Month: June 2015

7: Creep has Many Faces

Radiohead’s Creep is one of the most powerful songs I know. It has the perfect combination of lyrics, melody and arrangement. Happily, I have never been in such a self-loathing state as this song expresses and yet the song made it very real to me. It gave me a window into the heart (and should I say hurt) and mind of such a person. I suddenly can understand and sympathize with these people and their suffering.

The song has many versions, some of them by Radiohead itself. Here I will present a few widely different styles.

First, the original:

For a while, I only knew about this original version. Then, I was surprised to find Radiohead’s acoustic version:

Removing all the instruments and pyrotechnics and keeping only an acoustic guitar made the vocal and the lyrics stand out even more sharply. And still this stripped-down version has all the power of the original.

Next is Scala & Kolacny Brothers in a technical, dreamy, unemotional rendition. The psychological power of the song is gone and instead we have a sort of heavenly cathedral sound (well if only you ignore certain words…). It does not deliver the punch but it sounds beautiful still.

 

And just very recently, jazz! I’d never think anybody would ever feel like doing this song in jazz but here it is by the new jazz pussycat Haley Reinhart:

So there you are, an installment in the “This Reminds Me” series. And how about you? Which versions of Creep do you like? More generally, what does Creep remind you of?

6: This Reminds Me

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the term “Musical Chains”. No, not the “Musical Chairs” game – I do mean “Musical Chains”. No, not the book. Not the computer science-driven music generation software. And not necklaces with a music theme. Not even key-chains that play music. OK, enough with the not’s 🙂

I mean the game Musical Chains. You start by suggesting a song. Someone else will suggest another song that is related to the previous song by some rule. Then the next person will suggest… You get it. It’s pretty popular on the Internet.

What I don’t like about the games I find on the Internet, is the rule. Usually, these rules are totally arbitrary and as a result, the relation between consecutive pieces is random and meaningless. The most popular rule I see: The The first letter of the name of the new song must be the same as the last letter of the name of the previous song. Example from Bulls Banter: if we start with Oasis (ends with an ‘s’) then the next piece must begin with an ‘s’ (for example Sugerbabes) and so on. This is easy and popular – Bulls Banter’s game has approximately 250 links in the chain. But the connection between the songs is pretty meaningless – the only thing they have in common is one single letter in the song name. Other than that, consecutive songs are completely unrelated. A slightly better option is a common word (rather than a letter). A whole word in common has a better chance of making consecutive songs more closely related. For example, if the common word is “freedom”, there’s a better chance that they both deal with some sort of freedom (political, personal, etc.).

This category is essentially a form of the musical chains game. But it uses a more loose, yet meaningful rule. I want a game where consecutive pieces have a meaningful relation. Some sort of a stronger, associative relation. This is why I don’t call this category “Musical Chains”. I call it “This Reminds Me”, because I think “This Reminds Me” implies the kind of rule that I want to use. The next piece in the chain will come about because the current piece reminds you of it. Not a random letter or word but something about the piece itself. Things like: a similar topic/subject; a cover of the same song; Variations on a song; the same song in different languages; a common place or person or historical event, etc. Using a common artist or album as the rule is too simple. I’m looking for some personal perspective. “What does this song remind me of?” is probably the best way for you to figure out the next piece. And be sure to explain what took you from one song to the next – this is the most interesting part. This “Musical Chains …” thread is the best example I found – an investigation into the various chronological incarnations of a song.

So go ahead, think of a new This Reminds Me chain. Email me your idea and I will start a new chain for you. Better yet, contact me and I can make you a Contributor. Or, just wait and I will occasionally start a new chain of my own.

 

5: The Lost Memorial

TV Channel 1 of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority has been running a Friday weekly news magazine forever. It still runs. The show has a regular item called: The World in a Minute. As you probably guess, it shows a rapid succession of events from around the world in 1 minute – things which are not important enough to have their own story. From the start and for many years, the item played this mysterious melody as background. The melody caught my attention right from the start and I was always curious what it was. What was its name? Who wrote it? It was a powerful and fascinating tune. Back then, I couldn’t think of a way to find out (and I guess it wasn’t that important).

Then, after several years, they changed the melody and the mystery tune was gone. For years I wondered about it? Will I ever know? Will I ever be able to add it to my music collection? Sort of like a lost love. That was in the 70s and 80s.

Fast forward to around 2010. I had already been living in the US for many years. I was sitting one night in my home office. My wife was watching TV in the living room and I could overhear it. Suddenly, I heard it! The mystery melody that I had not heard for so many years! I jumped like I had been bitten by a snake and rushed to see what the TV was playing. It was a commercial for Marshall’s Stores! Some advertiser decided that that was the most appropriate music to play. Can’t think why.

I still didn’t know what that piece was (TV commercials don’t show credentials) but I had a lead! A couple of hours of intense Internet search and Eureka! I found it!. Memorial by the British composer Michael Nyman. Finally I found it. Lost and found. I also discovered that the piece was actually 12 minutes long – the Channel 1 segment only played one minute. A very powerful creation. If it irks you some when you listen to it, it’s not surprising. After all it is a commemoration of a tragedy. What do you think about it? How does it make you feel?

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Lost & Found

This category is about pieces of music that I once heard but never was able to find. Or something I had, then lost. Then after a long time, I suddenly found it. What a joy 🙂

The most fun scenario is the hunt. I overhear something – say on the radio or TV – I like it but don’t know what it is. Shazam is not always at hand and sometimes it doesn’t recognize the piece (especially that I tend to like more esoteric music). The show host does not always tell what the song is. So there I am, just heard something cool, want to add it to my library but how can I find it? What is it? And so the hunt begins. Trying any trick I can think of. Maybe find the show online, then I can play it until I reach the piece and Shazam it. Pick up phrases in the lyrics while listening and Google them. Hear some partial info about the piece like the artist’s name, but not the piece title, then search. The hunt is fun, like a treasure hunt, and even more satisfying if it’s successful.

So stand by for some hunting stories. And as usual, you are welcome to share yours.

My Daughter’s Climb

As you may guess, the latest in pop music is not my forte. I don’t follow much all the glitz of the latest star-of-the-moment (is it Taylor Swift now? I think?). Nothing wrong with that music but just not my taste. No wonder, therefore, that when I sometimes “discover” one of those greatest hits, the hit and the hitter are long forgotten.

The first time in my life that I heard (or at least noticed) Miley Cyrus’ The Climb, was about a year ago. Yeah, 5 years late… I kind of overheard it on a car radio and made a mental note that the lyrics were sort of nice but rather cliche. Dismissed it and forgot about it.

A few days ago, I attended my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony. The program included several songs, performed by students. The Climb was one of them. That was a “wow” moment for me. All of a sudden the cliche became so powerful. For an old, cynical guy like me, this was child talk. But now it’s not just any child, it’s my child, my daughter. What a different sound and meaning the song suddenly had for me. I could imagine my daughter standing at the foot of the mountain. She is just beginning the climb. So fitting.

Definitely a case of fresh ears.

2: Fresh Ears

Do you have this experience, where you heard a song years ago and loved it, but now when you hear it, it’s kinda’ boring? Silly? The magic’s gone? How about a song you didn’t like when you were young, maybe because it was “old people” stuff and now, that you are old people, you find it beautiful? Or maybe a song who’s lyrics went in through one ear and out the other when you first heard it, but something maybe happened in your life and suddenly the words take on a whole new meaning? I bet it happens to you. It certainly happens to me.

This is what Fresh Ears is all about. A new look at old stuff. In this category, I will cover music where my perception of it changed over time. Where a song took on a new meaning. Maybe my taste changed, maybe something happened in my personal life and suddenly a song “feels” different. I also have a “special case”: I grew up in Israel. As a child, I didn’t speak English, so when listening to the great English hits, I loved the sound but didn’t understand much of what the artists were saying. Now, after many years in the US, every time I listen to one of those golden oldies, I have a whole new experience… “Wow, so that’s what the song was saying!”.

I will continue to add specific examples of this kind of experience. How about you? Tell us about your fresh ears experiences.

1: Who is B.B. King to You?

I was a teenager when I first heard the name B.B. King. It was in Israel, back in 1971. One day, all of a sudden, the media was all abuzz with the news: B.B. King is coming to Israel for a concert! I had never heard the name before, but the excitement was very clear. I paid attention. Listened to the music on the radio. I had always liked Blues and now I was suddenly treated to a wonderful serving of it. Listening to B.B. King back then, was a big factor in my love for Blues. I still remember that special short period. Short, yet enriching.

Fast forward to 2008. I was working for a company in California. There was this African American lady in my organization. She was a project manager contractor. Very lovely person. We would talk about the company, project management, etc. and sometimes just idle chat. Then one day, almost by accident, she told me she was B.B. King’s relative (I think niece). What a surprise! Here is somebody I had been working with for a while and I didn’t even know she could tell me things, so much more interesting than project management. Turns out they were close and she would help him a lot with managing his schedule, plans, etc. It was fascinating to hear first hand – from this unique point of view – about him. We talked more about his personality than his music. About his smile, graciousness, friendliness, being down to earth, non-patronizing. I could hear her voice soften when she spoke about him and got a first-hand feel for the person behind the brand.

And just a couple of days ago, I discovered another connection through my workplace. I found out that one of the employees in my company – Charles Sawyer – is King’s official biographer. They had been friends for many years and traveled and performed together. Sawyer spoke on Canadian TV after King’s death.

Those events are not anything big but they are my personal “encounters” with B.B King from unexpected angles.

So what were your encounters with the King of Blues? Who is B.B. King to you?