Category Archives: Music

Christmas Traditions, Part 7

I was pondering writing about Christmas music, some of which we’ve been listening to over the last week. But today, as expected, has been somewhat busy.

So, instead of writing about Christmas music, I’m going to write about Christmas music.

The Troparion for the Nativity:
Your Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a Star to adore You,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know You, the Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to You!

And the Kontakion:
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

Have a great Christmas, everybody!

Waltz For The Moon

Yesterday’s post was intended to be a quick one, but fact-checking led me to a far more detailed analysis, which took far longer. After finishing the half-season of Agents Of Shield this evening, I was getting very close to falling asleep during Deep Space Nine.

The Alternate, the episode wasn’t bad, I was just exhausted. The effects were, erm, primitive.

So now I think about something quick to write about this evening (as the internet goes down, hopefully temporarily for maintenance).

One of the things I talk about on here fairly regularly, is Final Fantasy. Most games in the series are self-contained, but it can get confusing to a casual observer when there are direct sequels. For example, Final Fantasy XI is not a sequel to Final Fantasy X, but Final Fantasy X-2 is.

Final Fantasy VIII is one of those games that attracts mixed reviews. The lead character, Squall, is a bit of a self-imposed social exile, so his unwillingness to engage other characters more than he has to, makes it difficult for some to connect with him. And some people didn’t like the timey-wimey ending.

There’s a video from the game, which I think is pretty popular. Squall’s at his graduation, there’s a dance going on, and he’s standing off to the side. A girl, Rinoa, who soon afterwards becomes a main character, convinces him to dance.

It’s interesting to watch the progression from completely inept, through moderately incompetent, to actually pretty good. Our Squall’s a quick learner. And how he tries to give up a couple of times.

I like the music. The track is called “Waltz For The Moon”. This uses the same basic tune as the main song of the game, “Eyes On Me”, but with a completely different flow.

If you watch this, you’ll notice that the song isn’t completely grammatically correct English. It was written by a Japanese guy, for a Japanese-originated game, so I don’t have a problem with giving some slack there. The song is actually about two other characters in the game: Laguna and Julia. Julia was a singer, who Laguna kept going to see, but kept failing to talk to. Then circumstances diverged their paths, and Julia had a hit with that song she wrote about them.

I love the line, “Did you ever know, that I had mine on you”. I also like “I’m more than the dress and the voice”. I almost wanted to hear that line on The Voice, back when I was watching it.

So there you go, two versions of a catchy little tune, connecting two stories in the game.

‘Tis The Season For Some Irreverence

Christmas songs. It’s that time of year, and yule hear them more and more as the rest of the month slips by. And, of course, the more one hears them, the more one starts playing with the lyrics. I think it’s called “coping strategy”. Even when you’re browsing in a store where the music is turned down low, you’re guaranteed to here FIVE GOLD RINGS a bunch of times if that song is on, even if you can’t really hear the rest of it.

My name being Mark (Shh! don’t tell anybody!), “Mark, The Herald-Angels Sing” (and why wouldn’t they? Don’t answer that) has long been a favourite.

Another one that kids often enjoy messing with, is:
“While shepherds washed their socks by night
all seated round the tub
The angel of the Lord came down,
And gave them all a scrub.”

Incidentally, I visited Israel a few years ago, and visited the site called The Shepherds’ Fields. There was kind of a dirty little pool in the ground, looked like it had drainage. I suggested that that was where the shepherds washed their socks.

There was a commercial on Sky one Christmas, for Wrestlemania. Back when it was WWF, not WWE. Had it on VHS when I taped off the TNG 2-parter The Best Of Both Worlds. The voice-over on the advert was singing to the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. I’m sure the anecdote would be more amusing if I could remember the whole thing, but the “For Jesus Christ our saviour was born upon this day” line was (something) “Wrestlemania, it’s live on Boxing Day”. And then the good tidings of comfort and joy turned into “With good hidings, discomfort and pain, plenty of pain”, with a very gloating tone of voice on the “plenty”.

Anyone else think that line in “Once In Royal David’s City”, where “Christian children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as He.” was a big guilt-trip?

Tomorrow, the last Christmas present I plan on ordering for over here, will arrive. When boxes and packages have arrived from Amazon containing presents, I’ve been singing “Christmastime is here”, from the Charlie Brown Christmas.

I remember Have I Got News For You mocking some politician wanting to rename Christmas as Winterval. Well, actually, I remember Winterval, the circumstances behind it are a lot more vague. But there are definitely songs where “Winterval” fits a lot better timing-wise, than “Christmas”.

“Winterval is here”
“Simply, having, a wonderful Winterval”.

In America, there is this cereal that I haven’t tried, called Grape Nuts. There was an amusing advertising campaign that I was exposed to, that I actually enjoyed (quite a feat given how much I’ve come to not-enjoy advertising). Goes on about how they’re not really grapes, and they’re not really nuts.

I mention them because it’s just fun to sing, “Grape-Nuts roasting on an open fire…”

“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches”. A song we often mutilate, in so many ways. Singing to Youngest, “O youngest child, O youngest child, it’s time to change your nappy” (only with his name instead of “youngest child”). Sometimes I sing to a kid and change the “how lovely are your branches”, sometimes I retain it, depending on what seems funnier, or most expected, at the time.

So a few months ago, Middlest was shown a Christmas cactus at her great-grandma’s place. She spontaneously came out with,
“O Christmas cactus, o Christmas cactus,
How lovely are your prickles!”

Funny girl.

When I was a kid, I knew a bunch of other kids who had toys in the Manta Force range. There was a big space ship, which could carry rather a lot of other vehicles on the inside, I don’t think many people had many of the smaller pieces. Being rather more familiar with Father Christmas as a term for the popular notion of St Nicholas, a certain Christmas song became “Manta Force is coming to town”.

I like joking that “White Christmas” is racist. There’s nothing on Wikipedia to suggest that it really is.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” so very easily becomes “It’s the most wonderful time for a beer”. Which it is, go have one.

And once you’ve had more than your fair share of alcohol, try singing some of the old classics. Like “Good King what’s-his-face”.

Here, have one of those Christmas songs that I don’t think outstays its welcome on radio at this time of year:

And may all your Wintervals be white.

FF Violin

I have mentioned before, more than once, being rather fond of Final Fantasy music. Of course hearing some when I played the games, downloaded some MIDIs that I used to listen to on my phone, back when I had one. Listened to a bunch of different arrangements: the Distant Worlds orchestral series for one, various piano arrangements (the official Piano Arrangements, various YouTubers).

Last night I was watching more arrangements on YouTube, I found a complicated solo piano version of the battle theme from IX, and another of The Man With The Machine Gun from VIII (Oldest’s favourite). I stumbled upon a series of Related videos, which were tracks from a series of albums called “FF Violin”.

A violin or two are the featured instruments, but there are other instruments on the tracks as well.

Contrasting with PS1 music/MIDI, piano and full orchestra, these violin tracks have something of a different character about them. Which makes sense. And again, it’s another set of music that I could just listen to all day (and I did for a pretty big chunk of today).

The musicians behind these tracks made 5 albums, but they’re only available in Japan (well, you can import them, but like other Japanese CDs they’re rather expensive that way).

Playlist here,  includes all the first album, most of the third, some of the second, and one video containing the whole of the fifth. Here‘s a video of the second, and here‘s one of the fourth.

Comparison: Telegraph Road and Dry County

I have talked about getting my first album as a present, more-or-less together with my first Walkman. The opening to the album was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Guitars making engine sounds, swirling from one side to the other and back, fading or turning into something different. Kind of a story hinting at the story to come in an instrumental track that I would discover later in the album. Then the piano hits, beautiful but intricate, those fingers might be flying faster than my car. The guitars continue their thing, and it’s still a while before it all calms down and the vocals start.

Meat Loaf’s “Anything For Love”, the first track on Bat Out Of Hell II, was my proper introduction to long songs. I think the Walkman, and that album as it was the only one I had at the time, might not have been my first exposure to listening closely to songs, but it might be close enough, picking out the threads the instruments weaved, examination of background vocals as well as the main ones. And perhaps most of all, my first really close look at song as story.

This post is not about that song. But it kind of sets the background for two songs that I like, that are both pretty long, and both tell stories.

Telegraph Road by Dire Straits clocks in at over 14 minutes. The song starts simply, with just a long, fairly high-pitched sound. Then the music starts, a simple melody that gets more complicated, and played-around, as the song goes on.

The narrative starts simply as well, a guy walking down a lonely path, finding a place to set up a home, then civilisation being built up around him. The independent spirit only lasts a short time: “Then came the churches, then came the schools, then came the lawyers, then came the rules”. As it builds up to present-day, making your own way becomes nigh impossible, the place seems kind of dead-end. A similar sentiment to this quote from another song that I won’t otherwise mention: “The boundaries of this town are closing in just like a noose, the future’s gonna rust if we don’t put it to some use”. Then that wonderful solo, all the way to the end of the track.

Dry County by Bon Jovi is “only” nearly ten minutes long. It starts remarkably similarly, with a chord instead of the one note, and then the tune comes in. The opening lyrics play with associations of hope and despair. Then, “I came here like so many did, to find a better life”. He’d come down the Telegraph Road to the same place, but arrived after the lawyers and rules. All the promise had already drained away from the place.

While Telegraph Road had that throwaway line talking about the churches, Dry County makes more of the religious imagery and wordage: water into wine, a reference to the Eucharist, talk about praying, and about sins. This would fit with the album that Dry County is on: Keep The Faith.

Thematically, structurally, the songs could be twins. Musically, there may be elements in Telegraph Road to place it in its home of 1982. Perhaps something in that distinctive guitar sound. I think Dry County is more easily placed in 1992, from the instrumentation. So perhaps brothers, rather than twins. So it’s fitting that when I listen to one, I usually listen to the other one right next to it.

Best Song On The Album – Whaler By Sophie B Hawkins

Once upon a time, there was a song on the radio that I liked. Actually, the nineties was a pretty good decade for such things, but this was a while before things like realising Virgin’s “No repeat 9-5″ had virtually the same playlist every day (you could just about set your clock by November Rain at one point), or suffering “Chasing Cars” five times in one night shift.

So this song I liked, I didn’t really catch enough in the way of lyrics, and certainly nothing in the way of announcements, to find out what that song was.

Some years later, on a message board I frequented at the time, I mentioned some half-remembered lyrics, and some helpful person said something along the lines of “That kinda sounds like…”, then named a song, which quick research revealed to be the right one.

“As I Lay Me Down”, by Sophie B. Hawkins.

This turned out to be her last single, coming from the second of her four albums.

Some time after that (I have no idea how much time), I came across that album, “Whaler”, in a charity shop. Due to meticulous record-keeping (AKA “not peeling the label off”), I know I got it in Help The Aged for £2.99. Bit steep for a CD in a charity shop, but hey. I was young (ish) and reckless (well, perhaps, can’t say I really remember).

We have a 5-CD changer in the living room, and some CDs tend to be picked, stay in there for a while (a mealtime tends to take most of 1 CD, and if the player’s left going we’ll sometimes reach a third, and occasionally it reaches the end of the 5th). Then after a while, someone decides it’s time to change CDs, and we get another batch that lasts a while.

Recently, Whaler (from 1994) was brought into the playlist. It’s been played a few times. so what’s the best song on the album?

Sometimes, an album will contain tracks that are better than the singles (“you released THAT one as a single?”). And other times, the single tracks are the good ones, and the rest feels more like filler.

Well this time round, I can’t say that I put on headphones, and subjected myself to a close listening of the album 5 times before writing about it. I did notice that a bunch of the rest of the album had more of a pop edge to it, where if I was making a playlist and was familiar with those songs, I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to them.

Perhaps it’s familiarity with the track, perhaps this track is that much different from the others, but the only track that’s really stood out, in that “I want to hear this” kind of way, as the sound of the album drifts out into the house, is “As I Lay Me Down”. It’s so pretty. None of the other tracks made me want to come over and find out what the track was called. Of course, neither did this one, because I already know. But you know what I mean.

Silly Songs

A long time ago, because I was working with children in my church, my grandfather gave me a VeggieTales video (Rack, Shack, and Benny).

VeggieTales seems to have its popularity rooted in its early days (probably about to the Jonah movie). We, even having kids, haven’t steadfastly kept up with all the new releases (one, at least, according to reviews, achieving a dubiously low quality – but we haven’t got that one).

Today I’m just going to share with you two silly songs, which are as deserving of popularity as the more famous Hairbrush Song, His Cheeseburger, and so on. There are more that are worth mentioning, but I wanted to limit myself today.

As a parent, that second one rings really true…


Harp Twins

I started writing a post on a different subject, and research started taking a while, and it just got to a point where I decided I needed to go to bed soon, so I decided to save that post for another day, and give you something less complicated.

So, following on from yesterday’s post about stuff I found on YouTube, I thought I’d highlight a couple of YouTube stars who have been rather prolific in their output.

I found the Harp Twins, Camille and Kennerly, from their Star Trek themes cover. They take tunes they line, TV themes, movie tunes, video game music, rock, and heavy metal, and create arrangements of the tunes, for two harps to play. then they record them, video them, and put them up on YouTube for your enjoyment.

(of course, if I’m going to embed one, it’ll be Final Fantasy tunes)

Their Lord Of The Rings covers are a favourite, Oldest loved their Star Wars medley.

There’s all sorts of stuff to enjoy there, and I hope you do enjoy it. nice relaxing playlist to have on in the background of your day.

Not Recasting Indiana Jones

As I was looking at Facebook last night, there was a news story about a proposed fifth Indiana Jones movie. Harrison Ford is allegedly getting on a bit (that’s just makeup and prosthetics in the Star Wars: Force Awakens trailer, right?), and apparently some voices were voicing the possibility of recasting the role.

It seems they attempted to set up a potential replacement in the last movie, but The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull didn’t really become a fan favourite (it’s debatable whether it beats out Temple Of Doom to get into Indy fans’ Top 3 Indy Movies list), so we’re unlikely to see “Shia LaBeouf And The Next Indy Franchise” in the near future.

The articles going round quote producer Frank Marshall as saying that the character of Indiana Jones won’t be recast, they won’t do the Bond thing of calling a bunch of different people the same character name.

Yes! they’re going to bring River Phoenix back!

Rats, he’s deceased and unavailable for future projects.

Yes! They’re going to bring George Hall back!

No, wait, he was older than Ford, and is also deceased and unavailable for future projects. And has also been edited out of all the home media releases of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. That’s not fair.

If they were going to bring in someone-who’s-already-played-Indy as a way to cheat around the “no, we’re not recasting it” statement, the obvious choices would be the Young Indiana Joneses (the aforementioned George Hall played “Old Indy” in that show).

Corey Carrier played the younger Young Indy, and might rival Ford for screentime as Indy, at 7 episodes (and 2 TV movies, which were some Young Indy episodes cut together). His acting career seems to not be a focus for him right now, the last thing he was in was in 2000. This needn’t be a bad thing, his comeback could be a “Unknown Actor Found To Play Indy (who happened to already have played Indy)” marketing bonanza.

At 22 episodes (plus re-edited TV movies), though, Sean Patrick Flanery has undoubtedly had the most time playing Indiana Jones on screen. To suggest that this might make him “The” Indiana Jones would be to risk a lynching, but his IMDB page suggests that he’s a very hardworking actor. Whether any of his other roles are iconic enough to make it hard for audiences to accept him as Indy, I don’t know (I suspect not), but he’s probably the best guy to bring back as Indy, while technically accurately claiming the role isn’t being recast.

Other than that, there’s a couple of people who have played Indy as a baby and as a toddler, you probably wouldn’t get away with those, and three people who have played him in videogames. Depending how stuck you were and how much you didn’t use a walkthrough, any of those could qualify as playing Indy for most on-screen time.

And that could solve the “actors aging” problem as well.

As a footnote, the first article I read that mentioned the Frank Marshall comment (where the original reporting of that comment is, I don’t know), said something along the lines of “Not an origin story! Not an origin story!” Didn’t we already have that at the beginning of Last Crusade (the aforementioned River Phoenix) AND the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles? I’ll go out on a (pretty judgmental) limb and say they didn’t think that one through very hard.

Songs You’re Glad You Forgot: Gotham City, by R. Kelly

Once upon a time, there was a Batman movie called Batman And Robin. Packed with stars like George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwartz-his-name, Uma Thurman, and John Glover (hey, I like John Glover), it swiftly became the Batman movie everyone would rather forget. Which seems to be saying something, after Batman Forever.

Batman And Robin itself didn’t fare so well, but songs from the soundtrack became quite popular. The Smashing Pumpkins got a Grammy for their contribution (“The End Is the Beginning Is the End”) R.E.M. had a track on there, too. Neither of these were in the three that hit the U.S. Top Ten. The song I want to talk about today was the lowest-scoring of those three, coming in at number 9. Which, co-incidentally, is the exact same position it reached in the UK charts.

R. Kelly was never my kind of music, though I seem to recall one of my friends quite liking him. Saying his name in a Jonny Briggs accent provided momentary amusement (Jonny’s sister, for example, being referred to as “our Rita”).

The song, though. The song itself has a major problem, that has plagued me all these 18 years of the song’s existence, and slaps me in the face every time I think of it.

“A city of justice, a city of love, a city of peace
For every one of us
We all need it, can’t live without it
A Gotham City, oh yeah”

Hmmm, a city of justice, of love, of peace.

If it were those things, it wouldn’t need Batman, now, would it?