What’s that song from that movie that I liked?

      Music and movies have always had a connection , even in the early years of cinema. The very first movies were silent but had music as a soundtrack. Some films, when shown in the theater, were accompanied by musicians playing live. Directors recognized even then that music could be used as an instrument to create atmosphere and evoke emotion. Many of our greatest films can be identified by only a few bars played from their musical score.
Filmmakers in the last 50 years or so have increasingly used music in their films that was not specifically written for that purpose. In essence, these filmmakers have become curators pulling together sometimes disparate songs with the overall goal of creating atmosphere, setting the mood and even advancing the plot.The tone of the movie Trainspotting was undeniably set with it’s iconic opening scene of three Scottish hoodlums running through the streets to Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”.

     While not one of my favorite movies, I can’t deny that the opening scene of Saturday night fever and the song “Staying Alive” were made for each other. The soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever was produced with the movie in mind but it was also a stand alone album that could’ve been released on his own without the existence of the movie.

     Many movies over the years have made extensive use of popular music with varying degrees of success. The best ones have managed to choose songs that complemented the action taking place on screen without distracting from it.
Two of my personal favorites are “Almost Famous“ and “High Fidelity”.

     Almost Famous is a semi- autobiographical, part fact, part fiction retelling of young Cameron Crowe’s experience as a 15-year-old who manages to get an assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to tour with and write a profile on a young up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll band. What results is a chronicle of a rock tour and a coming of age story in the early 1970’s world of rock ‘n’ roll excess. The movie is filled with music from that era without using the most obvious choices. One of the most memorable scenes takes place on the tour bus after a night of hard partying by the lead guitarist jeopardizes the tour. The film muses artists including the Who, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Todd Rundgren, the Beach boys, Simon & Garfunkel, David Bowie covering Lou Reed and even Thunderclap Newman.

     High Fidelity tells the story, adapted from the book written by Nick Hornby, of the owner of a store called Championship Vinyl, played by John Cusack. It’s the story of his journey from a string of failed romances to an actual grown-up relationship told in the format of “my top five break ups”. Every music nerd has engaged in the discussion of “my top five albums”, “my top five songs”, etc. This movie uses that device extensively. The music often takes center stage but does it without crowding out the story or the characters. It varies from classic Stevie Wonder to more obscure modern rock and punk; Dylan,The Kinks, Velvet Underground, Stereolab, the Beta band, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello and the Attractions and the Jam to name a few.
As an added bonus, there’s even a brief cameo by Bruce Springsteen. It also doesn’t hurt that Jack Black is hilarious.

     What these two movies have in common, aside from both being among my top five all-time favorite films, is that the creators of these films happen to obviously love music. The music in both of them is practically a supporting actor

     Another movie worth mentioning is Empire records from 1995. It’s the story of a day in the life of an independent record store staffed by a bunch of misfits and oddballs. I mention it not because it’s a good movie, far from it. It’s actually a terrible movie. It has plot holes you can drive a semi through, exposition that appears out of nowhere and then disappears without further exploration, and moments of high drama that have no place in a movie this lightweight. So naturally, I’ve seen it at least five times. Why? Because the soundtrack is actually half decent. It’s got some Dire Straits, AC/DC, some more obscure but interesting music and a surreal performance of a punk pop song called “Sugar High” by a very young Renee Zellweger at the climax of the movie. Music is truly the glue that holds this rambling wreck of a movie together. Oh, Liv Tyler is also in it and for me that always increases the odds of a repeat viewing.

     Of course, there are many movies that have fantastic soundtracks; Apocalypse now, Forrest Gump, Good Morning Vietnam and Pulp Fiction, to name a few. Tom Hanks, as producer of the movie “That Thing You Do”, actually pulled off an amazing feat. He told the story of a fictional one hit wonder band in the early 1960s touring with a bunch of other artists of that era. He managed to do it with almost all original music made by fictional singers that sounded like it was written in 1962. This movie also has the distinction of being one of only a few movies I can put on at my house when no one can agree on what to watch and everyone will be happy.
(Liv Tyler is in this one too)

     Music and TV shows have also been a good match. Many shows have used music to their advantage and done it well. The West Wing and the Newsroom, both created by Aaron Sorkin, have memorable episodes which included music from a number of different artists. In the second season of The West Wing, the season finale climaxed with the Dire Straits song, “Brothers in Arms”. That episode remains one of the creative peaks of a show with many creative high points.
The Newsroom used the Coldplay song “Fix You” early in the first season at a pivotal moment in the arc of that first season’s story line. (It’s a 7 minute clip but worth the time)

The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”Provided the soundtrack to the most important segment of the season finale.

     Actor and director Zach Braff takes enormous interest in the music in his projects. The show Scrubs used music extensively to the point that two albums worth of music from the soundtrack were release. In his first movie that he starred and directed in, “Garden State”, also incorporated music extensively and resulted in an album soundtrack.

     A good soundtrack in a movie or TV show almost always gets my attention. At its best the music makes a good story even better. I’ll even put up with the flaws of a bad movie if the music is good. Only the combination of bad movie, saddled with bad music, will send me running for the exits or changing the channel.

Or, you can just make the movie about Johnny Cash.

Today in Music History July 19

1954, Elvis Presley’s first single, “That’s All Right” was released by Sun Records.

 

1974 The Ozark Music Festival began today at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, Missouri.  Acts who appeared included Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Joe Walsh, Aerosmith and Spirit. A committee of the Missouri state Senate issued a report after the festival stating that the festival made Sodom and Gomorrah look mild by comparison.

1987, Bruce Springsteen played his first concert behind the Iron Curtain when he appeared in East Berlin in front of 180,000 people.Sources: This Day in Music.com; Wikipedia.

A Change was Made Uptown, and the Piano Man Joined the Band…

Last night in NYC, Billy Joel celebrated his 100th MSG show with special guest Bruce Springsteen!

From Backstreets.com


“JERSEY AND LONG ISLAND BUST THE CITY IN HALF”
Last night in NYC, Bruce Springsteen headed downtown from 48th Street to 33rd, to join Billy Joel for a big night at Madison Square Garden. Celebrating his unprecedented 100th lifetime show at the Garden, Billy brought Bruce out midway through Wednesday night’s concert, introducing him as “an old friend of mine… an Oscar-winner, Grammy-winner… and a Tony Award-winner, please welcome Bruce Springsteen!”

Taking the stage with mic in hand, to plenty of Brooocing and a hug from his pal, Springsteen congratulated Billy on 100 shows before counting the band into “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.” “Do it again, do it again!” he called to Billy’s horn section, before working the stage and hopping up on the piano as he has at the Garden many times before — though not in the triple digits. Billy took the second verse, and Bruce didn’t miss the opportunity for a perfect lyric change: “They made that change uptown, and the Piano Man joined the band!” And of course, “Jersey and Long Island bust the city in half.”

Soon Bruce was strapping on his trusty Fender for one more: “Born to Run.” Billy sang the second verse on this one, too, and his longtime saxman Mark Rivera joined Bruce center stage for a deft turn on the iconic sax solo. Interestingly, one other band member on stage has played that solo before, as this appearance also reunited Springsteen with ’92-93 bandmember Crystal Taliefero.

Watch the full appearance above — pretty thrilling to see Springsteen not only back in his rock ‘n’ roll element with two classics, but to be sharing a big moment with his Columbia compatriot. As proclaimed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, yesterday was officially Billy Joel Day in the state of New York — congrats to Billy on the honor and on 100 nights at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
– July 19, 2018 – photograph via Twitter/@WineConcierge – setlist via Twitter/@billyjoel

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 7/14/18

 

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Our family (like many) loves the Harry Potter books and movies.  I have read the books three times (once myself, and once each with each of my kids).  I have always been a bit disappointed with the movies as I feel that they don’t always do justice to the richness of the novels – of course they can’t given the inherent limits of time and format of a movie.

But when we heard that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) was going to be playing the soundtrack to the 4th movie, HP and the Goblet of Fire, live as the movie played, we thought it would be a fun way to see the movie.

My sense is that many professional orchestras have been doing these types of concerts as a way of connecting with younger generation of listeners.  Of course the counter point, as expressed by my son’s music teacher (herself a professional bass player) is that it just shows that audiences these days can’t even listen to an orchestra without some visual stimulation.  Be that as it may….

Goblet of Fire is one of my favorites of the movie series, and I was excited to see how it would be with a live symphony accompaniment.  In a word it was amazing!

After the traditional orchestra tune-up, the orchestra conductor Jeffrey Schindler came out and enthusiastically welcomed the audience, encouraging everyone to enjoy the movie by clapping, cheering and laughing to their favorite parts.  He then polled us on our Hogwarts House allegiances (we have always been Gryffindor, although I was surprised how many Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws there were in audience – even Slytherin got a good response).  As the house lights went down, the stage was black except for small lights on the orchestra member’s music stands so they could see their music, and a single spotlight on the conductor.  At first I thought this would be distracting in watching the movie on the large screen above the orchestra, but it left my awareness after the movie started.  The other potential distraction was that the film was close captioned, but again this ended up not being a big deal and was actually essential at several points where the orchestra music made it hard to hear the dialogue. (Although it did make it clear how simple and brief the movie dialogue is).  Given that the movie was close to 2:40, there was a 15 minute intermission about 1:30 into the movie.

Where having a live orchestra playing live to the movie worked best was during the many dramatic or suspenseful scenes – the Quidditch World Cup, the naming of the House Champions by the Goblet, the dragon task, the underwater lake task, the Yule Ball, and especially the final task and scene with Voldemort [I am assuming readers have seen the movies – if not, sorry…].  All of these scenes were enhanced, made more dramatic or suspenseful by both the volume of the sound and the brightness and clarity of the themes being played.   Call me crazy, but Emma Watson looked all the more stunning coming down the stairs at the Yule Ball with the orchestra accompaniment.  Ditto the death of Cedric Diggory, which was all the sadder and more tragic.

As I mentioned earlier, I have sometimes been disappointed with the movie versions of the Harry Potter books, in part because I find myself always comparing them to the books and thinking of all the plotlines being left out or changed.  But I have to say that seeing Goblet of Fire with the BSO let me enjoy the movie on its own merits and as its own version of the story.  There were many times when I simply forgot that the orchestra was there and that the music was just bigger and bolder than normal.

Having a live symphony orchestra playing while watching is a one of a kind experience that I would definitely recommend everyone experience at least once (we are already planning for future Harry Potter concerts as well as Star Wars)!

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Today in Music History July 18

1953, Elvis Presley, still a truck driver at the time, records his first songs for a vanity disc for his Mom.  The disc costs $3.98 and includes two songs, “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.”

 

1964, The Rolling Stones make their first appearance on the US music charts with their cover of the Buddy Holly hit “Not Fade Away.”

 

1966, Bobby Fuller, whose band The Bobby Fuller Four achieved fame with the song “I Fought the Law”  was found dead in his car in Los Angeles of gasoline asphyxiation at the age of 23. His death was labeled a suicide, although numerous other theories have been put forward over the years. “I Fought the Law” regained fame in the 1970s when the Clash covered it.

 

1973 Bruce Springsteen began a four night stand at New York City’s Max’s Kansas City.  The opening band was a new reggae artist making their first tour of North America – Bob Marley and the Wailers! (Not that is a concert for the ages!)

Image result for bruce springsteen max's kansas city 1973

 

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