Growing up, we had a Commodore 64 computer (later, two of them). Not intended to be exclusively for games, we used it mostly for games, though I did gain some early programming experience (about the level that I could follow the code, so often longer than 10 PRINT “Hello World”; 20 GOTO 10, but often not terribly more complicated).
An edge that the C64 had over other systems of the time, was the capabilities of the sound chip in the machine, the SID chip. The designer had previously worked on synthesizers, and thought that other sound systems on computers of that era, were designed by people who knew nothing about music.
The SID chip allowed for a range of different kinds of sounds to go on at the same time, allowing for music with chords and different instruments. In short, enough depth to sound like music, rather than just a sequence of notes being played. If I recall correctly, musicians for games were limited to 4 channels, the most basic example of this would be a chord and another note. Other platforms were stuck with less. 4 channels were limiting, but with enough freedom to make memorable tunes.
Perhaps a precursor to my being happy to listen to MIDIs of Final Fantasy music (discovered years after I’d otherwise given up on the MIDI format), there were a bunch of C64 games where the music was a joy to listen to. Like, I’d load the game, listen to the entirety of the tune on the menu before starting to actually play.
As an aside, I had fun on the Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit in the section were you could play with the sounds: sawtooth, triangle, pulse and noise.
I am not the only person to enjoy this, the pinnacle of 8-bit music. Looking into it, people are still composing using the SID chip. And the old classic music has been carefully extracted from the old game files, and archived. The most comprehensive archive of SID tunes is the High Voltage SID Collection. The .sid files can be downloaded individually or as the complete collection.
Tunes I keep returning to are from Firelord by Ben Daglish, Meanstreak by Matt Gray, Mayhem In Monsterland by Steve Rowlands, and Zamzara by Charles Deenen. When I’m not sure who composed a tune, it’s easier to search for it on the HVSC site, then browse through the downloaded directories (if you got the whole archive, if you download the individual game’s tune/s then it’s wherever you saved it to). The .sid files need a SID player to play them, but there’s links to those on the HVSC site.
Just a quick one tonight, as the power’s going to go off in not-too-long, and the outage is supposed to last until about when it’ll be time to get up.
I’ve crossed a few things off my to-do list the last couple of days. Sorted payment for the web sites, arranged an eye test because I need a new prescription to get a new pair of glasses (my current pair got scratched while playing hide and seek with Oldest outside, in the dark), wrote the first draft of an article for a site I frequent. Did some of the data collection for my planned site. Some items go really quickly, and some take a really long time (such as the last one I did today.
The Steam key for Civ IV came through, am going to try and enter that before we lose power.
Played some Final Fantasy VII with Oldest today (disc 1, having left the Gold Saucer, we got to Cosmo Canyon, for those that means anything to). Oldest, familiar with the Star Wars music, recently saw an orchestra playing the Imperial March, He hadn’t realised quite how many instruments, or how many people playing the same kind of instrument, there were in an orchestra. He said he didn’t realise it was that “complicated”. So today, a while after we’d stopped playing FF7, I put on a YouTube video of the very beginning of FF7 for him. Then I put on that same music (“Opening/Bombing Mission”) on my Distant Worlds DVD. The full orchestra is playing it, and clips from the game are shown on a projector screen behind them. Oldest thought this was also “complicated” (quotes because that’s the part I can guarantee are his words). We saw a few more tunes on the DVD before he had to get ready for bed.
Smoke me a kipper, internet: I’ll be back for breakfast.
Today, in a fit of nostalgia, I’m going to talk about an album that is, in a sense, a rarity. That sense would be that there are n bad songs on the album. I mean, one might have one’s favourites, and end up skipping a track or two when one is pressed for time, but equally you could just set the album going and not think about think about hovering over the “next track” button when a certain song comes on. Even some albums I like can have quite a few weak spots.
What is this masterpiece of an album? I hear you ask. Or rather, I don’t, because you saw the title of the post. Cheater.
Welcome to “Brothers In Arms” by Dire Straits.
Lemme tell ya, them guys ain’t dumb.
The album kicks off with “So Far Away“, a wonderful Song Of Longing. “I’m tired of being in love and being all alone.”
Then the classic “Money For Nothing“. I don’t know how many times some of my co-workers and I, several years ago now, would comment “That ain’t working” to each other. In this age of “Not being the ’80s”, it’s easy to want to sing the wrong lyrics. “I want my MP3″ rather than “I want my MTV.”
“We got to install microwave ovens”. Did they ever take much in the way of installing? “We got to install Microsoft Office” was a good replacement for a time, but I don’t think so many people use it, these days. “Microsoft Windows” would be better, but “Office” replaces “ovens” better than “Windows” does. Oh well, it’s all musical graffiti.
“Walk Of Life” is next. Unceasingly upbeat and cheerful, this song is the most Your Mileage May Vary track as it relates to the “no bad song on the album” declaration I made earlier. The song is about a busker singing old songs. “He do the song about the sweet lovin’ woman, he do the song about the knife. He do the walk, he do the walk of life.”
“Your Latest Trick” is a nice mellow number, as is “Why Worry“. The sax part in the former is catchy (apparently it is to saxophone departments in music shops, what “Stairway To Heaven” is to the guitar section).
“Ride Across The River” starts off wonderfully atmospheric. Verse 1 is told from the perspective of a soldier invested in the cause, and the second verse is from the perspective of a mercenary on the opposing side. The third verse philosophises about the conflict, suggesting that neither side is “the good guys”. And the tune that goes along with it is melancholy, almost resigned to the inevitableness of it all. This graphic was floating around Facebook today, based on a Reddit thread, of US soldiers reflecting upon their time in Afghanistan. Seems to fit the mood of this, and the next song.
“The Man’s Too Strong“. A guilty conscience, and a confession, seemingly before an execution. Do the early choruses of “the man’s too big, the man’s too strong” suggest to you that the guy was a puppet when he was out doing all those naughty things? And now he’s caught, it’s possibly a different The Man?
“One World” ultimately seems tangentially related to the two previous tracks, and the one after it. “But they can’t find a way to be one world in harmony”. And the rest of the song seems about various other layers of discontentedness. Instrumentally, there’s a lot going on in this track. I like the little guitar motif around “They say it’s mostly vanity that writes the plays we act”. Medieval, or possibly Renaissance?
The title track, the pièce de résistance, “Brothers In Arms“, rounds out the album. Again, it’s really moody. The guy from whose perspective the song is sung, implies that he is dying, towards the end of the song. Though it seems like he may already be dead. The dichotomy in the first verse between the “mist-covered mountains” and the lowlands, evokes some comparison with “The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond” with the “high road” and the “low road”, one interpretation being it’s the dead guy’s soul will “be in Scotland afore ye”. Another song about war, again there’s the implication of futility. An implication I don’t disagree with. We talk about how barbaric our ancestors were, with all the wars through history, but looking around, it seems like such talk is the pot calling the kettle black. You and I may not feel like we’re worse, but the state our leaders, recent and current, have brought our world to, reveal at the very least that humanity hasn’t left barbarity behind.
I’d love to do a big montage of war movies set to this song. “Brothers In Arms” seems like The Perfect Thing to listen to on Remembrance Day (UK, Veterans Day US). Right up there with watching the M*A*S*H finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”. November’s coming up, the video’s in the garage. Maybe I can swing that last part. Haven’t managed to get my video capturing equipment working for a while.
Well, that seems a bummer note to end on, but it seems like a trait of a great song: gets you thinking.
Please comment below: discuss my takes on the songs, tell me how great “Brothers In Arms” was on that season finale of The West Wing, let me know any albums you can think of with no duff songs, let me know what you want me to talk about in future posts.
Continued from yesterday’s post I’m talking a little about each Meat Loaf album and my favourite track on it. Yesterday I tackled everything pre-2000, today is everything between 2000 and now (it’s a bit premature to say what my favourite songs from future albums will be).
Again, the links to the winning songs are in the summary, at the end.
Unfortunately, today I must start with the one Loaf album I don’t like. So here goes…
Couldn’t Have Said It Better, 2003:
If I’d Lie For You (on Welcome To The Neighbourhood, discussed in part 1) was trying to be Anything For Love, the title track here was REALLY trying to be Anything For Love, and failing to live up to its predecessor even more miserably. Most of the rest of the album wasn’t any better. It seemed mostly defensive, but the shell was mostly hollow. But there are a couple of shining moments that contrast with the rest of the album. Narrowly missing out on being one of the shining moments is Because Of You, which has a cool chorus, but otherwise has absolutely no substance. Shallow, were Meat Loaf usually manages to run much deeper. The runner-up track is a cover of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. As a bonus, that song finishes, but the track continues in silence for a couple of minutes before bursting into a hidden song on the same track, a cover of Mercury Blues, which is a lot of fun. The shinier light on the album, though, is Did I Say That (the album version is a bit longer than the music video). It’s the end of a relationship, neither side is innocent, his thoughts are conflicted, switching between giving blame and taking blame… this song feels really honest, and the other songs on the album seem to lack that.
Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, 2006:
I remember finding out about this album while it was being highlighted by Ken Bruce on Radio 2. The long-awaited Meat Loaf studio cover of Jim Steinman’s Bad For Good hit the radio. Major geek-out moment, and ditching the “God Speed” section was absolutely the right choice. And the rest of the album, what a stunning return to form. Alive reminds me of Bon Jovi back when they were good (no offense, Mr Jovi. Remind me to do a post about Bon Jovi one day). The Steinman-penned tracks In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King, and If It Ain’t Broke, Break It. The absolute highlight of the album, however, hands-down, is Seize The Night.
On Steinman’s solo album Bad For Good, Track 10 was an instrumental called “The Storm”. It sounded like it could be from a movie soundtrack. On the song “Bad For Good”, it was easy to turn the lyric “You can hide away forever from the storm” to “You can hide away forever from Track 10″, for people who perversely enjoy doing such things. Like me.
Anyway, Seize The Night starts out with a redone version of The Storm, which was a total surprise to me when I heard it first. Big geek-out. At a point where The Storm shifts down a gear, Seize the Night transitions into a relatively soft section of singing. Which transitions again, and gears up and gears up, and runs screaming into Back Into Hell, a (technically) instrumental track from Bat II. The rest of the track switches between the song Seize The Night, and Back Into Hell. It’s a treat for fans who’ve followed both Steinman and Loaf over the years.
Hang Cool Teddy Bear, 2010:
A concept album, with the concept being a soldier dying on a battlefield, and possible futures flashing before his eyes, rather than his past. The songwriters weren’t told the concept, lest the songs become too literal, but knowing the concept you can see it. Very interesting. Also features Loaf’s first swear on an album (the word for female dog, in the duet with Jack Black, “Like A Rose”). I like Living On The Outside (very different from Standing On The Outside), the duet in If I Can’t Have You (reminiscent of the altercation with Cher in Deadringer), The Song Of Madness and its mythic imagery. The winner, though, is Love Is Not Real/Next Time You Stab Me In The Back. The character has obviously been emotionally hurt in his relationships. “Next time you stab me in the back, you better do it to my face”, perhaps intentionally quoting Firefly.
Hell In A Handbasket, 2011:
It took me a while to warm up to Hang Cool, Teddy Bear, so I listened to this album before I got it. The first three tracks (All Of Me, The Giving Tree, Live Or Die), were enough to convince me the album was worth getting. Think I like Live Or Die the most of those. I enjoy the antisocialness of Party Of One. I think the track I like most on the album is Stand In The Storm, a collaboration with other contestants on a Celebrity version of some reality show that Mr Loaf was in, but I didn’t see.
And I find out there’s a new album, Braver Than We Are, coming out either later this year or early next year. That one will have to wait…
I first got into Meat Loaf around Christmas one year, when my uncle gave me a Walkman, and the #1 album at the time to play on it, that album happened to be Bat Out Of Hell II. The album intro to Anything For Love, with the guitar effects swirling around you while you have headphones on, was like nothing I’d ever heard before.
Over the few years following, finishing up at school and then the couple of years at college, I picked up the back catalogue, and have stayed pretty current since then. Thankfully for my wallet, he’s not very prolific.
Today and tomorrow, I’m going to try and pick my favourite song from each of his albums, and provide links where possible. Links will be in a summary at the end. Today I’ll take on the albums pre-2000, and tomorrow post-2000 to the present. Difficult to do much past that…
Bat Out Of Hell, 1977:
The title track is a strong contender, as is Paradise By The Dashboard Light, both with interesting stories. The last 40-ish seconds of All Revved Up are pretty fun, too. Ultimately, however, the winner has to be the beautiful Heaven Can Wait.
Dead Ringer, 1981:
Honorable mentions to Peel Out, I’ll Kill You If You Don’t Come Back, and the one I nearly picked, Read ‘Em And Weep. In the end, though, I’ll go with the almost-title-track, Deadringer For Love. The lyrical to-ing and fro-ing between Mr Loaf and Cher, apart from being hard to catch without the lyrics in front of you, are pretty funny.
Midnight At The Lost And Found, 1983:
Midnight At The Lost And Found is pretty fun, and I like The Promised Land (Elvis Presley sang it before, his version is in the movie Men In Black, it’s what Tommy Lee Jones is singing in the car before he makes it go Ludicrous Speed), but in the end this is a fight between two Songs Of Longing: Keep Driving (I can’t go home, don’t take me home, I can’t go home alone), and If You Really Want To (I can tell by the look in your tear-filled eye, you need somebody you can hold on to, if you really want to, I’d love to hold you…). The latter might be more on the creepy side, and the former more desperate. The latter still triggers a What Instrument Is That? in me. Hang it, this one’s a tie.
Bad Attitude, 1984:
The songs Bad Attitude and Piece Of The Action have a similar sort of theme. Bad Attitude is, paraphrased, “the only people who ever made a name for themselves, good or bad, bucked the system”, and the one with the same name as a TOS episode is more “I don’t want to be stuck in a dead-end job, I want to make something of myself”. I’ve listened to those a bunch, and Modern Girl (the line “Once a beautiful Miss America married Mr Right” stuck with me for years, and turned into my story with my wife, pretty much… though those are the parents of the protagonist and his young lady, in the story the song presents). I think the winner, however, is going to be Surf’s Up.
Blind Before I Stop, 1986:
Quite a few I like on this one, and talking about them all really would get convoluted and take a long time. Rock ‘n’ Roll Hero, One more Kiss (Night Of The Soft Parade) rolling into Blind Before I stop. The Song Of Longing called Standing On The Outside (Now I don’t want to live without love anymore, just want to live my life, and love’s going to open up the door…), which might on another day have one. Today, though, today Execution Day wins. It’s been one of my favourites for a long time. Fun fact: I entered a poetry competition at my college with two poems, one inspired by Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back, and one more loosely inspired by Execution Day. I preferred the Execution Day one, but the Life Is A Lemon one won me a prize. Guess I did get some money back.
Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell, 1993:
This one’s been with me the longest, guess it’s going to be harder to choose. Anything For Love with its epic intro? Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through, which I’ve listened to so much I know the backing vocal parts? (Keep on believing, and you’ll discover, baby!) So many others that have years of meaning. I’m going to go with the fun Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire).
Welcome To The Neighbourhood, 1995:
And this album only has two years less meaning. I’d Lie For You (etc) is running too close to Anything For Love, after a few listens. Where The Rubber Meets The Road is better. Original Sin would make a GREAT song in a musical (along with Sympathy For The Devil). Where Angels Sing is a beautiful song like Heaven Can Wait. I’m going to go with Amnesty Is Granted. The story is about two strong-willed people with relationship difficulties trying to get back together. It would be interesting to hear the other side’s perspective on this reconciliation attempt. Because there’s the possibility she might not take it so well (even with the “sorry” at the end).
A while ago, a friend of mine put her album up on Noisetrade. Since then I’ve been getting the emails from them. I don’t always look at the emails, and when I do I don’t always download something from them. Today’s entry is an album that was in the email that I decided to take a chance on.
Duologue is a band from London. On their Noisetrade page, they have a video of the live version of Push It (track 5 on the album), which was enough to push me into downloading the whole thing. I’ve embedded that video below this paragraph. You can really see how much is going on lyrically and instrumentally in each track. And also give you a big clue if it’s the kind of music you’d enjoy.
They have their whole first album, song & Dance, available to download, plus one other track. Noisetrade is easy, you can download these things for free, you put in your email address and they send you the download link. You can choose to tip the band some money, if you desire to.
I’ve listened to the whole album of Song & Dance a bunch of times. And sometimes some tracks individually. When I come back to listening to the album after an absence, I can generally listen to the whole thing, but if I listen to it a few times in relatively close succession, I enjoy the first half and the second half gets a bit tiresome.
I haven’t caught all the lyrics, but I haven’t caught any profanity, which is a nice selling point.
I love the atmosphere from the tune and instrumentation of Track 1, Machine Stop. “I can see your face when you pixellate” is a weird and wonderful line.
Track 2, Zeroes, has a relentlessness to it that I really like. I burst into “No-one’s falling, no-one’s falling for it this time” sometimes.
Track 3, Cut And Run has a grungier sound to it, but at intervals it lightens up. I particularly like those segments, where he’s singing “I don’t understand”, “I’ll be a better man” and things like that. For some reason the opening makes me think of U2, but right not, I can’t think of a U2 song that it sounds like.
The band takes a bit of a breather in Track 4, Gift Horse, a much gentler track. It’s a pretty track. If I have limited time, I’ll be more likely to listen to a rockier track, but otherwise I still like it. It’s a bit weird because I can’t pinpoint any particular segment of music or lyric that stands out.
I already mentioned Push It. There’s so much going on, there’s some really nice intricacy. Are they using feedback as an instrument at the beginning? I love this one. It reminds me a little of two tracks by The Rock & Roll Worship Circus – “The Undiscovered” and “(untitled)“, which also have that kind of relentlessness that I like..
Track 6: Underworld is another subdued one. I think it’s better than “Gift Horse”, but I think it also suffers a bit from the shifting gears from pumping to slow to pumping again and now to slow again. At this point, the album loses a bit of momentum. I like the lyrics reflecting a conflicted sentiment: “You think you really want it but you know that you don’t”. I know that feeling.
Endless Imitation is Track 7, and it’s another slow one. I like when it switches into the chorus melody. “And I’ll find someone new” is the line afterwards.
In Track 8, Talk Shop, the beat picks up again.The sentiment of the song, as far as I can make out, is that it’s a bit hard for the singer to get through life at the moment, and that kind of translates to the song experience, it’s a bit more work to get through the song. It walks the tightrope of melodic variance (and I am ultra-picky about songs sounding all the same, I’m sure we’ll get to talking about that). I liked the line “I thought we talked it out”. Comes up a few times, and varies a little. Reminds me a little of “My Girl” by Madness. “I thought we agreed…”
Sinner is Track 9. If this were still the days of my having the CD player close at hand and getting most of my music through it, I’d be skipping it by now. It doesn’t really vary enough for me. It does remind me a bit of “Seven Hours With A Backseat Driver” by Gotye. That one seems to go on for a while, too.
Track 10 is Snap Out Of It. The singing’s a bit too shouty for me, and the music crosses the line into obnoxious.
By the time I reach Track 11, Constant, I’ve kinda stopped listening because of how hard “Snap Out Of It” was on the ears. It’s all right, though. It would have fared better being in a different place on the album.
Escape Artist is the final track of the album, and it’s so gentle, and shorter than the other tracks, that it was just about over before I realised it was even there in the first place.
A lot of the songs convey some sort of struggle with life – with one’s own shifting thoughts or emotions, with differences in expectations between people, and so on. Not necessarily pessimistic, more an acknowledgement that sometimes things in life get difficult to deal with, and sometimes it Feels Like This. A reality that one can connect with.
The first half of the album seems like a much stronger showing than the second half. Some of the songs could have benefitted had the order of the tracks been different. On the whole, though, there wasn’t anything on the album I really hated, more a mix of “really cool” and “not very interesting”. And even then, the really cool portion makes the whole album worth looking up. I’m more of an album person than an individual track person, though. I hope the band comes out with more of the really cool stuff in the future.
A while ago, probably last year or this year, I read an article, probably this one, about a legal challenge to the copyright of that ever-popular song, Happy Birthday To You.
The article mentions that the lawsuit was brought by a documentary filmmaker, and presumably the long legal process will be a significant part of the movie. I can find reference to the filmmaker’s name, Jennifer Nelson, and the film production company, Good Morning to You Productions. Haven’t found either on IMDB (or rather, there are a few Jennifer Nelsons on there, but none immediately standing out as This Particular One), and regular search results yield a lot of news stories, but I didn’t spot a website for the company. Hopefully information about the film will be forthcoming, and highly visible, because right now it’s hard to find the horse’s mouth.
Anyway, if you plan to see the film, I have something to say about the rest of this post:
The above article gives a lot of details (especially if you read the lawsuit papers, which as I recall were quite interesting), and Wikipedia now gives a lot of details, including much more recent information.
Such as, a federal judge has now ruled that Happy Birthday To You is in the public domain, and no-one has ever needed to pay Warner any money for using it.
Hahahaha, one does rather enjoy Goliath getting his ass kicked, from time to time.
So Warner have been making two million dollars a year for illegitimately granting rights to use the song, for public performances, movies etc. The next time they complain about piracy, man….
When I read that article, however-many-months-ago, I was telling someone about it, and they were pooh-poohing it, even going so far as to look up the copyright status of Happy Birthday To You on Snopes to tell me that the song wasn’t in the public domain. Funnily enough, I found out the recent ruling today, from that very same person. With no reference to the previous conversation, which was, to be fair, a good forgetting-distance ago. I was glad to hear that good came from the lawsuit, so that helped me to not mind too much.
But I did check Snopes, and they now have the updated information
How often do you listen to an album, and the best song on the album isn’t one of the singles released from that album?
I find this more common than all the good songs being the singles, though I can think of examples of that, as well. Still rarer is when the best song on the album is released as a single, but a single you never see in the shops, and you only find out it was released as one when you browse books that list each week’s Top 100 from decades ago til relatively recently, or you look online for discographies and you notice it, “hey, I never knew that was a single”, or you notice the music video on a music video DVD (or the old standby, YouTube).
Actually, one time, I knew a song was going to be released as a single, and never saw it in stores.
Anyway, abandoning this massive tangent to return to the point, as the end of Thursday approaches, it seemed that Throwback Thursday (it’s a thing I’ve noticed on Facebook the last few months) might be a good time to introduce what could become a good series (finding tracks could occasionally be a problem).
What could be more ’90s than the album The Simpsons Sing The Blues? (Well, OK, that Friends Introduce Windows 95 VHS, but apart from that…)
Some of the album approaches actually being the Blues, the rest of the instrumentation being … well, ’90s (you’ll see what I mean in a minute).
Do The Bartman was the big single from the album, incidentally also the least thematic song on the album.
Homer singing Born Under A Bad Sign, and the Moanin’ Lisa Blues, are the most bluesy songs on the album.
Bart’s Deep Deep Trouble is very catchy.
But the Best Song On The Album title really needs to go to Mr Burns and Smithers. Sometimes people are hard work. “I shouldn’t let it plague me, I shouldn’t blow a fuse, but…”
Every so often (or, as I called it back when I listened to the radio, “all the time”), a song comes around that’s not too bad on the first listen, but rapidly turns annoying, often due to some tedious bit that repeats ad nauseum.
I’m not sure that the song I highlighted today ever entirely outstayed its’ welcome, but there is one bit that once you realise it makes absolutely no sense, there’s not really any going back.
Welcome to “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers.
“I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier.”
Well, I’m sure that’s very nice for you, but do you happen to know what a non sequitur is?
“I’ve got ham but I’m not a hamster.” Apparently Bill Bailey already did this one. I may even have heard it from him, I’ve watched a couple of his shows, but I think I also came to it independently. Either “Great minds think alike”, or it’s just the obvious gag, but there’s no reason to stop there…