Tuesday, April 19, 2011

October 11th, 1957 – Johnny Cash – With His Hot and Blue Guitar

A mere year and seven months after Elvis Presley rocked the world and invented Rock n' Roll, Johnny Cash and his Tennessee Two made the scene, to re-invent Country, Folk, Gospel and Rockabilly. It goes without saying that Cash is one of the most influential recording artist pretty much of all time. I used to joke around with my friends that Johnny Cash actually invented music. I remember having co-workers at Tower that didn't like Cash, so I chastised them by saying they must not like music then, because Johnny invented it!

I'm actually one to talk. I'm a kid who grew up in the 80's and 90's. My first exposure to johnny Cash was actually a toy magazine I used to buy comparing Johnny Cash to a Dengar toy from Star Wars!

The resemblance is truly striking. Weird, right?

For most of my childhood, I knew of Johnny Cash only in this context. Granted I knew he was a country singer (because the magazine said so), but I had in fact, never EVER heard any of music music... until the spring of 2003...

My first thought was "Who is this old man? and why does he think he can just cover Nine Inch Nails like that?" After a few listens I started really liking it, THEN I heard it was Johnny Cash! At this time the only frame of reference I had for the man was still the goofy Star Wars comparison... it was then that I decided to get off my ass and figure this out!

This is where things became discouraging. Finding Johnny Cash albums in the 2000's was pretty hard. Most of what I managed to find were low buget "best of" albums that had been put out by crappy budget labels who had in some way managed to maintain some flimsy rights to distribute his work.

Let me get this bit out of the way. I HATE "best of" albums, HATE them! I hate them because they're a really transparent ploy by the label to hook the fare-weather fans. The people who buy "Best of's" would never buy a real album, because they for the most part, they only care about the hits! Because the hits are what's popular, you're just trying to keep up appearances. I have nothing but disdain for that attitude towards music.

That being said, what I eventually found may as well have been a best of.

If you're a beginner, or even a fare-weather fan, "Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar" is a great place to start. I was amazed to see how many of Johnny Cash's most well known and famous tracks actually originated from this record, his very first when he signed up with Sun. At first glance, it seems like just another greatest hits record, what with having "Cry, Cry, Cry", "Country Boy", "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues" all grouped together like that. That is not the case however, his first album really was THAT good. I had actually found this in a box set that has Cash's first seven Sun records in it. Being a new fan, I saw this as the logical place to start. The version that came in the box set even had "Get Rhythm" as a bonus track, along with a few other early demo versions of songs (which I love).

The most poignant memory I have attached to this album is actually my 2005 trip to England and the time I spent with my former fiance. The box set was actually an early Christmas gift for myself, to keep me company on a long flight I was taking to Europe, to spend Christmas with my then-girlfriend and her family. I listened to it tons on the plane ride over, and even more once I arrived. I think the frequency with which I played it sort of grated on my fiance's nerves a bit, as she only listened to the highest quality gothic industrial. However, I think her dad really dug it. Despite being one of the most Scottish guys I ever met, he seemed to have one hell of a soft spot for the American roots music. He really identified with the myhtos of the "Wild West" and was a huge fan of cowboy films. Johnny Cash fit right into that set of interests, and so, he rocked out with me :)
I take some comfort in knowing that while my lady love might have been gnawing at the bit listening to "I Heard That Lonesome Whistle", I was at least scoring bonus points with pops :D
Sadly, as previously indicated, she is an EX-girlfriend, so Johnny may have done more harm than good. Thanks a lot, Johnny! It's okay though, we had a tremendously rough patch, but wound up being pretty good friends anyway. Besides, I need a woman of less discriminatin' tastes in music!

My other strong memories of Johnny Cash involve my time at Tower Records. Remember when I said I often censured my co-workers for not being down with the Cash? Well those co-workers were Tower Records employees, and this was during the height of the "Walk the Line" movie. We got the soundtrack in as a promo, and it was in heavy rotation. Granted they obviously weren't the original versions, but they were passable facsimiles. I was amazed to hear Joaquin Phoenix pull of such a good Johnny Cash impression. The same cannot be said for Reese Witherspoon, however.

Okay singer, but June Carter's forehead was about half this size LAWL!

After work, it was a heart-stopping tradition for the true believers among the night crew to pile into someone's car, and speed away to the nearest Denny's. This tradition on it's own was awesome, but made all the better by the fact that the car ride often contained some form of sing-a-long with whatever was being bumped in the person in question's car stereo. During this time, it was OFTEN Johnny Cash. It was in this way that I memorized most of the words to what later became my favourite songs. "Cocaine Blues" was a frequently played track, mostly because we were a bunch of young punk kids up to no good.

I would like to get more into Cocaine Blues, but that's gonna be in another review, actually, so keep your pants on.

Now, I know I've not been updating as regularly as I'd wanted to originally, so you'll just need to bear with me!
Next reviews will be Buddy Holly and the "Chirping" Crickets, and after that, we take another dive into the macabre with "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Music to be Murdered By".

See you next time, whenever that might actually be :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 23, 1956 - Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (Self Titled)

Elvis Presley, as it goes without saying, is a man who has more influence on modern music than most people even realize. It's easy to call Elvis a legend of rock and roll, it's easy to call him the "King", but to really acknowledge what he did for Rock & Roll and music in general... it is very humbling :P

A collage of rip-off artists :)

I couldn't pinpoint my first experience, or exposure to Elvis. Before I even knew Elvis for his music, I knew him for his cliches. By the time I was born, Elvis was already such an icon, that he became a caricature in a lot of the cartoons and comics I loved as a child. Off the top of my head, I am certain he was lampooned in Ren and Stimpy, The Simpsons, The Far Side, Sonic the Hedgehog and probably more than I can even begin to remember. Even Saturday Night Live's "Tiny Elvis" sketches contributed to my conception of the myth of Elvis. As a result, I didn't even have to know the music before I knew Elvis.

I was familiar with the legions of impersonators, the "fat" stage, the shooting of the television, the black belt, the seemingly endless mounds of eccentricities which range from the specific preparation of his sandwiches, to owning a monkey as a pet, to his tragically hilarious death on the crapper.

Thinking back, I'd have to say that my first experience to his actual music would have to be when I saw Forrest Gump.

I couldn't have been any more than 9 or 10 when it hit theaters. Before that time, pretty much the only music I would listen to was The Beatles, and Film and Video Game scores. That following Christmas, I got the soundtrack from a family friend, and through it, I embarked on a musical journey that would change me forever, much in the same way that Elvis changed music forever.

But! There will be time to talk about the Forrest Gump soundtrack later! Elvis is the focus here! I'll admit, my interest in Elvis seems to wallow in his early career. As soon as his albums started to turn into vehicles upon which Elvis promoted his own motion pictures. Elvis may be one of the earliest examples I can conjure of a singer to actor transition going horribly wrong. As a result, I paid little attention to anything he released past 1960, with a few exceptions.

My love for Elvis carried well into my teenage years, despite having only heard a handful of songs, from only one era of his career. I seemed to have an attraction to music from the 50's and 60's, Elvis, The Beatles, Buddy Holly and co. were mainstays.
The summer of 2001, right before 9-11 actually was when this love of vintage rock reached its peak. I have very clear memories of riding around downtown Mountain View with my then crush with proto-rockabilly twanging on the radio.

It was through this interest, and through this summer crush that I came to know of the film "Six String Samurai". The film itself has little to do with Elvis, other than a very subtle, and passing theme. It actually has a lot more to do with Buddy Holly, so I'll talk more on it when I get to my entry on him :)

Over time, my vintage rock phase died down, but I still love the music, and the culture something fierce. I especially love how modern culture had adapted to, and absorbed it whenever there's a resurgence. Case in point, the flash animation below :)

Crazy Elvis Presley Flash Animation
A remix of the Elvis song Little Less Conversation was done some time ago. Recently a flash animation set to this song was done. It features some of the well known flash characters from the internet.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 5th, 1953 - Peter Pan Soundtrack, Composed by Sammy Fain, Sammy Cahn, Frank Churchill, Winston Hibler and Ted Sears.

Before I begin this week's review of Walt Disney's Peter Pan, I want to backtrack a little bit, back to my review of Carmina Burana. I'm not sure why this slipped my mind the first time, but there is an AWESOME cover of O Fortuna by mathcore legends, Botch.

If you dig that, I highly suggest trottin' yerself down to your local record store, and picking up a copy for Botch's "Unifying Themes Redux". There is also a badass cover of the B-52's classic "Rock Lobster" done in the hardcore punk style.

But there will be plenty of time to talk about Botch and the B-52's later. You're here for Peter Pan, right? Right!

So, when I was a kid, I had this little Peter Pan storybook that also came with a cassette tape with some spoken dialogue and some of the songs on it. It was one of those read-a-long books, and I loved it, because Peter Pan was one of those Disney movies I never owned on tape as a child. You know how Disney can be, release a movie for a little while, and then yank it off the shelves for years. Go ahead, go to a store and try to find a copy of Tron. You can't! And you won't find it again until Disney releases it on Blu-Ray, and it will stay on the shelves again for maybe 2 or 3 months before getting pulled yet again.

The exact same thing was true with those big white plastic clam shell VHS tapes they used to sell. They'd only be around for a little while, and then mysteriously vanish. I'm not certain what Disney's fetish is with forced scarcity. I mean, it must be making them some money somehow, I don't know. All I know is if you head into any used record or movie store, you'll find those gross, cracked, white clam shells en masse on slae usually for under 5 bucks.

As for the soundtrack of Peter Pan, I'm amazed at how little info I could dig up on physical releases. All wikipedia talks about are the various Disney music compilations songs from the film have been featured on. I've seen it on Vinyl, and I know I had a tape from a storybook. Then, much later on, when Disney was releasing all the movies on DVD, each film's release coincided with a remastered soundtrack on CD. This soundtrack was not nearly as monumental as Snow White's, which was already fifteen years old. MGM's "Singin' in the Rain" had only been released last year, and for such a phenomenal hit as that was, American movie-goers and music lovers would have gone into riots if there was no accompanying soundtrack release.

The Peter Pan soundtrack I'm familiar with will always be the one on that little read-a-long tape. One notable quirk about this release is that the music was lifted directly from the finished version of the movie. This means that if during any of the songs in the movie, there was a piece of dialogue, or sound effect, it showed up on this tape. The instance that sticks in my mind the most is during "Following the Leader", when John and Michael are marching with the Lost Boys. Michael bumping into the "rock" that later turns out to be the giant rhino is audible. John "honking" the nose of the sleeping bear with his umbrella is audible as well. In fact, I think as a child I listened to this tape so much that I've now memorized the cues for these out of place sound effects!

This is a CD I'd like to get eventually, it's been awhile since I've really heard these songs. Aside from that, it's a cartoon that has so far, gone untouched by Youtube sensation Pogo, who's remixed Hook, but not it's 1950's Disney originator.
Perhaps it's not in the cards, but a man can dream about the possibilities, can't he? :D

See you next time, when the king of Rock and Roll himself takes the stage. I'll be reviewing Elvis Presley's self titled debut. After that, Johnny Cash and his hot blue guitar will grace these bloggy pages.

Till next time ladies and germs.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

1937-1944 – Swing Tanzen Verboten - Swing Music and Nazi Propaganda Swing During World War II

It's time to take a break from the generally lighthearted fair I've been writing on these past several weeks, and take a sharp turn into some genuinely dark territory.
Swing Tanzen Verboten! is a compilation I happened across during my Tower days. Since I was just a kid, I had a fascination with World War II, some would go on to say I was more fascinated with World War II than most kids my age. By "kids my age", I mean 4th grade, and by "more fascinated" I mean "at all interested". Funny how everything seems to root back to 4th grade... hmm...

My 4th grade teacher was a brutish, impossible man who seemed like he was just born angry. Being part of his class was stressful, because you never knew what was gonna set him off. But underneath that large personality flaw, he was actually a pretty good teacher. I am not certain if he actually was a soldier in the second World War, but he was the right age, and he talked the talk.
Every day was story time! One usually does not associate elementary school with having actually learned anything, but I walked away from that class knowing more about Pearl Harbor, Japanese internment camps, the Nazis, American and German military tactics and weaponry than an entire year's worth of the History Channel! He would even sometimes veer off into a tangent, and talk at length about American pop culture during war time. So needless to say, I got a little high on nostalgia years later when I found this collection sitting on the shelves at work.

The first disc in the collection is enjoyable, but also forgettable. It is comprised mostly of pre-war German swing, and then develops into a chronological compendium which leads all the way up to 1944. A quick aside for the unconverted, it should be noted the Germans HATED swing during the reign of the Third Reich. They associated it with poor minorities, unclean, not pure German, and hence it was dubbed "Entartete Kunst", or "Degenerate Art."

a hilariously racist caricature of a Negro/Jew wailing on a sax in a 1938 propaganda poster.

Before it was illegal, the Germans took a very blaissez faire approach to the style. At first it was merely mocked and ridiculed, then it was flat out banned. As soon this happened, the style was forced underground, where it flourished! The third and fourth discs are, without exaggeration, AMAZING collections of swing and jazz. Most of these recordings were made in occupied Europe after Hitler went full tilt on the continent. Disc 3 features French and Belgian artists very heavily, and as such, Django and Joseph Reinhardt is the main focus. Disc 4 features an incredible amalgamation of artists from all over Europe, many of whom I've never heard of, but enjoy none the less.

I'm saving Disc 2 for last, because it is by far the most noteworthy, as well as the creepiest to listen to. Enter "Charlie and His Orchestra", while they weren't the only underground swing artists surviving in Germany, they were however, commissioned by Heinrich Goebbels. In order to broadcast pro-Nazi agenda swing music across the nation, Karl Schwelder, (AKA Charlie), was trusted with a sacred task! Write swing lyrics that will demoralize the enemy! What came of the project were a series of eerie "Weird Al" type parodies of existing, popular swing tunes, in which Charlie trashes the Jews, and mocks Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. His lyrics taunt the American and British military with:

"Why are the ships always sinking and blinking at me?
What makes the British stop drinking from their cup of tea?
It's now the season, the reason, let me explain what it means,
German Submarines!"

Karl Schwedler also known as "Charlie". This goofy motherfucker struck fear into the hearts of the Allies everyday... with MUSIC!

Those of us who have the benefit of hindsight know the Nazis lost the war, so these songs are little more than an amusing curiosity to us. However, think of them in a more historical context. Imagine the American and British soldiers who happened across these songs on the radio, when they were trying to get some R&R when not in combat. A musical taunting of your nation's wartime efforts. Fellow soldiers', possibly friends' horrible demise put into song! Granted it does not mean much to me now, but I can understand the mindset that it must have been trying to undermine.

It's worthy to note also that the music wasn't just throwaway swing either. The style may have been outlawed in Germany, but that doesn't mean they didn't know how to do it! The style is very hip, contemporary, and very much like what they would be listening to anyway in Britain and America, that's how it was able to creep into so many homes, and military bases.
This isn't the best contemporary comparison, since Al-Qaeda isn't exactly known for it's chart topping pop singles, but imagine if Osama Bin Laden commissioned some hip young pop star to record a hit radio friendly rock song about how awesome 9-11 was. Now imagine it was on the radio CONSTANTLY! Imagine it sandwiched right in between "How you Remind Me" by Nickelback and "Chop Suey" by System of a Down on the AM rotation. That's kinda what Charlie was getting away with!

However, it is good to note that Churchill was actually a fan of Charlie and His Orchestra. He sarcastically commented that the changed lyrics were more funny than they were threatening. Good to know the Prime Minister was not so easy to shake.

Thanks for tuning in to another update on "Best Thing Ever". Next week we'll be jumping into the 50's, analyzing the soundtrack to Disney's version of Peter Pan.
In two weeks, I'll be ushering in the birth of Rock and Roll with Elvis Presley's self titled Debut.
I'm not all about operas, soundtracks and racist swing music! ;-)

On a random side note! Today is also an important day in music history!
Today, Lady Gaga released the single for her second (and a half-ish) album "Born This Way."
I'd tell you to go check it out, but chances are, within the next couple days or so, the song is gonna find YOU! ;-)

See you all next time!!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

August 12th 1939 - The Wizard of Oz Soundtrack, Composed by Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart

Like Snow White, the Wizard of Oz score has firmly implanted itself into our cultural subconscious. I think every child born now is born with a precognitive knowledge of the lyrics to "We're Off to See the Wizard."
Unlike Snow White however, The Wizard of Oz did not see an official soundtrack release at the time of its debut on the silver screen. It did not see a release until a full 17 years later, when the film was first aired on that newfangled contraption, the television! Before that, Decca put out a weird sort of "sound alike" album, not with the original cast. Judy Garland was the only returning voice, but the rest of the cast was replaced with the "Ken Darby Singers", whoever the fuck THEY are. This kinda sucks, because the munchkins don't sound like munchkins, they're just regular old male choir voices, they couldn't even spring for sopranos. Glenda is sung by some unnamed opera singer, which is sort of cool, but definitely not what I signed on for. Interestingly enough, it is from these recordings that the original 78rpm of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was taken, and hence, it is arguably the most recognized version of the song.

My own experience with Wizard of Oz is as prolific as the score itself. I of course have very early memories of having seen the film as a child, but that in itself is not very unique. When I was in 4th grade however, I was part of a weird school musical thing. It was an event in which a class just sang songs in front of the school, and the parents. This was extremely prevalent when I was in grade school, it seemed like they were always trying to make us sing, or act, or do something. This happened ALL through school. You might not think this was such a huge deal, but bear in mind, this was not choir class, this was... just CLASS! Everyday, we dropped our history lesson, or our math lesson and piled into the auditorium (which had the permanant smell of dry, stale urine) and sang, for an hour or two.
Our teacher was really into it too, he used to yell at kids who sang off key! I guess the school system saw the writing on the walls that all the labor jobs were being outsourced overseas, so whether or not we succeeded at school, at the very least we could sing and act! In either case, this little event had no real specific purpose. It wasn't a play, and the songs they made us memorize had only a very loose fitting theme. I don't remember all of them, but I know "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was in there, along with "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", "Circle of Life" and "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from the musical "South Pacific."

What do "The Wizard of Oz" and "South Pacific" have in common? Fourth Grade!

Despite the fact we were in essence being forced to memorize and perform these songs, I came to really enjoy them. I remember our teacher making everyone in the class a copy of the cassette tape, so we could practice at home. I kept the tape long after our performance was over and done with, and listened to it for shits and giggles.
This was one of those huge 60 minute tapes too, so I actually used my hand held tape recorder to add more songs after the program. Usually random Disney songs, or Beatles songs that I particularly liked. I would sometimes even "announce" the next song on the track list, like a radio DJ. Me and some of the other kids who lived in my apartment complex took this concept to a hilarious extreme when we invented our own radio show. We went all kinds of wacky, we would "interview" people by putting the tape recorder up to the TV, and ask questions which lead into the dialogue. That's how I landed my career making interview with the Super Mario Bros. Later in life, i tried taking some classes in broadcasting and communications, but found them to be powerfully dull.

Fast forward to middle school, I wanna say 7th or 8th grade. This is when I first heard the rumour that you could turn down the sound on Wizard of Oz and play Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" instead, and see all kinds of weird parallels between the actions on screen, and the lyrics and/or music playing on the album. I gotta say, I tried this so many times and never really saw anything significant. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I never did any drugs.

What do Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd Have in common? DRUUUUUGGGGGZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!

I really wanted this to work, because I'm way into urban legends, so I played the movie a number of different times, following different sets of rules each time, but never really saw what was supposedly the huge payoff. I mean, i suppose the music fits in as much as a rock record CAN fit into a musical, whose music was written primarily in 4/4 time. It's not THAT hard to find connections when you think about it like that. When I get fed up with this experiment, I eventually started to watch the movie without Pink Floyd, just out of nostalgia. Ironic that my biggest exposure to this movie and its music involved me muting the music at first.

Finally, fast forward to now, or at least, to a few months ago. I had a very recent and very poignant life experience with Wizard of Oz, which I'll probably carry around with me for the rest of my life.
So! One of my best friends ever, Courteney, who I met when I went back to school in 2008 recently transferred to a college in Japan, like the badass she is. This most recent holiday season, she came back out to visit family and friends. I drove up to the Saratoga mountains in a pretty awesome California winter rainstorm to go visit her at her family's home for dinner. After we ate, Wizard of Oz JUST so happened to be playing on TNT.
We all gathered in the living room, in the glow of the family's huge Christmas tree, and got taken in by a movie which predated every one of us. We delighted in the time tested comedy, and fondly remember every lyric to every song.
Courteney and her family are pretty much like a second family to me, more like a 3rd, maybe 4th family, I seem to just implant myself into my other friends' families like a body snatcher, but that's beside the point. The point is, it was a wonderful night spent with wonderful people, and I will forever associate that night with Wizard of Oz. :D

Thursday, January 27, 2011

June 8th 1937 - Carmina Burana Composed by Carl Orff

"O Fortuna", more commonly known as the opening to Carmina Burana is one of those tunes that everyone knows, but no one KNOWS they know. Awhile back when I used to work at Tower Records, the dude who worked the classical room had this CD sampler that was called something like "99 Most Influential Classical Scores" and I think O Fortuna was was something like track 6 or 7. Looking back on my life, I am sad to admit that I think the first time I ever heard it was in a Guinness beer commercial.

I can't locate any kind of copyright information on this commercial, but I have a feeling that it ran in the late 90's, I think I may have possibly been in middle school. I say this because there are two very poignant life references I can make to this song. My best friend at the time, Ian, was in marching band for about as long as I've known him. I think in middle school, the marching band did either O Fortuna, or possibly the entire opera, possibly a truncated version. The other thing that comes to mind when I think Carmina Burana is "The Duel of the Fates", from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Needless to say, this is a film that did not age well with me, but when I was in middle school, I thought it was the goddamn coolest thing in the world!
The only part of this film that survived the fanboy onslaught is the soundtrack, which is brilliant. In particular, "The Duel of the Fates", which is used mainly as Darth Maul's theme.

I can't remember if this is true of if I'm just imagining it, but I think I remember hearing in an interview or some "making of" documentary thing that John Williams took a lot of inspiration from Carmina Burana while composing this score. John Williams is one of my favourite lazy geniuses. Because of it's influence, "Duel of the Fates" stands out as one of Williams' most unique compositions.

But enough about Star Wars, there will be plenty of time to talk about that later.

In the early 2000's, when I was still working for Tower, this copy (pictures at top) of Carmina Burana stumbled into our discount used classical bin. I think I may have paid something like $4.99 for it, which was cheap for a CD back then. I can't remember if this was when I lived with my parents or when I lived with John, but I took that CD home and drowned myself in it. Like I am prone to doing while drowning in an album, I dug deep into it. This was a piece of antiquity to me, despite being only 60 or 70 years old, not holding a candle to the hundreds of year old compositions by people like Beethoven or Mozart.
Despite that, Orff's interpretation in opera from the late 30's represents an ancient manuscript of poetry from the 11th and 12th centuries.

This is where my Art History roots begin to show a little more :)
in 2008 and 2009 when I initially went back to school for my art degree, Art History was a required course. My preconception was tainted by a friend at the time who told me the class was really dull and full of lots of dry reading. I now consider that person to be a crazy tripper, because that class was one of the most interesting I think I've ever taken. Not only was the subject matter completely the opposite of dull and dry, and it was presented in the best way possible, by someone who became one of my favourite Professors ever, Simon Pennington. You can see how well regarded he is by his students on ratemyprofessor

We did not specifically cover Carmina Burana in his class, but it would have been right at home in his curriculum. Here is the brief version of its history. Carmina Burana is a manuscript of over 200 poems, and other dramatic writings. It spans mostly the 11th and 12th centuries, but I learned later that there's some writing which date to the 13th century as well. They're in at least 6 different languages, by students of the clergy who were known at the "Goliards", who in essence, are characterized as getting drunk and writing satirical songs about the church. This was a time when the immense failure of the Crusades was still a hot topic. The Goliards were the bloggers of their time, shaking their fingers at the monarchy, tut tutting their huge public failures, in much the same way MoveOn.org harangues Washington DC.
600 years later, Carl Orff took 24 of those scathing condemnations and based a grand opera around them. I am not certain of Orff's political leanings to be honest. All I really know is that he lived in Germany during the rise of the Hitler's Third Reich. I know plenty of stories about Artists who fled Germany during this time, but as far as I know, Orff just hung out and composed music.
This is an interesting dichotomy to me. A man who was seemingly comfortable with Nazi occupation and martial law chose a scathing review of the powers that be as the inspiration for his most prominent work. It would be like if Saddam Hussein had commissioned a musical version of Fahrenheit 451.

Regardless of the seemingly murky history, Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is one of those epic melodies that will most likely live forever in our hearts and minds.

I know last time, I said that I'd be writing about the Wizard of Oz, but this took priority for me this week. I SWEAR I'll do Wizard of Oz next time! :D

In two weeks, I'll be revisiting the topic of music in World War II with the jazz/swing/big band compilation "Swing Tanzen Verboten!"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 1938 - Songs From Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Written by Frank Churchill and Leigh Harline

Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of those cultural juggernauts that seems to completely transcend generation. Snow White is of course a timeless fairy tale, but everyone I know with is more immediately familiar with the Disney version.
Everyone rolls their eyes at Disney now, because it's such a gargantuan corporation that's almost completely covered popular media in only the most hostile of takeovers. That, layered on top of modern day accusations of shady business practices gives people a bad taste in their mouths when they think about Disney. Despite all of this, all you have to say is "Heigh-Ho!" to trigger that special, sympathetic, nostalgic nerve in someone, and suddenly, all is forgiven!

Snow White was a huge to-do back in the day. No one believed in the film while it was being made, it was costing so much to produce that even Disney's wife thought it was going to end up ruining them. We with the benefit of hindsight know what a cultural force it became, and this is due in no small part to the iconic musical score. The fact that Snow White's soundtrack was the first ever commercial issued soundtrack is a testament to that. Think about this for a second. Until this moment in time, film soundtracks were unavailable to the general public, or at least unavailable in any form other than simply watching the movie, but not in a media that one could purchase and take home.

This is a real shame to me, because there are many, many films from the 20's and 30's with amazing original scores, but they mostly just exist as sheet music now, and the closest we can get to having soundtracks are often weak facsimiles. For example, 1922's Nosferatu is one of my favourite lost scores of all time. I got the opportunity to hear a live rendition of it from the organist who plays at a local old timey theater in my area. Sadly, this version has NEVER been committed to CD, and likely never will be :( Even the DVD release has some second rate orchestra fiddling together some random chords and strings that seem like they'd sound more at home in a Looney Toons short which parody's Dracula.

Needless to say, soundtracks used to be a hard thing to get ahold of, but this all changed with Snow White. The music was so fun, and catchy, and memorable, so moved the audiences that heard it, that they demanded to be able to take it home. Thus began the age of the film soundtrack!

My first exposure to this film and its music started when I was merely a boy of 3.

In the late 80's, Disney was doing a theatrical re-release of the film, and my folks decided to take me, thus changing my life forever. Seeing Snow White on the big screen remains one of the oldest memories, for the longest time, I had no idea why I knew these songs, or why I associated these images with them. That's how deep it bored into my skull.

When I was in second grade, I was even in a school production of Snow White, I played Grumpy! :D. At this time, the Disney VHS collection was still three years away. No one had the movie on tape unless it was recorded from TV, and to my knowledge, the only soundtrack that was available was the three LP set released in 1938, so an entire 2nd and 4th grade class rehearsed those songs form memory!
Granted, I only had to know certain parts from only three songs, but I still HEARD the rest of the cast doing their part. And so, even beyond having those very early memories of having seen it in the theater, these songs further dug it's way into my memory from all those rehearsals. This was of course before Disney started litigating against schools for things like this.

It was not until 1994 that Snow White came out on VHS, and the soundtrack was released on cassette, I had to wait three years to see how close we got on stage, and to the best of my recollection, we were pretty fantastic :D