It seems like every few months, a new movie remake populates movie theaters. These reinventions often adjust stories to fit today’s trends and values. But what happens when an entire genre is “remade”?
In her piece “Shall We Dance?: Feminist Cinema Remakes the Musical,” film scholar Lucy Fischer explores some of the ways in which female filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman flip the narrative of the traditional Hollywood musical, a form traditionally dominated by male and heteronormative direction.
The movie musical is a genre in which audiences suspend belief in order to enter into a world where singing drives a story. A song often emerges from a quotidian moment, in an effort to display a character’s feelings or motivations. Gender is frequently at play. Fischer quotes film critic Rick Altman, who says that within musicals we
alternate between the male focus and the female focus, working our way through a prepackaged love story whose dynamic principle remains the difference between male and female.
Akerman’s The Eighties takes place entirely in a shopping center and follows its protagonist Jeanne as she finds herself caught up in multiple romantic entanglements. In a way, it’s a standard set-up for a musical, with a love triangle at its center. The first act of the movie features snippets of a play in rehearsal which eventually culminate into that play’s performance in the second act.
Ackerman creatively inserts herself through several stand-ins such as the rehearsal director and conductor. Fischer writes, “As though to underscore the traditional power of male discourse (both on screen and off), when the first male actor speaks he does so assertively and no directorial voice comments on his delivery.”
Fischer also explains how the setting of the shopping center parodies the dominant culture of consumerism. She notes that traditionally, women in Hollywood musicals are seen as decoration. The Eighties, however, puts women in the center, with songs and a score that reveal the characters’ emotions.
Akerman dissects the melodrama that is traditionally part of a musical, using repetition to the point of absurdity. For example, the first scene of the film features a line about grief, “At your age, grief wears off,” that is reiterated multiple times throughout. According to Fischer, “The radical use of repetition underscores the redundancy of certain cliches in the melodramatic repertoire and foregrounds their endless replay in real women’s lives.” This theme of repetition is extended into the use of multiple actors for a single role which makes it more challenging for audiences to identity a particular character.
The second act of the film finally places the previous rehearsal scenes into context for the audience as the play is performed in full. Once in context, it is clear that the play is a parody of the musical romance. As a woman sings her romantic, explicitly sexual song, it becomes literal as she begins to make love with her partner as background singers poke their heads into frame. Fischer notes the ridiculousness of these over-the-top musical sequences.
The film doubles as homage and parody to the traditional musical romances, but Akerman revises the genre with her feminist sensibilities. According to Fischer:
Through her “re-make,” Akerman also engages what literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin describes as the rhetoric of parody, wherein “the dominant discourse is reflected as something more or less bounded, typical and characteristic of a particular era, aging, dying, ripe for change and renewal.”
This August marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, the rock concert that epitomized a generation. To celebrate, a Woodstock 50 concert had been scheduled for Watkins Glen, New York. It was cancelled by its investors in late April. Organizers vowed to carry on… echoing the last-minute nature of the original event.
Woodstock: An Aquarian Exposition (August 15-18, 1969) almost never happened, because several New York towns were dead set against it due to worries about traffic and sanitation mixed with a moral panic about sex, pot, and dirty hippies.
“Woodstock,” after all, didn’t end up taking place in the town of Woodstock. As historian Ronald Helfrich explains, the festival’s organizing entity, Woodstock Ventures, took its name from a town already on the rock and roll map as a hangout for Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Band, and members of Blood, Sweat & Tears. For Woodstock Ventures, the location was obvious. But when presented with the possibility of a rock music concert for tens of thousands, Woodstock’s civic leaders quickly implemented health, safety, and traffic regulations that precluded any chance of the festival taking place within its bounds.
Similar responses came from the towns of Saugerties and Wallkill, where petitions, lawyers, and instantly-passed zoning regulations put teeth into the rejections.
Not everyone in the region was against the music festival, however. Residents, politicians, and business leaders were split. Both the Bethel Business Association and Catskill Resort Association, for instance, thought a music festival would be great for tourism.
And so, in late July of 1969, the town and zoning boards of Bethel gave their approval for the event to be held in the hamlet of White Lake. Days later—just weeks before the scheduled start—a “heated meeting of the town board” challenged the permits. Max Yasgur, whose farm was to be the site of the festival, was boycotted by some of his neighbors. An injunction by opponents was taken out against Woodstock Ventures, but it was withdrawn on August 12th “when it became clear they could not win their suit.”
150,000 people were expected to show up for the advertised “three days of peace and music.” Many more went, perhaps as many as 750,000—more than a few were stuck in traffic and never made it. Concerns about that traffic and sanitation turned out to have been quite real:
Medical facilities were swamped. Pumps set up to extract water from the ground occasionally failed under the strain. Eventually, dairy trucks were acquired and used as water containers. Traffic congestion made it virtually impossible for the portable toilets to be emptied of their contents.
Concerns about the “moral degeneration” of sex, drugs, and rock and roll were perhaps less real. Helfrich notes that “the citizens of Sullivan County, the promoters, and the festival-goers generally responded to a difficult situation with compassion, kindness, good will, and even humor.”
Many residents were pleasantly surprised by their first encounters with hippies, exotic creatures they’d only heard about in the news. Others continued to be enraged: this was, after all, another front in the culture wars. The concert, writes Helfrich, left a “trail of political, economic, and cultural fallout in its wake” in the region long after the last amp was trucked out.
Afterwards, Bethel’s pro-festival supervisor Daniel Amatucci was voted out of office because of his role in the affair. Local clergy said never again. The county DA, an anti-Woodstocker, even called a grand jury to fish into the waters of criminal wrongdoing at the festival; but the jury found no evidence of crime and refused to issue any indictments. Local and state laws were written to make it much harder to stage such events without detailed groundwork and complicated permitting processes.
“All sides then saw the Woodstock Festival in moral terms,” concludes Helfrich. He notes that a 25th anniversary “Woodstock Remembered” exhibit at the Sullivan Country Historical Society bought up old wounds. “There are still those who are so opposed to the festival they cannot even talk about it.” But, “given the tendency of communities to romanticize their past (or who manufacture a past to romanticize),” Helfrich suggests that Woodstock will someday be memorialized without controversy.
Her voice swooped and soared through complex operatic melodies, thrilling audiences in the antebellum North. She gave encore after encore to listeners who couldn’t get enough. She was Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, one of the first Black performers to gain nationwide fame in the nineteenth-century United States. Musicologist Julia J. Chybowski digs into the history of “The Black Swan”—and explores how her identity was interpreted by audiences.
Greenfield was born into slavery in 1819, and named after her mistress, a Quaker woman. Greenfield moved from the South to Philadelphia after the woman who had enslaved her freed all of her slaves. She continued to work as her former mistress’s caretaker for years, even as she received a formal education and learned to sing. “Despite having been born into slavery, E. T. Greenfield shared much cultural background with European Americans and free-born African Americans living in Philadelphia,” Chybowski writes.
But that cultured background could not protect her from the disparities faced by Black people in the North. When the elder Elizabeth Greenfield died, her namesake was left penniless, homeless, jobless, and embroiled in controversy as to whether the former slaveholder meant to leave her a substantial inheritance. Chybowski notes that there was a will leaving the younger Greenfield a large sum of money, but “Philadelphia-based trustees and lawyers suspended the payments for over a decade while they debated the wealthy widow’s intentions and mental condition at the time of signing the will.”
To survive, Greenfield taught music. She got her big break in 1851 when she gave a private performance for a rich Buffalo socialite and her friends. Dubbed “the Black Swan” by Buffalo journalists, she was soon sought after and supported by wealthy white and Black patrons who arranged for, publicized, and supported her performances. In a time of publicly-sanctioned segregation, she performed for mixed audiences.
As her fame grew she embarked on a national tour. Soon, Greenfield was performing in front of audiences of thousands. At places like the New York Harmonic Society, which prohibited Black people from attending, people prevented from seeing her nearly rioted. In response, Greenfield would sometimes perform the same program at both white and Black venues.
Chybowski analyzes Greenfield’s performance style, which was closely monitored in an era in which women—let alone Black women—were discouraged from appearing in public. To avoid racist critiques of Black morality, Greenfield dressed modestly and performed largely white-coded music, despite her mixed audience. Her wide vocal range was particularly provoking to audiences who associated low alto voices with masculinity. In Greenfield’s case, her range was used as a way to cast aspersions on her performances, provoking “wonder, fear, disgust” and prompting reviewers to portray her as a “racial Other.”
Greenfield flummoxed audiences who weren’t sure how to respond to her race or her talent. The cultural mixing she represented, writes Chybowski, created confusion as to whether she was a legitimate talent or a minstrel-like parody of a white singer.
But even as she confused audiences, she entranced them, uplifting Black listeners and forcing white ones to acknowledge her talent and achievement. “Much about her marketed image and reception was out of Greenfield’s control,” Chybowski writes, “yet, she constantly dealt with shifting expectations of her race, as well as class and gender.”
I’m borrowing the title of Charles Mingus’ tribute to Lester Young because my uncle Terry Webb liked Young, Mingus, and this song. To the best of my knowledge, Terry did not wear pork pie hats. Earlier in his career, Terry wore bowler hats. Later, he wore a Tyrolean hat. Or no hat — as in the photo below.
I could not be at Terry’s funeral in Bournemouth today. So, I sent this brief video reminiscence — which I am sharing here for any who would like to see it. Friends. Family. People who enjoy tributes for a favorite uncle.
Yes, that is an actual postcard from Terry, sent in 1975. Another annotation: the three photos that cycle through during the “same wavelength” section were cropped by Terry himself. While going through Terry’s hard drive of photos to make photo albums for Terry’s widow, my sister (Linda) came across those three, labeled terry_phil1, terry_phil2, terry_phil3. One other note: near the end, the Charlie Parker CD I hold up is one Terry gave me when he was visiting us in Nashville in the 1990s. Whenever the two of us were anywhere near a record shop, we’d go in and he would always get me a jazz CD he recommended. This particular one does indeed have “Parker’s Mood” on it. No one watching this video today could have known any of the above, of course. But hopefully the intent came through.
As I worked on selecting the music with Terry’s friends Vic Grayson and Derek Fones, I realized how much of my jazz knowledge comes from Terry. They would mention a song, and I would think: Oh, yes, Terry and I chatted about Bill Evans. And Charles Mingus. And Duke Ellington. And, of course, Charlie Parker. Here’s our Spotify playlist for the funeral.
Terry’s choices (communicated to Derek, a week or so before Terry died) are:
The Spotify playlist lists this last one as “New Orleans Function,” but don’t let that fool you: it’s actually “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble.” It’s followed by a shorter Armstrong recording of the same song, and another version by Kid Ory. Terry asked for “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble” as the exit music: we’ve added a few extra recordings so that the music keeps playing as people depart the chapel. Terry wanted people to enter to “Parker’s Mood.” However, since “Parker’s Mood” is so brief (and would conclude before people had finished entering), we decided to precede it with Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece,” and then begin the funeral proper with “Parker’s Mood.” This way, people could actually have a chance to listen to the Charlie Parker. Also, how many funerals begin with “Parker’s Mood”? I think Terry would have liked this somewhat unconventional beginning.
(Derek and Vic and I discussed including Mingus’ “Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat,” but it ultimately did not make the final playlist. As is ever the case, we had more music than time. So, check out the album Mingus Ah Um and listen for yourself. Indeed, why not give yourself a treat and listen to the whole album?)
So long, Terry. And thanks for all the delight — musical and otherwise — that you brought to our lives.
For their invaluable help in planning the funeral, special thanks to my cousin Vicky O’Neill and Head & Wheble funeral director Bob Bowater. For their indispensable assistance in making musical selections, thanks to Vic Grayson, Derek Fones, and Terry himself!
Music has a way of bringing us back in time. A song from when you were a teenager can take you back to the school dance, or you might have a soft spot for that one pop song that reminds you of childhood. Curiously enough, however, many people feel a particular warmth for the music of not just their childhood, but that of their parents.
In 2013, Cornell University psychologists Carol Lynne Krumhansl and Justin Adam Zupnick conducted a study to find that “music transmitted from generation to generation shapes autobiographical memories, preferences, and emotional responses, a phenomenon we call ‘cascading reminiscence bumps.’” They found, somewhat unexpectedly, that it’s not just the music we listened to during the first two decades of our lives that provides us with fond memories, but also the music our parents listened to in their young adulthood.
The study’s participants included a group of sixty young adults with an average age of 20.1 years old. They listened to Billboard Top 100 songs spanning decades since the 1950’s and were asked which songs brought about the most emotions or memories and whether or not they involved their parents or peers. The researchers played snippets of a range of songs such as “Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys to “Irreplaceable” by Beyoncé, and the participants were asked to describe how those songs made them feel. The participants enjoyed the contemporary songs, since they were more nostalgic for their recent past. However, participants also recognized and enjoyed songs from previous decades, from the late 60s to early 80s.
The researchers write that “these participants exhibited something like a reminiscence bump for music released in two time periods before they were born.” It was natural for the strongest emotions to be for recently popular songs, but they also found intergenerational influences when it comes to music. Those “reminiscence bumps” occurred with the participants as a result of listening to music from the 60s and 80s, the periods of time when their parents and grandparents were most likely forming their musical tastes as 20- to 25-year-olds.
Krumhansl and Zupnick write, “One assumes, therefore, that this music was played during parents’ child-rearing years, and made an imprint on our listeners when they were children.” The memories associated with the songs from decades past would often involve their families and cause these nostalgic “reminiscence bumps” of enjoyment. The researchers ultimately reported that the relationship between songs and memories were “closely related to whether they made participants feel happy or energized.”
So while some may consider the music of yesteryear better than what’s on the radio now, that may simply be a result of what our parents listened to.
Reading this Vulture piece, I took a while to grasp that, for the musicians interviewed, touring — which used to be what bands had to do to make money their records didn’t make — is a net loser. These people are basically paying to go on tour.
In contemporary society, pop music and politics mix freely—from voter registration drives at music festivals, to celebrities like Taylor Swift weighing in on elections. Back in 1970s Britain, however, that combination created controversy within political organizations.
Historian Evan Smith writes that in the late 1960s, a new organization formed, known as the National Front (NF). Appealing to some far-right members of the Conservative Party, it called for the expulsion of non-white immigrants from England. When an economic crisis hit the country in the 1970s, the NF began seeking support from white, working-class Labour voters, arguing that nonwhite immigrants were causing economic problems. Soon, NF members were holding street marches and sometimes violently attacking people in black communities.
In reaction, the British far left, including the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), began organizing antifascist and antiracist campaigns. While the Communists focused on peaceful protest and cooperation with local authorities to curb the National Front, some SWP activists directly confronted them in the streets.
Some young activists with ties to the SWP wrote an open letter in response to racist comments made by Eric Clapton. Beyond criticizing an individual musician, they called for “a rank and file movement against the racist poison in rock music.” This was the beginning of the Rock Against Racism (RAR) movement.
Smith writes that, while the SWP was a crucial supporter of RAR, it did not completely control it, or use it as a recruiting tool. Instead, RAR built a culture on the celebration of working-class, mixed-race punk and reggae music scenes, fanzines, and events that combined live music with activism.
In contrast, the Communist Party had long distrusted pop music, which it saw as a form of capitalist propaganda, bringing American materialism and moral decadence to the country. Communist organizers favored folk music, considered an authentic art form of the people.
Starting in 1978, RAR organized a series of big carnivals, drawing anywhere from 2,000 to 100,000 people each. Smith writes that the SWP hailed the events as a victory that drew hundreds of thousands of young people into antiracist organizing.
Ultimately, the results of Rock Against Racism were mixed. The National Front declined in influence after the mid-1970s. RAR didn’t necessarily lead youths to join socialist organizations or the Labour Party but it did encourage many young people to identify with antiracist and left-wing politics. Pop music has been important in political organizing ever since.
In these unsettling times, I turn to music to help me calm down — especially at day’s end, when I need to sleep. While calming melodies might not grant complete tranquility, they do nudge me in that direction. Thinking that others might also appreciate some soothing sounds, here is a playlist — roughly two CDs of music, incidentally — that I’ve named “Peace Pieces” (after the Bill Evans tune). It’s a mix of classical, new age, and jazz.
Looking for other relaxing music? I very much enjoy the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Orphee (2016). The opening track is #22 in the above playlist.
And there’s Moby’s Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep. (2016), which is also available for free on his website. (Breaking news: while creating that link, I learned that last week Moby released Long Ambients 2 via Calm. Within a month of its Calm release, the new album will become available via Spotify and Apple Music.)
The classic ambient record — my Desert Island Discs ambient record — is Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978). It’s excellent for relaxing.
If (for variety’s sake) you’d like a slightly different version of Eno’s album, check out Bang on a Can’s 1998 recording. I’ve listened to Eno’s so often that I lately find myself gravitating just as often to the Bang on a Can record.
I find Max Richter’s 8.5-hour Sleep (2015) to be a bit uneven. I like some pieces, but others are, frankly, less conducive to sleep. However, From Sleep (a 1-hour version of Sleep) is more likely to invite slumber. Indeed, two tracks included in From Sleep appear in my “Peace Pieces” playlist.
One more (added on Sunday, after this post went live): Winged Victory for the Sullen. Don’t let the name throw you off. The music is very grounding and not depressing — or, at least, I don’t find it to be. “A Symphony Pathetique” (from their self-titled debut) appears on my “Peace Pieces” playlist. Below are two albums and a couple of singles.
And with those bonus playlists (well, bonus albums, really), I’m concluding my week of posting a playlist each day. Miss any of the week’s musical delights? Links to the rest are below. And you can find others via my Spotify account.
The full list of the week’s mixes/playlists…
Final thought. When I began this blog back in 2010, I imagined that one of its primary functions would be sharing mixes. Back then, that proved far too labor-intensive. Indeed, I have since had to take down mp3s that I posted. The Yahoo interface through which they were playable (but not downloadable) has long since been abandoned, leaving the files vulnerable to theft. So, I swiftly complied with copyright holders’ requests by taking down not only the files I was asked to remove, but all of them. (I have begun reconstructing those mixes via Spotify: The “meta” mix is now available again. Others will become available when I find time…)
Now, perhaps, the blog is finally realizing its initial mix-sharing aspiration — though, yes, you do need to be on Spotify in order to listen. (Using Spotify is free, but using it without ads requires a subscription.) I hope these mixes have been enjoyable for you!
From the late 1970s into the 1990s, producers issued extended mixes — accompanied by instrumental versions, remixes, bonus tracks (songs cut from the record, live versions) — on 12″ records. The same size as a regular LP, each 12″ record had but a few songs on it. It might play at 45 rpm (like a single) or at 33 1/3 rpm (like an LP). By the mid-1980s, 12″ records were everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Spotify doesn’t have it, but Google Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark (Blaster Mix)” (1984). It’s his famous hit song but with more drums, and placed more prominently in the mix. Also: more glockenspiel. And just… longer.
The production on that Springsteen track — and on many of these — can be excessive to the point of parody. But not always. Though they’re not available digitally, Peter Gabriel’s 12″ singles for his So album (1986) included some beautiful, different arrangements of those songs. (You can find the 12″ arrangement of “In Your Eyes” on his live albums.) Turning to songs included here, the “Mendelsohn Extended Mix” of INXS’s “Need You Tonight” (1987) begins by dropping out the drumbeat and a guitar part while placing the synthesizer further up in the mix. When the drums arrive later, and the omitted guitar later still, the song already has already established a slightly dreamier feel. It’s familiar, but different.
Some of these also will not feel like “new” renditions of familiar tunes. The 12″ of Soft Cell’s cover of “Tainted Love” (1981) has become the definitive version of that song. Likewise, the 12″ versions of New Order’s “Blue Monday” (1983) and “Bizarre Love Triangle” (1986) are likely the recordings of those tunes that you know best. And some of these exist only in their 12″ versions — Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” (1980), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” (1982), Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” (1988).
Likely because I was a teenager when most of these songs were released, I’m fond of these 12″ singles, however bombastic or excessive they may be. I like the massive chorus that opens Depeche Mode’s 9-and-a-half-minute mix of “Never Let Me Down Again” (1987). And as far as I’m concerned, Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin can sing “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” (1985) for as long as they like. So, then, here are 74 extended mixes — running a total of eight hours — mostly from the 1980s. (There are also some tracks from the 1990s, and two from the 1970s.) Enjoy!
Coming tomorrow… the final playlist in this week-long experiment in musical delights!
The mixes/playlists thus far…
Nearly 30 years ago, when my nephew Graeme was born, I sought music to give him. But most of what I found in record stores proved unsatisfying. (Why listen to kid-i-fied cover of a great song when you could listen to the original?) So, I started making mix tapes for kids — which later became mix CDs. Now that we have arrived in the era of the playlist, here’s a playlist (mixlist?) of songs about travel, all derived from those earlier mixes. Needless to say, all are suitable for children and their adults — though most were not written expressly for children.
Continuing this week’s theme of musical delights, tomorrow (Friday) we will party like it’s 1989. Or even 1979. Bring your dancing shoes!
The mixes/playlists thus far…
Need a pick-me-up in the middle of the week? Whether you’re listening on Wednesday (the day I’m posting this) or not, welcome to this collection of sonic uplift! I’ve named it after the song you almost certainly know: Piero Umiliani’s “Mah Nà Mah Nà,” made famous in various versions performed by Jim Henson’s Muppets. On this playlist, however, you’ll hear the original, from the soundtrack of Svezia, inferno e paradiso (1968). You’ll also hear 49 other songs, composed by Umiliani, Ennio Morricone, Armando Trovaioli, Piero Piccioni, and others.
To give credit where due, this selection of film music by Italian composers, all recorded between 1965 and about 1976, draws inspiration (and a good portion of its playlist) from a 90-minute mix created by Bill DeMain over 20 years ago. He gave it to me on a cassette, but without song titles.
Maybe 5 or so years ago, assisted by the Shazam app, I managed to reconstruct much of it digitally. (It has long been a favorite mix of mine!) When I couldn’t find a particular track, I added something in a similar vein. I had such fun making it that I made a sequel. This playlist includes tracks from both — the attempted recreation of Bill’s original and my “Part II.” Though not everything is available on Spotify, a surprising amount is.
Tomorrow, this week-long experiment in musical delights continues with… a travel-themed playlist for children and their adults. See you then!
The mixes/playlists thus far…
Welcome to… over 100 cover versions of songs by the Beatles! 120 covers, to be precise. My favorites — not that you asked — are the truly transformative ones, such as Nina Simone’s “Revolution” (11th track on this playlist) and Harry Nilsson’s “You Can’t Do That” (57th track, which is also a mash-up). Though I really like versions that compel you to listen anew to a song you thought you knew, attempts at fidelity have their own appeal — especially when the song covered is the Beatles’ venture into concrete music, “Revolution No. 9.” (Scroll down to track #115 and listen to the version by Alarm Will Sound.)
Yes, technically, two of these are not covers. Lennon and McCartney pitched “I Wanna Be Your Man” to the Rolling Stones, who recorded it first. The Stones’ version, released 1 Nov. 1963, reached #12 in the UK. The Beatles’ recording appears on With the Beatles (released 22 Nov. 1963 in the UK). Similarly, Aretha Franklin’s “Let Be” was issued before the Beatles’ release of the original song. Franklin’s album This Girl’s in Love with You (which included both this and “Eleanor Rigby”) was released in January 1970, and the Beatles’ single (from the band’s final — and then still forthcoming — album) was released in March 1970. Franklin based her version on a Beatles demo.
This week-long experiment in musical delight (which I’ve hashtagged as #MusicDelights on Twitter) continues tomorrow with an energetic compilation of Italian film music from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. As I say in tomorrow’s post, a hearty thanks to Bill DeMain for introducing me to many of these!
The mixes/playlists thus far…
From songs directly about coffee to others with a coffee motif, this mix is for fans of coffee and music. To give credit where it’s due, some of these selections come from Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour program on coffee. The songs range from Emmylou Harris to Prince, Bob Marley to the Boswell Sisters, Lightnin’ Hopkins to Squeeze, Tom Waits to Sylvan Esso. I created the first iteration of this mix five years ago, and have made several versions of it since then. The result, for you, is a 35-song playlist devoted to coffee! So, brew yourself a cup… and have a listen!
Oh! And one more thing. This broad range of songs about coffee includes some that date back to at least the 1920s — “A Proper Cup of Coffee” is a British music-hall song from that period (though Ana Gasteyer’s recording is from 2014). As a result, you may occasionally encounter a problematic lyric, musical phrase, or vocal delivery. The one that stands out — indeed, the one that prompts this note — is Sinatra’s bizarre “Mexican” accent at the very end of his song about… Brazil. (I included it because it’s a classic coffee song, but jeez, Frank, WTF?) At any rate, of course, do feel free to skip that one — or any other that’s not to your taste.
A few notes on the songs (preceded by the songwriter, in parentheses).
1 (Suzanne Vega). From Solitude Standing (1987). The “actor who had died while he was drinking” is William Holden (1918-1981).
2 (Jim Infantino). From WERS: Live from Emerson College (2000), also appears on noplace like Nowhere (2000).
3 (Frank Loesser). From the 2011 Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961).
4 (Peter Dixon). From Schizophonic! (1996), the band’s second album — or third, if we include the soundtrack to Four Rooms (1995). Combustible Edison would release one more album before breaking up in 1999.
5 (Irving Berlin). Introduced in the Broadway musical Face the Music (1932). This recording — featuring vocals by Marion Hutton, Ernie Caceres and the Modernaires — is from 1942.
6 (Bob Hilliard & Dick Miles). A #6 pop hit in the U.S., in 1946.
7 (Ben Oakland & Milton Drake). A #15 pop hit in the U.S., in 1940.
8 (Patty Larkin). From Step Into the Light (1985), Larkin’s debut.
9 (Hank DeVito & Donivan Cowart). From Old Yellow Moon (2013).
10 (R.P. Weston & Bert Lee). This is an English music-hall song from the 1920s, originally popularized by Ernie Mayne. On Gasteyer’s I’m Hip (2014).
11 (Craig Ventresco). From the Ghost World soundtrack (2005).
12 (Adams & Corelli). Released as the b-side to Scatman Crothers’ “Dearest One” (1955).
13 (John Stiles, J. C. Hill). Released as a single in 1969, and collected on What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves, 1967-1977. (If you’re paying close attention, you’ll note that this was also on yesterday’s funk playlist — an inadvertent repeat on my part, but just as enjoyable in this context, I think!)
14 (Prince & Susannah Melvoin). From Prince’s Sign o’ the Times (1987).
15 (Billy Rose, Al Dubin, Joseph Meyer). Carl Stalling (1891-1972), arranger and composer (1936-1958) for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, often used this tune in scenes featuring cooking, eating, or hunger. The song dates to 1925 (sadly, Spotify lacks Nick Lucas’ 1926 recording), and the Buffalo Bills rendition is on the group’s 1959 album, The Buffalo Bills with Banjo.
16 (Al Dubin & Harry Warren). When asked to name the singer who most influenced her, Ella Fitzgerald always cited Connie Boswell, the sole Boswell sister to have a singing career after the group disbanded in 1936. (This song is from 1933.)
17 (Ray Henderson, Buddy G. DeSylva, Lew Brown). Written in 1928, and recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946, a year of many hits for the group — “The Frim Fram Sauce,” “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” “(I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons.” (This was not among those hits.)
18 (Danny Overbea). The final hit (#26, 1953) for Ella Mae Morse, a White singer who had hits on both the pop and R&B charts in the 1940s. She’s also one of many who was singing rock-n-roll before rock-n-roll (see also Big Joe Turner, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Helen Humes, Wynonie Harris,…).
19 (Glenn Troutman). Don’t let the songwriter’s name fool you: Glen Glenn is the stage name for Glenn Troutman. He recorded this song in 1958.
20 (Lightnin’ Hopkins). First released on Hopkins’ Walkin’ This Road by Myself (1961).
21 (Mississippi John Hurt). Recorded in 1963, this song inspired the band name the Lovin’ Spoonful.
22 (Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook). With backing vocals from Elvis Costello and Paul Young, this was a minor hit from Sweets from a Stranger (1981), also included on Singles — 45’s and Under (1982).
23 (Amelia Meath, Nick Sanborn, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich). Sylvan Esso’s 2014 song incorporates Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky” near the end (hence the Barry & Greenwich credit).
24 (Adam Schlesinger & Chris Collingwood). From Welcome Interstate Managers (2003), a great pop record best known for the hit “Stacy’s Mom.”
25 (Tom T. Hall). The b-side to Dave Dudley’s “What We’re Fighting For,” a #4 hit on the country charts in 1965.
26 (Tom Waits). From Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner (1975)
27 (Jerry Butler, Eddie Thomas, Jay Walker). From Otis Redding’s The Soul Album (1966).
28 (Shorty Long & Susan Heather). Single from 1956. Note: I don’t think this is the same Shorty Long known for “Function at the Junction.”
29 (Maurice Sigler, Al Goodhart, Al Hoffman). Recorded in 1935.
30 (Robert Marley). Yes, Robert Marley is Bob Marley. He recorded this song in 1962.
31 (Bob Dylan). From Masked and Anonymous: Music from the Motion Picture (2003).
32 (Marty Robbins). A #13 country hit for Frizzell in 1958.
33 (Steve Nelson & Jack Rollins). Single from 1951.
34 (Ron Sexsmith). From Sexsmith & Kerr’s Destination Unknown (2005).
35 (Sonny Burke, Paul Francis Webster). A #13 pop hit for Sarah Vaughan in 1949.
This is the first in a series of posts intended to elicit delight — specifically, musical delight. What occasions it? 1. There needs to be more joy in the world. 2. Inspired by Ross Gay’s Book of Delights (2019), I am trying to locate delight in the everyday. Music is one of my delights. 3. I have started recreating (as best I can) my iTunes playlists on Spotify.
Created a little over a year ago for a friend who requested a mix of instrumental funk, this playlist ought to lift your spirits. Though I have named it for the 1982 Clash song, the tracks here all date to funk’s first wave — or, at least, what I think of as its first wave. Part of the fun in responding to this request was that it required a bit of research on my part. (I’m interested in all kinds of music, but know funk far less well than other genres.) So,… if you think of any (mostly) wordless early funk instrumentals that should be added here, let me know! Note: the songs have to be on Spotify. (Alas, a few of my original choices were not on Spotify.) Enjoy!
ALSO: for the next week, I will be posting one mix each day, purely for the enjoyment of anyone who would like to listen. Tune in again tomorrow for a new playlist!
What is tomorrow’s theme? Well, since it will be Monday, I thought coffee would be apt. Thus, it will be 35 songs about coffee!
Here’s a post that appears today on Kansas State University’s Department of English blog.
Since 1942, the BBC’s Desert Island Discs program has invited guests (known as “castaways”) to divulge which eight recordings they would take, were they stranded on a desert island. Though the BBC program has never asked members of Kansas State University’s English Department, we are nonetheless offering our answers — starting with Philip Nel, University Distinguished Professor & Track Head of the MA in Children’s Literature.
I love this question because it compels you to think about which music is most important to you, and is impossible to answer definitively — my answers change over time. A quick perusal of the BBC’s website indicates that people must choose individual songs (or tracks) rather than full albums. So, I’m following that example — and including a bonus list of albums.
Listed in chronological order (by date of recording), here are my top eight tracks, assembled in a Spotify playlist (below) and with brief commentary after that. Enjoy!
And departing from the rules a bit, here are nine favorite LPs:
— Philip Nel, Professor
To keep our spirits up amidst the cascading catastrophes inflicted by the Russian Asset and his quislings (the GOP), the resistance needs a soundtrack. Here’s my offering for 2019.
And here’s last year’s mix, which is also featured in a post that includes “75 better names for 45,” since there are so many more apt names for the Evil Orange Man.
I think I first came across the music of Austin Cairns (AKA r beny) on Soundcloud, where he has a page you should check out, but he also posts some things just to YouTube, of which the piece above is a superb example. It has a quality that I especially prize in ambient music, which is that it rewards just as little or as much attention as you choose to give it. You can play this in the background as you work, but if you choose to focus on it there’s enough going on to fully occupy your musical neurons. (This cannot be said of much ambient music.) And there’s something oddly fascinating about watching his hands show up from time to time to make their delicate adjustments to the machine — it almost seems a living thing.
And of course I really really want a Digitone now.
You know how we add emoji to texts? In a face-to-face conversation, we don’t communicate simply with words, we also use facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and body language, and sometimes touch. Emojis are pictograms that let us express some of these things in a textual medium. I think that as social media are becoming more video-based, we’re going to be seeing new kinds of pictograms that do the same work as emoji do in text, but that will work for video.
I wrote a paper about this that was just published in Social Media and Society, which is an open access journal that has published some really fabulous papers in social media and internet studies. It’s called Hand Signs for Lip-syncing: The Emergence of a Gestural Language on Musical.ly as a Video-Based Equivalent to Emoji. As you might have guessed, it argues that the hand signs lip-syncs on musical.ly use are doing what emoji do for text – but in video.
Musical.ly is super popular with tweens and teens, but for those of you not in the know, here is an example of how the hand signs work on musical.ly.
Musical.ly has become a pretty diverse video-sharing app, but it started as a lip-syncing app, and lip-syncing is still a major part of musical.ly. You record 15 second videos of yourself singing to a tune that you picked from the app’s library. You can add filters and special effects, but you can’t add text or your own voice.
I think the fact that the modalities are limited – you can have video but no voice or text – leads to the development of a pictogram to make up for that limitation. That’s exactly what happened with text-based communication. Emoticons came early, and were standardised as emoji after a while.
Hand signs on musical.ly are pretty well defined. Looking at the videos or the tutorials on YouTube you’ll see that there are many that are quite standard. They’re usually made with just one hand, since the camera is held in the other hand, and often camera movements are important too, but more as a dance beat than as a unit of meaning. Here are the hand signs used by one lip-syncer to perform a 15 second sample from the song “Too Good” by Drake and Rihanna. First, she performs the words “I’m way too good to you,” using individual signs for “too”, “good”, “to” and “you”.
The next words are “You take my love for granted/I just don’t understand it.” This is harder to translate into signs word for word, so the lip-syncer interprets it in just three signs, pointing to indicate “you”, shaping her fingers into half of a heart for “love”, and pointing to her head for “understand”.
Looking at a lot of tutorials on YouTube (I love Nigeria Blessings’ tutorial) and at a lot of individual lip-syncing videos, I came up with a very incomplete list of some common signs used on musical.ly:
In my paper I talk about how these hand signs are similar to the codified gestures used in early oratory and in theatre. These are called chironomics, and there are 17th and 18th century books explaining them in detail. The drawings are fascinating:
I think it’s important to think of the hand signs as performance, and in the theatrical or musical sense, not in the more generalised sense that Goffman used for a metaphor, where all social interaction is “performative”. No, these are literal performances, interpretations of a script for an audience. That’s important, because without realising that, we might think the hand signs are just redundant. After all, they’re just repeating the same things that are said in the lyrics of the song, but using signs. When we think of the signs as part of a performance, though, we realise that they’re an interpretation, not simply a repetition. Each muser uses hand signs slightly differently.
And those hand signs aren’t easy. Just look at Baby Ariel, who is very popular on musical.ly, trying to teach her mother to lip-sync. Or look at me in my Snapchat Research story trying to explain hand gestures on musical.ly just as I was starting to write the paper that was published this week:
The full paper, which is finally published after two rounds of Revise & Resubmit (it’s way better now) is open access, so free to read for anyone.