Archive | February 2015

Soundtrack Madness: Artist Featured Albums

Featured Artist Quad

The soundtracks in this bracket all have one thing in common: they all heavily feature one particular artist, group, or style.  These soundtracks sound consistent and well-put-together not only because they reflect one era or genre of music, but also because they are shaped by the performers themselves.  As with the first bracket, the polls will be open for one week. And finally, most of the album images will work as links to places you can stream the soundtracks – please let me know if there are any issues. Also, please remember to vote based on the album, and not the film.  Let’s get to it!

Purple Rain (1) vs. New Jack City (16)

Purple RainNewJackCity

 

This begins on a personal level right off the bat for me, with the classic Purple Rain, a critic-favourite with an Oscar and a couple Grammys to its name, featuring one of the greatest musical legends of the century – Prince. It is up against a compilation of New Jack Swing that kept the game-changing genre in the mainstream charts for an extra few years, with tracks from Guy, Color Me Bad, Keith Sweat, and a Queen Latifah remake of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Living for the City” that mixes in samples from The O’Jay’s “Love of Money” – my favourite moment on the album.

Rushmore (9) vs. Help! (8)

Rushmore Help!

 Although Director Wes Anderson had hoped The Kinks would do the soundtrack to his wacky Rushmore, OST veteran Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo stepped in to intersperse the 60’s Rock with plucky instrumentals that could have placed this album in with the Scores bracket if it weren’t so vocal heavy.  Rushmore goes head-to-head with some actual 60’s Rock in The Beatles’ second feature film, Help!, which includes classics like “Ticket to Ride,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Yesterday”.

Super Fly (5) vs. Magnolia (12)

SuperFly Magnolia

Super Fly is not just a classic Soundtrack.  It’s a staple album for any fan of funk and protest soul.  Curtis Mayfield made one of his best albums for this Blaxploitation film, providing not only a musical atmosphere to tell the story, but some of his own interpretation of the film as well. Aimee Mann was the obvious choice for the Magnolia OST since the film is inspired by her music in the first place.  If you are not familiar with Mann’s music, this soundtrack is an excellent introduction that includes some of her best songwriting.  “Wise Up” will especially forever remind me of the film’s emotional turning point, when the cast sings along to the soundtrack in one of my all-time favourite music moments in a movie.

Blue Hawaii (13) vs.                                                       Hard Day’s Night (4)

Blue Hawaii Well, it doesn’t get more epic than this matchup.  Blue Hawaii was released only 2 years after the island became a state.  Personally, I think it should sound a lot more “blue” considering the history, but honestly this is my favourite Elvis.  He is charming, not too soulful, and he has a freaking ukulele.  But can he beat the four boys from Liverpool on their first album of 100% original songs?  The first side of Hard Day’s Night is the most recognizable stuff with music from the film, while the second side contains music written for, but not featured in, the film.

The Graduate (3) vs. About A Boy (14)

GraduateAboutABoy

This is a fairly interesting matchup, because if you voted solely based on the popularity of the songs, or even of your knowledge of Simon and Garfunkel and/or Badly Drawn Boy, this would likely be a landslide.  The problem is, The Graduate is mostly a repackaging of Simon & Garfunkel songs that also appear on much better albums, while Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy) created both a great understated film score, along with a fantastic original album in soundtrack form.  However, repackaged Paul Simon is still Paul frickin’ Simon. Do what you will.

Singles (11) vs. Shaft (6)

SinglesOSTThis is probably the strangest combination yet: it could be renamed Self-Pity vs. Bad Assery. Singles was able to launch the grunge scene way beyond its Seattle roots, basically putting Alt Rock on the radio, and changing 90’s music forever.  Meanwhile, Isaac Hayes gave us 4 sides of original material, mostly instrumental film score with a few vocals here and there, and it remains one of his best selling albums to date (not to mention, one of the most sampled).  Voting will likely have to come down to a question of personal taste.

The Harder They Come (7) vs.                                      The Bodyguard (10)

HarderBodyguardAn iconic album that helped bring classic Reggae from Jamaica to America is up against the best-selling soundtrack of all time.  Though 20 years are between them, these albums are a perfect match for each other – both are compilations that heavily feature an artist who also starred in the film.

Harold and Maude (15) vs.                                  Saturday Night Fever (2)

HaroldandMaude

SNFTwo very different movies and soundtracks from the American 70’s are competing here.  Harold and Maude is an odd, existentialist film about a death-obsessed boy and a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor.  Cat Stevens offers a bit of simple hope in the midst of big questions.  Saturday Night Fever is a classic dance film that documents the subculture of disco night life to the sound of the Gibb brothers’ falsetto, which is just so much catchier than I ever seem to remember.

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Soundtrack Madness: Compilations

Compilation QuadThe Compilations bracket consists of soundtracks that are most like a modern day playlist.  Each is a collection of songs, sometimes with a consistent genre or era, and other times brought together only by their connection to the story of the film they help to score.  The other three brackets will be posted this weekend, and all the polls will be open for exactly one week.  Please base your vote on the album as opposed to the film.  For the most part, the images of the albums have links to places you can stream the soundtrack, although some are not complete versions.  Also, you can check out the full brackets at March Madness: The Original Soundtrack.  Have fun!

Trainspotting (1) vs. Jackie Brown (16)

TrainspottingJackieBrownThe soundtrack for Trainspotting was so wildly successful that they released a volume 2, which is not being considered here.  The album is incredibly eclectic yet somehow works, with Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” introducing us to a strange mix of melancholy alt rock, happy pop, energetic punk, and relaxed electronic beats.  Meanwhile, one of Tarantino’s best soundtracks to possibly his most underrated film, Jackie Brown, intersperses some classic soul and funk with a bit of rap and some quotables from the film itself. Just as Shaft immediately conjures Shaft imagery, it’s very hard to hear some of this music without imagining Pam Grier as Jackie in all of her badass glory.

The Virgin Suicides (9) vs.                                     Natural Born Killers (8)

NaturalBornKillersNot to be confused with the original film score from the band Air, the soundtrack from The Virgin Suicides is given quite a bit of consistency with primarily 70’s folk/rock artists, with a bit of 90’s thrown in by Sloan and some of Air’s score.  Natural Born Killers, on the other hand, is a massively eclectic work of chaos. Trent Reznor will show up plenty in these brackets, but here he is a producer, bringing together Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Dr. Dre, and Peter Gabriel and some ever popular film dialogue (soundtracks loved to do this in the 90’s).

Pretty in Pink (5) vs. Stand By Me (12)

PrettyInPink StandByMe

Both albums (and films) have a pretty high nostalgic value. Both were released in the mid-80’s, but Pretty in Pink’s New Wave soundtrack is nostalgic now that the 80’s are retro, and Stand By Me had nostalgia in mind from the beginning, as the film was told to us as a childhood memoir from the late 50’s.

The Big Chill (13) vs. Easy Rider (4)

BigChillEasyRiderThe soundtrack is quite frankly the best thing about 1983’s The Big Chill, and could just as easily be called a best-of-60’s-soul compilation.  While The Big Chill looks back at the 60’s with longing nostalgia, Easy Rider is in the midst of 1969 with music that provides commentary on both the film’s story (of two bikers on their way to New Orleans), and the greater cultural climate of this important American era. Not to mention, this might be the earliest example of a true compilation soundtrack.

American Graffiti (3) vs. Juice (14)

AmericanGraffitiJuiceAlso known as 41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti, this is truly an epic collection of 50-60’s pop music.  To be fair, most of the songs are less than 3 minutes long.  Juice may have a far more standard list of 14 tracks, but they are carefully chosen to present some of the absolute best of early 90’s rap and r&b.  The only way it could be improved is by adding some Tupac, since he plays the lead role in the film.

Romeo + Juliet (11) vs. Garden State (6)

Romeo_+_Juliet_Soundtrack_Vol._1 GardenStateI think these two albums represent the most recent soundtracks I have been inspired to purchase, with the exception of a few other Baz Luhrman directed films.  Appropriately, Romeo + Juliet has a great emotional mix of anger, sadness, hopeful peace, and ironic cheerfulness.  Garden State is more subdued; it’s a bunch of indie anthems all chosen by Zach Braff, who also wrote, directed, and starred in the film.  Something about his personal playlist seems to have spoken to a whole generation.

Reservoir Dogs (7) vs.                                                 Dazed and Confused (10)

ReservoirDogsDazed and Confused

The chronological first of many great soundtracks from Quentin Tarantino, and not the last we’ll see in these brackets. The soundtrack to Reservoir Dogs is set as though it’s a radio show, and provides a musical juxtaposition to to the story’s violence, which the album communicates through snippets of film dialogue.  Dazed and Confused is a 1993 version of American Graffiti, with another epic soundtrack featuring the much more gritty classic rock from the 70’s and 80’s.

The Life Aquatic (15) vs. Pulp Fiction (2)

Life Aquatic Pulp Fiction

At first glance it seems this might be one of the stranger match-ups.  However, there are a fair amount of similarities between these two soundtracks: Both soundtracks have been commercially successful and critically acclaimed;  they both include a decent amount of instrumentals; and both have themes relating to water, with the Life Aquatic’s Sven Libaek compositions, “Shark Attack” and “Open Sea” themes, and Pulp Fiction’s surf rock.  They’re still pretty different, and how you choose between them is your call.

Polls are now open for the Featured Artist brackets, so head over there if you haven’t voted yet!

March Madness: The Original Soundtrack

I have often wished that I had a soundtrack following me in everyday life. Although I listen to a lot of albums, I’ve always loved putting together my own playlists for particular events, ever since they were mix-tapes. I’ve made my own soundtracks for roadtrips, friends’ labours, parties, and bookclubs.  For our wedding favours, my wife and I even gave out a playlist of what might have been the soundtrack to our relationship. And yet, when it comes to my relationship to original film soundtracks (OSTs), well, let’s just say it’s complicated.

One of the reasons I love albums is that they invite us to remember, imagine, or revisit our own memories and stories as we listen to and connect with this expression of a slice of the human experience. They draw us deeper into our own emotions and give us melodies, harmonies, rhythms and sometimes words to help us better express and feel.  But soundtracks are always tied to someone else’s story. That’s kind of the point. The music of a film becomes an integral part of the story, communicating the setting or mood, acting as a plot device, or even as a supportive character. Once we experience the music and visuals together, it can be nearly impossible to separate the two. This is on purpose, and when done well, works as both multi-media art as well as a brilliant cross-marketing strategy.

Perhaps because of this, I don’t spend a lot of time listening to soundtracks. Out of the 300-ish vinyl records that I own, roughly 8 of them are soundtracks: mostly some cast recordings from musicals, and a few of my favourite compilation soundtracks and film score recordings. These few records (until recently) have never really been in heavy rotation on my turntable.

It wasn’t always this way. The first CD I was ever given was The Lion King, and I had that disc on repeat for months… partly because Elton John and Tim Rice are at their best, and partly because it was the only CD we had for a while. Some soundtracks became part of my childhood before I ever watched the films they were made for: The Breakfast Club, Flashdance, Grease and Shaft.

There have also been times I’d listen to a soundtrack in order to re-live some of the feelings or memories from a favourite movie. When I play West Side Story, Rent or Moulin Rouge, it’s all about singing along with the songs and identifying with my favourite characters. Listening to the Stand By Me or Forrest Gump soundtracks becomes more about creating a sense of nostalgia, offering an example of what the radio might have played during a particular era.

I am probably most easily drawn to the kind of soundtrack that plays a tangible part in our pop music history: The way Singles introduces the mainstream pop consumer to grunge from the Pacific North West; or how New Jack City provided a storyline and culture to help raise the profile of New Jack Swing, a genre that provided a danceable bridge between the R&B of the 80’s and the hip hop of the 90’s; even more recently how Guardians of the Galaxy released its soundtrack on cassette tape format in 2014, giving the packaging as much of a retro-sense as the music it contained.

All this to say, I’m going to give the OST as an album another chance, and I would like to invite you to listen along with me, picking your favourites. For the last couple years I have been hosting a musical March Madness brackets-style competition here at OnRecords. This year we’ll be voting on OSTs that fit into one of four categories: Compilations (songs from various artists), Scores (mostly instrumental selections of the film score), Musicals (songs that are performed in the film itself), and Artist Lead (the majority of the music on the soundtrack is written/performed by one artist/band, or subgenre).

Just like in the March Madness of college basketball, the placements (seeding) of the OSTs in the brackets are based on how high each album is rated by the “experts” (critics).  Each album was scored based on how much critical acclaim it’s received on 10 different music publications; the higher the score, the higher the seed. Soundtracks will get voted into each new round six times until we crown one album OnRecord’s Most Favourite OST! Does that sound epic, or what?

Without further ado, here are the brackets. Take a look, make your predictions, and prepare to start voting soon!

!OST March Madness 2015

Mama’s Gun – Erykah Badu, 2000

I recently had the opportunity to reorganize my record collection while relocating my vinyl from pull-out bins under my entertainment unit to a tall black shelf.  My records are now book-style, displayed spine-out, and I’ve organized them by genre and era, before going alphabetical to artist.  My Erykah Badu albums are with my soul/r&b-since-1990 albums, but Mama’s Gun rarely ends up in its spot with the others.  This particular album usually ends up on the “recently played” shelf, and barely ever makes it back to its rightful home before hitting the turntable again.  I love it.  There is almost never a time when I am not in the mood to listen to this record.  In fact, I would not be surprised if her four-sided red-pressed album from 2000 holds the title of my most listened-to album on vinyl.

But, I was motivated to write this blog after recently listening to Mama’s Gun over headphones while stuck on the subway for over an hour.  I was supposed to meet my wife at a coffee shop near our house.  She was happily drinking tea and being productive, while I was sitting on a motionless subway with no internet or cell coverage.  Have I mentioned that this Vancouverite hates the transit in Toronto?

Anyway, I found a silver lining in spending some quality time with one of my favourite albums.  Each individual track has a link to a youtube upload, but I highly recommend listening to the whole thing at Grooveshark link, so you don’t miss the sweet, sweet transitions.

With the intimacy of headphones, I heard things I had never noticed before. From the moment I hit play, “Penitentiary Philosophy” opens with a groove that crescendos into a mournful wail, of the question “Why?”.  And right away, we know that we are dealing with a very human artist, far more vulnerable, honest, and relatable than the one we encountered on Baduizm.  Even on the album cover art, not only does she show her face, but she has replaced her wrapped turban with a knitted cap.  What has changed?  The woman is recovering from a breakup with her baby daddy and partner of 3 years, Andre 3000.  In stepping down from her goddess persona, she takes up a new mantle of a regular African-American earthling woman, that quickly grows into female royalty of the new soul movement.  And like D’Angelo, she could easily hide for 14 years and still hold that title (please don’t).

imagespinoDidn’t Cha Know” goes hand in hand with the first track – they both groove hard and rock out, while being perfectly open about feelings of hopelessness and regret and uncertainty.  Also, this bass line is one of my all time favourites, ever.  So smooth and sexy.  I think it’s Pino Palladino, who is kind of a Soulquarian/NeoSoul staple, also having played with D’Angelo, Bilal, and Common.

 

Strings build upon each other to introduce “My Life“, offering a brief pause for anticipation of the beat, and once I reach the repeated “no turning back” line, it feels like courage and worship.  The transition to “….&On” – her sequel to her earlier hit “On & On” – is flawless.  Badu offers some humorous self-criticism with my favourite line on the album, “What good do your words do if they can’t understand you?  Don’t go talking that shit, Badu, Badu.”  Also, there’s something really refreshing about the break-it-down bridge section.  Maybe it’s the reference to her first period?  I can’t even say.

Cleva” reminds me that this is indeed an analogue album in a digital world, and musicians like ?uestlove on the drums, James Poyser on piano and Roy Ayers playing vibes give it a live reality that cannot be sampled.  Thematically, “Cleva” is all about being alright with yourself, the very opening lines stating, “This is how I look without makeup, and with no bra my ninny’s sag down low.”  Oddly, this is the attitude that gives us such a reverence for Erykah Badu; even as she has shed her mysterious, exotic persona, she grows in majesty and beauty and even a sense of truth.

After the 70’s inspired, flute heavy interlude properly titled, “Hey Sugar“, we finally get the the funky, down-and-dirty, “Booty“.  For a moment, you think it’s going to be a straight up The-Boy-is-Mine-style girl fight, with weave pulling and press-on nails, which would be fine. boyismine Instead, it becomes a critique of male-centricity as she speaks to the Other Woman with grace and dignity in the chorus:  “Hey, hey, hey, I don’t want him, cause what he’s doing to you, and you don’t need him, cause the boy ain’t ready.”  erykah don't wantUnfortunately, it seems “Booty” didn’t directly inspire a new era of girl-powered pop music.  Too bad.

Kiss Me On My Neck (Hesi)” is simple, thoughtful and poetic, but usually I’m just happy for it to be an excuse to dance with my wife in the kitchen.  The stripped down, acoustic guitar plucked, “A.D. 2000” is as political as Mama’s Gun gets, and written about a black man gunned down by cops in NYC, is still sadly pertinent and effective.

Orange Moon” is just so classy.  It starts with crickets, jazz flute, soft vocals, and plenty of chill.  How good it is, indeed.  And the chill continues on to the only duet of the album, “In Love With You” with Stephen Marley.  This song, with the snaps and acoustic guitar are very reminiscent of Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo’s “Nothing Even Matters”, if it had been recorded on her hip-hop/folk MTV Unplugged album.

The mellow groove continues and slowly picks up with the album’s first single, “Bag Lady“, where she encourages the woman to let go of relational and emotional baggage in order to move on and accept love elsewhere.  Warning: the music video contains a remix.  But I’ll post it anyway.  I personally love how bored the woman in purple looks.

Time’s A Wastin” is the most relaxed expression of urgency I’ve ever know, making it hard to take seriously.  It’s ironic, right?  I have to admit, I’m not sure.  But by the time the next and final track begins, “Green Eyes” makes us forget most of what has come before and demands our full attention, whether over loudspeakers or headphones.  We hear a an old-school recording of Erykah as lounge singer over muffled piano and muted trumpet (played by Roy Hargrove!) backing up, singing a very quotable metaphor for jealousy: “My eyes are green ’cause I eat a lot of vegetables.  It ain’t got nothing to do with your new friend”.  And that’s just Part One (Denial)”.

“Green Eyes” is the masterpiece of the album, interweaving themes of uncertainty and courage and grief and reflection into 10 minutes and 3 movements of shifting grooves and melodies, not to mention emotions, which are summed up pretty well in “Part 2: Acceptance?” with lines like, “But I don’t love you anymore, yes I do, I think loving you is wrong…”  and then you have her begging for one more night of love making in “Part 3: Relapse”.  Here she is on part 1 and 2 live in Paris…

The song (and album) ends on an unresolved word: “I know our love will never be the same, but I can’t stand these growing pains”, giving me a sense of sad hopefullness.  Hope does win out though, because listening to this record 15 years later, we have the advantage of knowing that the this is far from the last we will hear from Erykah Badu.  Though it still may be the best.

 

Top 10 Super Bowl Halftime Moments

Warning: this post has nothing to do with albums at all.

After watching  Super Bowl XLIX (49)’s halftime performance, I was inspired to re-watche every halftime show I could find online since 1991.  In case you didn’t know, 1991 is the year that the biggest American sports event of the year seemed to realize the intermission was actually an opportunity for marketing and expanding their audience.  Previously, this gig was reserved for marching bands and Disney characters.  Surprisingly, it was NKOTB that launched us into this new tradition, but it wasn’t until two years later that halftime became the pop-star driven spectacle it is now.

Anyway, I am a sucker for a top 10 list.  So here are some moments that make this a performance I don’t want to miss each year.

10.  The Rolling Stones, 2006

I found it pretty strange that in the post-Janet era, between 2005 and 2010, half of the halftime acts for this uber-American event were Brits.  All were men.  Rolling Stones LipsOverall, I think the Rolling Stones approached this gig strangely, playing only 3 songs including the lame and forgettable “Rough Justice”.  However, Jagger had the energy of a young colt, as usual, and danced around a stage shaped as The Stones’ trademark lips.  That was cool.

9.  Madonna, 2012

Three moments cross my mind for this one.  When she arrives for vogue in this chariot pulled by all the warriors/dancers who are dressed as a sort of Egyptian/Roman hybrid.  madonnachariotEpic is an understatement for this moment.  Also when CeeLo Green joins her on stage in front of a massive gospel choir to sing “Like a Prayer”, and when the Cirque du Soliel guy bounces on the wire.  These things mostly made up for the fact that she premiered that unfortunate LUV Madonna song.

8.  Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, 2009

Even though I’m personally not the biggest Springsteen fan, I feel like he’s maybe the best choice for the Super Bowl gig.  There were two great moments in this performance (aside from the fact that these guys were born to play live).  The first was his weird, excitable intro where he told viewers to “back up from the guacamole” and “put down the chicken wings!”  The second was as he slid on his knees, crotch first into the camera man.

7.  Katy Perry, 2015

Ms.EThat time that Missy Elliott made a comeback, and rap was given the stage for more than one verse.  Also, when the shark on the left was so drunk.  This link is for the whole performance, but the shark moment is around 5:40, and Missy shows up at 7:14.

6.  Janet Jackson, 2004

NO.  I’m not talking about the nip-slip that made the halftime producers afraid to put women on the stage again for 6 whole years, and that pretty much ruined Janet’s career, but as usual, left the man involvedjanet (Justin Timberlake) even more popular.  Though memorable, it may have been the worst in my books.  What I am talking about is when Janet Jackson performs Rhythm Nation 15 years after she released it, and it didn’t feel like a throwback.  Still doesn’t.

 5.  Prince, 2007

princeOne of my favourite halftime performances of all time.  Prince just performs like the legendary musician he is.  But the two moments that make this list are when he covers the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” because it was just so unexpected and classy, and when he closes his 12 minutes with Purple Rain.  In the rain.  With an incredible solo on his symbol-shaped guitar.  Everything about that was cool.

4.  Diana Ross, 1996

“Here comes my ride!” she says, as a helicopter lands.  dianarossOn the stage (which has transformed into a helipad).  Then the diva herself gets strapped in and waves goodbye.  This is by 100% the best finale to a halftime performance ever.  And I assume this is now 100% illegal.

3.  U2, 2002

After September 11th, most performers would not touch this gig with a 10-foot pole.  This Irish band performs a humble and touching set of just three songs: “Beautiful Day,” “MLK,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name”.  The moment, of course, u2 superbowlis the entire last song when Bono sings in front of a tall fabric-screen, where a projection of all the names of 9/11 victims are scrolling.  The whole thing feels like a gift from a small nation that knows a little something about terrorism, violence, and grief.

2.  Beyoncé, 2013

When Beyoncé brings back Destiny’s Child, and Kelly and Michelle launch out of the stage from below to sing “Bootylicious”, “Independent Women Part 1”,BeyonceStankFace and part of “Single Ladies”.  The other moment is every time Beyoncé does anything.  For example, when she makes her eyes big.  Or smiles.  Never mind when she sings or dances.  Seriously, this performance is flawless in every possible criterion.

1.  Michael Jackson, 1993

This is really the performance that started it all.  The show starts with two fake MJ’s, jumping on top of the large replay screens.  Finally, the real Michael launches up center-stage, and just stands there without moving for 90. whole. seconds.  As much as I wish he used that time to add another song to the set, he just proved that he can do that.  Jennifer-Batten-Michael-JacksonAlso, he has his boss guitarist, Jennifer Batten with him, so that’s a win.  Some would call the end of his set cheesy, as he’s surrounded by some 300 children singing “Heal the World”.  The thing is, there is something seriously hopeful about this whole moment.  Like, people still believed the world could be healed.  Or maybe that was just Michael.

So there you go.  Some close calls were Sting’s duet with Gwen Stefani in 2003, Stevie Wonder tap dancing in 1999, and in 1998 when basically every surviving artist of Motown got on the same stage (and began to redeem the year before when white guys did a soul throwback).

Did you have some favourite moments from Super Bowl performances?  What did I miss?  Are you mad I left off Britney Spears or Brian Boitano?