Category Archives: Amazon Advent Calendar 2014

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 1: “Golden Ticket”/”Pure Imagination”

Willy Wonka iPod

“Pure Imagination”/”Golden Ticket”

We kick off the season with a double-header, sensation-seekers. We have the pig-bastard greed of the record industry to thank for this: the movie soundtrack to “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory” is only purchasable as a whole album, not as individual tracks.

I ought to approve of this, in principle. Ugh. Seriously? You know I want “Pure Imagination” so much that I’ll probably buy a dozen instrumental tracks I’ll never listen to in order to get it. Jerks.

But I’m becoming increasingly worried that we, as consumers, have been steadily and cheerily grinding away at our favorite musicians’ ability to make a living from their creative talents. Step One: we refuse to buy the whole album just to get the two or three songs we want. Step Two: we don’t want to buy anything at all; we’ll just give the artists a few pennies for the ability to stream their stuff. Step Three: well, why even bother with Spotify? Almost every album in every back catalogue is on YouTube.

The whole system is staring to give off the vague whiff of ammonia that eventually made me stop buying anything via Groupon. The sooner the creative community moves on to a system where I can just put some money in a box and send it straight to the artist, the better.

Fortunately, the “Willy Wonka” soundtrack is just five damn dollars. I’d pay two bucks for “Pure Imagination,” maybe a dime less for “Golden Ticket,” and the whole rest of the soundtrack is three times a bargain at just a buck and a couple of nickels.

Gene Wilder’s performance of “Pure Imagination” is iconic. For years, this soundtrack wasn’t available digitally and my futile searches turned up two different cover versions that tried their damnest to duplicate the song. A Gene Wilder soundalike backed by as much of an orchestra as the producers could afford, with an orchestration as close to the original as they could get away with without having to pay the original arrangement.

This is one of those few songs that had a real influence on me as a kid. It still does, particularly this one line: “If you want to view Paradise, simply look around and view it.” The lesson, as I saw it, was that stop dreaming. You’re here. You’ve been given Paradise; some assembly is required and maintenance is going to be your responsibility.”

There’s also an amazing and subtle message about the power of individuality and cultivating your own mission on this world. Willy Wonka, as portrayed by Gene Wilder, isn’t a freak, an eccentric, or a borderline mental case. He’s a serious man with a specific vision of the world he wishes to live in and rather than change to fit in or complain about things…well, he just went ahead and built his candy factory and created the situation where he could live life as he wants, making incredible things, doing no harm to anybody (small nasty children excepted) and articulating his artistic vision in a way that’s readily digestible (literally) by the outside world. He makes joy, and understands the responsibilities that come with all of that.

I wonder how all of this went over to audiences in 1971. “The Graduate” (1967) and “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972) were, and generally still are, thought of as “important” comedies. Funny, yes, but the humor was powered by the frustrations of a certain generation at a specific point in time. What role has American society laid out for me? How pissed off will it be if I decide to go my own way?

I feel as if Willy Wonka is the guy who shrugged those questions off as irrelevant. Instead, he thought hard, planned well, and got to work making the world he wanted to live in. Ben just floated around in his pool, and Lenny took great pride in the fact that though he had no idea of what the hell he was doing, Society wouldn’t approve.

(Signature scene from “Heartbreak Kid”: Eddie Albert, as the WASPish Old Person™, tries to prevent Lenny from marrying his daughter by buying him off. Lenny’s smug smile gets wider and tighter as the figures keep getting higher and Albert’s voice keeps getting louder. I imagine that in 1972, there were people in the audience who were cheering Lenny on. I was salivating in anticipation of the moment where Albert would snatch the huge bronze eagle off of his desk and then beat Lenny to death with it. Alas, this moment never came.)

Pure Imagination” is also one of those songs that explains the difference between a movie with songs in it and a true musical. The audience is still getting to know this guy. This song efficiently lets us orient him on the game board. No matter what happens after this point — and yes, some freaky stuff is assuredly going to happen — the kids (and we) are in good hands. This is definitely not a movie where the “quirky chocolatier” turns out to be Jigsaw in Edwardian finery. The movie needs to establish that fact early on, or else it sits at that nauseous tipping point between fantasy and horror. One lovely little song, sung and presented well, and that’s off the To-Do list.

Fiona Apple recorded a cover of “Pure Imagination” to serve as the music for a super-downer message-mercial for Chipotle. The track is exceptional in the sense that I thought it wasn’t possible to knock this piece of music to the ground and beat all of the hope and joy out of it. Well, some people see a distant peak and see only a challenge. I’m not linking to the whole ad because Jesus Christ.

But if you accidentally heard the song, no worries, there’s an antidote. “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket” is a pure, non-ironic expression of delight. It’s hard not to skip a little while you listen to it, and if you have enough self-control not to lift your arms up in the air while you listen and skip, you’re a stronger person than I.

So: five bucks for the whole album. But well worth it, I think. I see that Amazon has this one on its “autorip” list, which means that if you buy the CD, you immediately get all of the MP3s and then receive the CD itself a few days later. And now we’re back to my opening thoughts. I sure hope this is another one of those cases where Amazon loses money but builds customer loyalty. I don’t particularly care that I drove an old car that gets half the gas mileage of a modern hybrid but I don’t want to participate in a transaction that works out great for me but which helps drive a talented musician out of the recording studio and into the real estate business.

Check out “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory: Music From The Original Soundtrack Of The Paramount Picture” at Amazon.  These links are embedded with my Amazon Associates ID and I’ll get store credits based on anything you buy after landing in the store offa my link. I promise to spend said credits on silly things and not blow them on, say, water and electricity.

 

It’s All Run By A Big Eastern Syndicate

My annual Musical Advent Calendar always begins with the best of intentions (“Recommend one music track every day between the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day”) and then ends about a week short of the original goal. “It’s Christmas,” the reader is inclined to shrug, when a blogger’s series of posts about favorite music tracks inexplicably ends on December the 17 instead of December the 25. “Peace on Earth, good will towards peoplekind and all that.”

Speaking of which, I extend my hearty thanks to everybody who clicks on my various Amazon affiliate links and then buys whatever stuff they were going to buy anyway. My first Amazon Advent Calendar inspired me to sign up for the program because I thought “Well, a nickel of store credit from every 99 cent track that people buy from my links might slightly offset the fifty to a hundred bucks I spend auditioning new music for this series.” I didn’t realize that the percentage is based on all purchases that people make immediately after walking through Amazon’s doors. Not until the first month’s credits arrived, I picked myself off the floor, and realized that I was able to substantially accelerate my schedule for replacing the old Trinitron in the living room with something that has more pixels. Or, anything that might be termed “Pixels,” for that matter.

I usually spend those credits on two kinds of things. Sometimes I’m writing a column and I think, for instance, “But what would it even be like to use a little phone like a desktop computer?” I discover that to conduct that experiment I’ll need a special kind of Bluetooth mouse that’s Android-compatible. I might balk at blowing the cost of five burritos (for the love of God) on a flyer like this, but then I think of the pool of credits I have in my Amazon account — practically free money, don’t you know — and I prepare my One-Click button.

And then there’s the larger category of “fun stuff I might not ordinarily buy for myself.” Have you been enjoying the photos I’ve been posting from this year’s New York Comic-Con? I can thank you folks for them, in part. I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in February, thanks largely to how many people clicked my Amazon links during the week after Thanksgiving. The Panasonic GX-1 that I bought a few years ago was a stopgap diversion from the Bigass Consumer SLRs I’ve been favoring and this Olympus is a glorious return to form, a modern camera by every conceivable definition, a “pro” camera by almost every definition as well. The difference between “competent consumer camera” and “something built for use in rough weather and in tricky situations” has never been more apparent to me than it has in the past seven months. For the first time in my life, I have a camera for which the only real excuse for a bad photo is incompetence on my part.

(Which might not seem like such a great advantage.)

I have rules for these affiliate links, o’course. I never ever ever create affiliate links to anything that’s tech-related. When I recommend a good deal on a USB microphone that I own and like, I’m a tech journalist and I post a plain link to the sale page. When I recommend a song from the 80s that I like chiefly because it’s in my vocal range and it’s kind of intentionally written so that the sillier you sing it, the better it sounds, I’m just a guy with a blog and a Twitter account. A journalist must scrupulously avoid conflicts of interest. A Guy With A Blog And A Twitter Account can think “Hey! Free Amazon credits! Cool!”

If all of this sounds exploitative and crass to you, I can only say…

….

..

Okay, I don’t know what to say. I have indeed thought about this sort of thing a lot and if I believed it was even remotely exploitative, I wouldn’t come near it. “Crass,” I suppose, is a subjective opinion. I think it’s important for people to know that I do derive a personal benefit from these non-tech-related Amazon links, and that I’m linking specifically to Amazon tracks instead of iTunes or Spotify tracks for totally selfish reasons. Along the way, I try to use a bit of humor. If the humor makes it seem like I have a careless attitude and that I’m trying to fleece Loyal And Decent Readers, well, who gives a **** so long as I get my credits?

See! I did it again! Whee!

Buuuut seriously. I like these affiliate links because all you have to do is something you were going to do anyway. Such as buy, like, ten or twenty original oil paintings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. Your friends get some wonderful stocking-fillers (assuming large, square stockings), and I get to buzz over to the comic book store in this awesome dune buggy that I totally don’t need but when else am I going to be able to buy a dune buggy for zero cash!

Please do feel free to create your own Spotify playlists or links to any other music store based on my picks, if you think it’ll benefit other people.

This year, I decided to tighten up the Advent Calendar a little bit. The source of my picks is a playlist entitled “Advent Calendar Candidates” that I’ve been curating over the past two or three months, mostly populated with songs I’ve bought since the last Advent Calendar. Every year, there are a dozen that I can’t wait to write about, a half dozen to ten that I like a whole lot, and enough left over to make sincere recommendations to fill out any gaps that remain.

(Or, as is more likely: “quickies that I can slap into service when I look at the clock and realize that I’ve written 1800 words about a Specials bootleg track and I’m still no closer to the finish than when I started two hours ago and holy crap dental appointment jesus well what song can I start and finish writing about in the next ten minutes why do I always DO this?!“)

So! Be warned: the 2014 Andy Ihnatko Holiday Musical Advent Calendar starts tomorrow. For the aforementioned wholly selfish reasons, they’ll all contain links to Amazon tracks. If I were a more perfect person, I’d paste in a bank of links to every streaming service and online music store on the planet. Alas, I am an imperfect vessel for the perfection of the universe AND I seriously have my eyes on a super-awesome f2.8 sports zoom that Olympus released just a month or two ago.