Tag Archives: Amazon Advent Calendar 2011

Funky Monkey by The Vignola Collective (Advent Calendar day 8)

Album Art

Funky Monkey

The Vignola Collective

Gypsy Grass

Genre: Jazz

If I were ever being chased, I wouldn’t want to be in the sort of chase where the music
is scored by the same people who did the Chris Nolan “Batman” movies, or the “Bourne” saga, or God forbid the laptop-twiddlers who scored “Saw.”

No. I’d want it to be the kind where music like this is playing. Clearly, the composer would write this to accompany a sequence in which the likable but slightly uptight co-lead is nicely dressed for a semi-formal occasion and he’s being followed, and then pursued, by a big, muddy dog who just wants to jump up on him and cover him with pawprints and doggie kisses.

Or, a Mr. Bean-style rush across town to be on time for a dental appointment or return a library book before incurring late charges.

What I’m getting at is that getting chased in a movie is never fun when the pursuers have guns and big cars with squealy tires and they mean to kill you at worst or, at best, throw you into a dirty canvas sack, dump you off at a secluded warehouse, torture you for information about an operation or organization you know nothing about and then kill you.

“Funky Monkey” is definitely a track that goes well to lines like “Oh, Sebastian! You naughty, naughty doggie! My jacket is ruined now! Hah-ha-hah…stop licking my face, Sebastian! I’m scolding you, here! Ha ha ha!” You could loop it into the soundtrack under sounds like “bzzzzz-AIEEEEE!!!!-thwack-thwack-crack-RGGHHGGHH!!!!-chunk-chunk” but I dare say that the music would make it into a much different movie.

Try or buy “Funky Monkey” on the Amazon MP3 Store. Yup, that link is embedded with my associates code. If I’ve slighted you at some point in the past and you’ve been looking for a passive-aggressive way to get back at me, then you definitely shouldn’t follow that link because any purchases you make immediately afterward will result in my getting some Amazon credits.

Or maybe you should. I tend to spend those credits on silly things, like Gummy Fried Eggs. Them’s completely made out of corn syrup and will pitch me headfirst into an early grave. I’ll be dead and you’ll have an ice-cold alibi.

“Still Alive” (Theme from “Mirror’s Edge”) by Lisa Miskovsky (Advent Calendar Day 7)

Album Art

Still Alive (Theme from “Mirror’s Edge”)

Lisa Miskovsky

Still Alive (The Theme From Mirror’s Edge)- The Remixes

Genre: Soundtrack

I hope it’s not too terribly boring for you folks when I talk about how I came across a certain song. I confess that it’s terrible interesting to me. There are so many vectors for music discovery.

“Mine is a mind forever journeying, always exploring, hungering, thirsting, yearning to push against the boundaries of the familiar and to stride boldly into a larger and more satisfying world” — good stuff, but all that pushing and striding! It just seems like a lot of work.

“Recommendations from friends whose taste you respect” — I have friends. But if they had taste, would they be hanging out with me? It’s a flawed algorithm.

“Major publishers work extremely hard to cultivate new talent and market them effectively” — which means that I can probably get more satisfaction from being part of the movement to turn all of that into a colossal waste of time, money and effort. I get all of the satisfaction of Sticking It To The Man without having to Occupy anything other than my warm, cozy bed.

All of this is by way of saying that I discovered “Still Alive,” the major song from a popular video game, and liked it enough to buy it, a couple of years ago when I searched for another song called “Still Alive” that was the major song from a popular video game.

Good Lord, that must drive the music industry absolutely batty. Or at least the middle-aged ones. I suspect that the younger set understands that modern marketing is less about promotion and more about discovery. And I imagine that the ones near retirement don’t care why someone bought it so long as the product’s moving, and if there’s a way to sell things without having to work very hard, well, so much the better.

This version of “Still Alive” comes from a game I liked well enough to actually buy, a while back. “Mirror’s Edge” is like “Canabalt” in 3D. You’re running, running, running and trying not to fall, fall, fall and die, die, die. If you play it well, it’s like the parkour/free running chase scene from “Casino Royale”:

[Link to a YouTube clip. I just want to take this opportunity to say that if you take a clip from a movie and post it onto YouTube without the copyrightholder’s permission and then fail to make that clip embeddable…you are a blot against everything positive and aspirational about the human animal.]

If play it poorly, it’s like an episode of “Jackass.” I really don’t want to be responsible for your seeing Johnny Knoxville’s spice rack bouncing off of the bottom of an empty swimming pool so instead, I shall embed the parkour/free running scene from “The Office.”


In the game’s story, your character is running all across a city. Neat, but as a game designer, how do you implement that? Actually allowing the player to free-run anywhere they want means an obscene amount of work in building out the city model, and it’s boring for the player, too. “You kids go out and play” isn’t really a game; it’s a way for your parents to get you and your siblings out of the house so that they can wax all of the floors, either literally or figuratively.

Solution: a simple red/blue user interface. Things that are blue (buildings, streets, objects) are set dressing. Things that are red (pipes, ropes, paths) are significant to you. Easy and very pretty.

And today — Friday, December 9 — “Mirror’s Edge” is very cheap. The iPhone and iPad editions are a free download from iTunes.

But hey…HEY!!!


I should have included the link for the song before mentioning the free game that I really like.

You’re not reading this part, are you?


Blah blah “Try or buy ‘Still Alive’ from Amazon MP3, here’s the link” I get a small kickback in Amazon credits if you buy anything, yadda yadda, whatever.

I should really take some sort of seminar in marketing. I kind of suck at this.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: “The Lady Is A Tramp” (Amazon Advent Calendar day 6)

Album Art

The Lady Is A Tramp

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

Duets II

Genre: Pop

Yesterday’s post covered the subject of “Being surprised that a famous person is good at doing something else besides the thing for which he or she is famous.” Today’s topic is about being surprised that the famous person is good at the thing they’re actually supposed to be good at.

I’m speaking, of course, of Tony Bennett.

I’m joking, of course.

I’m actually speaking, of course, of Lady Gaga. I admit without hesitation or qualification that I was wrong, wrong, wrong when I assumed that she was (at best) a mediocre singer. Why did I make that assumption? I dunno. I mean, she ripped off so much else from Madonna…

Okay, I apologize for that.

The actual explanation: I’ve only heard a few of Gaga’s songs and in each of them, her natural singing voice was tightly shrinkwrapped behind a wall of production trickery. Overprocessing is a big help to the mediocre singers — it putties in all of the lows and cracks in a performance — but when the lady can actually sing, heavy production also sands down the highs.

It might be a point of pride that causes a true vocalist to put one track on the album in which it’s just them and a microphone. I think it’s why many stage magicians wedge a selection of slight-of-hand tricks in between the Swallowing A Gulfstream Jet Trick and the Flaming Elephant Escape Illusion. Showbiz is showbiz, but it’s a point of pride to demonstrate that you have the sort of skills that come from dedication and hard work in addition to the sort of buying power that lets you bring in whatever hardware that a miracle requires.

Tony Bennett kicked it up a notch by singing a capella in his live shows…without even any assistance from a microphone. This here’s a crummy phone video but it was shot during a Radio City Music Hall performance. This is not a small venue:

I believe that this was shot in 2007. When Mr. Bennett was EIGHTY-ONE YEARS OLD.


Dammit, if ever there was a time when the HTML "BLINK" tag was 100% called for…

Onward. Yes. Please. More Gaga tracks like this one: the lady has some serious pipes and the track makes me want to seek out more of her music. If she ever released an “American songbook” album, I’d consider that a pretty quick 1-click.

Maybe in a couple of years, after she and her fans get itchy for her Next Thing. I did see her HBO concert special, and (yes) I thought there was too much staging and too much flash. Those things do a remarkable job of obscuring her talent. The show was all meat dress and no steak.

Allow me to make an overly-precious simile. There’s a restaurant up above Boulder, Colorado that serves all kinds of game. I used to eat dinner there once every year. I’d always order the oddest thing on the menu just on principle and the experience taught me something important. One year, I ordered emu. It arrived as a thick, grilled steak with very light seasoning. A little salt and pepper? Maybe.

One year, I ordered alligator. It arrived slathered in cheese and heavy sauces.

The clear lesson: terrific ingredients can stand on their own. If it’s something that Humanity was never meant to consume, the chef covers it in enough gunk that you can’t taste it at all.

So when I see a performer who works so hard at being so outrageous…yes, my prejudices get the better of me. I assume that it’s a crocodile quesadilla.

(Aside: Emu is heavenly. It’s truly a fusion of the best elements of red and white meat.)

Seriously, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. But that’s marketing for you. As a consumer, I’m not obligated to try out every song, movie, or TV show. I’m to be forgiven for applying what I’ve learned from past experience when deciding how to best invest my time and money, right?

Lady Gaga is more like Cyndi Lauper than Madonna. Lauper, too, had — and still has — an incredible voice and an outrageous style that might have caused some people to draw the wrong conclusion and turn away. But she had the advantage of coming on to the popular scene in the early Eighties, when audio production tools were still analog and a fantastic voice could still fight its way through whatever layers of spray-on gold and gloss that a producer attempted to slap on it.

This is Tony Bennett’s second album of duets and like its predecessor it helps expunge my memory of Frank Sinatra’s end-of-career “Duets” albums. Sinatra’s handlers arranged for a nice lineup of talent, but they all essentially performed karaoke to Sinatra’s pre-recorded tracks. Bennett’s duets are real, in-studio collaborations and it shows. “The Lady Is A Tramp” is one of the standouts; Bennett and Gaga really sound like they’re having a great time together.

Try or buy “The Lady Is A Tramp” on the Amazon MP3 Store. Anything you buy on Amazon after clicking the link will result in my receiving a small kickback in the form of Amazon store credits. Which, I assure you, I shall spend on Lovely and Foolish Things.

Dudley Moore: “Lillian Lust” (Amazon Advent Calendar Day 5)

Album Art

Lillian Lust

Dudley Moore

Dudley Moore Ensemble

Genre: Jazz


Damn, damn, damn.


Folks, I’ve just failed an OCD test.


As I was writing yesterday’s Advent post, it occurred to me that one of the 50 or so Advent Calendar candidates in my playlist would make an absolutely perfect selection for Day 5: “Lillian Lust.” It links back to the tracks from the previous three days:

1) It’s from a soundtrack, just like “Anything Goes” and “The Devil’s Concerto”;

2) “Lillian Lust” was composed for “Bedazzled,” which was directed by Stanley Donen. Yup, the same man who directed the “Moonlighting” dance sequence that was set to “Big Man On Mulberry Street”;

3) “Bedazzled” is about a deal with the devil, just like “The Devil And Daniel Webster.”

If you want to stretch it out just a little, it even connects back to Day One: I bought this track after seeing “Bedazzled” on cable, which is the same reason why I bought “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.”

I saw the pattern, I sensed an opportunity to complete the pattern, and I just couldn’t let it go. It’s like hearing someone tap “Shave…and-a-hair…cut…” and then he stops. You must tap “TWO! BITS!” Otherwise, you’ll be fitful, distracted and irritable for the whole rest of the day.

I can only score this experience as a failure of personal resolve. Sometimes, you sense that there’s a test in front of you and that your next choice is a crucial one. Are you a person of complex and subtle intellect and reason, a mature adult in full control of his behavior? Or are you a damp robot who can process a billion instructions per second but who on a kernel-level exists only to connect stimuli to the proper pre-defined responses?

“Lillian Lust” is a good tune. I wouldn’t have put it in the Candidates playlist if I didn’t like it lots and lots. It’s not my favorite track in the list of Advent Calendar candidates, but I probably would have posted it one way or another. That said, however…

Twoooooo bits!

Oh, well. I guess I should move on to the next step in my self-diagnosis.

(‘Scuze me while I make some adjustments to a bookshelf…)

A shelf of "Complete Peanuts" books, with one book out of chronological sequence.

Okay. So if I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and bite my lower lip for twenty minutes in the dark and then run down to my office to fix fix fix fix fix that, it’ll be the final and most damning proof that I’ve got a serious problem and I should probably address it chemically..

Here’s Dudley Moore performing today’s song on TV:

Three cheers for Moore. When a famous person proves to be talented in a second field (like during that episode of “Big Bang Theory” midway through the first season in which Johnny Galecki’s character plays the cello really, really well) isn’t it just a little bit like seeing Clark Kent turning into Superman? You had no idea that he had these…secret powers.

But when you see exactly how skilled Dudley Moore was as a musician — not just as a piano player, but as a composer and improviser — you realize it’s less like Clark Kent turning into Superman and more like Superman turning into Batman. Moore could easily have inhabited either role exclusively, and with exceptional success.

“Bedazzled” offers another peek at a kind of Satan that I really, really like. George Spiggott (played by Moore’s arch comic partner Peter Cook) has been at this gig for eons and he knows that the subtle approach is the most effective. There isn’t a whole lot of cackling and scheming about his methods. He’s collecting souls, but chiefly just to win a bet with God.

As for his efforts to turn human existence on Earth into a living Hell, he goes about it by filling our lives with relentless petty annoyances and by manipulating us into lowering our dreams and expectations. The Devil simply sees to it that we allow every restaurant to become like an Olive Garden and that most popular phone OS is Android and that “Twilight” book series becomes an international best-seller that spawns a series of moneymaking movies. Why bother summoning the galloping hordes of Hell’s armies? That’s just, you know, showboating.

This scene tells you everything you need to know:

Dudley Moore is Stanley Moon, a fry cook who’s sold his soul in exchange for seven wishes, which he uses to try to win the heart of a waitress he adores. Each wish goes awry, of course, and in between these scenes, as Stanley contemplates his next wish, Moon and the Devil build an odd friendship. Or maybe it can be described more accurately as a pleasant but superfluous owner/pet relationship.

It’s not much of a story, honestly. The real premise of “Bedazzled” is that any story framework that supports a nonstop interplay between Peter Cook and Dudley Moore for an hour and a half couldn’t help but be hugely funny.

The filmmakers were extremely correct in this supposition. “Bedazzled” serves as an almost nonstop showcase for one of the most uncannily well-matched comedy duos that ever existed. Like Laurel and Hardy, Pete and Dud’s comedy doesn’t come from two people being funny in the same space. The comedy is in the clubs that they pass back and forth.

Here’s what I mean. In honor of the holidays, check out Dudley Moore as the apostle Matthew interviewing shepherd Peter Cook, witness to the birth of Christ:

Buy “Lillian Lust” on iTunes. You don’t need to “try” it, do you? The video I linked earlier has the whole thing and it’s a nice, clean recording.

Yes, iTunes. It’s one of those rare tracks that’s available on one of the megamusic stores but not the other. “But Andy…I so look forward to clicking on an Amazon link so that the things I buy during that session lead to your getting a small kickback!”

Oh, you’re such a dear. Here, at least consider buying “Bedazzled” on DVD. Don’t worry: I’ve linked to the proper one, not the wholly-unnecessary 2000 remake with Brendan Fraser.

I’m sure that pointless remakes of successful movies are just another part of Satan’s subtle and cunning plan.

Billy Joel: “Big Man On Mulberry Street” (Amazon Advent Calendar Day 4)

Album Art

Big Man On Mulberry Street

Billy Joel

The Bridge

Genre: Pop

Oh, why the hell not: I’m going to link today’s song to yesterday’s song, thematically. But don’t expect me to make a habit out of this.

As with Kate Capshaw’s performance of “Anything Goes,” which kicked off “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom,” “Big Man On Mulberry Street” is a flashy, classic MGM-style musical number that showed up someplace where you wouldn’t have expected it: an episode of “Moonlighting.”

Maybe you were still struggling to transform gills into lungs during this show’s late-80’s run and aren’t familiar with it. Here’s a quick primer:

David Addison and Maddie Hayes become partners in a Los Angeles private detective agency. They initially hate each other, but soon realize that they’re just diverting a deep-seated mutual attraction into a simpler emotion that comes with fewer longterm consequences. The rest of the series played out as an endless game of “will they or won’t they?”

Meanwhile, Bruce Willis and Cybill Shephard are actors on a hit primetime dramedy. They initially get along with each other, but soon realize that one is an up-and-coming action movie star who resents being forced to delay the next step in his career, and the other is a past-her-prime movie actress who had been promised that the whole show would be built around her character and that she wouldn’t have to share the spotlight, and she resents the fact that this thing her agent talked her into has launched her unknown co-star’s film career instead of re-launching her own. The rest of the series played out as an endless game of “When will their passive-aggressive hostility towards each other and the show cause the series to self-destruct?”

(Answer: After barely five seasons…and even then, things got so out of hand that two minor second-banana characters had to be promoted to co-leads just to cover for the stars’ absences.)

This clip comes from a Season Three episode, arguably when the show was at its prime. David has returned to his New York hometown for his brother’s funeral. Maddie has learned that David was briefly married during his bartending days, and she dreams about what that relationship had been like.

“Anything Goes” was staged as a 1930’s MGM Busby Berkeley-style musical number. “Big Man On Mulberry Street” is a dead ringer for a 1950’s MGM Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen-style one. And for a good reason: like a 1950’s MGM Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen musical number, it was directed and partly choreographed by Stanley Donen.

Isn’t that kind of amazing? Donen worked on most of the movies that define the popular conception of the Big Hollywood Musical: “On The Town,” “Royal Wedding” (that’s the one where Astaire dances on the ceiling), “Singin’ In The Rain,” “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers”…it’s a hell of a cv.

Thirty years afterward, the writers of a TV show were playing with an idea where a boring exposition scene is handled as a classic dance musical number instead. And instead of looking around for a director capable of designing and shooting a dance number like the ballet at the end of “Singin’ In The Rain,” they could still get the original director himself.

Why do things halfway?

You can’t argue with these results. Though the actual choreography was by (copy-paste) Jacqui and Bill Landrum, it’s impossible to watch this clip and not imagine the two leads being danced by Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. I think they cast the girl (Sandahl Bergman) based primarily on her legs.

The scene provokes many random thoughts…one of them a holdover from yesterday, in fact: what a thrill this job must have been for these dancers. Clearly, the girl had serious game, so it’s likely that one of the movies that Donen directed inspired her to become a dancer. And doesn’t every professional dream of encountering at least one gig like this one during their careers?

I’m reminded of the stories that people at ILM tell about working on — or even appearing in — Episode 1. “Star Wars” once filled them with a passion to get into the filmmaking and special effects business…did they ever imagine that fifteen years later, they’d not only be working for the effects studio that made the movie…but they’d also be seen walking around Mos Eisley as Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder zips past?

Well, whaddya know: lots of googling and then a hunt through the Internet Wayback Machine has turned up an interview with Ms. Bergman, printed in a now-defunct “Moonlighting” fansite. Yes, she knows how cool that number was:

That was, to me, one of the little gems, at least in my career, that kind of keeps you staying in the game. You hope your next project will be the same. More often it’s not, but I think that’s why people stay in the business because every now and then everything clicks…and then it’s just like, “Oh, this is why I decided to do this in my life.”

(Hey, cool…and she was in “Xanadu,” so she got to work with Gene Kelly. Twice, in fact.)

Second thought: Bruce Willis is an excellent mover. Several seasons of “Dancing With The Stars” have demonstrated in no uncertain terms that some celebrities aren’t merely non-dancers…they’re actually anti-dancers. They erect an anti-dancing field around themselves that can actively negate the efforts of the talented and experienced professional dancers around them. Whereas Bruce Willis looks like he belongs on that stage.

Third thought: it was probably stuff like this that contributed to the series’ short run. “Moonlighting” was a hit no matter how you look at it. It got killer ratings, it was a critics’ darling, and it very much set the tone for innovation that would inspire and enable evening dramas for decades to come. But in addition to the show’s Star Problems, each episode cost doubleplus money and cost doublebigly amounts of time. Finished shows were being handed in so late that the network didn’t have time to argue about the producers’ outlandish ideas. This dance number alone required three weeks of rehearsal.

It didn’t pay off for the longevity of the show but it paid off for the viewers. Better to have a short-run show that constantly invents than wind up in Season 9 of a four-series franchise in which the writers punch the clock, decide “which member of the forensic team will be kidnapped and then buried in the desert trapped in a tomb made from two steel bathtubs welded together this week?” and then punch out for lunch.

Oh, and the song itself: good stuff. It’s a reminder that when you think you’ve gotten tired of every one of a prolific artist’s hits, it’s time to start clicking through to the deep catalogue tracks.

And it turns out that Joel was a fan of the show and wrote this song with “Moonlighting” in mind. Neat.

This information comes courtesy of an interview with the show’s creator-producer, conducted by a different “Moonlighting” fansite. Has an enormous “Moonlighting” fan culture been skimming under my radar? Are we just one or two DragonCons away from seeing “Moonlightng” cosplayers everywhere?

Buy or try “Big Man On Mulberry Street” from the Amazon MP3 store. If you buy anything, I’ll receive a small kickback in the form of Amazon credits…which I promise to spend on fun and foolish things.

John Williams: “Anything Goes” (from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) Amazon Advent Calendar day 3

Album Art

Anything Goes

John Williams

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Genre: Soundtracks

Last night I got into an extended Twitter conversation with a few pals. We were debating the merits of the Star Wars series against those of the Indiana Jones movies.

(My position, which must be considered to be the canonical truth: “Star Wars” is the better series but “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” is the strongest individual movie of the whole collection. RotLA isn’t a better movie than “The Empire Strikes Back,” but that one requires knowledge from “A New Hope”…so can we really consider it an individual movie? No. Indeed, we cannot.)

The conversation reminded me of what’s probably the most joyous experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater. I and my pals were gathered to see the first showing of “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom.” We had practically no idea what the sequel would be about. But the names “George Lucas,” “Steven Spielberg,” and “Harrison Ford” each individually would have guaranteed a ticket sale; put them all together, and you’ve a ticket sale plus an excuse to cut school that no sensible parent would ever question.

But of course, it was a sequel to “Raiders Of The Lost Ark.” Excitement was doubled and then doubled again. I was expecting the flick to open with a thrilling chase and a little mini-movie, followed by a grateful five minutes of exposition scenes that would let me finally catch my breath.

The theater darkened.

Paramount logo: painting of the Paramount mountain with moving clouds. Transitions TO: the same mountain, sculpted into the side of an enormous gong.

(Awesome! Just like how “Raiders” started with another Paramount transition!)

A strongman swings a giant mallet into the gong.

(Ah. We’re in some sort of Far Eastern palace?)

Camera pulls back and moves across to show we’re in some sort of nightclub. A blonde in a glittery red gown takes the stage, stepping out through a dragon’s mouth in a cloud of smoke. She shimmies forward and the familiar swooping Indiana Jones logo fades in between her and the dancers.

(Cool! They must have hand-painted a holdout matte for all of those frames to pull that effect off)

She starts singing “Anything Goes,” in Mandarin.

(Neat. And now the camera will pan off of her to give us a wide shot of the nightclub, where Indy is about to enter and the music fades down so we can hear the conversation between him and a shady…)

No: the song continues and it just gets bigger and bigger. “Indiana Jones” is an action movie. The makers know that the audience is largely going to be composed of young’ns looking for action and thrills…and yet Spielberg & Lucas gave us a fully-staged 1930’s MGM Busby Berkeley-style musical production number.

It was absolutely daft, completely excessive; 180 degrees out of tune from anything that would be appropriate for a movie like this…and when the number was over, I think I cheered myself hoarse. I couldn’t have been more thrilled if “Temple Of Doom” had opened with three Nazis’ faces melting.

I remember thinking that this opening scene was a surefire sign of a creative team that was 100% confident in themselves and what they were setting out to do. A choice like that is so outrageous that it can’t possibly come after any real debate or second-guessing. The answer to the question “Why does your dark action movie open with a bright and sparkly musical extravaganza of platinum-haired chorus girls?” is “Because that’s how this movie opens.” And then the person who asked the question to begin with apologizes for having raised such an obvious non-issue.

Here’s what I’m sure is a completely legal and Lucasfilm-authorized YouTube clip of the opening sequence:

It reminds me why I’m so eagerly looking forward to the release of the rest of the Indiana Jones series on Blu-ray in 2012.

Kudos are owed to John Williams and his orchestration of “Anything Goes,” of course. The arranger is the jeweler who places a gemstone in a setting. When you’re starting off with a Cole Porter tune, you’re starting with a sizeable, dazzling diamond. If the results look gaudy or cheap or makes it hard to appreciate the gem, it’s not the fault of the source material. How do you set a 100 musicians against a single show tune and make it into a fair fight?

Buy or try “Anything Goes” from the Amazon MP3 store. If you buy anything, I’ll receive a small kickback in the form of Amazon credits…which I promise to spend on fun and foolish things.

Elmer Bernstein: “The Devil’s Concerto” (Amazon Advent Calendar Day 2)

Album Art

The Devil’s Concerto

Elmer Bernstein

Bernard Hermann Film Scores

Genre: Soundtracks

Clearly, I have a big decision to make for Friday. My first two tracks in the Advent Calendar invoke the name of the Dark One right in the title. If I do that a third day in a row — and I do indeed have such a track in the queue — there might be repercussions that would be (1) unpredictable, (2) completely out of my control, and (3) an awesome design for either a mediocre 1981 heavy-metal album or the side of a custom Chevy van.

Well, that’s for tomorrow. For today, we have a lovely movie theme. It’s from the 1941 classic “The Devil And Daniel Webster,” in which Walter Huston plays what was probably the greatest movie Devil until 1980, which was when Peter O’Toole played director Eli Cross in “The Stunt Man.”

Which itself wouldn’t be matched until Jon Lovitz’s nuanced portrayal in 1986:

But I digress. Yes, this is the Devil we love and fear. Not the one who’s all horns and hooves and minions, not the one who stupidly appears during an incredibly ill-advised Spider-Man limited series to implement the dippy whims of the editor-in-chief in the daffiest way possible. This is the Devil who senses that ember of evil lurking inside all of us and then, with the slightest of effort and with the full consent of the damned, brings it out into the air where it can spark and flame.

WANT. It’s not just Internet-age shorthand signifying Strong Approval. It’s also the label on the button on the express elevator to Bad Behavior. Did Huston’s “Mr. Scratch” do anything that was actually evil? Really, all he did is hocus-pocus Jabez Stone into a bit of good fortune early on. The evil stuff that happens afterward is all on Jabez.

(I’m sorry. I must now Google to see if that’s a real name…)

(Okay, it’s one of them Old Testament names. That don’t make it any less weird, though. Folks, I’m not forbidding you to give your kid a Bible-ey kind of name. But please: stick to the Gospels. It gives the kid a fighting chance. A “Luke” never has to spell his name to a hotel receptionist and if he turns away from Christianity he can pretend he was named after the Skywalker, or the Cool Hand.)

“The Devil’s Concerto” is a solo violin piece and it consists of variations on an initial tune: “Pop, Goes The Weasel.” The first time the song is played through, it’s the same familiar melody that caused Curly to explode into a tornado of fist-flying fury.

(cf. “Punch Drunks,” 1934).

But the tune gets slightly more demented with each run-through until it’s finally very clear that the man playing this instrument clearly doesn’t have the best interests of the audience in mind. It’s measured, controlled chaos and it must be the most difficult trick for a composer (and a performer) to pull off. To break every rule, to suppress every time-honed instinct, and somehow manage to build a contraption that looks like it can’t possibly fly…but does. Great stuff.

Buy or try “The Devil’s Concerto” from the Amazon MP3 store. If you buy anything, I’ll receive a small kickback in the form of Amazon credits…which I promise to spend on fun and foolish things.

George Harrison: “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” (Amazon Advent Calendar 2011 Day 1)

Album Art

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

George Harrison


Genre: Rock

I’ve read epic tales of music hounds who search for rare and “lost” recordings as though these tunes were lost children, or violent criminals, or that one peanut M&M that you remember dropping under the sofa just before you started the movie an hour ago. Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar have written comics on that subject. Crumb was so obsessive about collecting old blues and jazz records that he’d often target a neighborhood of old people down south and go from door to door, asking if they had any 78’s they’d like to get rid of.

(Thus proving that there are elements to Crumb’s weirdness that go beyond looking for women of good, sturdy Eastern European stock and then asking them for piggyback rides.)

You might also think about the lonely but brave preservationists at the Smithsonian and the National Archives, keeping our cultural heritage safe for future generations. Good men and women, every last one of them.

I say this as a sheepish introduction to this track, which was one of my most-played acquisitions of 2011. How did I, Andy Ihnatko, intrepid musicological explorer, discover this wonderful piece of music?

Um…I saw it on that documentary of George Harrison that Martin Scorsese made for HBO.

Yes. I admit it. Often, HBO or some other entertainment conglomerate is responsible for introducing me to music. It doesn’t lend me a whole lot of “we are the 99%!” credibility, I admit. But I got the song and that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

“Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” was written in 1931 or thereabouts, which falls somewhere in the final act of the popularity of sheet music as a means of music publishing. It’s hard to imagine this medium playing the exact same role in the 1800’s and early 1900’s as an MP3 download does today. If you grew up with a piano in the house, sheet music was that dusty stuff inside the bench that you’d pull out when it was time to prepare for a lesson. Back in the day, no, that’s how a hit popular song made its way across the country.

I wonder if that’s part of the charm of these tunes. They weren’t going to be just listened to…they were also going to be played. Or, rather, “performed.” The paper was nothing until it was placed on a little ledge at the piano and somebody in the house sat down and plunked through it.

How did those people relate to music? There couldn’t have been anything mystifying about it. To this day, Beatles fans and guitarists continue to debate about exactly what chord George Harrison plays to kick off “A Hard Day’s Night.” In 1900, the music is just an abstraction and every performance redefined it to the ear.

You also must have felt a tremendous sense of investment in the piece, as you trim bits that seem too hard or add little fills as the song becomes more familiar to your fingers and you see opportunities to amuse yourself.

You don’t get that sort of thing today. A slim percentage of tunes become “standards” in every sense of the word. You can go ahead and record “It Might As Well Be Spring” but you do so with the knowledge that you’re settling into a crouch at a starting line next to every great vocalist who ever existed and the listener can’t help but compare.

Otherwise? We don’t click into songs; we identify with performances. And learning how to actually perform a song that you like Just Isn’t Done.

One element in which we’ve come full circle, though: we’re back at the point where we tend to relate to music as individual tracks divorced from any larger context. Purists bemoan the fact that albums were designed not just as this specific group of songs, but as a presentation in a specific order. That somehow, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is a different song when it comes up on Shuffle Play than when it comes after you’ve just heard “That Voice Again” and then walked across the room and flipped over to side 2 of “So”.

Want to learn “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea”? No sweat: here are the lyrics and chords, via the wonderful Ukulele Boogaloo site. I’m about a third of the way through it, myself; I’m at the point where I can play the verses and only start muttering “Crap, no, that’s not it…” when I get to the choruses.

George Harrison became a big fan of the ukulele later in life. One has to imagine that it was a much easier and relaxed leap than when he became curious about the sitar. For sure it was easy to travel around with a half-dozen ukuleles in the trunk of his car than it was to travel with a six-pack of sitars. The uke is a highly-social instrument and Harrison was a highly-social musician. The documentary underscores how much of Harrison’s music consisted of him wanting to get together with his friends and play. The documentary has Tom Petty telling the story of George dropping off several ukes at his house, just in case he’s ever over and wants to get another uke jam going.

I’m so glad that this recording made the final cut of Harrison’s final — yes, posthumous — album. It represents a kind of music that’s sorely unrepresented: strictly fun tunes that everybody can get behind. Sure, we need the kind where it sounds as though the Gods are riding down from the heavens on beasts of stone, intent to steal back Fire from humanity. But can’t we also have these lovely little plunka-plunka-plunka ones?

That said: I’d like to hear more about the relationships that Ted Koehler (the lyricist) had with the women in his life.

I don’t want you
But I’d hate to lose you
You’ve got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea.

This is the sort of man that teary-eyed women used stand up and talk about during a taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” no?

Here’s the link to buy/preview “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” from Amazon. As usual, anything you buy after clicking this link results in a small kickback in the form of Amazon credits, which I promise to spend on foolish and wonderful things.

Amazon Advent Calendar 2011: The Preamble

And so, this is Christmas…and what have you done?

I can only speak for myself. I’ve done a little advance gift shopping. I’ve given a smidgen of thought to making photo cards this year (but if I were to actually follow through on that, I’d be breaking a beloved holiday tradition that I’ve kept up my whole life). Let’s see. I also gave the kitchen a good cleaning, though that was really just something I would have, and should have, been doing anyway.

And I’ve assembled a new iTunes playlist entitled “2011 Advent Calendar Candidates.” This is the time of year when I look through all of the music I bought since last November and think “Holy mother of Great Zarquon! Did I honestly buy nothing but zither music and Tin Pan Alley songs that in one way or another attack every flavor of immigrant known to angry, simple-minded men of the 1910’s and Twenties?”

Which then sends me off to buy some new music. Because although my annual Musical Advent Calendar is unabashedly and unapologetically a showcase of my taste and music and mine alone…well, why pass up an opportunity for a little spin control.

“Look at some of these selections!” one will hopefully marvel. “Such breadth! This Ihnatko fellow has a hunger for discovery and an enthusiasm for all kinds of music…not just the stuff that he liked when he was a kid!”

(Which is a pretty ambitious lie. Whenever I need to create the impression that I have any clue about current popular music, I just download the latest “Weird Al” Yankovic album and check out the source tracks for his latest parodies. Mark my words, children: twenty years from now, Al will still be doing song parodies and you will use that tip.)

Anyway. Yes: Advent Calendar time. Every day between now and Christmas, I’ll be recommending a new track that’s available for download on the Amazon MP3 Store.

Why Amazon MP3? Because at the moment, it’s still — marginally — the best store from which to make purchases. The selection and prices are damned-near identical to what you’ll find in the iTunes Store. With the Amazon MP3 Downloader app installed, your purchases automatically land straight into your iTunes library, just like an iTunes purchases.

And here’s the kicker: iTunes Match doesn’t care where a track comes from. If you’ve subscribed, iTunes simply notes that a copy of The Captain And Tennille’s “Muskrat Love” has appeared in your library, noted to its own shock and horror that this same track is also available via iTunes, and presto, it’s instantly available for play on your iOS devices with no syncing necessary.

Meanwhile, your purchases also appear in Amazon’s cloud locker and you can play ’em through a webapp or an Android app. So you get two additional wins over buying stuff from iTunes.

Oh, yes, and then there’s the fact that all of my recommendations are quietly embroidered with my Amazon Associates ID. Now that you mention it, I suppose that I will get a small kickback from all of your Amazon purchases during that visit. Couldn’t have been further from my mind, honestly.

Mmm…yes, I probably had your indulgence up until the point where I unwisely chose to end that sentence with the word “Honestly.” Please strike that from the record.

Let’s just put that unpleasantness behind us. I should simply say that I sincerely believe two things: first, that Amazon is the best place to buy music from at the moment, for the reasons I’ve already stated; and second, that by the time the holidays are over I’d really, really like to have earned enough credits for an iPad 3.