Monday, November 21, 2005

Five Songs That Make Me Feel Better

Those of you who know me know that I'm not a happy person (and please, don't waste your time or mine worrying about it or trying to get to the root cause of it. While I'm not happy, I'm fairly OK with it), so I wouldn't say these songs make me happy. But I have any of these songs in my ear and I automatically feel a little better, at least.

It's not that good or great pieces of music are necessarily cheering; Elvis Costello's "Battered Old Bird," frinstance, is a great song, but it makes me feel lousy when I listen to it, if it's possible for great music to bum a guy out. I love it, but it's a downer of a song.

These five mamajamas, however, get the job done. they're not all "songs," technically, as in Top 40 or the Great American Songbook. They all, however, do indeed rock this or that particular jukebox. Hereinunder:

1. "A Little Bit In Love," Edith Adams, Wonderful Town, original Broadway cast recording, 1953. The quintessential New York musical comedy, by the quintessential New York musical comedy writers, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. Two sisters, one bookish, one hot, head to the Big Apple for love, romance, success, thisa, thata. Eileen, the younger, hot one, sings this ditty as the character who would be her boyfriend gives her a gift of some chocolates. The song is first-rate as a charm song, but it's the performance that puts this version over the top, for me. Edith Adams simply sounds adorable, huggable-kissable-skipping-through-Central-Park adorable, in this version. (She recorded it again, but this is the best one.) She takes it down a whole step on the recording, in E flat, as opposed to F in the stage score, and it sounds so much better. Her languid reading at this very languid tempo belies the book, she isn't really in love, not even really infatuated, just appreciative of the attention (She reprises it about five minutes later after she meets another fella, so the lyric's uncertainty ["It's so-I don't know...but I know if it's love, then it's lovely..."] is perfect in pitch for the character) and luxuriating in the neatness of it all. Absolutely recommended over the too-damn-fast Audra McDonald version from the studio recording Bernstein's New York a few years back.

2. "Tell Me Something Good," Rufus Feat. Chaka Khan, Rags to Rufus, 1974. The funkiest record ever made, and I see you, Mr. Brown, so stop waving your arms at me and yelling "Heeeyyy," because this piece of booger-nose, platform-shoed, Afro-licious booty candy is truly The Funk, not the Man's World that JB shook it to. (To be fair to the Man, I might very easily put "Sex Machine" on a list like this some day.) Stevie Wonder gave it to us, but it's put over by Chaka's vocals, the heavy breathing, the 5/4 bar, later compensated for with a bar of 3 to put it back in place, the vocorder all over the place ("Got no time, noooo, GOT NO TIME"), the echt-70's wakka-ja-wakka guitar, and the bass. My god, the bass. The one song that makes me wish I could play the bass, and makes me grab the cat and play him like one. Chair dance, y'all!

3. "Niner-Two," Don Ellis and his Orchestra, Live at Montreux, 1978. Don Ellis was one weird cat, a true jazz original who, as trumpet player, bandleader, and composer, did his own thing. (Those of you who think you don't know him might think again, as he composed and conducted the criminally underrated, nervy-dervy, jangling score to The French Connection.) His thing was almost always crazy-sounding free jazz in death-defying time signatures mixed with an almost East-Indian harmonic structure, and this piece, "Niner-Two," is no exception. Most of it is in either 9/8 or 9/4, and he immediately nuts it up by having the triangle and piano start in a square four pedal point, then briniging the bass in in three. Count it by slapping your thighs with your hands if you think it's easy. His orchestra (and it really is, with strings, winds, keyboards, and many percussionists augmenting the traditional jazz big band) plays great on this live recording, and his orchestration is fantastic and groovy at the same time. Again, those of you who know me know I was first exposed to this chart through drum corps, and the 27th Lancers' versions of this from 1981 and 82 are startlingly faithful to the original.

4."I Want to Hold Your Hand," The Beatles, Meet The Beatles!, 1964. What more needs to be said. Perhaps the most incendiary, vital, important piece of music of the last seventy-five years. In this age of instant every-goddamned-thing, when media hyperbole and publicist bullshit spins everything we consume into a phenomenon, there are few genuine articles anymore. Walter Cronkite once said that the one story that completely passed him by as it happened was Beatlemania; if he had had his ear more "in tune" to what the "youths" were "digging," he might have gotten it. Everyone wishes they had a time machine; I'd go back to 1964 and experience Beatlemania as a teenager. There's never been anything like this song, and God knows we'll never hear its like again.

5. "Company," Company, original Broadway cast, 1970. I've subtitled this number "The Hardest Number Ever" because when I performed in Company a few years back, the hocket nature of the "Bobby Baby," "Bo-ob," "Robby Love" stuff was almost impossible to learn, and I've known the show almost by heart since about 1982. That's what makes it such an unbelievable opening number in an unbelievable score. If the Beatles set the pop world on its ear with No. 4 up there, Sondheim did much the same with Company a few years later. In my book, I wrote at length about the "busy-signal, traffic-jam" sound the song's pulse creates, and that's just one of the brilliant things accomplished by this brilliant opener. Sondheim and director/producer Harold Prince's credo was "content dictates form,"and this number so perfectly encapsulates The City And Its Inhabitants that it's almost scary. I think if I ever saw this performed by the original cast (get me that TIME MACHINE!!!), my head would explode.

So get cracking, youse guys. All five are readily available on CD. Take a trip to the record store (OK, maybe to two or three stores, 'cause I doubt you'll find the Ellis at the same place you'll find the Beatles.) or just make with the click-click and shop the Net.

2 Comments:

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Stuart Shea said...

tom, this is great expository writing...thanks for sharing this. The best music writing makes you want to hear something...you succeeded.
Stu

 
At 3:41 PM, Blogger Daryl said...

Tom,

I was searching for some musical analysis for "Niner-Two"; found your blog and was compelled to write for three reasons,
1. Your choice of Niner-Two as a song that "made you feel better"
2. You mentioned of being introduced to Don through Drum Corps.
3. You mentioned not being a particularly "happy" person and asking folks not to try fixing it.

I share identical experiences. I love Don Ellis. I marched with the Blue Devils for two years and I'm not particularly "happy" but am pretty much OK with it. If you would like to discuss further, please contact me at daryl_hoffman@yahoo.com

 

Post a Comment

<< Home