Tape the VHS

In the early 90’s my family bought a massive 32 inch television screen in the basement that was connected to my dad’s stereo system for amazing sound.  I’ll never forget the day we first connected everything: my family spent that whole first day watching A New Hope, Empire and Jedi eating all the candy and chocolate and chips that we could, just amazed at how big the picture was and how incredible it all sounded.

I don’t have pictures of my dad’s stereo system but, searching around online, I found this picture that closely resembles the setup he had.

He was a bit of music nut, my dad.  Over 300 albums organized by artist on coloured planks of wood, held up by cinder blocks, and a passion project to convert them all onto cassette tape.  He had probably close to 200 tapes, all arranged neatly in a cassette decks on top of the albums, his precision all-caps handwriting showing what was on side A and side B of each.  Artists were often mismatched on the same tape with no real order to his album conversions.  It was thus normal to have Fleetwood Mac on one side followed by Muddy Waters on Side B.  Bryan Adams and Queen.  Genesis and Gordon Lightfoot.

Around this same time I was very into movie soundtracks and I asked my dad if his stereo could tape from the VHS player the same way he was converting his albums.  He didn’t know and, in a shocking move, he gave me permission to fool around with the cables and wires to see if I could get it to work.

After some doing, I managed to get it to work and I will never forget how excited I felt because suddenly a whole universe of mix tape opportunities had opened up to me.  You could buy movie soundtracks at the store of course, but generally I was only interested in the main themes of the movies and some movies weren’t popular enough to have their own soundtracks available.

So many Sunday mornings spent monopolizing the TV, going through our VHS collection (which was also vast enough in it’s own right) and fast forwarding the movies to the end credits just so I could tape the theme onto cassette.

I found one of those tapes this morning and I’ve been listening to it while composing this post and it’s bringing me right back to my childhood.  I would listen to this tape on my walkman constantly and fall asleep to it.

As I type this I’m on the 2nd Jurassic Park track on side B and I remember that this track, the 1412 March (miswritten as it’s the 1942 March) and E.T. I ripped off a John Williams “Best Of” cassette, but all of the others came straight from the VHS.

So many painstaking hours.  And SUCH good music.

Because it’s easier to do than sharing the cassette experience I’m currently enjoying, here are three themes from this cassette on YouTube that aren’t the well known John Williams ones.

The Great Escape

My go-to answer for “what is your favourite movie of all time?”  I’ve watched this movie at least 15 times and part of me wants to write it into my will that this is the music I want playing when I’m dead during my cremation.  I think that would be hilarious.

Crocodile Dundee

There is no mistaking how huge a movie this was when it was released, and probably one of the things it was known least for was its soundtrack.  A perfect example, in my mind, of why this setup with my dad’s stereo was so incredible to me.

The 3 minutes and 15 seconds of slow build before we get anything resembling a melody, the infusion of horns with the didgeridoo… modern (for the 80’s) and traditional at the same time.  So good.  And the blend into the love theme at the 5 minute mark… seamless.

A soundtrack is also elevated when it cannot be separated from the story it is helping to tell.

I’m sure I’ve posted this belief before, because I seem to remember getting a lot of blowback on this claim, but the ending to Crocodile Dundee is in the top three best movie-endings of all time.

Here is that soundtrack again in the context of that incredible final scene.

Willow

The 80’s were an amazing time for fantasy movies and, born in the late 70’s, I was the prime target age for movies like The Black Cauldron, Labyrinth, The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story.  Not every movie was great (even 8 year old me thought Legend sucked), but one that I was completely bought into was Willow, a movie that I feel still holds up to this day.

This is a great review of the movie, and of George Lucas’ storytelling methods, that puts into words far better than I could as to why the movie still holds up.

Having watched the movie at least 30 times in my life, this soundtrack, almost more than any other, brings me right back to childhood.

And, having taped it from the end credits from the VHS, I remember how HARD it was to get it started at just the right time because I wanted the main theme and not the village folk-band piece that started the credits.  This one took me hours to get right on the cassette tape.  And now, in the space of ten seconds, here it is on YouTube:

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Further Reading: Greatest Film Scores Of All Time

After listening to this, do you agree that this should be #245 on the greatest film scores of all time?  Behind such musical tour de forces such as The Untouchables and Tron: Legacy – both in the top 100?

If you don’t agree, click that link above and scroll down until you see the movie and give it a boost, would ya?

Now that I’ve done that, I think it’s about time to watch the movie again.

The Lady Is A Tramp

There was a day this week at work where we started listening to some Sinatra and I’ve had him echoing around in my head ever since.

This is a good thing.

We listened through many of the classics before switching up the day to something else and the one song we never got to was my absolute favourite of his, his rendition of The Lady Is A Tramp.

Not only is the song intelligently written, using the language of the times to scoff at the upper crusts of society and empower women to be themselves, be free and do what they like, but musically and lyrically the song is genius in how it allows performers to really show personality and be playful while still delivering sharp commentary.

This gets missed by many who only know the Sinatra version but it’s easier to hear when it’s being sung by a woman.

Originally written for the film Babes In Arms, the lyrics are “about a down-to earth lady who scorns such affectations as arriving late at the theatre, going to crap games with royalty and wearing furs to Harlem nightclubs.  Because the singer refuses to behave pretentiously, other women label her a tramp…” (Great American Songbook)

Here is the original version of the song.

And one of the more well known versions sung by Ella Fitzgerald:

Now, flip this and put a male singer in and many initially react the same way Rita Hayworth does when Sinatra sings this directly to her in a club in Pal Joey, a role for which he won a Golden Globe and put his stamp on the classic tune.

Enter the duet.

The song as sung above in Pal Joey is meant to woo, attract and impress.  Put Frank and Ella together and you have, put simply, an absolute celebration of friendship and respect.

And they pick up the tempo a hell of a lot and have some REAL fun with the song.

I’ll come right back to Sinatra in a moment, because I haven’t even scratched the surface yet on my absolute favourite thing about this song…

It’s worth posting Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s duet of the tune as well.  They take the traditional approach and lyrics of Frank and Ella and update it and, you can see it, the friendship between these two is so genuine.  It’s beautiful to watch.

The song is a classic and I love the duets, but let’s move finally onto the most well-known version of the song, Sinatra’s studio recording.

And this is where I switch to thinking about the song and the lyrics and focus on the voice of the legend himself.

When we were sitting in the office after the Sinatra session and I mentioned we hadn’t heard The Lady Is A Tramp, I also claimed the song holds the single truest note of music ever sung, in my humble opinion.

Whenever I hear it I wait for it.  One word.  One note.  And I get chills when he hits it; honest to goodness chills every time.

I leave you now with that recording. The word is “broads” and the note comes at 2:26.

You’ve all heard it I’m sure, but don’t skip ahead… the build up is the best part and you don’t get the payoff of the truest note ever sung without listening to all the building notes before it.

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Further Reading:  Why This Song Sucks

A post written to condemn this song but follows the author’s stream of consciousness learning about the song, ultimately leading to the conclusive line that the author’s analysis should “in no way be trusted”.  Good for a chuckle.

Rave & Drool

90’s Canadian Alternative Rock.  If I had a wheelhouse, this would be it.

There are a few people looking to document this time in music history with a film called Rave & Drool and I am all over it.

I have been following the campaign to make this movie quite closely and it’s triggered my nostalgia glands which, by the way, totally medically exist with symptoms including misty-eyed smiles and looking off into the distance.

I also recently purchased Apple Music and am finally starting to resign myself to the idea that I no longer need to physically “own” every song I listen to.  Not everything has to be in a “playlist” created from my own versions of “mp3s” stored in “folders” on my “computer”.  Maybe, just maybe, the music I’m listening to will actually from now on be forever available to me and I don’t have to worry about a format change sweeping everything out from under me any more.

As I dove into the wormhole that is streaming music I didn’t know where I would end up, following recommended links and albums continuously to see what else Apple Music would uncover for me.

Now, had I actually thought about it, I should have known exactly where I would end up.  90’s Canadian Alternative Rock.  As I cycled through all the albums that have made their way through my collections over the years, from tape to CD to mp3 and still comprise a good chunk of my current playlists on iTunes, one album stood out as it was one that hadn’t survived the format changes over the years into digitalization.

Lik My Trakter by The Waltons.

I put some headphones on, turned the lights out and laid down in bed and suddenly I was 15 again, doing the exact same thing, only with a walkman instead of an ipad.

Every word from every song came back to me, even though I hadn’t listened to the album in probably 15 years.

The Waltons were a staple on the live music scene around that time as well.  I had seen them at CFNY’s acoustic Christmas several times and they routinely played with other big names like Barenaked Ladies and The Skydiggers.  They were winning Junos, they were all over the radio but after breaking up in the mid 90’s they just faded away.

Because I am nostalgic for pretty much everything and spend a lot of my quiet moments reliving and remembering the events that have led up to now, it’s a little rare for me to rediscover a full album in this manner.

If you don’t remember The Waltons I’ve got three songs here for you that, if you listened to the radio at all in the 90’s, you would have heard.

In The Meantime was one of the most played songs on Canadian Radio in 1993.

And this is why I do this blog.  I don’t do it for people to read, I do it to relive and discover things anew about the music that has helped shape my life.  I didn’t even know this next video existed until this exact moment that I’m writing this.

Mel Lastman Square, New Years Eve 1993.  I was 15 and this was the first time I had ever gone out for New Years Eve to do something without my parents.  I remember exactly where I was standing and I remember this song perfectly and the fact that someone has uploaded this to YouTube with whatever crazy size camera they must have been holding… well, the Internet is a special place sometimes.

The Naked Rain.

And, last but not least, one of the most popular songs off the album, Colder Than You.

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Further Listening:

I know I got a little sidetracked in focusing on The Waltons, but lots of good stuff to do with the Rave and Drool movie is out there.

Check out their Facebook Page where they have Cover Song Saturdays with 90’s Canadian artists doing covers.

They’ve also got a wicked Spotify playlist that rivals a few that I’ve put together myself; further proof that I need to let go of the idea of owning my own music library and just dive into this online world of subscriptions and sharing.

 

‘Tis The Season

You cannot escape the holiday soundtrack… it’s everywhere around you at this time of year and I love it.

While there are many songs that tire quickly (Little Saint Nick, I’m looking at you) here are three that I could listen to on repeat from December 1st right through to Boxing Day.

Dominick The Donkey

This is a terrible song that I inexplicably love and that immediately puts me in a jolly mood around the holidays.  Lou Monte sings about the Italian Rudolph, the amazing Dominick, who helps Santa conquer the hills of Italy.

If you’re looking for a Christmas song that implores you to hook elbows with a friend and circle around in a jig, this is the song for you.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

My favourite version of this Christmas classic is the duet between Rowlf the dog and John Denver.  It’s sweet, tender and belies a friendship between the two that plays well with the overall message of the song.

Not much more to say on this one; it’s awesome.

 

Fairytale Of New York

This is my absolute favourite Christmas song and given the number of covers and tributes to the song on YouTube, plus the fact that it is the most-played Christmas Song of the 21st century in the U.K., it would seem  I’m not alone in this.

It’s almost an anti-Christmas song in a way as it’s about a couple looking at their lives, fighting and cursing and it just so happens to be taking place at Christmas.  Not the usual schmaltz we hear in other holiday songs.  But I say “almost” for a reason because, in the end, it is very much a Christmas song.

Christmas is a time to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future.  Following the story of the song, we start off with hope for the future and a turning point from the troubles the couple currently face.  He’s come into some money and hopes that can help them rebuild their lives.  They then wax nostalgic on the past and how great everything was in the beginning before settling in for a row on how terrible things are now due to various drug and alcohol addictions and a failure to make it big as entertainers in an unforgiving city.

But the last verse is an apology.  A coming together.  An outstretched hand seeking reconciliation and a reminder of how intertwined the pair are.  The whole conversation is a reminder of how messy love can be.  How imperfect.

The couple are symbols of everyone who doesn’t fall into the traditional view of Christmas; the warm hearth, surrounded by family, stockings hung with care.  They are the marginalized within our society who spend Christmas in hospitals, on the streets or, in the case of this song, in the drunk tank of a police station.

Christmas is the time for love and togetherness and this song shows that everyone embraces the spirit, regardless of their social standing, and it is ultimately a song about a couple with a well so deeply filled with love and shared experience that they will stay together no matter where they are in life.

If that’s not a Christmas message, I don’t know what is.

Shane MacGowan of the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl play the couple perfectly and, while I am a sucker for a good cover and often find covers that out-do the originals, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the original is the gold standard when it comes to this song.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week listening to covers of this song and there are a large number of Irish or Gaelic singers who take this on with beautiful effect.

The YouTube channel belongs to Hazel Hayes but it’s her guest Niall McNamee who steals the show with his performance and I’ll be checking out more of his music as a result.

One of the best versions I’ve ever seen live was by STARS.  On a December night years ago we watched them close the show with an amazing rendition of this song, completely filled with all the right passion and emotion in all the right places.

As the encore finished we left Lee’s Palace to find that it had started to snow while we had been in the show.  Big, fat flakes covering everything and the joy of all the concert-goers spilling out into the street carried the song on into the night…

Another Canadian favourite band, Gianni and Sarah from Walk Off The Earth, also do a lovely version of this and love the setting of their video.  Admittedly part of the charm here is having followed this band for years and watching this couple and their relationship and family grow.

With all the controversy over the lyrics over the years, there are a few very whitewashed versions that skip over the fighting verse completely (like they do in the completely wretched A Very Murray Christmas, further adding to the stinkbomb that was this holiday special) or otherwise change the words to make them more palatable for the masses as this couple do in a syrupy-sweet version of the song that is actually heart-warming in their genuine affection for each other, if not true to the nature of the song itself.  Ed Sheeran also shies away from the controversy in a version that is musically well produced but completely emotionally lack.

The last cover I’ll post here is a combination of the Irish lilt I love associated with the song as well as a unique interpretation of the lyrics that doesn’t attempt to whitewash away the naughty bits but rather creates a whole new version of the song and does so rather brilliantly.  Irish folk singer and song writer Christy Moore wins for the most charming Fairytale.

I could listen to every version out there of this song for 24 days straight; now there’s an idea, a musical advent calendar!

Might just need to work on that for next year.

Merry Christmas, everyone.