the link to the original. Bette Midler is one hell of a singer, but it’s obvious during this 30-second sample that she’s having tremendous difficulty staying on pitch while projecting that kind of powe.

“Stay With Me” has a bit of a story behind it. Frank Sinatra had booked a studio and a full orchestra to lay down some tracks, but canceled at the last minute. Union rules demanded that the musicians be paid for the whole day whether they played or not. The session producer saw a golden opportunity, and told Ms. Ellison to run, run, run down there.

The track proved to be a true Proof Of Concept for the commercial potential of soul music. Suddenly, people in the music industry who hitherto just didn’t get it…got it. So if “Stay With Me” didn’t win Lorraine Ellison the career that she so clearly deserved, it succeeded in redrawing the map of American music.

Buy it from the Amazon MP3 Store. I get a small kickback and you’ll receive the track as a high-bitrate, unlocked MP3:

Buy from Amazon MP3: Stay With Me (Single Version)

Or, you can buy it from iTunes. That option seems to be very popular among people who use gravy as a hair pomade.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 03: “I Am My Own Grandpa”

Text link: Amazon MP3: “I Am My Own Grandpa (by the Asylum Street Spankers)”

Yesterday the mailman delivered a CD of Mozart recital arias performed by by favorite opera singer. And it’s not as if Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail doesn’t show off the composer’s flair for creating works that are relevant to the common man. I’m just saying that as pretty as “La finta semplice: Senti l’eco, ove t’aggiri Martern aller Arten” is, it doesn’t urge you to bounce up and down on top of a cider barrel while clicking two spoons together in a rhythmic fashion.

Yes, “I Am My Own Grandpa” is hillbilly music, plain and simple. Viz the sharp, satisfying melody, the deft picking, the nonlinear family tree as illustrated by the lyrics:

Oh, many, many years ago
When I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow
Who was pretty as can be
This widow had a grown-up daughter
Who had hair of red
My father fell in love with her
And soon the two were wed

This made my dad my son-in-law
And changed my very life
For my daughter was my mother
'Cause she was my father's wife
To complicate the matter
Though it really brought me joy
I soon became the father
Of a bouncing baby boy

This little baby then became
A brother-in-law to Dad
And so became my uncle
Though it made me very sad
For if he was my uncle
Then that also made him brother
Of the widow's grown-up daughter
Who of course is my step-mother...

If you’re a (freaking) geek like myself, it’s extremely satisfying to chart the whole thing on a sheet of paper and confirm that yes, it all checks out; this man is indeed his own grandpa. But hey, why bother doing it yourself? Some Dude On The Internet has done it for you. The lyrics are annotated with JavaScript rollovers that keep you updated as you follow along:

(Remember the days when your webpages contained the line “Best if viewed with Netscape Navigator”? Cokes cost a nickel. Kaiser Wilhelm still strolled the bolevardenstrassers without bodyguards. You could punch a Finn in the throat for no reason and nobody really made a fuss about it…)

Supposedly Mark Twain himself came up with that recursive family tree in a short piece that purported to be a Pennsylvanian man’s suicide note. But I can’t seem to find where this piece was originally published.

I know that this piece was published somewhere. I Googled up a book from 1908 which reprints the “Twain” piece and cites it as something funny that the book’s compiler clipped out of the newspaper. But every reference to the actual piece itself that I found was by the legendary “Some Dude On The Internet” who got it from somebody who got it from somebody. I wonder if it’s just one of those things that’s been floating around forever, and at some point someone misattributed it to Twain and it stuck?

You can’t quench Mankind’s thirst for knowledge, friends. But an individual specimen of Mankind can waste so much time researching something silly that eventually he gives up and moves on.

Well, anyway. “I Am My Own Grandpa” is a terrific boon to the consumer. The main lyric might be impossible to follow along with, but the chorus is simple, to the point, and easy to harmonize along with.

Buy it from the Amazon MP3 store:

Amazon MP3: “I Am My Own Grandpa (by the Asylum Street Spankers)”

You’ll get it as a high-bitrate, unlocked MP3 file, and I’ll get a small kickback. I have it on good authority that Barack Obama buys all of his music this way.

Unless you didn’t vote for him, in which case I must warn you that Obama intends to tax or outlaw Amazon MP3 as soon as he takes office, in favor of a Socialist music store in which the Government tells you what tracks you can listen to. So you should really buy this track right now, from Amazon, while you still have the chance, don’t you think?

It’s also available from the iTunes Store, from which I profit not one sou. Really? You want to buy it from the iTunes Store? After everything it’s been saying about your kid behind your back? Well, fine, I mean, if you’re okay with that…

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 02: “The Song That Goes Like This”

Text link: Monty Python’s “Spamalot” (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

It’s possible that you’ve never gone to a play or a musical, so I’ll just need to explain two things.

First: [painless but meaningful slap across face]

Okay? You ought to go the theater and see a show every now and then.

I acknowledge that it’s kind of a big deal to spend $30-$80 on a theater ticket. To say nothing of parking, dinner, five bucks for a gin and tonic in the theater bar during intermission, four bucks at the newsstand across the way because you’ve just noticed that People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue just came out and you still don’t know if you made the cut this year or not. But really, your first show is something you look back on as one of those slap-on-the-head, why-didn’t-I-do-this-sooner moments.

And if you’re visiting New York, there’s absolutely no excuse. Wait in line at the newly-refurbished TKTS booth in Times Square for an hour or maybe 90 minutes and you can take your pick of a dozen or more fine shows at half-price on the same day of performance. If you’re willing to show up even earlier, you can practically take your pick from the full menu.

Secondly, there’s sort of a natural arc to these things. First, you see the show. Three days later, you come across the folded-up Playbill in your coat pocket or the kitchen counter where you dropped it when you came home. You spend the rest of the day humming the songs, and the day after that you go and buy the cast album.

Admittedly, this is easier to do with a musical like “Spamalot” than, say, Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” It must also be said that “The Song Like This” is more fun to sing than “Krogstad’s Letter (dance reprise).”

“Spamalot” is a lot of things. It’s A Musical Based On A Movie™. It’s an anthology show of favorite Python bits. It’s a show of new Python material (it was co-written by Eric Idle).

And it’s a send-up of Broadway. To anyone who’s ever heard an Andrew Lloyd Webber song — mmmm, yes, that should cover most of you — “The Song That Goes Like This” is hysterically funny satire. It’s also probably the highest compliment that Lloyd-Webber’s music has ever received, in that it proves that there really can be a piece of music that’s even tackier, more overwrought, and more glib than a song in an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical.

Still, it’s not much of a compliment, is it? After all, Eric Idle and John Du Prez (who wrote the music) actually intended to write a song whose sheet music should have been painted on black velvet instead of printed on white paper. I feel that when they got to the end and emailed their composition to the arranger, they downed a nervous shot of whiskey and thought “May God have mercy on our souls.”

You do get the impression that when Lloyd-Webber laid down the final strokes of “Music Of The Night” he thought “Well! This should certainly renew Humanity’s spirit of hope and fellowship! No more wars, no more injustice…well done, LW, well done.”

“The Song That Goes Like This” is a hell of a lot of fun to sing. When I saw the show in Boston a couple of weeks ago, Ben Davis and Esther Stilwell were obviously enjoying themselves. On the original cast album, Christopher Sieber and Sara Ramirez are obviously enjoying themselves.

And dear readers, every time it’s come up on Shuffle Play on the iPhone mounted in my car…I’ve enjoyed myself to the point of punishing my passengers.

Buy it from The Amazon Store. I’ll get a small kickback from the purchase…and you’ll get it free of digital rights management, encoded at high 256K bitrate:

Monty Python’s “Spamalot” (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Or you can buy it from the iTunes Store. But it’ll be 128K and copy-protected. And I’ve read that part of the proceeds will go towards producing another season of “According To Jim.” So let your conscience be your guide.

Amazon Advent Calendar, Day 01: “The Big Bang Theory Theme”

(Text link: Big Bang Theory Theme)

Happy Advent Sunday! And you’re all good Catholics, so of course you understood that the Amazon Advent Calendar wouldn’t begin until today.

But if we’re all good Catholics, then we must be wondering why I’m abusing this season to promote the enjoyment of pagan rhythms while steering filthy luchre into my Amazon Associates coffers. Point taken.

I shall make up for this disrespectful gesture by opening the Advent Calendar with a tribute to another good Catholic: Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, the priest who first proposed the theory for the origins of the Universe that would later be called the Big Bang Theory.

He failed to accompany his Theory with a peppy theme song. So I guess they don’t teach you everything at seminary.

Yes, I am quite the nut for this show. It’s as if Chuck Lorre dropped my photo onto a CBS programming executive’s desk and announced “We’re going to make a show that THIS guy will absolutely love.”

The executive pulled the photo closer and examined it.

He was skeptical.

“Does THIS guy buy detergent, snow tires, and movie tickets?” he asked.

“Well, THIS guy finds it simpler to just buy more underwear than do laundry. He knows that Alexei Leonov was supposed to be the first Russian to walk on the moon, but has no idea that there’s more than one kind of tire. And he’s more likely to download a torrent than go to a movie theater,” Lorre replied. “But yes, he tends to spend lot of money on crap he doesn’t need. Crap which can indeed be advertised through the medium of television.”

There are plenty of sitcoms that I like a lot. But even “The Office” delivers more of a “smile and chuckle” sort of funny. Week after week, “The Big Bang Theory” leaves me barking.

Loudly.

I’ve said it before, but I haven’t found a better way to explain the show: “The Big Bang Theory” exists at the precise intersection between “laughing with me” and “laughing at me.”

I have to think that the first band that Chuck Lorre Productions approached for the theme song was They Might Be Giants. Wouldn’t they be the go-to band for a show about four ultrageeks who work at Caltech?

Instead, the theme is written and performed by Barenaked Ladies. It’s hard to imagine that TMBG or anybody else could have done any better. It’s snappy, it’s peppy, the science in the lyrics checks out, and as you step out into sub-freezing weather this winter you will react as I do. Unbidden, you will recall the line

The bipeds stood up straight, the dinosaurs all met their fate

They tried to leave but they were late and they all died

(They froze their asses off!)

And you’ll still be freezing. But at least you’ll be humming a snappy, peppy little tune.

This track is also available on The iTunes Store. But if you buy it there, I won’t receive a kickback from Amazon. I also have it on good authority that one random Antarctic penguin will spontaneously molt and die.

Andy Ihnatko’s Musical Amazon Advent Calendar: Preamble

Last year’s iTunes Advent Calendar was enough fun that I’m doing it again in 2008.

The concept remains the same: I’m going to blog one song a day from today through Christmas, building up to my favorite Christmas song of all time. Not all of these tracks will be holiday-related. Actually, almost none of them. These are just Cool Songs That I Find Eminently Recommendable.

But there’s one obvious change this year: it’s the Amazon Advent Calendar. You’re free to sample or buy these tracks wherever you want, but all of my links will point to the Amazon MP3 Store.

Why? Simple: because since December of 2007, the Amazon MP3 Store has become a serious challenger to the iTunes Store, and I’ve obtained an Amazon Associates account.

I get a kickback from every track purchased through my links a good feeling from steering people to Amazon MP3. I certainly don’t think Apple’s on the wrong side of the war against digital rights management. I simply believe that I’m better than everybody else and if I want something offa Amazon, I shouldn’t have to pay for it Apple is restricted by the deals they had to strike with the music industry in order to launch the world’s first viable digital music store. Amazon was able to open their store as a 100% DRM-free, high-bitrate marketplace from day one, by entering the market after the aforementioned Industry realized that they’d created an uncontrollable monster.

The benefit for me you is obvious: I will be using these kickbacks to buy cool stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise buy for myself, seeing as I’m a freelance journalist in a collapsing print market and shouldn’t spend my money on fivolities because these tracks are all completely unlocked, you’ll have no problems moving them  between your iPod, iPhone, Blackberry, Chumby, or the novelty USB Christmas ornament you bought last year which is meant to play “Here Comes Santa Claus” when Rudolph’s nose is pressed, but which now can instead be used to Rickroll all of your relatives.

You really won’t notice any difference between adding tracks to your iTunes library via Amazon MP3 versus the iTunes Store apart from the vague nagging worry that maybe you’re somehow being exploited by a journalist whom you kind of trust. The first time you make a purchase, you’ll be invited to download a Windows or Mac helper app that will invisibly manage downloads of tracks and albums and make sure that they automagically appear in your music library.

If you don’t want the app, you can download the MP3s directly and take care of business without knucking under to The Man, and his evil hidden agenda of giving you free software that makes your life easier.

Boy, I hope I make enough from this to get a free Blu-Ray player. And some boss movies. Plus, there’s the higher bitrate. So it’s really a better deal for you guys. Or a Playstation 3…then I’ll have a Blu-Ray player and a game console!

No need to thank me. I’m always thinking about you, the readers. I couldn’t be more grateful to you for reading my little musings, and I cherish this covenant of trust that we’ve built between us over the almost 15 years that this blog has been in operation.

That ought to hold the goddamn bastards. This scam had BETTER work.