I was Lost ’til I Heard the Drums

For more than a year, some of my friends and former coworkers have been sharing music. The idea is that we’re supposed to review/rate what’s shared with us, then share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

I decided to share a musical movie soundtrack this week because of a few factors. My wife and I were talking about Glee and its influence in TV as a musical show. And Permanent Revolution almost felt like a soundtrack to a musical theatre documentary. And we watched (and were disappointed in) the new Annie movie. That actually got us talking about what a good musical was. Obviously it has to have good music (not just one or two songs, but 10 or so), but for me (having acted in a few musicals) it’s not just about the singing. It also has to have good choreography. We were trying to figure out what the best musical movie was. But before I talk about what I shared, let me get into what my friends shared.

The Who – Tommy (1969)

The Who is a band that I’ve only ever heard radio hits from, but I’ve liked everything I’ve heard (there are some bands that I don’t even like their hits). I don’t know why I’ve never bothered to look into them more. It’s a shame.

I was really surprised how generally prog rock this whole album was, without being weird. It was like the wrote a whole musical score, but decided to just play it themselves. Most concept albums (like Permanent Revolution) only have a lyrical theme to them. A few have one or two musical themes, but instead of sounding “cohesive,” it just sounds like they wrote one really long song, and broke it into more tracks later. Tommy, however, keeps bringing back musical themes; often not for very long, but just long enough to be familiar and help the whole soundtrack feel like a whole work, instead of a collection of many individual works.

I really found myself liking Amazing Journey. Pinball Wizard is still the best track, but I’m surprised I hadn’t heard Amazing Journey before. And Sally Simpson and We’re Not Gonna Take It (especially the last couple of minutes) were alright, too. If there was one track I wanted to hear more of, it was Miracle Cure. Those 12 seconds had some great potential for more musical content.

Cousin Kevin was musically great, although lyrically it was pretty dark. Fiddle About was also a little disturbing, and the music wasn’t even anything notable. Tommy’s Holiday Camp was pretty weird, and I’m sure that was the intention, but I still didn’t really like it.

And … that’s kinda it. The rest of the album was fine. I just don’t have much to say about it other than I’d like to see it on stage. Or perhaps as a film, but reading about the 1975 movie, I’m not sure I want to see that version. 3/5

Hairspray (2007)

Ok, now here’s a real musical. This is my wife’s favorite musical. And I think it ties with You’ve Got Mail as her favorite movie ever. I think I watch this movie three or four times a year, just because I know she watches it more than that and catch little pieces of it as I come in and out of the room. I’d recommend seeing this, if you haven’t already. Most of the songs are just fine, but there’s a lot of great, “natural” feeling dancing.

My favorite number is You Can’t Stop the BeatNew Girl in Town is pretty good, too. I especially like the more Motown half and the outro. And some of the words (like Good Morning Baltimore and The Nicest Kids in Town) are pretty funny. Some of the songs (like Zac Efron’s feature songs, as well as New Girl in Town) sound like they could have just been radio singles from the ’60s they fit into the movie.

But I don’t love them all. In fact, as good as an actor as John Travolta was in this, he’s not that good of a singer. Grease was 30 years ago (although they’re only set 3 years apart). Welcome to the ’60s wasn’t bad, but I think a lot of that rides on the really spectacular talent of Nikki Blonsky. Christopher Walken’s not great either, so it’s bad when he’s the best part of a musical number. And Miss Baltimore Crabs? No thank you. With the Latin groove, it seems like it could have been something I liked, but in practice? Not so much. And I’ve never been a fan of Queen Latifah, although her singing is really rather good.

This review seems short, but Hairspray really is a great movie and a good soundtrack. 3/5

Newsies (1992)

Maybe with the help of a not-as-good-as-the-movie YouTube video from some people from BYU, I couldn’t think of any movie musical I like more than Newsies. It would have been a decent movie without the song and dance numbers, but with them it’s great.

I’ll be amazed if you’ve never seen this movie. If you didn’t know, it’s almost historically accurate, although the real strike ended with the newspapers just buying unsold papers back from the newsies. And most of the characters are amalgamations of real people. One of the two guys Christian Bale’s character is based on is the kid with the eyepatch in the movie, who obviously has a smaller role.

I do have to say I don’t love Ann-Margret’s numbers. I feel like they are weaker songs and break the flow of the movie and the soundtrack, although I do recognize the importance of her character in the film. But this isn’t a film review.

On a side note, Ann-Margret played Tommy’s mom in the 1975 film adaptation.

One “just alright” song is King of New York. And the one aspect that brings it down is Bill Pullman’s singing. Granted he’s not as bad as Jeremy Irons, Russell Crowe, or (heaven help us) Pierce Brosnan, but his singing is still some of the worst in the movie. But I do think he’s better than John Travolta.

Anyway, the rest of the songs (the ones sung by Batman and the rest of the paperboys) are great. I hope you enjoy them.

Here’s what my friends thought about Newsies:

“This one is good. Its almost embarrassing to admit it, but I like this classic, stick-it-to-the-man film. Though any time you bring it up it tends to initiate a discussion between girls whether Spot or Jack are more attractive…

I used to own this soundtrack, it was a Christmas gift when my parents were trying to help guide my musical interests (they also gave me STYX greatest hits, so no malice). Somewhere in the sands of time I lost it, so I haven’t listened for a while, but I know the songs by heart. So here goes the walk down memory lane.

Also wouldn’t “Batman and the Paper Boys” be an awesome name for a band?

I’m 1/3 of the way in and I’m finding its pretty hard to comment individually on these songs, as each one is just so classic. Each one was produced with a disney size budget, so the orchestration is always excellent, the singing is flawless, and its just perfectly produced. The style and lyrics are all thats left. I guess.

I agree the Ann-Margret songs really are lowlights in the set.

Sieze the Day is a good anthem, especially the boys chorale in the reprise is really nice. Its probably my favorite tune.

King of New York is a fun song. Kind of a stereotypical showtune I think though.

Santa Fe is a good moving song. I really like the faster section in the middle, not so much because its my favorite part, but more beacuse the song really benefits from the variation. It kind of follows the way thoughts and feelings really happen. A little sad and reflective, then a fast moving thoughts on the unfairness of your situation, wrought with angst, then returning to the reflection.” – Spencer

Let me know in the comments section what you thought about any of these three soundtracks or your own favorite soundtrack, “musical” or not.

Into the Half Light

For more than a year, some of my friends and former coworkers have been sharing music. The idea is that we’re supposed to review/rate what’s shared with us, then share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

The Aristocrats – The Aristocrats (2011)

Apparently the band got their name from a somewhat dirty jokes, and that shows in some of their song titles.

Spencer wasn’t kidding when he said this was an instrumental hard rock album with jazz influences. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Except maybe instrumental prog.

Instrumental albums all seem to have the same upsides and downsides. The main downside is that everything blends together. A potential upside (if done well – otherwise it’s another manifestation of that main downside) is that they have to be musically interesting to be more than background soundtrack to whatever else you’re doing while you listen to them. Continue reading

Sleeping Very Soundly on a Saturday Morning

For more than a year, some of my friends and former coworkers have been sharing music. The idea is that we’re supposed to review/rate what’s shared with us, then share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

I have this list of albums I want to share, plus I have a couple of notes at the bottom for some other things. Like when, a year ago, we decided to share a cover we though was better than the original. I started thinking through covers I liked and made a list. And even though I shared one, I have a bunch of others that I don’t know when I’m going to share them. So I’m going to do that this week. But first:

Steely Dan – Aja (1977)

I’ve only been a radio Steely Dan listener. Not because I haven’t liked what I heard, I’m just kinda lazy and haven’t sought out more. Well, here we go. Continue reading

Never Forget that You’re Good to Go

For more than a year, some of my friends and former coworkers have been sharing music. The idea is that we’re supposed to review/rate what’s shared with us, then share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

This week I’m sharing an album from a one-hit wonder from the ’90s, except I’m not sharing the album their hit came from. But first, let me tell you about what everyone else shared:

Smash Mouth – Astro Lounge (1999)

Try to forget for a moment about All Star and Smash Mouth’s Radio Disney qualities. These guys are great musicians. Their first album was very much ska, but this is an amazingly different blend of synth-pop, surf rock and funk. With a little Mediterranean guitar thrown in I Just Wanna See. Or Latin in Satellite. No, I don’t love Greg Camp’s kinda whiney gravely voice, but it fits. And they have some great harmonies, too. Continue reading

I was Looking for a Piece that Fit

For more than a year, some of my friends and former coworkers have been sharing music. The idea is that we’re supposed to review/rate what’s shared with us, then share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

This week, my former co-worker Tim suggested we all share something from the past couple of years that we haven’t listened to. Ok. Sure. This is a little different. My band mate Spencer went through bands that he used to listen to, but hasn’t really kept up on to find something. I thought about doing the same thing, except it seemed overwhelming. So I just went through bands that I’ve already shared with the group looking for side projects.

One that I really wanted to share was Andrew Stockdale’s solo album he released while Wolfmother was on hiatus. But he writes all their stuff anyway, and, as it turned out, they recorded it while they were still together. Really it’s just a Wolfmother album with a different name, so I guess that’s not going with the spirit of this week’s “theme.” Not that we always have to have a theme. But, it’s not on Spotify anymore anyway.

Before I get into what I did find, let me get into what everyone else shared.

Bette Midler – It’s the Girls (2014)

Tim’s whole idea behind suggesting we share something we haven’t heard that’s been recorded and released in the past couple of years was so it will help us stretch our selections and have a dose of what is being recorded “today.” Yet he shares an album from a woman who’s been recording for the past 50 years. Not only that, it’s a cover album of songs that inspired her to start singing in the first place. So an old woman singing old songs is supposed to have a dose of what’s being recorded today? Continue reading

What They Say is No Surprise

One year ago this week, four of my coworkers (well, now they’re former coworkers) and I started playing a little music sharing game. In honor of this being our one-year mark, instead of sharing a complete album, I decided to share something a little different: a mix tape of songs I thought the guys who’ve been playing this game would share, or songs I’m surprised they haven’t shared yet.

In addition to the five of us that started playing a year ago, we’ve had four others play this game with us: our boss, a former colleague, my brother, and (currently still playing) a guy I’ve been in a band with since about 2005.

But of course Spencer couldn’t put together a playlist based on Tim, Chris and me, plus five other people who stopped playing before he started. So he just shared an album. And then so did Chris and Tim.

Frank Sinatra – Sinatra at the Sands (1966)

When Spencer shared this album, he also related a story that was often told to the USU jazz band by the director, Dr. Gudmundson.

Dr. G. was playing saxophone in the house band on a cruise ship through the tourist season. The drummer of the band was an incredible player, great swing feel every night. Every night after the gig, this fellow would get monstrously drunk and listen to this album on his Walkman, tears streaming down his face, bottle in hand, shouting, “Can you believe they swing this hard? This is beautiful, man!”

Dr. G would tell every one of his students to buy this album and listen to it, so we could learn to swing that hard. I never did. But Spencer did, and he claims that nobody except the Count Basie Orchestra can do it. I’m not sure I agree. They sure swing, but maybe I’m not drunk enough to think nobody else can do it. It’s all in the drummer. Not that I’m claiming to have ever played as well as the Basie band, but in my limited experience a jazz band is only as good as their drummer. Continue reading

Grass Stains were Just a Sign of the Times

For almost a year now, some of my friends and I have been sharing an album with one another, partly for exposure to new music and partly to give us something to listen to while we work, etc. We’re supposed to review it, rate it, and share those reviews/ratings with one another as well, but that doesn’t always happen.

Neil Diamond – Stones (1971)

The only songs I had heard off this album, prior to this week, were I Am I Said and Crunchy Granola Suite. Part of it is, I’m only a greatest hits listener. And I don’t even like all of his hits. I’m sure there are some great songs that aren’t included as “hits,” but I haven’t really ever been impressed enough to listen to his whole catalogue and find those hidden gems. Continue reading