Friday, December 25, 2009
So, nestle up close to the yule log crackling on the television, settle into your leopard print Snuggie, and let your ears sip deep on this hot toddy of audio awesome.
Media Potluck's Holiday Feast Volume 2 (2009)
1. Jon Anderson - “Three Ships”
As Cap promised in Media PODluck: A Christmas Evening Together, this year's Feast opens with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson's rendition of the classic Christmas track. It's a Mannheim Steamroller-style synth explosion with subtle extraterrestrial implications. ...Okay so maybe the only certain implication is in the album art and the music video. 3 Ships, the Anderson album this track hails from, was out of print for ages and only on CD in Japan until recently. Now everyone can experience the heavenly combination of Anderson's angelic voice and Christmas synths
2. Jim Dooley - “Change of Heart”
This instrumental track comes from the score to the Brain Fuller television series Pushing Daisies. Dooley's score to the amazing (and canceled before its time) series is nothing short of breathtaking. Never has there been a more cinematic and diverse score for a network television show and “Change of Heart” is a perfect example of this. The track is a winter-themed arrangement from the season one finale, “Corpsicle”. It combines sleigh bells, a choir, and a distorted version of The Nutcracker Suite with a full orchestra for an effect that would make Danny Elfman weak in the knees.
3. Jethro Tull - “Birthday Card at Christmas”
This is one of the few new compositions featured on The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Most of the tracks are either new recordings of older songs or Tull versions of Christmas tunes. Ian Anderson wrote this cynical song with his daughter in mind: "My daughter Gael, like millions of other unfortunates, celebrates her birthday within a gnat’s whisker of Christmas. Overshadowed by the Great Occasion, such birthdays can be flat, perfunctory and fleetingly token in their uneventful passing. The daunting party and festive celebration of the Christian calendar overshadows too, some might argue, the humble birthday of one Mr. J. Christ. Funny old 25ths, Decembers…"
4. The Ocean Blue - “Frigid Winter Days”
The Ocean Blue are a dream rock band that we did a short article on a while back. They're a late generation dream rock band fueled by a love of Morrissey but without all the depression and self obsession. “Frigid Winter Days” is charged with a superb energy and rustic feel that embodies how much fun it can be to be a kid during the wintertime.
5. The Specials - “Holiday Fortnight”
From their 1980 album, More Specials. The politically-charged champions of the late-70s British ska movement, find the time to work in a jolly instrumental for all your merry holiday mayhem.
6. The Kinks - “Father Christmas”
Unlike many rock band Christmas singles, The Kinks' doesn't compromise. It's rockin', it's in the spirit, but it tackles some serious issues: namely the class struggle. In the song a fella playing Santa is stuck up by some young punks who aren't interested in toys. Their parents don't have jobs, life is hard, and all the world is merry and bright while theirs is in the gutter.
7. The Three Wise Men (Aka XTC) - “Thanks For Christmas”
Following the Kink's social crit Christmas single, we have a fun and catchy, but certainly schlocky, holiday tune from an unlikely source: XTC. The new wave band released this single under the pseudonym of “The Three Wise Men” and no hint to the actual band appears anywhere on the original single. Presumably the anonymity was to maintain their good name as edgy rockers and not suffer the flak and regret as Squeeze did with their 1979 single, “Christmas Day”. The song was credited to “Blathazar/Kaspar/Melchior”, actually written by front man Andy Partridge, and produced by “The Three Wise Men and the Good Lord”, the “Good Lord” being producer, David Lord. Strange and sentimental Christmas pop from the band who would, three years later, release the scathing atheist single, “Dear God”.
8. Reel Big Fish - “Mele Kalikimaka”
A goofy 50s novelty tune made goofier by ska greats Reel Big Fish. Loud and crazy Christmas tunes are in short supply and this track more than makes up for their absence. Interesting note: “Mele Kalikimaka” is a transliteration, not a translation, of “Merry Christmas” - so in essence it's just a ridiculous nonsense word.
9. Jimmy Eat World - “Last Christmas”
If there's one stand-out Christmas single from the 1980s it's Wham!'s “Last Christmas”. It has its charms, certainly, but let's be honest – it's pretty flimsy. Lots of potential, more than enough to keep it alive, but not enough to give it any true longevity. In 2001 Jimmy Eat World brought “Last Christmas” to full bloom. Not only is the song given a much needed boost in energy, but every bit of the melodies that gave the original its staying power have been beautifully reproduced and layered into a wonderfully full sound.
10. Corky and the Juice Pigs - “Christmas Dreams”
Sappy Country-Western tearjerker ballads are cut to shreds by this hilarious parody. You may recall our article earlier in the year on the amazing talent of this Canadian comedic music trio, now savor their laugh gravy drizzled delicately over your Christmas ham. Alcoholism was never so funny.
11. The Long Winters - “Christmas With You is the Best”
A Christmas love song, but no sappy stuff here. This is a song for holiday cynicism and a “non-traditional, non-denominational celebration” with your loved one... you know... intercourse. Be sure to listen for the really funky mid-song keyboard breakdown.
12. Gil Mantera's Party Dream - “Brave New Christmas”
Party Dream does what they do best: dark, danceable synth rock – but this instrumental jam from their debut CD Bloodsongs has sleigh bells in it. Party. Christmas bonus.
13. Tenacious D & Sum 41 - “Things I Want”
A powerhouse X-Mas Rock ballad from two incredible bands. Jack Black takes the vocal chores and wields his rock expertly against the intense backing provided by Sum 41 and K.G. The lyrics are classic D material that will make you lust for another album (put that on your wish list). The song was originally composed for KROQ-FM's 2001 Christmas compilation, Swallow My Eggnog.
14. I Fight Dragons - “I Want an Alien For Christmas”
This track is brand-new and comes from NES-infused pop rockers I Fight Dragon's mailing list. This is a cover of a little-known Fountains of Wayne track from 1997, spruced up with IFD's expert chiptunes accompaniment. Don't know who I Fight Dragons are? Check out Nerdy Show's interview with them, and then sign up for the mailing list, they give out fun tracks like this all the time.
15. PFFR - “X-Mas Time”
From the production company/ art collective/ electro rock band that brought you Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel, and Delocated comes... this. Best not to explain it. Suffice it to say that it's a beautiful track and you'll be forever changed.
16. Luscious Jackson - “Let it Snow”
A fast and fun return to a holiday staple from Luscious Jackson. This track is best known for being a part of the Gap Jeans ad campaign between 1998 and 1999. The campaign featured popular bands (such as Aerosmith) performing short songs against white backgrounds. This is a different and longer version of the song than the one featured on the Let it Snow Gap ad. Check out this video for another one of their 30-second songs, “Stone Fox”.
17. Gordon Lightfoot - “Song For a Winter's Night”
Gordon Lightfoot is certainly a well-known musician, but he doesn't get the attention he deserves these days (at least not in America). His folk music transcends its genre and slips into an unclassifiable place reserved for heartfelt, beautiful music much like his more famous contemporaries Simon and Garfunkle. So ease back and listen to one of the great musicians of our age paint you a winters night with melodies and words. This song was originally recorded in 1967 on his second album The Way I Feel. The version included on the Holiday Feast is a re-recording from 1975 from his hits album, Gord's Gold and features a string arrangement.
18. Marcy Playground - “Keegan's Christmas”
Marcy Playground are a brilliant band who have been long over-looked. Their second album, Shapeshifter is one of the greatest albums of the 90s, but the curse of their not particularly inspired hit single, “Sex and Candy” remains. “Keegan's Christmas” doesn't go toe-to-toe with most of the band's material, it's a simple tune, but its recollection of a child's impatience for Christmas to finally come is wonderful. Marcy Playground released their fourth LP, Leaving Wonderland...in a Fit of Rage this year. Check it out.
19. Mike Oldfield - “In Dulci Jubilo”
A rollicking instrumental from Mike “Tubular Bells” Oldfield. This was a holiday single in 1975 and made it to #4 in the UK charts. The traditional Christmas tune is very skillfully rendered with a full arrangement of modern instruments including synths and Oldfield's distinctive electric guitar work.
20. The Cast of Twin Peaks - “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
What would a Christmas CD be without another oddball rendition of this classic Christmas tune? Last year we had Bob and Doug McKenzie's Canadian hoser version, and this year something entirely different... a body... dead... wrapped in plastic. Many of the Twin Peaks cast including Kyle McLaughlan, Jack Nance, Kimmy Robertson, Dana Ashbrook, Frank Silva, and Robert Bauer as the seldom seen Johnny Horne appear on this oddball track. Fans of the series will be delighted others might be... confused. Do yourself a favor and watch the show. The song contains what some might consider spoilers. It's pretty vague, so new viewers - just don't dwell on it too much and you'll be fine. The track is another made especially for one of KROQ's Christmas compilations.
21. R.E.M. - “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)”
Every year, just as the Beatles did before them, R.E.M. releases a Christmas song to their fan club. It's only appropriate that eventually they got around to covering the Beatles' Christmas tune, “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)”. This is their offering from 2000, a hap-hazard cover featuring an untuned horns section. Hilarity ensues.
22. Monty Python's Flying Circus - “Christmas in Heaven”
The grand finale of the final Python film, The Meaning of Life. Graham Chapman parodies Tony Bennett and the entire production is full of Vegas-style theatricality. This isn't what you'd call a typical Christmas song by any stretch of the concept, but it does play on some common themes such as consumerism and wish-fulfillment. An excellent specimen of the Python's brilliant humor.
23. Emerson, Lake, & Palmer - “I Believe in Father Christmas”
A direct confrontation to the rampant consumerism of the holiday season. Alan Lake originally recorded this track as a solo effort in protest of Christmas' commercialization, this is a re-recorded version with all of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. It's often mistaken as an anti-religious son to which Lake replied: "I find it appalling when people say it's politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you've got to talk about 'The Holiday Season.' Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas."
24. The Crash Test Dummies - “In the Bleak Midwinter”
Another track from the Crash Test Dummies' amazing Christmas album, Jingle All the Way. A rare treat among CTD songs is having band member Ellen Reid on lead vocals. Reid's voice is beautiful and she delivers the most soulful rendition of this somber Christmas tune that you're ever likely to hear. Her 2001 solo album, Cinderellen is amazing – expect to see a Potluck article on that someday soon.
25. George Harrison - “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”
It's not often that New Year's gets songs devoted to it. Okay, there's U2's “New Year's Day”, but an actual holiday track not so much. This 1974 George Harrison single is the perfect peppy sing-along to musically bridge December 25th and the new year. See you on the flip side.
Happy Holidays from Media Potluck!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Enjoy some photos from the trip.
Media Potluck: A Christmas Evening Together
Mannheim Steamroller - "Carol Of The Bells"
Wendy & Lisa featuring Seal - "The Closing Of The Year"
Robert Goulet - "He's Gonna Take Away Our Christmas"
Jon Anderson - "2,000 Years" / "Forest of Fire"
Le Knight Club - "Holiday On Ice" / "Santa Claus"
The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend (The Venture Brothers) - "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy"
Michael Kamen (Die Hard Soundtrack) - "The Nakatomi Plaza" / "Welcome To The Party" / "Ode To Joy"
The Avalanches - "Winter Wonderland"
The Four Seasons - "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"
Kate Bush - "December Will Be Magic Again" (Alternate Mix)
Dan Phillips - "Jingles Are Jingles"
Crash Test Dummies - "White Christmas"
John Williams - "Somewhere In My Memory"
Max Headroom - "Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You're a Lovely Guy)"
Erasure - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
Jethro Tull - "Fire At Midnight"
Michael Iceberg - "Olympic Suite: Mt. Olympus" / "Forest Rains" / "Penguins In Love" / "Imagine Finale" / "Epilogue: Flashbacks"
*Titles link to most relevant content on the internets.
Also check out the Media Potluck: Holiday Feast Volume 1 from 2008, another great mix of holiday fanfare.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The holiday season is upon us!
But let's not drown ourselves in sentimental hogwash, let's take in some quality films that take place in and around Christmas time, but aren't necessarily what you'd call Christmas movies.
First up there's one of Cap's all-time favorite movies: Barry Levinson's "Toys" (1992) starring Robin Williams, Michael Gambon, Robin Wright Penn, Joan Cusack, and LL Cool J. It's a surreal, multi-layered dark comedy unlike anything ever made - and it has an incredible soundtrack to match. (Media Potluck article pending)
Check out the trailer below, you can also watch a few clips on Hulu.
Next is John McTiernan's genre-defining action flick "Die Hard" (1988) starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and the immortal Reginald VelJohnson. Action, explosions, cuss words, yule-tide cheer - What more could you ask for?
We're breaking tradition a bit here and throwing the party on a Sunday. We're also starting a bit early. Party starts at 5, movies start at 6.
Not only is this a Media Potluck, but it's also a REAL potluck, so everyone is asked to try to bring some food to share! We will be providing a delicious holiday cake. Please RSVP and comment with what delicious food you'll bring.
RSVP on Facebook.
Non-Facebook users e-mail us to RSVP and get directions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
For the haunted month of October we're pulling out all the stops and rolling out a QUAD FEATURE: all four Phantasm films!
Phantasm II (1988)
Phantasm III: The Lord of the Dead (1994)
Phantasm OblIVion (1998)
Phantasm is a unique gem in the world of horror series - not only is the series more surreal and artful than your average horror movie, but it's more consistent. All four films were written and directed by the same man, Don Coscarelli, and they have impeccable continuity between one another.
Check out the trailer for the first film:
Four films in one nigh is a tall order, but they clock in at just over six-hours- as long as one of our usual parties.
The party will start at 6 PM, films begin at 7 PM and into the dark of the night. It'll be our very own grind house of savory movie-potluck-mayhem.
Not only is this a Media Potluck, but it's also a REAL potluck, so everyone is asked to try to bring some food to share! We will be providing a spooky themed cake and haunted popcorn. Please RSVP and comment with what treat (or trick) you will bring.
Please note: these films are all rated R and, being horror movies, things are going to get intense.
RSVP on Facebook.
Non-Facebook users e-mail us to RSVP and get directions at email@example.com.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme, also called Shelley Duvall's Rock and Rhymeland, was a made for TV movie from 1990, with frequent play on the Disney Channel during the early nineties. It's distinctive for having music video-style production as well as starring a number of well-known musicians and actors. The musical star power alone is insane – Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry, Bobby Brown, The Stray Cats, Little Richard, ZZ Top, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle (though not in the same scenes), and that's just hitting all the high notes.
The film follows Gordon Goose (Dan Gilroy), the adult son of Mother Goose, who can't stand living in Rhymeland amongst all of his mother's spastic creations, called “Rhymies”. One day, on his way to work, Little Bo Peep (Shelley Duvall) drives up and tells Gordon that his mother has disappeared. Their fears are confirmed when Itsy Bitsy Spider tells them he saw something come out of the sky and take her. Together, Gordon and Bo Peep drive through Rhymeland meeting with other nursery rhyme characters, searching for clues. They soon discover that, due to Mother Goose's disappearance, Rhymies are vanishing from existence and if they don't find her soon, their world will end. Pretty bleak stuff for a kid's movie.
Does it hold up? Well, kinda. Certainly no adult will feel the same tension I did in preschool, but it's easy to see how a kid might. If Rock 'n' Rhyme had been animated in the goopy TV style of the late 80s it would've been no more memorable than an episode of The Smurfs. The bright colors, crazy camera angles, and absurd sets of the production, coupled with the intense, mismatched fashions of the time give Rock 'n' Rhyme a unique feel. Cartoon-like live action strips away a lot of the goofiness that an actual made for TV cartoon would've accentuated, and emphasizes the drama of the situation. To my kid brain, the strange lighting, the desperation of the main character, and the actuality of people vanishing without a trace amounted to real concern and dreamlike foreboding. To an adult audience, Rock 'n' Rhyme is clearly made for kids. The writing isn't very compelling and there are some severe pacing issues. What it does have are adult undertones that would've gone over kids heads, terrific 90s aesthetics, and a high-profile cast that few children could appreciate. Check out this scene with Cyndi Lauper as Mary (Had a Little Lamb) and Woody Harrelson as the Little Lamb, turned full-grown sheep, Lou:
everywhere.... if you know what I mean."
What's particularly strange about this all-star musical line-up is that there are only a few songs in Rock 'n' Rhyme, and of these big names, only Little Richard and the Stray Cats actually perform. The real stars of the show are Shelley Duvall and Dan Gilroy as Little Bo Peep and Gordon Goose. Shelley Duvall you may know – as actress she gets around, but she's perhaps best known for creating, producing, and staring in her own live action television show of children's stories, Faerie Tale Theatre and its several successful spin-offs. Though Duvall didn't produce Rock 'n' Rhyme, it's no wonder that some versions of the film bear her good name in front of the title. (What's more, it was written by two of her show's frequent writers, Mark Curtiss and Rod Ash.) Dan Gilroy is more of an enigma, until I realized who he was. Gilroy was the lead singer of a band called Breakfast Club - no relation to the film. Breakfast Club deserve an article all to themselves, but in short: they formed in the late 70s, briefly featured Madonna (who Gilroy Dated) as a drummer and sometimes singer, released one album, and their 1987 single “Right On Track” is one of the greatest forgotten hits of the 80s. The video for “Right On Track” is a likewise forgotten, but no less outstanding gem – if Pee-Wee's Playhouse had a house band with more energy and antics than the Puppetland Band, this would be it. The video looks like it was shot in Pee-Wee's very own digs and the band are like cartoons- wait... this sounds familiar. Yes, it turns out that man who directed most of Breakfast Club's videos is none other than the director of Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme, Jeff Stein.
The connections go even further and unlock just how this strange film came into being. Jeff Stein isn't just some guy who made some videos for a band you've never heard of, he's a prolific video director. The first film of his career was the groundbreaking 1979 rockumentary The Kids Are Alright, placing Stein on the music video radar right as the genre was inventing itself. All through the 1980s he directed videos for everyone from The Cars, to Debbie Harry, to every single from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' album Southern Accents... including the ultra-famous video for “Don't Come Around Here No More”. Of course the surreal video of Tom Petty as the Mad Hatter is by the same guy as Rock 'n' Rhyme! It all makes perfect sense. In fact, the giant black and white checkered room in the music video is almost identical to the court of Old King Cole in Rock 'n' Rhyme.
Stein and Duvall's joined forces are the best explanation for the tour de force star power behind Rock 'n' Rhyme, as to what warranted a huge musical cast with little to no musical output from most of them, that's a secret I haven't been able to uncover. Excess aside, the absurdity of the cast makes for a fun viewing. Veteran actress, Jean Stapleton plays the kindly old Mother Goose who spends her days writing into existence the wacky denizens of Rhymeland. Every morning that Gordon leaves the house he's assaulted by the Rhymies' absurdity, as seen in the opening song, “Hop To It”, performed by a cast of characters including the nearly 70 year-old musical trio, the Del Rubio Triplets. The bouncy tune of “Hop To It” suggests that it was written by Gilroy and perhaps some of the other then-disbanded Breakfast Club, but information is sparse.
Gordon is an awkward main character. Kids can easily relate to all the strange and carefree characters of Rhymeland, especially the quirky Bo Peep, but Gordon is cynical, sarcastic, and downright rude. A terrific example of this is when, in mistaking the voice of Itsy Bitsy Spider for Bo Peep, Gordon turns to her and says, “you know, you have the stupidest little voice” - ouch. What does make Gordon relative to kids is that he's lost his mother, a profound childhood fear that everyone shares. I recall from my original memories of Rock 'n' Rhyme that the tension of Mother Goose's disappearance was made even more foreboding by the interrupted message of Itsy Bitsy (played by famed actor and dancer Ben Vereen, best known to kids as Mayor Ben in Zoobilee Zoo). He mentions that something big came out of the sky, but the rain washes him down the waterspout before he can finish his message. Actually, he doesn't finish his message because he has some kind of Attention-Deficit Disorder and can't stay on one topic. As a kid I didn't pick up on that.
Bo Peep and Gordon set out on a road trip through Rhymeland to search for clues. Herein is the heart of Rock 'n' Rhyme, exploring a Nursery Rhyme universe where all the characters are played by famous people and they're all a bit dysfunctional. The mysterious Three Men in a Tub who confounded me as a youngster were ZZ Top. They point Gordon and Bo Peep in the right direction even though Gordon insults them (“they look like dropouts from barber college if you ask me”). Harry Anderson is the alliteration articulating Peter Piper, Howie Mandel plays the egghead Humpty Dumpty, Pia Zadora is the pint-sized, hospitality obsessed Little Miss Muffet, and Garry Shandling and Teri Garr are the “modern Rhymie-something kinda couple” Jack and Jill, who talk every problem to death: “Jill, I respect your need for needs, but I too have needs.” A scene featuring Married With Children's Katey Sagal as Mary Quite Contrary was inexplicably removed from the Rock 'n' Rhyme VHS release, while the Rock and Rhymeland version (seen on TV) kept the scene with a few other differences elsewhere in the film.
As “that grand old man of rock 'n' roll, that merry old soul, Old King Cole”, Little Richard is the first musician to perform his own music in the film. He serenades his rowdy court of rappers and his Minister of Merriment (a bit part inexplicably played by Van Dyke Parks) with a some old time rock 'n' roll. “Come on and give me some pie,” he wails as a giant pie is rolled into the court, out of which pops three female singers in crow outfits. Gordon makes the mistake of using the word “serious” in front of the king and is sent to the dungeon, “where we will drill the meaning of merriment into you until you scream with laughter.”
The dungeon scene is one of the most memorable of the entire film. Gordon is chained up and accosted by a grotesque, masked hair band who perform a song about what a tool he is. The band is an interesting point of discussion for fans of the film. They're credited as “The Dank” and over the years have been attributed as everyone from KISS to Twisted Sister. In actuality they're an assemblage of former Breakfast Club members Eddie Gilroy, Steve Bray, and the future American Idol judge, Randy Jackson with additional members Dweezil Zappa and Warren DeMartini, the lead guitarist of Ratt. What's confusing about that lineup is that there's one too many guitarists (there are only two in the scene) yet all those individuals are credited. So among these masked men it's hard to say who was and wasn't a part of The Dank. Regardless of the specifics, the song is catchy, fun, and features that creepy chant from The Wizard of Oz in the backing vocals:
Night falls on Rhymeland and even more people are disappearing. Gordon and Bo Peep turn to shadier sources for clues, that being Georgie Porgie's, a dingy night club where the Stray Cats (wearing feline prosthetics) are the house band. Art Garfunkle plays Georgie Porgie, the nearly silent bar tender. If he wasn't credited as the part I wouldn't have known it was him. It might be that he was just in the film so that both he and Simon could be credited in the film together. Simon appears later on as Simple Simon, a hitchhiker with no short term memory (and a crazy jump suit with peace signs and ankhs). Simon sings a rendition of Willie Nelson's “On the Road Again” briefly (“on the road again, can't remember why I'm on the road again”) before Gordon snaps at him. There's a couple of subtle Simon and Garfunkle jokes thrown in, such as that Simple Simon's rhyme that he met a pieman going to the fair (as in Scarborough) and later Gordon chidingly calls him “bright eyes” (as in the Art Garfunkle song).
In between Simon and Garfunkle's scenes is an odd aside in which Gordon meets the Three Blind Mice, all played by Bobby Brown. They run a detective agency and make some noir detective jokes, as well as blind people jokes, and then an inexplicable dance scene happens. What's odd about Bobby Brown playing all three of the mice is that someone had to play the other two and the whole routine is very reminiscent of his New Edition days, but as best as anyone can tell no one from his former group joined him for the scene:
Gordon and Bo Peep steal the Cow that Jumps Over the Moon from Cheech Marin (The Cat and the Fiddle) and tear a hole though their reality into *gasp* the real world. There they find that a young boy has abducted Mother Goose, and encounter some of the worst child acting on record. Gordon easily convinces the child to let them return home by flatly telling him that he is destroying everything that Mother Goose created. They return safely, Gordon accepts that he too is fictional, changes his boring clothes for fancier duds including Gilroy's distinctive pork pie hat, and begins a strange romance with Bo Peep.
Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme is one of those rare experiences in children's programming that is so weird and unique, that despite its many dated qualities and failings, it withstands the test of time where it counts. It's certainly better than most young children's shows these days, excepting the awesomeness that is Yo Gabba Gabba. Most people who grew up watching it understandably want to show it to their kids. Unfortunately, neither version of the film has been available since the initial VHS release. Bootlegs featuring both versions are frequently available online, but the easiest way to experience Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme is good ol' YouTube, where the whole thing has been archived.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
This month's double feature will be Darker Than Amber (1970) and Blade Runner (1982).
Watch two vastly different takes on a classic story, the everyman detective stopping at nothing to make it out alive.
Check out our previous articles on Darker than Amber:
The version of Blade Runner that we'll be showing is Ridley Scott's definitive 2007 Final Cut.
Party starts at 6 PM, films begin at 7 PM. Come prepared for discussion!
This will be a media potluck and also a REAL potluck, so everyone is asked to try to bring some food to share! We will be providing a special themed cake. Please RSVP and comment with what treat you will bring.
RSVP on Facebook.
Non-Facebook users e-mail us to RSVP and get directions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Photos are up from our party, Los Angeles is Toast!: Nuclear War in 80s Film on 6-27-09. See more on our Facebook page!
Friday, June 19, 2009
This month's double feature will be Miracle Mile (1988) and Repo Man (1984).
Taking place in the desolate streets and underground worlds of Los Angeles, circa the mid to late 1980s, Miracle Mile and Repo Man provide two unique, but varied, views of a culture overcome by the fears and anxieties of the cold war.
Check out our previous articles on both films:
Party starts at 6 PM, films begin at 7 PM. Come prepared for discussion!
This will be a media potluck and also a REAL potluck, so everyone is asked to try to bring some food to share! We will be providing a special Repo Man themed cake. Please RSVP and comment with what treat you will bring.
RSVP on Facebook.
Non-Facebook users e-mail us to RSVP and get directions at email@example.com.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
As a result of this, there's no new new article yet, but there has been another re-vamp of one of our old articles. "Hooverphonic Presents Jackie Cane (2002)" is now, like "Musique D'Express (1990)", an Audio Archeology article and has been upgraded. Not only is it a better read, but it now features a full audio playlist. You can check out the new version here: Hooverphonic Presents Jackie Cane (2002).
In addition to our remodeling, I'm happy to announce that our first actual Media Potluck, Terminator: The Party was a success, as you can see here. We're hoping to make our Media Potluck parties a monthly occasion, so be on the lookout.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
In celebration of the release of Terminator: Salvation we will be watching The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
This will be a media potluck and also a REAL potluck, so everyone is asked to try to bring some food to share! We will be providing a Terminator cake as well as "I'll Be Back" hot wings. Please RSVP and comment with what treat you will bring.
PS - When hot wings come back, you will know it.
RSVP on Facebook.
Non-Facebook users e-mail us to RSVP and get directions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Check out the new "Musique D'Express (1990)" HERE.
I know it's been non-stop Audio Archaeology for the past few months, but never fear. We'll resume covering the full spectrum of media again soon!
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Comedic music is a fickle mistress. More than a few mainstream bands flirt with comedy, and some comedians have an impressive musical presence, but there are very few artists who deal exclusively in comedic music, leaving the genre for the most part overrun with one-off novelty songs. However, the comedic music world has recently begun to make something of itself. “Weird Al” Yankovic is, of course, still the king (and probably will be for the next century because the man doesn’t age) but, for the first time in a long time, he’s not the only player in the game. Tenacious D’s unprecedented success with their skillful musical compositions mixed with comedic antics paved the way for other new artists to join them. Recent acts such as Flight of the Conchords and The Lonely Island have taken television, Internet, and music listeners by storm with a consistency and integrity that suggests they’re here to stay. This sudden boon has even prompted older faces to return to the scene. The group that practically created the genre back in 1962, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, have recently reformed and the legendary Spinal Tap have come out of hiatus. Things are looking up for the comedic music world, but there are many brilliant acts who have burned out before their time and many more that have gone unnoticed. Among the greatest of these lost musical comedy groups is Corky and the Juice Pigs.
Corky and the Juice Pigs were Phil Nichol, Greg Neale, and Seán Cullen, a trio of Canadian gentlemen blessed with powerful gifts: music and comedy. From 1987 to 1998 the band coupled cleverly composed musical style parodies, astounding witticisms, baffling weirdness, and insane improvisation into a beautiful goulash of sight and sound. Chances are you’ve heard at least one Corky song. Their immortal classic “Eskimo” still frequently makes the rounds on the Internet, though it’s commonly accredited to other comedy acts and is often under the punch-line revealing title “I’m The Only Gay Eskimo”. Perhaps an illustration is in order, so take a gander at this live performance of “Eskimo” complete with style parodies of the Proclaimers, Bob Dylan, Portishead, Ric Ocasek, Oasis, and Van Morrison:
“Eskimo” may be the band’s lasting legacy, but it’s far from their finest work. Lines like “I go out seal hunting with my best friend Tarka, but all want to do is get into his parka” only begin to scratch the surface of the Juice Pigs’ comedic prowess. They can go toe-to-toe with the best of those in their field. The Juice Pigs’ self-titled debut was released independently in 1993. Their folksy, predominantly acoustic comedy predates the similar traits of modern musical comedians Stephen Lynch, whom they surpass in cleverness, and the Conchords, whom the Juice Pigs have much in common with, though the Conchords are much slicker customers. “Corky and the Juice Pigs” is a twenty-six track long hodgepodge of short skits, short songs, and a few regular-sized songs. While there’s definitely some dead wood there is also brilliance, such as the sitar-fueled ballad to Indian food and romance, “Love Affair”:
You’re my little curry puff
I’m your vindaloo man
I want to take you where samosas run wild
And lay you in a bed of nan
“Truckers” praises life on the open road: “I’ve hauled a million tons of freight from Pheonix to Omaha and sometimes I fall asleep at the wheel and I kill carloads of tourists” and “Americans” is a tragically real parody of American politics, ethics, and patriotic ballads:
We are Americans, we are Americans
We carry great big guns,
‘Cause we are Americans
We’re strong and we’re free
We are Coke, we are Pepsi
There’s even a mention of fighting a war in Iraq. Who would’ve thought this song would be even more pointed in 2009?The Juice Pigs may disguise their songs with unrevealing titles, but they’re quite blunt in their comedy. Any normal-seeming situation will quickly break down into insanity such as in the opening verses to their early track, “Pandas”:
White and black, the friendly bears of China
White and black, they rarely reproduce
What shall be done about these Chinese bears?
What shall be done about these friendly bears?
Die, they must die
The pandas must die
Die, they must die
The pandas must die – Yaaaay!
Or the sophistication of their later works, like “REMember”:
I look over out of the window
I see your face
And I’m frightened
‘Cause I live on the eighth floor
And you must be really, really tall
“REMember” is a prime example of three of the band’s strongest suits – improvisation, style parody, and surrealism. The song starts inexplicably with a tranquil rendition of The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and then becomes a very unique R.E.M. parody. Rather than riffing off of any one of R.E.M.’s songs or tackling aspects of their more famous works, “REMember” targets the idea of R.E.M. Seán Cullen emulates Michael Stipes-esque vocals and spins a web of comical nonsense akin to the alt. rock band’s subjective lyrics. The Juice Pigs had practiced with this format earlier in their career with the song “Suzanne” - a Suzanne Vega parody not featuring a note of her hit “Tom’s Diner”, but lampooning its style of winding narrative. Both tracks make use of Cullen’s trademark improvisation which rambles to dadaist heights of humorous confoundment. When performed live these tracks are mostly raw improvisation from Cullen leading to varied results as seen in this performance:
The second track in the above clip, “BVG” (aka “Burn Victim Girl”) shows the Juice Pig’s subversive traits and their aptitude towards clever, short songs and skits. Their second album, 1994’s “Pants”, retools the presence of the first album’s skits and P.S.A.s into a clever unifying segway of changing radio stations that play in the pregap (negative numbers) between most tracks. This fun new take on skits is just one of the many aspects of “Pants” that makes it far superior to the Juice Pigs’ debut. In addition to tighter song-writing, the album has more complex production; allowing for a greater variance in sound and styles. “Pants”s title track, and first track on the album, flourishes their new complexity with a parody of early 90s dance hits complete with a wailing female vocalist and substituting record scratches with zipper sounds. “Come on everybody now/ men and women, young and old/ I can feel your pain/ …if you touch my pants.” In true dance fashion the track is remixed at the end of the album as “The Boot Cut (Pants Trance Dance Mix)”.
“Pants”’ diverse sound serves it well, from the ska-infused “Picnic Party” (about Third World nations having fun in the sun), to the melodic ballad “Dolphin Boy” (the tragic tale of a boy who abandons the land to be with his favorite sea mammals), the hard rock “Hot Squat Hombre” (about the kind of love only the vertically challenged can give), or the country-western weeper “Christmas Dreams” (scope out videos of the last two songs by clicking their links). “Pants is also home to “Janitor”, the Juice Pigs’ most brilliant and endearing style parody. In it, they riff off of fellow Canadian, Neil Young’s distinctive vocals and folk-rock sound to spin the story of an eccentric grade school janitor who “cleans the bathroom and tells dirty jokes …dresses like a woman and rolls his own smokes.”
By now you’ve certainly noticed that most of these clips come from MADtv. Believe it or not there was a time when MADtv was good. During its first three seasons (1995-1998) the show was at its best - trying to do things better and different, while SNL was at an all-time worst. Corky and the Juice Pigs were the first musical guest ever featured on MADtv. They appeared nine times between the second and third season. This was where I first experienced them, prompting my middle school self to record every episode of MADtv so that I wouldn’t miss a performance. Beginning with the forth season, when the show started pumping in mainstream musical guests, as SNL does, it was the beginning of the end; not just for MADtv’s quality, but also for the band. The Juice Pigs’ appearances on MADtv were as far as they ever got to stardom. In 1998, while assembling new material for a third album, their record label, Denon, went belly-up and the band went separate ways. Two of their last songs “Phone Sex Girl” and “Too Fat to Rock ‘n’ Roll” (a Meatloaf parody) exist only as MADtv performances.
The Juice Pigs had a good run. Barenaked Ladies used to open for them back in the old days until the tables turned. After eleven years, two albums, many festivals, and an attention-getting number of appearances on American television, surely the band could walk away somewhat satisfied. However, things appeared to be looking up before the record company closed its doors, so what exactly led to the end of Corky and the Juice Pigs? I can’t seem to find any definitive word. Seán Cullen went on to pursue a stand up and acting career. You may have seen him on Comedy Central Presents. He still does musical improv and recently even did a comedy P.S.A., just like old times. Phil Nichol is also a comedian and keeps his guitar close in tow. He recently appeared on the Graham Norton Show celebrating an award from if.comedy. The band’s tallest member, Greg Neale, has faded into the mists of mystery.The Corky and the Juice Pigs’ albums have been out of print for a long time and have never been made officially available online. You can find their music floating around the Internet without too much trouble, additional videos continue to appear on YouTube, and there’s a long-running fansite good for soundbytes and additional info. Below is a taste of Corky’s porky goodness, from their self-titled debut and “Pants” - but that’s not all. Internet magic has also made available their extremely rare, only ever released on cassette, demo album “Buck A Song” which you can check out HERE.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Media Potluck and Consequence of Sound present Audio Archaeology.
I firmly believe that Kansas is the greatest American progressive rock group of their generation. Throughout the 1970s they composed some of the most memorable prog-rock songs of all time and achieved mass appeal. “Carry On Wayward Son”, “Dust in the Wind”, and “Point of Know Return” are legendary tracks. Even beyond these well-known hits, Kansas’ repertoire is constant in its awesomeness. No matter the decade, no matter the hardships, Kansas has kept its heart beating.
Many ’70s progressive rock outfits struggled through the 1980s. Only a solemn few emerged from the gauntlet of the drastically changing music industry with their integrity untarnished. Acts such as Genesis, Rush, and Yes kept afloat by meshing their prog-rock talents with the synthetic sounds of mainstream pop. They met with unprecedented success, but not all groups who attempted the switch can say the same. Jethro Tull’s 1984 effort, Under Wraps, fell on deaf ears despite cool synths, drum machines, and a chic spy noir motif. Kansas’ 1983 album, Drastic Measures, met a similar fate. It sold poorly, alienated longtime fans, and has since been forgotten, but even more so than Tull’s album it begs to be rediscovered.
At the onset of the 1980s Kansas underwent major changes. They had ridden a tsunami-like wave of success since the 1976 release of Leftoverture followed a year later by Point of Know Return. However, their two following albums, 1979’s Monolith and 1980’s Audio-Visions saw that wave break. The music still harnessed Kansas’ unique blend of mysticism, the American West, and violin-heavy rock ‘n’ roll, but their cohesion was slipping and the state of rock was moving on. Lead-singer, keyboardist, and prominent songwriter, Steve Walsh, left Kansas to form the band, Streets. His replacement was John Elefante, whose voice was compatible to Walsh’s and who took over his portion of the song writing and keyboard playing. Their next album, Vinyl Confessions, was a stepping stone, between classic Kansas and the modern state of rock, but still not the breakthrough success they had become accustomed to.
The changes didn’t end there. Bassist Dave Hope and guitarist, keyboardist, and lead songwriter, Kerry Livgren, had recently become born-again Christians as was Elefante. This led to Christian overtones appearing in Confessions‘ lyrics. The lyrics are loose enough that they associate with whatever best suits the listener. I never noticed them until they were pointed out to me. U2 is obvious, Kansas… not so much. Regardless, this generated a sudden influx of evangelical Christian fans. They began handing out religious pamphlets regarding the album’s lyrics at Kansas’ shows and Contemporary Christian Music Magazine named Vinyl Confessions the #1 album of 1982. In response to this, Robby Stienhardt, the band’s distinctive violinist and on-stage front man, left the band.
“Everything was changing, and the future wasn’t bright. The only reason I didn’t leave was that I was too curious to see what was going to happen. If Kansas was going to go down in bloody flames I wanted to be there. I wanted to go down with the ship.”
-Rich Williams, Sail On DVD
Drastic Measures is exactly what its name implies it to be: a desperate attempt to hold on to rock stardom at all costs. Two key members were gone, Loverboy and Foreigner were tearing up the charts, and synth-infused rock ‘n’ roll was the only clear path to commercial viability. Taking stock of all this, Kansas dove head first into the genre of mainstream rock. But there was a twist. The band’s progressive nature turned this very self-conscious transformation on its head. If they were going to make a pop-rock album it would be on their terms.
Fight Fire With Fire.
“Fight Fire With Fire”, opens Drastic Measures with a bang: a searing grind of guitars over ominous synth harmonies that bleed into dreamy digressions. “There’s nothing to lose, ’cause it’s already lost. In a runaway world of confusion - I’m not gonna take it!” sings Elefante defiantly. “Fire” is pure rock ‘n’ roll machismo - cryptic lyrics of struggle based around a catch phrase. The song rocks to degrees others groups’ tracks in the format can’t measure up to: a powerful wall of sound that doesn’t let up; even in mellow moments. It makes you feel like a sexy electric badass riding a post-apocalyptic war machine. Try and deny it.
The next avenue of pop-rock cliché Kansas tackles is the inherent obsession with wealth and fame. “Everybody’s My Friend” is a catchy song about the excitable populous’ hunger to interact with the famous. Like the majority of songs on the album “Everybody’s My Friend” was penned by John Elefante and his brother, Dino. The song’s subject is a reaction to Elefante’s sudden fame as lead singer of an international act and the disillusionment caused by absolute strangers trying to connect with him. “Have you met Mick Jagger? Ringo, George, or Paul? Do you have my number? Will you give me a call?” asks the eager fan.
“Mainstream”, written by Livgren, mirrors “Fire”’s digital warfare spirit. It calls to mind Apache helicopters firing rockets over a futuristic cityscape, and has a seething rhythm breakdown perfect for stalking prey through the urban jungle. “Mainstream” is the heart of what makes Drastic Measures successful and unique, its self-awareness.
“It’s so predictable and everybody judges by the numbers that you’re selling
Just crank ‘em out on the assembly line and chart ‘em higher
Just keep it simple boys it’s gonna be alright as long as you’re inside the Mainstream.”
Livgren makes plainly apparent the beautiful irony that Drastic Measures embodies; consenting to studio demands but playing by his own rules and criticizing the marketplace. “Really loved it, didn’t earn a cent, no one’s buying your experiment” writes Livgren, bitterly mocking studio bosses. “Are we moving too far away? Is it worth it if it doesn’t pay?” muses the chorus, answered by the reoccurring line: “survive another year.”
“Get Rich Now” harnesses a quintessential Kansas sound atop the backdrop of modern production. It continues the theme of mainstream awareness and chronicles greed through the ages. The chorus is a mechanically filtered mantra of the words “get rich now”. The song’s dark undertones not only targets major perpetrators of greed but subtly accuses the current direction of the band itself. This sentiment reoccurs in Livgren’s “End of the Age”, a ballad about the time of Revelations. This track in many ways sounds more like a traditional Kansas song than any from either of the previous two albums and is the only song on Drastic Measures that features Livgren’s distinctive organ playing.
With a beautiful swelling of synth strings interposed with rock guitar, “Going Through the Motions” turns a critical eye to the audience. “Do you really mean to tell me that you’re satisfied?” the song asks while musical and lyrically depicting a scene of city dwellers marching unison, briefcase in hand, to their appointed places. “Don’t Take Your Love Away” is a power ballad tried and true and appeals to all standard conventions - the title says it all. Where the song prospers above other power ballads is that it’s Kansas. It has the harmonies, rising musical surges, and smoking guitarmanship to prove it.
One of the most unusual tracks on the album is “Andi”, a very pretty soft rock song. It’s rich with all the melodies and magic of the 80s prom of your dreams. Think “Time After Time” meets “Forever Young” with a pinch of Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack to Legend. What makes the song truly unique is the subject matter. It’s about a transgendered girl “trapped inside a little boy’s body.” Some suggest it’s just about a girl who can’t wait to grow into a woman, but the lyrics side with the alternative. The song is lush with beautiful sounds, like a fantasy film; an aspect of enchantment bringing to mind fabrics twirling in slow motion, soft focus, and a voice that promises to grant her dreams. Despite her divergence from the norm “Andi” is granted the same beauty and understanding one would grant to a “normal” girl. I applaud Elefante for reaching beyond his evangelical Christian background to give unconventional subject matter the tenderness and understanding it deserves.
The final song on the album, “Incident On a Bridge”, is powerful Livgren work with a triumphant sound to it. The lyrics are allegorical certainly of spiritual tribulation and successes, but also speaks of Livgren’s long road with Kansas and the hint that he might move on.
“It’s all too real, all these things we feel
As the years go by, things intensify
And I know, for each life there is a reason
And I know, for each time there is a season
Now the bridge leads on, to a brighter dawn
It’s waiting for me.”
Going Through the Motions.
“Fight Fire With Fire” made it to #3 on the mainstream rock charts, though it floundered past 40 in other rankings. The videos for “Fire” and “Everybody’s My Friend” don’t do the songs justice. They’re what you might call “concept videos”, but the actual concepts are anyone’s guess.
In “Fight Fire With Fire” some guy is having dreams within dreams where he’s enslaved in a coal mine by the Spanish Inquisition and can throw fireballs. Also a giant mosquito sucks his blood. Awesome. Be sure to note Kerry Livgren and Rich Williams’ funny hats.
I love the ending. “Oh hey man, you were having a nightmare and we were standing here… watching you.” Wait, why’d the color drop out? Oh! Kansas = Wizard of Oz! I get it.
“They made me wear this STUPID hat… I don’t know why I didn’t have the balls to say “I’m not wearin’ that hat.” Because that’s what I was thinkin’. But you know, who am I? Everybody’s pointing and telling me what to do…”
The same director returned for “Everybody’s My Friend”, which is a better video, but makes just as little sense. The coolest part is that it features the bazooka-toting bow-tied musician from the cover of the album. As to why he’s also a luchador, well...
End of the Age.
Just six months after the release of Drastic Measures, Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope left Kansas to form a new band, AD.
Even without the violin or many of their other conventions, Kansas’ distinctive harmonies and instrumentals survived and adapted into the era’s new sound. Producer, Neil Kernon who’d produced several Hall and Oates albums, as well as Walsh’s band, Streets, assisted them in the transitory process. Some aspects of the sounds he cultivated with Kansas returned a year later when he produced Autograph’s lone hit “Turn Up the Radio“. That same year, Kernon and Kansas (minus Livgren and Hope) reunited one last time to produce a new track for the band’s first greatest hits album, The Best of Kansas. The resulting song, “Perfect Lover”sounds far more like conventional mid-80s rock than any track from Drastic Measures. Though a well-crafted and fun rock song, it’s definitely not the same.
Elefante left the band to go on to become a giant in the Contemporary Christina Music scene. The following year Steve Walsh returned to Kansas and brought on bassist Billy Greer. Since then they have produced five wonderful albums all leaning back towards their classic style, particularly their last album, Somewhere to Elsewhere, which reunited them with Livgren and Stienhardt. The lineup of Walsh, Williams, Ehart, and Greer remains the essential core of Kansas to this day. They still play “Fight Fire With Fire” at shows, but largely their work on Drastic Measures collects dust. Put a stop to that and check out these outstanding tracks now:
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Hey guys! This is the first Audio Archaeology article, part of Media Potluck's partnership with Consequence of Sound. Enjoy!
I can't think of a better way to kick off this column than with one of the greatest musical compilations of the 20th century, the Voyager Golden Record.
If there's one good thing I could say about the Cold War it's that it had America looking to the stars. The space race was both a beautiful and chilling thing. America was a country of cowboys again, pioneering a frontier, a frontier which nurtured the dreams of scientists and philosophers. What wasn't possible? In this spirit of profound curiosity and exploration we sent humans to the moon and machines farther beyond. Voyager I and 2 are exploratory probes that took photographs and scientific measurements of the farthest planets in our solar system. They will continue to travel, even after their mission has ended and their systems shut down, carrying with thema profound message of peace: the gift of music.
During the mid-nineteen seventies, a group of scientists and producers, led by astronomer Carl Sagan, complied the mixtape to end all mixtapes. An offering of 31 tracks, painstakingly selected as defining examples of humankind's good intentions and accomplishments. These tracks, along with 116 images, were encoded on two gold and copper LPs and launched into the stars. At this very moment, these relics of Earth's cultural history are riding on the backs of the twin Voyager probes as they push past the threshold of our solar system and into the unknown.The records serve as bottled messages adrift in the infinite sea of stars. If other life exists in the universe, chances of them coming across the Voyager probes are next to impossible. Nonetheless, the gesture is profound and inspired. Over the span of six months, Sagan and his team scoured the globe assembling a diverse and worthy collection of just the right music and sounds to represent our planet.
The compilation begins with human voices. An introductory greeting from UN Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim is followed by greetings in 55 languages, beginning with Akkadian, an ancient Sumerian language, and ending with Wu, a modern Chinese dialect. Not all greetings are simple "hello"s. They tell something of the attitudes of their regions. "Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time" is the humorous greeting in Amoy. Whereas the Rajasthani greeting reads more like a veiled warning, "Hello to everyone. We are happy here and you be happy there." The English greeting, which concludes the tack, is a young boy saying, "hello from the children of Planet Earth."
The next track is of personalized introductions from each of the UN delegates to the extraterrestrials. Unlike the previous track of greetings, this track is more of a sound collage. The dialogue often fades from one voice to another before they even finish. Check out this delegate's interesting suggestions about what an extraterrestrial would bother to know about Earth:
"My dear friends in outer space, as you probably know my country is situated on the west coast of the continent of Africa, a land mass more or less in the shape of a question mark..."
It's certainly odd, but about a minute in, things get really strange. Whale noises. For the remainder of the delegates' introductions, a whale song rises and falls in the background, until, for the last minute of the track, there's nothing else. Sagan was a true science-hippy visionary. Star Trek IV anyone?
The whale song blends into the music of the spheres, the geometric ratios of our solar system translated into harmonies. This begins a twelve minute tour de force collage, featuring soundscapes from all over the planet. A roar of thunder, rain, wild animals, and the wind mesh with human heartbeats, footsteps, the sounds of industry - Saturn 5 lifting off. The track ends on a fascinating juxtaposition of concepts: a kiss, followed by a mother's first word to her newborn baby, blend into bizarre electronic thrumming and a pulsing static hiss. Though the latter half may be cryptic, these are all messages of love. It was during the creation of the Voyager records that producer Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan realized and pronounced their love for one another. They were together until his death. The thrumming is Druyan's brainwaves, the pulsing is a pulsar beating like a heart in the cosmos, just as Druyan's human heart had beat earlier in the track.
"I had asked Carl whether or not it would be possible to compress the impulses in one's brain and nervous system into sound...put that sound on the record and [whether] the extraterrestrials of the future would be able to reconstitute that data into thought. [He] said, 'well, you know, a thousand-million years is a long time. Why don't you go do it, because who knows!...' And so my brainwaves and R.E.M., every little sound that my body was making was recorded... This was two days after Carl and I had declared our love for each other, and...what I was thinking [during that] meditation was about the wonder of love and being in love and...it's on those two spacecraft even now."
Druyan's own words from a 2006 interview on WNYC's Radiolab.
Druyan refers to the remaining 27 tracks as "a cultural Noah's ark." The first Earth music the aliens will hear is the First Movement of Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F." Just think. Think about that complex sound, that painstaking, beautiful music locked in coldness and darkness, waiting - farther from Earth than any other object humankind has laid its hands on.
In addition to the Germans (2 more Bachs, 2 Beethovens, and a Mozart), Anthony Holborne and Igor Strazynski round out the classical music. (Can you imagine hearing "The Rite of Spring" in space? Yikes!) Mexican composer Lorenzo Barcelata's "El Cascabel" provides a full-scale mariachi ensemble. And rock and blues are aptly represented by Chuck Berry ("Johnny B. Goode"), Louis Armstrong ("Melancholy Blues"), and Blind Willie Johnson ("Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"). Pretty good, but where's the Beatles, right? Sagan wanted "Here Comes the Sun" on the record. A perfect choice. The Beatles said 'yes' but EMI said 'no'. And that is why, despite our best efforts, we beckoned down a holocaust from the stars. Way to go EMI.
The rest of the album samples from non-Western cultures great and small all over the world. It is the most highly eclecticized collection of music I've ever heard. Senegalese percussion clangs and thumps in the primal rawness that time has transmuted into the call of the discotheque. The harmonized vocals of a Pygmy girl's initiation song lull into the vibrations of a didgeridoo as an Australian aboriginal calls out to the Devil Bird. Humanity's creativity and diversity is laid out dynamically in all its sadness and joy. Only on this record, meant to travel through space, is Mozart's "Magic Flute" followed by a rural Georgian male voice choir ("Tchakrulo") and Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven's jazz complimented by warbling and transcendental Azerbaijani balaban playing. It must be heard to be understood.
For decades, finding a copy of the Voyager record was a near-impossible task. In 1992 it was released as an enhanced-content CD with a re-issuing of Sagan's Murmurs of Earth, a book on the process of making the Voyager record a reality. The CD has since become very scarce. Fortunately, the internet perpetually makes life easier.
For a quick fix check out these tracks:
And, while you're at it, please enjoy this cosmic debris from my childhood: