I saw the new James Bond movie the other day. If you have even a remote love for Bond in your heart, this one is definitely worth seeing in the theaters. I’ve seen just about every movie in the series, including the weird ones like the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again, and I feel confident in saying that this new one ranks easily among the best. However, I’m here to talk about the music of Bond.
As even the most casual Bond fan knows, a major component of each movie is the opening theme song. Adele does justice to the legacy with her excellent song for Skyfall. Still, it’s hard to beat the queen of all Bond singers, Shirley Bassey. With three songs in the Bond theme repertoire, she sets the gold standard (get it?) that everyone else has to live up to. She manages to effortlessly combine sensuality, tongue-in-cheek playfulness, and power in her singing, all hallmarks of the Bond mythos itself. Other singers have managed to hit the mark on one or two of these, but with the possible exception of Tom Jones effort for Thunderball, only Bassey has managed to pull off the entire trifecta so well.
Here she is singing the song live at Royal Albert Hall circa 1964-65. She absolutely kills it.
Here’s an excellent video for a Gotye instrumental by the animation studio Rubber House. It has kind of a nightmarish Golden Books vibe to it, or like it’s some weird foreign knock off of a proper children’s book.
This was brought to my attention via the Twitter feed of the fantastically talented Marlo Meekins, who, in addition to having the best name ever, also contributed some design and background work to the video. Follow her Tumblr blog for your fill of funny and twisted comic strips.
James Taylor demonstrating how to play Fire and Rain.
I love James Taylor’s music, and I have no problem saying so. I saw him live several years ago, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. He was doing a stripped down thing, accompanied occasionally by a pianist and what he called his “drum machine”. On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss his music as light, smoothed over fluff, but that does it a disservice. Between songs, he would often explain the context in which they were written, revealing his incredible sense of humor, which is often quite dark. He makes no secret of his struggles with drugs and depression, and while in recent years he seems to be much happier, I sometimes get the sense he remains haunted by some of his personal demons.
I stumbled on these videos the other day, and I’m really glad I did. I think Taylor rarely gets the credit he deserves for his guitar playing, which is deceptively sophisticated and unique. Watching his left hand, I’m quite surprised at the way he fingers the chords. They’re all fairly basic, but he fingers them almost entirely backwards from the way they are traditionally taught. I think it allows him some more mobility to play the walking bass lines and suspensions that are a part of his trademark sound, although it could just be that’s how he learned to play them and developed his style around that. Either way, it’s a rare insight into a beautiful song, straight from the man who wrote it.
Also of note are the rather intimidating finger nails on his right hand. I know many guitar players who primarily play finger style and have hefty nails, but I still find it jarring when I see someone with huge talons. In an earlier video in this same series, he actually explains his nail maintenance procedure. He reinforces them with layers of fiber glass tape and glue, and even has a little kit he carries around with him expressly for this purpose. He talks about going into a nail salon and getting fake ones put on at one point. I would love to have seen the looks on the faces of the people working there as this tall, lanky, folksy gentleman walked in asking for some help with his nails.
Jon Lord died today. As essential as Ian Gillan’s voice and Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar are to the Deep Purple sound, Jon Lord’s monstrous organ played just as integral a role. Listen to the opening riff of their most famous song, Smoke On The Water. The first couple of times through, it’s just Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar. The riff is legendary and a rite of passage for anyone who has ever picked up a guitar, in reality, it’s actually quite wimpy sounding on its own. Howver, the third time through, the riff is doubled with Jon Lord’s dirty, growling organ. Only then does it sound like the heavy, crushing riff of legend.
In honor of of the man, here is a great live video of Deep Purple performing one of my favorite songs of theirs, Child In Time. As much of a showcase as it is for Ian Gillan’s voice, Jon Lord gets equal billing, with the primary riff being played on his organ, and a blistering solo starting at around 3:33. Rest in peace.
In a rare moment of discovering music I like made after 1981 or so, I’ve been getting way, way into Little Dragon lately. Yukimi Nagano has an excellent voice, and it’s really refreshing to see a band whose sound is heavily electronic execute a song flawlessly in a live setting.
XTC is a band whose output I am woefully unfamiliar with. They’re like the Rush of power pop, with a modest yet fiercely devoted (and mostly male) fan base. Of the songs of theirs I do know, however, this is my favorite. It takes the already antiquated idea of a sock hop and reflects it through the oddball, angular lens of late ’70s punk and new wave.
The guitar riff that plays through the entire song is my favorite part. It’s a twisted and upside down version of so many classic Motown bass riffs, as if someone tried to describe what a FourTops record sounded like to the unfamiliar guitar player and he gave it his best shot.
Here’s a great video of a young, groovy Terry Gilliam explaining how he made one of his classic animated segments for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Just watching him describe his process makes me laugh. The amount of painstaking effort each of his animated segments must have taken boggles my mind. Also of note, I used to think his particular way of speaking was a result of years of living in England, but watching this, it seems as if that’s how he’s always talked.
I think for the majority of people, Grace Slick is the first and only person that comes to mind when they think of the voice of Jefferson Airplaine. My guess is this is because of the longevity of “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” on classic rock radio. It’s unfortunate, because her male counterpart Marty Balin (who started the band, incidentally) has his own fair share of great songs. Despite what thebandwouldbecome, the original incarnation had moments of real rawness and ferocity.
This is my favorite song of theirs, and this video is an absolutely blistering version of it. At first I thought that maybe the tape was sped up a bit, but comparing it to some other versions on YouTube, it seems like they are just really keyed up here. I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions as to why.
BONUS: Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy some of the band’s later hits. I think their many stylistic shifts from the ’60s until the ’80s are pretty bizarre, but I can’t fault them for doing what they had to do to stay viable as a band. I tend to think of each phase as almost a completely different band.
Here’s what’s probably the most bizarre moment in their history: an appearance in the abysmal 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. If you’re not familiar, go here first, then watch this video as the band is introduced by Art Carney (?!). Listen as Marty Balin struggles to hit some arena rock high notes while singing about vanishing “in a star-shaped object”. Shakespeare wept.
The incomparable Sam & Dave performing one of my favorite songs of theirs on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. The riff in the chorus is so boneheadedly simple and yet so perfect. Everything about this song is stripped down to the absolute essentials and executed flawlessly by an ultra-tight band. This is just a glimpse into what was apparently their legendary live show.
Somebody That I Used To Know - By Gotye and featuring Kimbra
I heard this song on the radio this evening, and I think it’s really great. Judging by the number of views this video currently has, it looks like I’m late to the party once again. Although, according to the Wikipedia article about it, it seems like it was much larger hit everywhere in the world but the US, which is unfortunate. I’m glad I know about it now, though.