Tag Archives: iTunes Advent Calendar

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 10

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Jake Shimabukuro

Gently Weeps

Genre: Rock

Blah, Blah, Blah: Y’know, this one really isn’t very complicated. Two steps.

Step One – Watch this:

Step Two – Buy the track. But I can tell you’re already ahead of me. I reckon the YouTube player hasn’t even reached the real fireworks at the end of the piece and you’ve already clicked the iTunes link at the bottom of this post.

(You’re not even reading this, are you?)


(Wow. I bet I could get all naked here and you’d never even notice. Hell, let’s try that out.)


(There. I’m now blogging while completely naked.)

(Nope, nothin’. Cool. I’ve probably got another thirty seconds or so before you complete your purchase and tab back into your web browser. Just enough time for me to strike two or three suggestive poses:)

(“The Toreador.”)

(“The Space Dolphin.”)

(And now a little something I’ve been working on, called “The Mount Rushmo…” Whoops, that’s nearly time…damn, my undies got all bunched up…where’s that freakin’ tee shirt?!?)

…Which is why you’ll find that in most playgrounds, the swingsets usually face East, while the slides are always set up so that the kids are moving from South to North. And I’d have never learned about that stuff if I hadn’t read the book, and I’d have never found the book in the first place if I hadn’t gotten a little bit lost while looking for the 92nd Street “Y”.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: Asked and answered, counselor. Though the first time someone sent me the link to this video (on a service predating YouTube) I rushed to the iTunes Store and discovered that the Jake Shimabukuro wing was still under construction. Well, okay. It was an impressive enough performance to warrant ordering the actual CD from Jake’s website?

I sure thought so. No need for a 30-second sample, even. Jake’s performance is so perfect that the only way you could possibly ruin it in the recording would be to do…well, anything at all. But when the CD arrived and I tore the plastic off it and thrust it into my computer and then got out my set of dental tools because in my excitement, I’d jammed the CD into the gap between the CD tray and the bottom of the loading mechanism and then got the CD out and put it back in the right way and skipped right to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” I was pretty disappointed.

Jake was backed by a fairly generic studio quartet. What was dynamic and exciting and fresh in a mono online field video had become weak and anemic in the studio. If it were any more so, it would have been preceded by a very white announcer intoning “And now, for our business travelers, let’s take a moment to check out the forecasts in cities all across the nation:”

I would like to think that Jake saw the extreme error of this approach and released a fine, high-quality edition of the punchy, spartan rendition that spawned a million hits.

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 9

Thank You Very Much

James Head

Scrooge (Original London Cast)

Genre: Soundtrack

Blah, Blah, Blah: I guess it’s a good idea to work a few actual Christmas-ey sort of tracks into this thing. I also guess that “Thank You Very Much” counts…even though gas-chromatograph testing reveals that it contains mere trace elements of Yule and Yule by-products. Merely secondhand smoke, I assure you: people file it in the “Christmas” bin only because it’s from the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” segment of the 1970 musical adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”

It’s a charming, peppy number, though I’ve always meant to ask one of my English friends how they feel about music like this. “We’re not all a bunch of charming, singing Cockneys, you know!” he’ll probably insist. And then he’ll pick up a nearby broom, tip his soot-stained hat, and dance away down a cobblestone road in a skipping, high-stepping fashion.

Music aside, it expresses a nice sentiment: it’s a celebration of the spirit of human generosity and of one’s gratitude for that generosity. If you’ve seen the movie, you have plenty of reasons to listen closely to try to detect some sort of shading or double-meaning in the lyrics but nope: there’s absolutely nothing dark or ironic about the song. In fact, it’s such a positive piece of music that you often hear it in commercials.

So it’s sort of funny that in the movie, a huge crowd of people sing it in jubilant celebration of the fact that a man whom everybody utterly despised is finally dead, dead, dead, and probably burning in Hell already.

Ten points out of ten to the G of CYtC. You can’t really accuse the Ghost of not making a powerful statement through this precious glimpse into Scrooge’s future. I mean, there’s a dude literally dancing on the coffin, surrounded by hundreds of folks whose only source of sadness is the fact that the casket isn’t big enough to accommodate moonwalking.

It’s hard to put a positive spin on a sight like that. It truly provokes one to think hard about the choices that one has made in one’s life. This was way better than putting together a PowerPoint presentation.

Speaking of life choices, this song has always been an important element of one of the Things I’d Do If I Ever Had So Much Damned Money That There Was Absolutely No Point In Being The Least Bit Careful About How I Spent It. I would bankroll a huge, annual Macy’s-style “Thank You Very Much” Parade.

Not a Thanksgiving parade. There’d be nothing for anybody to cook or buy. It wouldn’t be tied to an existing holiday…it’d be a parade to celebrate the simple concept of Gratitude. “We all have things in life that we’re grateful for, whether they’re individual people, institutions, or even abstract concepts,” the announcement would read. “The purpose of this parade is to celebrate how grateful we are for whatever happiness we’ve managed to secure in life.”

I would screen all parade participants carefully. I would insist on no negativity and no politics. If you want to do a float that expresses your gratitude for the beauty of Nature, great. But no people with bullhorns complaining about inadequate pollution laws. No snarky banners thanking the Eagle Bond Paper Company for making all of the fish in a nearby lake float to the surface, thus making them a lot easier to catch.

Not even any pamphlets on recycling. This parade is just about the things you’re thankful for…and nothing else.

But for all that, the final float would be the same, year after year. A marching band would be in two lines on either side of it, playing “Thank You Very Much” over and over again. The float would be a black, slightly oddly-shaped stage with smiling Cockneys dancing gleefully on top of it nonstop. A section of the stage would be a hidden trampoline, so the dancers could get some serious air.

(Obviously, we’d have six identically-dressed Cockneys rotating through over the course of the event, so that the stage always has someone up on there dancing at max energy level without worrying about heatstroke or something.)

From certain angles, the stage would look somewhat like a coffin. No comment. And above the coffin — the stage, sorry — would read the following words, in giant, colorful letters made from rose petals:


The “Thank You Very Much” parade would take place on the same Sunday every year. I suppose after the fourth or fifth one, someone would figure out that it happens to be the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the death of Fred Phelps.

Again…no comment.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: I think it was used in some damned commercial or other and I wound up humming it so much that I wanted to own the thing. I refuse to discuss how many of my iTunes Store purchases begin with a tracking shot of a sports-utility vehicle arrowing across a desert blacktop.

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 8

O Gente da Minha Terra


Fado Em Mim

Genre: Pop

Blah, Blah, Blah: I suppose you’ve had that dream where you’re walking through your house and you spot a door that you’ve never seen before, and you open it and discover a whole wonderful new room that you never even knew existed.

The iTunes Store is that door. There are all kinds of artists — hell, entire genres — that’ve been piling up recordings for decades. But until you’re graced by that moment of discovery, they’re completely walled up, waiting patiently and shaking their heads on the other side of the door while you moan that there’s no good music any more.

Then you learn that there’s this style of Portuguese folk music called “Fado” and zip: you’ve got weeks of delighted listening ahead of you.

Though perhaps “delighted” isn’t quite accurate. “Fado” is a Portuguese word. The usual explanation is that it means “the sadness that comes from distance and longing” but the usual explanation also carefully states that there’s no direct translation into English.

But it’s a word that you can understand pretty damned clearly once you listen to a song like “O Gente da Minha Terra.” This one’s a very traditional example of Fado, in which a lone female singer is backed by a a conventional classical guitar and a Portuguese guitar, both of which maintain a certain respectful distance from the vocalist. The vocal is a hairline of emotion that wends a cautious path from start to finish.

I don’t speak a lick of Portuguese but you definitely get the gist of what this poor woman is going through. You just want someone to hug the singer in a supportive, nonsexual fashion and assure her that everything’s going to work out OK, honestly.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: Normally I bail out of the Letterman show when the musical guest cranks up. They just sort of fail to register, somehow.

But Mariza began this song with the sort of silence that commands a silence bordering on reverence, and she quickly had me hooked. The keyboard was pushed to one side and she had me full and complete attention all the way until Dave walked over and thanked her for coming by.

Isn’t that the ideal of all music? If you’re capable of reading anything on Google Reader or worse, actually composing email while a song is playing, then what’s the point of having it on at all?

I actually invested twenty minutes in finding the song. I had to get the performer’s name from the CBS website and then I had to sift through a few albums before I found the song. And in the end, I paid twice what I should have. She has two versions available. I originally bought the concert version because it runs a whole two minutes longer than the album version. That’s like getting three Twinkies in the package instead of two.

But it’s a funny thing: it lacked a lot of the impact of the Letterman version. Occasionally, the song was punctuated by grateful applause from the audience.

There’s a simple rule about being lonely. You can do it while standing in an arena filled with thousands of people, but only if you’re facing the stage…not the crowd.

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 7

Tick Tick Boom

The Hives

The Black and White Album

Genre: Rock

Blah, Blah, Blah: I’m at that awkward stage of life. Well, okay, who am I kidding: if the little scoreboard I’ve been maintaining in my Nancy Drew Keep-A-Secret Diary can be trusted, this is my third awkward stage of the year, making for 71 lifetime. This is all the more impressive when you consider that most of these awkward stages must be served concurrently.

But the relevant detail for our current exercise is my realization that apparently, my taste in music was burned into ROM at age 17 and hasn’t been re-flashed since. True, there are a few categories in my music library which weren’t there five or ten years ago (a quick note to everyone I met up to age 33 or so who didn’t introduce me to soul music: there must one day be a reckoning). If I thought a song was awesome in high school, chances are excellent that I’m still enjoying it today. And when iTunes is shuffling songs from my entire music collection, spanning three decades of purchases, it’s a distressingly consistent hour of music.

So what brought all this on? My detemination to pick something modern and peppy for today’s Advent Calendar. The previous three or four offerings were written in (let’s go ahead and check)…1791, 1977, 1965, and 1929. “Time for something fresh,” thought I. So I asked iTunes for a list of purchases that were released this year and then quickly selected this Hives tune.

Me dig the Hives. Apart from their obvious musical awesomeness, they’ve achieved something that was once thought impossible: they’ve singlehandedly paid off the massive Karmic debt that the Swedish music industry accrued when they allowed ABBA to leave the country. Next to this, the fact that they’re on also on my rarefied “buy the actual CD, not individual downloads” list — which most bands consider to be just as big an honor as earning a Weird Al Yankovic song parody — fades into insignificance.

Cool. I gave “Tick Tick Boom” yet another listen tonight and realized that wow…this could have been a track on the Stiff Records box I bought in 1993…you know, the one that collected much of my favorite music from the Eighties.

Oh, well. Chalk it up to the massive influence that punk had…not just on me, but on music in general. I’m very prepared to like a loud song with a nice blang-blang-blang-blang guitar line. If you want to guarantee the sale, then the effect you ought to be trying for is to get my head nodding violently…but not so much that I’ll spill my drink.

(Not spilling your drink is a defining element of the punk ethos. It’s part of what defines punk’s supremacy over metal. Many metalheads are even willing to set down their beer entirely, to leave a second hand available for throwing goats and such.)

This one is pretty much an ideal example of modern punk-influenced music. The Hives happily integrate punk’s strongest elements (committing to power over showboaty technique) and left behind its more tedious elements (such as just playing the same three chords over and over again until the drugs wear off).

The cool thing about being at this stage of life is that you’re fully empowered to become more adventurous. And crimeny, if you can’t motivate yourself to spend 99 (freakin’) cents on a track that you might not like, then maybe you should schedule an MRI or something because the problem might be organic.

Or it’s possible that you’ve slipped into the next stage of life: when you just automatically assume that any music recorded after you got out of college is crap. But no worries there: I don’t even own a pair of golf pants.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: It is indeed a simple rule: if the Hives have a new CD, I’m buyin’ it. That’s truly the highest compliment you can pay to a band. You’re saying that you’re willing to take all those tracks sight unheard (so to speak) and that you’d like to own a “master” set of tracks that are both uncompressed and DRM-free.

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 6

Die Zauberflöte: Der Hölle Rache (Königin Der Nacht)

Diana Damrau

Mozart, Righini, Salieri: Arie Di Bravura

Genre: Classical

Blah, Blah, Blah: When Evel Knievel was scheduled to jump 14 school buses on his motorcycle at a football stadium, I’m certain that there were a lot of people who paid $7 hoping to see him do just that. But there were probably just as many who came hoping that he’d only manage to jump 13 1/2, if you get my drift.

And so we have Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen, the Queen of the Night’s infamous second aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” The title translates to English as “The Vengeance of Hell Boils In My Heart.” When you hear this song aria well, you can understand the meaning. The soprano singing it was probably channeling the Q of the N’s feelings on a profound and sympathetic level. Except she’s targeting her furies not at Sarastro, the Queen’s sworn enemy, but at Mozart, the evil bastard who wrote an aria that features not one but four F6’s and a range wide enough to graze 5,000 head of cattle on.

The F6 is at the extreme top of what a coloratura soprano can unreasonably be expected to sing. Hitting an F6 is quite comparable to throwing a 100 MPH fastball. People who can do it at all are rare, but that isn’t enough: they also have to be able to do it with precision and control, and do it repeatedly. It’s such a technically-demanding piece that sopranos typically don’t even study the role until they’ve fully matured as professionals.

I once heard or read an interview with a soprano who was making a terrific living in the Queen Of The Night business. I desperately wish I could remember where I saw it because it was terrific stuff.

“A soprano really doesn’t want to get a reputation as a great Queen of the Night,” she said (I’m paraphrasing of course). “It’s such a rare specialty that you’ll always be getting work, and always at premium pay, so it’s almost impossible to not spend a few years playing no other roles. Meanwhile, you must protect your voice because if you sing this with improper technique, or when you’re already a little bit sore, you can eventually wind up with a career-shortening injury.

“And I can expect to miss at least four or five of the aria’s trickier notes even on a good night. I guarantee you that every time I miss one, three dozen opera nerds in the audience are making a smug little tickmarks on their programs and congratulating themselves for being better at listening to this aria than I apparently am at singing it. It’s practically the only reason why they came to see the opera; it’s easy to let that sort of thing get you down. All this risk and all that trouble, all for what is actually a pretty small part. Apart from the two arias, the Queen s practically invisible.”

So yeah…there’s a great deal of expectation in the audience. The performer is attempting something that’s practically impossible. She has to serve the technical demands of the piece as well as sing the aria with power and conviction. She’s not rooted comfortably in front of a studio microphone, either: she has to act, too.

If she pulls it off, it’s something quite spectacular. If she crashes…okay, that’s pretty cool, too.

You sympathize with the singer but you also get pretty greedy as a listener. Maybe you’re not ticking off the F6’s — incidentally, I only know what an F6 is because it’s “that wicked high note in the ‘Queen Of The Night’ aria” — but when you take advantage of the iTunes Store and YouTube to sample lots of different recordings, it’s easy to pick out the great ones over the merely adequate ones. In the great ones, notes are spot-on instead of “close enough.” Complicated runs of notes are crisp and precise instead of being mushed together into a single apologetic compromise note.

Best of all, you hear a performance propelled by fire and confidence, not by a singer’s desperate prayer to please please please get through it without screwing up too badly.

My favorite rendition of Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen available via iTunes used to be an EMI recording sung by Lucia Popp. But in the midst of grabbing the track’s iTS link tonight I discovered that (hot damn!) Diana Damrau has finally released a CD…it hit iTunes just a month ago. Damrau is one of the top coloraturas in the biz and she’s reknowned as a true go-to Queen Of The Night. Last year I saw a DVD of a 2003 Royal Opera House production of “The Magic Flute” starring Ms. Damrau and I spent the whole rest of the day writing “Mr. and Mrs. Andy and Diana Ihnatko” on the cover of my Algebra notebook over and over again.

Here’s what you ought to do. Buy the iTunes track and give it a listen. Then, watch her performance at the Royal Opera House on YouTube. You’ll be doubly impressed once you see just how full her plate is while she’s trying to negotiate Mozart’s minefield.

Some background, before you watch the video. You should be able to pick out the Queen Of The Night easily enough. The dame in the nightgown is her daughter, Pamina, who’s been kidnapped (or liberated; it’s tricky) by Sarastro, Sun Priest of the Temple of Wisdom. In Mozart’s day, I’m sure that Sarastro’s actions were seen as noble and logical, but in our day, this business of “you’re a woman, so you’re way too emotional and irrational to raise your daughter without male guidance” makes him into the heavy and makes the Queen into a far more sympathetic character.

Oh, and before he died, the King gave his most powerful artifacts to Sarastro. He explained it real nice to his wife: “You’re a woman! I mean…come onnn!” Thus powerless against the Sun Temple, the Queen has sent a Handsome Young Prince (who apparently wandered in from an adjoining opera) to handle the rescue. She’s promised him Pamina’s hand in marriage (he’s fallen madly in love with the girl’s portrait) along with a magic flute.

Ah. But he’s been charmed by Sarastro into joining his order. Pamina is madly in love with the prince and she seems just as happy to stay.

The Queen (and her ladies-in-waiting) appear in the Temple to see how the rescue is going, and they find out that whoops, she’s been betrayed by just about everybody. This is real Last Straw sort of stuff. She gives Pamina a dagger and orders her to kill Sarastro, so that the Queen can reclaim her objects of power (and, incidentally, get her daughter out of the Temple).

Suffice to say that the Queen has truly had enough, and she promises Pamina that if she fails to do as she’s told, the Queen vows by all that is holy and inholy that she’ll disown and destroy yer.

I mean, cripes…imagine how pissed off the Queen would be if she found out that Pamina wanted to stay in the Temple and that she got a butterfly tattooed on her buttcheek during Spring Break last year…

Why I Bought It In The First Place: Simple: An hour ago, I learned that it existed.

iTunes Advent Calendar Day 5

You Must Believe In Spring

Bill Evans & Tony Bennett

Together Again (Remastered)

Genre: Vocal

Blah, Blah, Blah: You’d like to think that there’s absolutely no limits on human achievement. But when you look at the two albums that these two jazz legends recorded together, it’s easy to conclude that nope…that really was as good as any record will ever get. They’re the product of a certain era that ended twenty years ago or more.

You start off with an appreciation for how hard it is to build a Tony Bennett or a Bill Evans in the first place. Tony Bennett has been a vocalist for sixty years; he’s spent the past fifteen or twenty of those as the undisputed Dean of American Jazz Singers. A career like that will never happen again. If a singer becomes a star, he’s got about eight good years in him before he’s either unemployable or so rich that he’d rather put down the microphone and pick up a game controller instead. And the “middle class” doesn’t seem to exist any more. You can’t toil for years making an honest living and honing your craft. You can stick out for five years at best before you have to throw in the towel and take a job at your uncle’s worm farm.

There are jazzmen as talented as Bill Evans, but they just don’t reach the same level of power and prominence these days.

But…okay. Let’s culture one more specimen of each in a lab. You get an “A” for effort (as well as for having the guts to tamper in God’s domain) but there’s still no chance that this Chad Bennett and Troy Evans will get a chance to take part in such a longstanding and fruitful collaboration. Maybe Chad will do one track on Troy’s next CD and vice-versa but honestly…why would either artist’s management approve such a deal? Troy can work just as hard on his own album without having to split the proceeds.

No, if they ever did a whole album, it’d only be after both of ’em were way past their prime and unable to sell a CD or a tour under their own steam.

So cherish these two albums. It features two brilliant artists at the peak of their powers and their talents fit together perfectly. It’s just Bennett’s voice and Evans’ piano. No big bands or studio hocus-pocus. Not necessary!

This track in particular is amazingly powerful. “You Must Believe In Spring” bumps the toggle switch on your melancholy. If your heart is broken, this song will mend it. It’ll immediately restore your hope for a brighter day and your faith that one day, love shall indeed return to your life.

…but if you’ve already gotten over her (or him), this song will break your heart alllll over again. Even if it ended, like, ten freakin’ years ago.

Still, it’s well worth the emotional risk. If you listen to it twice in a row — and you’ll want to — you’ll find yourself right back where you started, heartbrokenness-wise. So no harm done, really, so long as you stick to even numbers.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: It’s Tony Bennett, for God’s sake. My first Tony Bennett album was “The Art Of Excellence,” which I bought on cassette in high school. I’ve no idea why I bought it. I think I was in one of those “I refuse to leave this store without buying an album” moods. The cover caught my eye and I was a little curious about what a whole album by the “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” guy would sound like.

I quickly realized that Mr. Bennett is the real deal and set out to buy anything and everything with his name on it. “Basie Swings, Bennett Sings”: got it. “Tony Bennett At Carnegie Hall”: got it. “Tony Bennett’s ‘I Left My Char In San Francisco’ Self-lighting Briquettes”: a staple at my family barbecues.

The moral of the story: when you’re in the mood to buy something, go with Tony Bennett. He’s always the right answer.

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 4

Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)

Brian Stokes Mitchell & Ernie Sabella

Man of La Mancha

Genre: Soundtrack

Blah, Blah, Blah: In the year 2007, the concept of a Famous Broadway Star seems like a throwback to the Fifties or something. On some level it’s like someone who’s renowned throughout the land for his goat-shaving skills.

But as a lover of musicals I’m pretty happy that there are still those upper-drawer stars whose name on a marquee pretty much assures that you won’t be able to get a seat for the first month. Brian Stokes Mitchell is one of those people. What a voice! He wasn’t nearly old enough or broken-down enough to play Don Quixote but honestly…who the hell cares? Ernest Borgnine is in the correct age demographic but I’m not the least bit confident that he’d justify a $100 full-price orchestra ticket.

I love this track for all of the sensible reasons (Brian Stokes Mitchell in a classic role) but also because Mr. Mitchell was kind and thoughtful enough to be a baritone, like me.

If only soul legend Sam Cooke had such a generous spirit. Cooke — thinking only of himself — became a tenor, which means that no matter how devoted I may be to the transcendence of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” it’s so far out of my range that the humanitarian in me refuses to inflict my rendition on an audience. Even if that audience consists solely of a bottle of Pert Plus and a vinyl Yoda doll.

But if you’re a baritone, “I, Don Quixote” is right there in the butter zone. If I’m alone in an enclosed space, there’s at least a 3 out of 5 chance that I’ll start singing this. If it’s a room with a lot of echo and reverb, bump that up to 6 out of 7 regardless of circumstance (my apologies, Reverend; by all means, please continue with the service).

It’s a song that invites you to insert lots of sweeping arm gestures into your performance. I quite enjoy that. You should also feel free to occasionally take the occasional dramatic step forward or even to pretend to be riding a horsie. Suffice to say that the tune delivers a lot of value for 99 cents.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: Simple…if Brian Stokes Mitchell’s name is on a recording, I’m checking it out. And if I’m checking it out, I’m probably buying it.

“Reasons why I wish I were independently wealthy” is a mighty long list, and most of the top spots are occupied by things like “I wonder what it’d be like to own a car whose body panels are all the same color.” But lower down, there’s the idea that when there’s a new star-packed production of “Man Of La Mancha” I could pop on over to New York and see it. For now, my status as an honest journalist means that I must content myself with the cast albums.

Sample “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)”
on the iTunes Store

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 3

Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)

Alanis Morissette


Genre: Soundtrack

Blah, Blah, Blah: There is such a thing as Ungodly Talent. Cole Porter had it. His songs are like magic tricks that never become mundane. You can play it over and over and over again and listen to it from every conceivable angle but you’ll never figure out just how the hell he did it.

You can listen to “Let’s Do It” just as an ordinary song. Or, you can enjoy the simplicity of the melody; pay attention to how many opportunities the tune presented to the guy writing the arrangements. You can do just about anything to that melody without fear of breaking it.

Sit back and simply enjoy the playfulness of the lyrics. The words snap together like Legos:

In shallow shoals, English Soles do it
Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it
Let’s do it!
Let’s fall in love!

And of course, there’s the neat trick of being cute and light and yet orbiting around smuttiness at all times. On the surface it’s a sweet little song until you decide that “let’s fall in love” is actually just a euphemism. And then you enjoy it even just a smidge more than you did before.

Writing a song like “Let’s Do It” is like inventing the color orange. Boy, you’ve done something big and lasting. The existential middle-of-the-night question “Just what have I done with my life?” will never be wanting for an answer.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: I think I actually bought this album twice. I got home from the movie and I couldn’t wait for the record stores to open the next morning: I bought the whole album on the iTunes Store. And then a few days later I decided that I wanted to rip high-quality DRM-free tracks from a CD.

“De-Lovely” is a fairly nice movie. Without the musical performances, it’d probably be a 2.5-star flick but the tunes add another star.

This soundtrack could have been a disaster, though. Cole Porter tunes don’t need to be modernized or (God help us all) “fixed.” “Red, Hot + Blue” is a terrific collection of Porter songs, recorded by modern stars. Annie Lennox’ version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” is utterly heartbreaking, just as it ought to be. But apparently Aaron Neville thought “In The Still Of The Night” had practically no appeal as-is…but don’t worry, he turned it into a Bossa Nova number. Whew! Thanks, Aaron!

Fortunately, all of the performances in “De-Lovely” are in the basic style of the era in which the songs were written. Based on artists’ interviews it seems like they had an absolute ball recording the tracks and performing them in the film. Lemar is a successful young R&B singer. In the movie, he sings “What Is This Thing Called Love?” in a smashing linen suit, backed by a four-piece jazz band. He has no lines, but he got to spend a couple of days pretending to be a jazz singer of the Thirties entertaining people from the bow of a big gondola.

To hear him tell it, it was like being paid to spend a couple of days in Vocalist Fantasy Camp.

Alanis Morissette makes the ends of her lines go a bit too curly at times, but still, it’s a nice rendition. Like the rest of the tracks, she didn’t try to make it into an Alanis Morissette song.

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 2

Can You Picture That


There II

Genre: Rock

Blah, Blah, Blah: I’m tempted to just write nothing here. Many of you will blithely click the iTunes link. Five seconds later, if you’re of a certain age, you’ll be shouting “NO ****ING WAY!!!” and pumping your non-iTunes-purchasing fist in the air.

Yes: it’s a modern cover of a tune by Dr. Teeth And The Electric Mayhem. And clearly “There” are big fans of The Muppet Show because they chose not to meddle with perfection: this is the Beatlemania version. It’s as close to the original as I can remember it.

This is actually a double-barrelled blast of nostalgia for me, sensation-seekers. Because this is probably only the second piece of digital music I heard that was memorable enough to recall the experience clearly, even more than (holy jumping prophets) a quarter-century ago. The first time I heard a computer making music it was at an educational computer fair that my principal and the librarian took me to (I was in fourth or fifth grade and yes, I was already working as a consultant for the school system). It was “A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One” and it was being played in crisp two-part harmony by a computer with a fairly expensive sound card installed.

But “Can You Picture That?” was the second. It was on an issue of “Softdisk,” a monthly Apple II computer magazine that arrived on a 5.25″ floppy. When I booted off the disk and the table of contents loaded in and the music started, it seemed like a miracle. The technique of making a single-channel sound system do polyphonic music was a pretty big deal. You didn’t need a sound card or a MIDI board or anything that would cost you actual money; if you were willing to accept a certain amount of threadiness in your notes, you could do two, three, even four-part harmony, if you were willing to really press it. The miraculous nature of this was due to the fact that it appeared that you’d added a feature that required new hardware, and yet you’d done it solely with software. It’s sort of as if you’d downloaded a piece of freeware that allowed your notebook to sew hems on your trouser legs if you managed to work them in through the DVD slot.

Needless to say, it made a big impression. My memory of the original show is vague at best but I could tell you what color the carpet was in the room where I played that disk.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: I valuely recall the following sequence of time-wasting: listened to an episode of “Fresh Air” in which Terry Gross interviews Gene Simmons; thought of “Phantom Of The Paradise,” the movie that KISS starred in; corrected myself because I didn’t think KISS was in that movie; consult IMDB; confirm that I was right; think about Paul Williams for the first time in, like, 15 years; hit Wikipedia to see what the guy’s been up to since “Love Boat” went off the air; surprised to learn that he wrote that song; search for it on iTunes.

And people wonder why the recording industry is so confused about how to market music to consumers in the Internet Age…

iTunes Advent Calendar: Day 1

Smile When the Raindrops Fall

The Beau Hunks Orchestra

The Beau Hunks Play the Original Laurel & Hardy Music

Genre: Comedy

Blah, Blah, Blah: The world is a far, far more beautiful and colorful place thanks to the presence of people with magnificently daffy obsessions.

Case in point the Beau Hunks. This group of musicians has taken it as their solemn goal to recreate the soundtracks of the classic Laurel & Hardy comedies as precisely and accurately as possible. They reproduce the charts precisely, note for note. They fill the orchestra with precisely the same roster of instruments that are present on the soundtrack. The musicians? Masters at period performance. The clarinetist not only shows up with an instrument that’s vintage to the era…but he cut his reed in precisely the same way that a clarinetist would have in 1929.

The only itchy part of this whole thing for me is the fact that this sort of obsession also extended to the recording. Thankfully, they didn’t choose to record this in mono acetate. But instead of recording in a modern, conventional way, all of the performers were arranged in a circle around a single cluster of microphones. Because, you know, that’s pretty much how they would have recorded those musicians in a 1930 studio.

(See, worst-case is that you wind up with something like “Grindhouse,” which attempts to mimic the experience of 1970’s grindhouse cinema down to the scratches, splices and missing reels…ignorant of the fact that if the makers of those movies had been able to present pristine copies of their films in glorious surround sound, they certainly would have done precisely that.)

But these Beau Hunks tracks are fab. They were right; somehow, this sounds like a perfect reproduction of what was created by the original orchestra, if the master recording had been perfect to begin with. It’s completely appropriate.

Technical bits aside, it’s a lovely tune. Music has this wonderful power to influence your mood and perceptions. When this track comes up in Shuffle Play, for those few minutes I’m walking like Oliver Hardy and holding the light end of a long stepladder, brimming with misplaced confidence about my ability to hoist a piano into a third-floor window and wondering why my partner is waiting for me at the front door when he was holding the other end of the ladder when last I saw him.

Why I Bought It In The First Place: One of those impulse things. I read an article about the Beau Hunks online and was so curious that I had to invest 99 cents.

iTunes Advent Calendar

What’s the best way to deal with failure? Why, hair of the dog, of course: leap straight into a situation that can manufacture even more failure.

Last year I wanted to do an iTunes Advent Calendar: a new iTunes Store recommendation every day from December 1 through Christmas Day. I had one very specific track in mind for December 25, but among the many limitations of my AppleScript blogger app is that you can’t pre-load a whole bunch of posts and have them deploy themselves on schedule automatically.

So success hinged on my ability to get to the keyboard and post something each and every day, and that sort of fell apart two or three weeks in.

But chin up. I predict that this year I shall arrive at Christmas garlanded with glory.

The other bit of coolness: this is the first place where I’ve moved my AppleScripts into WordPress. I go to iTunes, click on the track I’d like to talk about, fire an AppleScript and hey-presto…all of the formatting appears in the edit window.