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.
I always liked songs with special arrangements. For example, rock versions of classical pieces, like Bouree by Jethro Tull:
Or, how about this (Hall of The Mountain King by Apocalyptica)?:
But today I’m in a more romantic mood and this takes me to songs with a (predominantly) string arrangement – songs that use only or mainly string instruments as their accompaniment. These songs have a beautiful, melodious sound and give a bit of a sense of classical romantic music. So here are some examples:
We start with the great Beatles. Here are three of their greatest hits, all with a beautiful string arrangement. You surely (should) know these songs. You have heard them a million times. If you haven’t, you must be very, very, very young and shame on you. But did you pay attention to the accompaniment? Here is your chance. Try to focus on the arrangement, rather than the lyrics:
Next, Eleanor Rigby:
And finally, She’s Leaving Home:
The eternal Beatles taught us everything in pop/rock. Even how to use string arrangements.
Now, we take this concept to the next level in scale. Not just a string quartet but a whole orchestra string section. The Israeli pop/rock singer Yehudit Ravitz with a powerful performance of End of the Story (סוף לסיפור). Again, pay attention to the accompaniment:
There are many covers to Queen’s super song and super hit – Bohemian Rhapsody. I would never have believed it’s possible to render a good cover of this song using a string quartet, but I was proven wrong:
And last, we go to something minimalist and unique. A very unusual artist and unusual accompaniment. Joanna Newsom singing Leaving the City, accompanying herself with a harp:
Hmmm. So special. She reminds me a lot of Kate Bush.
So here we are. Rock/Pop songs with string arrangements. I’m sure there are many more beautiful examples. Can you share?
I am not exactly a huge fan of classical music (and certainly not a big expert) but over the years a picked up various pieces that I love. I don’t know how to analyze classical music like the experts do and, in fact, I am fine this way, I just want to listen and enjoy. So, here are some pieces that have a common thread.
We start with Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Prelude in C major, BWV 846. Simple and beautiful. Here is one example by Hélène Grimaud. I love how she starts very soft and almost sort of hesitant and evolves as it progresses and becomes more and more powerful and expressive.
Another beautiful interpretation (IMHO) is by Tzvi Erez. I think his is the best interpretation, using beautiful nuances in volume and tempo. To me, it just feels right and perfect.
Now let’s take a 90 degree turn. Procol Harum incorporated Bach’s prelude in their song Repent Walpurgis. I love this piece even without the Bach component.
The Prelude is really simple and sounds like a progression of chords. I guess it tempted other musicians to use it as the accompaniment for lead melodies. The excellent Israeli musician, Shlomo Gronich, translated into Hebrew the poem “I Won’t Let You Go!” by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore and wrote a melody for it that superimposes beautifully on Bach’s Prelude.
There is, of course, a much more famous such combination – the poem Ave Maria with the beautiful melody by Gounod. Here is a version I like for a cello by Julian Lloyd Webber:
And adding the lyrics and the non-Ave but great Maria Callas:
And a bit less orthodox and buttoned-up, the voice magician Bobby McFerrin and his audience:
When you hear this beautiful melody by Gounot, you realize that Bach’s prelude is not really essential here (although it no doubt adds beauty). Indeed there are many performances of Gounod’s version without the Prelude accompaniment. In this performance by Pavarotti, the Prelude is much less pronounced and you have to listen really carefully to notice it.
Taking the Prelude completely away, the Israeli singer of international fame, Noa, wrote and sang her own Ave Maria pleading.
There are so many more variations and combination. We haven’t even started talking about Schubert’s Ave Maria… I will leave it to you to suggest.
Today we remember fallen leaders, connected by a poem.
In 1865, US president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The famous American poet Walt Whitman wrote a beautiful poem to mourn the loss of the leader, called: “O Captain!, My Captain!“. I think the poem, by and large, is not very well known. Here is the only version I know of a song with the lyrics of this poem. Melody and singing: Carolyn Hester.
130 years later, another Captain fell. Exactly 20 years ago this week, the 4th of November 1995, then Israeli Prime Minister – Yitzhak Rabin – was assassinated. The great late Naomi Shemer – one of Israel’s greatest song writers, translated Whitman’s poem into Hebrew, wrote her own melody and created a beautiful song. This version has become a standard item in Rabin’s annual memorial ceremonies. Meital Trabelsi delivers a powerful rendition that fits the song’s mood so well. You just want to cry.
Lastly, maybe a bit kitsch but I love it. Israeli TV runs a popular show called “Music School”. Basically, it’s an Israeli version of “The Voice”, only the contestants are kids. In 2011, one of the contestants – 10 year old Adi Biti – performed the Shemer’s version. Coming from a 10 year old child, I think it’s an amazing performance. She seems to really feel the lyrics, although at that young age, she knew and understood so very little about the song and the context.
So, that was an interesting winding road that an old poem took. Where does this take you next?
Today, we are going on a winding journey that somehow connects cultures and generations. The connections are in my mind and heart. I hear them but I am not sure other do too.
Being a member of an East-European Jewish family, Jewish cantor music was part of life. I grew up with it. To observe the Sabbath, no radio was used on Saturday, until the evening. Then, the radio would come to life again and a new week would be welcomed, always starting with this:
Everybody who lived in Israel knew this song. It started the week on the main Israeli radio channel.
Although I never was religious, I loved the Jewish East-European cantor music. Good singers, beautiful melodies, great harmonies. Just the way a good ballad should be 😉 The Malavsky family was one the earliest to become celebrities (in the Jewish community of course). One of their big hits: הבן יקיר לי אפרים (Ephraim my dear son):
Those Israelis who were not close to this sort of music, got a “younger” taste of it much later – in 1969 – when this same song was covered by the Nahal entertainment troupe of the Israeli military with the beautiful Miri Aloni in the lead:
I don’t think the religious establishment was very enthusiastic to see this song performed by a blond bombshell in a mini skirt but who cared? It was a huge hit.
Here is a beautiful example of a cantor song in duet:
As you can see (actually, hear), Jewish cantors are very good singers. In fact, did you know that Jewish cantor-ship has its own three tenors?:
Yeah! How about that? What do you think? Which three tenors ensemble is better?:
This story is not only about Jewish cantor-ship. It is about where this music takes me. I find cantor-ship in many places – not only Jewish – and the connection is not always obvious. Still with a Jewish connection, but not the traditional orthodox as above, I find Barbra Streisand and her beautiful song from the movie Yentl: Papa, Can You Hear Me?:
I remember how my parents, who were pretty cynical people, following their terrible experiences during the holocaust, went to see the movie and returned, touched to their soul. I had never seen them like that. It took them back to their home.
When I was in my early twenties, I woke up one morning, turned on the radio and was mesmerized by a song. If ever I heard a Jewish cantor-ship song in my life that was not at all Jewish cantor-ship, that was it. It was African American soul. I was blown away by how these two so unrelated musical cultures sounded so similar. Stevie Wonder and They Won’t Go When I Go:
Since then I found more African American songs that so remind me of Jewish Cantor-ship. Here is Alicia Keys and Fallin’:
Do you also hear similar sounds? Do you hear the Malavsky family in this song?
Finally: Tamia with Stranger in My House:
So here you are. East European Jewish soul and African American soul. What a connection.
I love a cappella music. Multiple voices coming together and flowing together in beautiful harmonies, with no musical instruments to “distract”. A cappella always sounds magical and mysterious, taking me to it’s special universe of sounds, echos and flavors.
A cappella music comes in many styles and sounds. Here I will present a (very) few examples that I came across over the years. You are welcome to add your contributions in this installment of This Reminds Me.
We start with… Lady Gaga. Yes, to me it was a surprise that of all artists, Lady Gaga will do an a cappella. I was used to her high-power, super bombastic productions of cellophane-wrapped shallow pop. But then I came across this a cappella variation of her song Born This Way:
And I actually liked it. IMHO, in this simple, down-to-earth version, Lady Gaga is much more real, authentic and believable.
Talking about Lady Gaga and cellophane-wrapped shallow pop, it turns out there is an a cappella cover of one of Lady Gaga’s… well cellophane-wrapped shallow pop hits. On The Rocks – an all-male a cappella group from the University of Oregon – brings us this little improvised musical joke – an a cappella version of Bad Romance.
I love it! Just a bunch of talented young people, not taking life too seriously and having fun. Not the highest quality production but I have a big smile on my face whenever I watch the clip. Common u’all, loosen up! Not everything has to be perfect. As long as we are having fun…
The next example actually combines a fascinating mix of a cappella with instrumental music and of old and new – Gregorian Chanting and electronic music. The Enigma project, lead by Michael Cretu introduced this new amazing and enchanting style. When I first heard MCMXC a.D., it was a WOW moment for me. OK, no more words. Just listen, find those Gregorian nuggets and get lost in the music.
There are tons of more examples of a cappella but I will stop here with my last example – a true hidden gem. A cappella usually implies multiple voices from multiple signers without instruments. Here we have multiple voices from one singer. Israeli singer Hani Livne created this beautiful album called Vocaliza.
She overdubbed multiple tracks for each song, singing various roles – lead, bass, back, second, even instruments. Most songs are without any instruments. What a beautiful and special album. I have a blast every time I hear it and marvel at both the beauty and high quality of the production and Hani’s beautiful clear voice.
So here we are. Do you like a cappella? Any cool pieces you love?
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?