Monday, February 28, 2011
The British author Ted Hughes wrote a sci-fi novel in 1968 called "THE IRON MAN: A Children's Story In Five Nights". It was a sociopolitical parable about a young boy who befriends a huge metal man that he finds in the forest one night, a noble soul who is met with fear and distrust. (Hughes later wrote an environmental sequel called "THE IRON WOMAN".)
Pete Townshend of THE WHO loved the book and wanted to develop it into a film based around his rock opera score. When the film plans lagged, he released a solo album of the work.
PETE TOWNSEND -"A Friend Is A Friend" (1989)
After years of development hell, the film was finally made as the universally beloved animated classic THE IRON GIANT. The name change may have been to avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics superhero, Iron Man, who was popular since 1963.
THE IRON GIANT trailer (1999)
Funnily enough, for all the comparisons to the superhero Iron Man, the film robot has a touching admiration for Superman!
In 1970, a few years after Hughes' book, BLACK SABBATH recorded "Iron Man". Its lyrics about a misunderstood metal man very broadly parallel the book but are purportedly coincidental. On its own merits it is one of the coolest riff songs of all time.
BLACK SABBATH -"Iron Man" (1970)
Here's a rap and metal rethink of the song.
SIR MIXALOT with METAL CHURCH -"Iron Man" (1988)
To really throw some swing on it, here is a sexy lounge take on it! (The sultry coo of "Oh! Iron Man!" never fails to make me smile.)
THE CARDIGANS -"Iron Man" (1996)
And an avant Jazz run-through!
THE BAD PLUS -"Iron Man" (2004)
And the riff is the basis for this song from Thailand.
SORANG SANTI -"Khuen Khuen, Long Long"
Aside from always being compared to Hughes' IRON MAN book, the Sabbath song was also thought to be inspired by the superhero Iron Man. Although it wasn't, everyone always associates the two anyway, so it was inevitable that the song and the lyric "I am Iron Man!" became a crucial part of the film IRON MAN (2008).
Friday, February 18, 2011
"Beat is for Yoko Ono!"
- Public Enemy (1988)
"Yes, I'm a witch, I'm a bitch,
I don't care what you say
My voice is real, my voice speaks truth
I don't fit in your ways
I'm not gonna die for you, you might as well face the truth,
I'm gonna stick around for quite awhile."
-"Yes, I'm A Witch"-Yoko Ono (1973)
"(Yoko Ono is) the world's most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does."
People used to define Yoko without knowing anything about her or her work. With time, most aware people have caught up.
There was the old view. Now there is the true view.
Yoko has more than proved her worth to anyone qualified to see.
But she has earned her due sideways, too. If two things are the same, you can't credit one while denying the other. There are many artists from all disciplines who are revered, either initially or in retrospect, for doing the same things Yoko did, and most often after she did. By the default of fairness, she has also earned her due this way as much as directly.
With proper context it is impossible to deny her. Here are some words and music to prove it.
Shortcut to Music Players:
- 1) ARTIST
- 2) ACTIVIST ROCK
- 3) WOMAN POWER
- 4) ASIAN
- 5) REBEL GIRLS
- 6) ART
- 7) MUSIC
- 8) NOIZE
- 9) PUNK
- 10) NEW WAVE
- 11) REMIX
- 12) GRATITUDE
- 13) JOHN LENNON
Yoko is a world-reknowned and respected artist who was successful well before The Beatles. She was a member of the early '60s rebel Fluxus artists, but prudently kept her independence from the dominant males. She was in league with and championed by La Monte Young, George Maciunas, and John Cage. Yoko is a conceptual artist, a creative outlook that eventually would transform Rock music.
While The Beatles were learning to play in Hamburg, Yoko had art performances at Carnegie Hall in 1961. Instead of a concert space, Yoko treated it as a theatre of ideas. The revelation guiding 20th century Art was 'art isn't an object, it's the idea behind it'. This freed art from being a craft skill into being a creative philosophy that anyone could use in life; we can all be artisans in how we think and act. Yoko's performance art encouraged the audience to become part of the art, turning an event into a moment of revelation and participation with no barriers.
In "Cut Piece" (1964) Yoko invited people to come up on stage with the option to cut pieces of her clothing until she was naked. It was an interactive test that tested all social barriers. Tokyo audiences were tentative and reverential. London audiences became so obnoxious that security had to intervene. It's on each of us to choose our own behavior; those who acted badly to Yoko only revealed something about themselves.
Yoko's themes have always been:
zen self solutions
transmutation of suffering
sense of humor
This is what she shared with John Lennon, which would free and complete him.
Yoko's book "Grapefruit" (1964) was simple instructions for thinking creatively about the world around us. It was zen koans as conceptual art. It anticipated Brian Eno's celebrated "Oblique Strategies" (1975), a series of cards with possible solutions for creative dilemmas.
It's motif to "imagine" a possibility, thus creating a work of art in your mind, was the catalyst for John's anthem "Imagine" years later:
'Imagine the clouds dripping.
Dig a hole in your garden to
put them in.'
John Lennon and Yoko Ono were the boldest revolutionaries in Rock music that have ever been.
They scared the hell out of the repressive Nixon government and alienated the music press. Time has vindicated their heroism versus their detractors' cowardice.
Bob Dylan was catapulted by his early days of protest music. But other pioneers like Allen Ginsberg, Nina Simone, Lenny Bruce, and The MC5 were crucified for their activism, and only accorded their due in retrospect when their ideas were properly appreciated. Yoko is now celebrated like those brave artists.
Yoko and John were activist peers with Nina Simone, The MC5, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Fela. And warmed the stage for future rebels like The Clash, The Au Pairs, Gang Of Four, Crass, Youth In Asia, Dead Kennedys, Killing Joke, U2, Midnight Oil, Public Enemy, Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Tribe 8, Meshell Ndegeocello, Anti-Flag, Sleater Kinney, Rage Against The Machine, and M.I.A..
Yoko is the strongest Feminist activist in Rock history.
And the first. She was saying it in 1968 before anyone had even heard of Gloria Steinem, which the British press persecuted her for.
Feminism was simply the moral crusade of the Civil Rights Movement extended to the other half of humanity. Its initial charter was for an equity that treated anyone as a full person, and an empowerment and respect for individuals. Yoko embodied the spectrum of this in her early '70s records.
Her experience and activism opened John's perspective, and their protest songs of the period are among the first, strongest, and most forward Feminist anthems ever made.
The Feminist mantra opened social awareness into percieving that "the personal is political"; that refuting the daily repressions of the individual was a political act. In her songs, Yoko canvased the range of the inner life of modern women through her own experiences, more so than any recording artist of the era.
Strong empowerment anthems like "Woman Power", "Yes I'm A Witch", and "Sister O Sisters". Sensitive partnership songs like "I Want My Man To Rest Tonight". Relationship troubles with "Yang Yang" and "I'm Moving On". Self-doubt and pain in "Death Of Samantha" and "She Gets Down On Her Knees". Self-destruction in "Approximately Infinite Universe" and "Peter The Dealer".
At the same time, Joni Mitchell was making piercing albums that easily matched Dylan, while getting slagged off by Rolling Stone as 'every musician's girlfriend'. And while Joni was gradually hailed as adventurous stretching from singer-songwriter into jazzy arrangements, Yoko's more eclectic experimentalism and unflinching activism was ignored entirely by the media.
If you watch any interview clips of John and Yoko from 1968 to 1975, notice how her comments are always cut off or brushed aside by the men involved. (Even John himself wrestled with it and leveled out across time.) Also notice that she is right, which makes them look worse.
Yoko's empowerment mantra would be picked up by The Au Pairs, Gang Of Four, Poison Girls, Crass, and the Riot Grrrl movement.
The British press hated Yoko because she was female and smart, but also because she was Japanese.
The flack hacks of the time were an older generation of men baised against Japan from WWII. And the handful of new counterculture (male) critics hadn't yet honed that out. An easy comparison is how Astrid Kirchherr didn't get as much grief for being a smart artist. (Perhaps because German still meant European.)
Current youth who've grown up on Manga, Anime, and Sony Playstations recognize that hate for what it was, and find it obvious and sad.
Yoko's forays into music in the late '60s paralleled the rise of other women from the Asian nations coming up. The all-female '60s band Dara Puspita hailed from Indonesia. The first all-female band signed to record entire albums on a major label was Fanny in 1970, who started out as three-fourths Filipina. As a playful dig on The Plastic Ono Band, there was The Sadistic Mika Band from Japan. This ushered later homeland acts like The Plastics, Shonen Knife, The Boredoms, Super Junky Monkey, Cibo Matto, Buffalo Daughter, and eX-Girl. From China, Meg Lee Chin of Pigface. From San Francisco came Pearl Harbour And The Explosions. From NYC comes Karen O and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Yoko worked from a system of tonal scales from a culture that Western ears weren't familiar with. In this regard she is as much a gateway to world musics as George Harrison has been heralded for. Now that world musics have become part of most folks vocabulary, we easily award respect to International singers like Djur Djura, Ofra Haza, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Oumou Sangare, Les Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, and Sainkho Namtchylak, a respect that Yoko wasn't accorded.
"She's gonna hit back,
She's gonna kick back,
You won't know what hit you
Till you see her flashing (yeah)"
Yoko was too tough for her times.
The late '60s thought the only women in Rock were Janis Joplin and Grace Slick>. Yoko had Janis' wail and Grace's politics, but also more.
Yoko had the art assault of Captain Beefheart, the alien edge of David Bowie, the tongue of Kate Millet, the populism of Frida Kahlo, and the absurdism of Andy Kaufman. She was Yoko Ono. She was the template for every badaass Rock goddess to follow.
She took the entire brunt of the old world to open the doors for a new that could accept rebel artists like Annette Peacock, Cosi Fanni Tutti (Throbbing Gristle), Patti Smith, Grace Jones, Lydia Lunch, Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), The B-52s, Ari Up (The Slits), Marianne Faithfull, Vi Subversa (The Poison Girls), Nona Hendryx, Kate Bush, Niagara (Destroy All Monsters), Siouxsiee Sioux, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Jarboe (The Swans), Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre), Tori Amos, Peaches, Chicks On Speed, Lesbians On Ecstasy, and Lady Gaga.
Notice also how many of those women were also fine artists, performance artists, designers, fashionistas, or poets.
"Millions of mind guerrillas,
Putting their soul power to the karmic wheel..."
-John Lennon (1973)
As a multi-media artist crossing the art world with the popular arts, Yoko was a peer to Meredith Monk, Carla Bley, Pauline Oliveros, and Alice Shields.
Her gender activism was firmly in the tradition of Claude Cahun, Meret Oppenheim, and Frida Kahlo.
Her Feminist strategies in challenging gender stereotypes using the body, actions, text, film, music, protests, and the media anticipated great Feminist artists like Judy Chicago, Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke, Yolanda M. Lopez, Linder Sterling, Cindy Sherman, the Guerilla Girls, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Shirin Neshat.
By bringing conceptual and performance art into popular music, Yoko was a peer to Captain Beefheart, David Bowie, Brian Eno, and Cosi Fanni Tutti. And opened the theatre of possibility for Pulsallama (with Ann Magnuson), Ut, Family Fodder, Joanna Kent, Linder Sterling (Ludus), Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, Bongwater, Diamanda Galas, Tribe 8, Chicks On Speed, and Vaginal Creme Davis.
O N O :
*(MUSIC PLAYER coming)
People who think Yoko made albums of screaming are uninformed. Time has passed this old view by.
Yoko is judged out of context for her music because of endlessly recycled film clips of 'screaming' from 1968. In the real world she made brilliant albums in all musical styles that match any of her peers, which most people don't know exist.
Simply, John and Yoko played with collage and sound texture for around a year during that period. He matched his skronk and tremolo with her shreik and vibrato. They released them as side releases on Apple Records. John loved this because it freed him up from melody and staleness. But Yoko, whose mother was a classically trained pianist, quickly met John halfway by making melodic music. This spread across her solo albums from 1970 to 1974. Because they were on a small label of Apple, barely promoted during the chaos of the early '70s aftermath of The Beatles, most people have no idea of their existence. CD reissues in the '90s helped turned the tide of ignorance into belated appreciation.
(The albums began a new reissue campaign for disc and streaming in 2016 and 2017).
John's breakthrough solo album Plastic Ono Band (1970) is a lauded classic of punk blues and primal confession. Its pairmate is Yoko's PLASTIC ONO BAND (1970) which extends that into soundscapes that are epic and often beautiful. Now when new ears hear "Greenfield Morning I Pushed A Baby Carriage All Over The City" they are stunned by how cool it is and shocked by when it was done.
By FLY (1971), the soundscapes share space with epic churning rockers like "Mind Train", haunting piano ballads like "Mrs. Lennon", and proto-Ambient electronics like "Don't Count the Waves".
The unfairly underrated SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITY (1972) alternates John and Yoko's political anthems. Written off by critics, until done again by The Clash and U2.
And then there's the masterpiece.
APPROXIMATELY INFINITE UNIVERSE (1973) is one of the greatest double albums in rock history, on par with Dylan's BLONDE ON BLONDE, THE BEATLES, and The Clash's LONDON CALLING. Its range of subjects, genres, and emotions is visionary, so much so that it basically templates future acts before they happened: "Yang Yang" = Sub Division, "Move On Fast" = X-Ray Spex, "Catman" = Tom Tom Club, "What A Mess" = Cibo Matto, "Death Of Samantha" = Tori Amos (and gave that band their name). Tough rockers, tender ballads, crunchy funk, gumbo rhumbas. And not a single shriek to be heard.
In the wake of their trial separation she released FEELING THE SPACE (1973), an understatedly melodic album showcasing the virtuosity of the band Elephants Memory, without John's involvement. A great one by turns tough, vulnerable, and funny. The Soul vocal chant on "Woman Power" even uncannily predates the "Wonder Woman" TV theme from two years later.
The beautiful A STORY from 1974 was lost in their reconciliation, and only released in the '90s. An amazingly sweet and pretty record.
Because no one heard these albums, the duo's album comeback DOUBLE FANTASY (1980) came as a shock to everyone. Now Yoko's songs were suddenly recognized as concurrent with The B-52s, X-Ray Spex, and The Slits. The bittersweet elegy SEASON OF GLASS (1981) took that critical appreciation further.
After erring too hard toward crowd-pleasing in the '80s, the 1995 RISING was a riveting return to form. Backed by the ever-elastic abilities of son Sean Ono Lennon, she tossed off funk, grunge, dance, and even some new noize with ease. The companion BLUEPRINT FOR A SUNRISE (2001) was another winner. The BETWEEN MY HEAD AND THE SKY (2009) and TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF HELL (2013) made many annual Top 10 lists.
A closer look at her varied music styles earns her place with her regarded peers and acolytes.
Yoko is a prime pioneer of expanding the use of avant sound in popular music.
We use sound to convey emotion. Melody is only one option. Because it is pleasing and memorable, we relate to it instinctively. Many are put off by experiments in sounds that are atonal, abrasive, amelodic, random, textural, or layered. Sound artists who want to broaden the palette get a hard reception in the beginning, but they are crucial to expanding our sonic vocabulary.
Yoko extended the concepts of modern composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage into Rock music.
She used her voice as an instrument in the same spirit as Jazz innovators and outcasts like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, and Alice Coltrane.
She was a clear sonic peer of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Can (with vocalist Damo Suzuki). She was also parallel with Edda Dell'Orso's more eerie and textural vocals for Ennio Morricone thriller soundtracks, the off-kilter vocals and synth textures of Annette Peacock, and the vocal tonalities of Meredith Monk.
Her use of sound as a sonic assault set the stage for the No Wave bands (like DNA with Ikue Mori, and Mars), Teenage Jesus And The Jerks (with Lydia Lunch), Glenn Branca, Half Japanese, Throbbing Gristle, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Pussy Galore, Public Enemy, Ministry, The Boredoms, Diamanda Galas, and U.S. Girls.
Her collages, sound loops, and moodscapes prefigure Neu! and the ambient work of Brian Eno, as well as Bill Laswell, Anna Oxygen, and Negativland.
She was a peer to unusual singers like Julie Driscoll, and preceded similar misfits like Tom Waits, Mary Margaret O'Hara, and Bjork. And mercurial art-rock like Pere Ubu, Gang Of Four, Ween, Merzbow, Ground Zero, Radiohead, and (naturally) Oh No Ono.
Yoko was initially resented for being a woman in the male Rock world by male Rock critics.
Now she is seen as the toughest, wildest Rock woman of the period, and a mother of Punk.
Women have always been in every movement of Rock and Soul music from the beginning. There were Rockabilly fillies> and Surf chorals at first, and then all-female musician combos the world over in the wake of Beatlemania>. They were treated as a novelty by an old-school male industry: rarely recorded, never promoted, easily discarded.
Looking back with better awareness, we appreciate '60s combos like Goldie And The Gingerbreads, The Liverbirds, The Luv'd Ones, The She Trinity, The Daisy Chain, Las Mosquitas, Dara Puspita, The Pleasure Seekers, and She. And '70s hard rockers like Fanny, Birtha, Cradle, Isis, Suzie Quatro, The Runaways, and Heart. Yoko was in this hinge moment that led to the floodgates opening.
There are two factors that propelled the number of women in Rock music to explode exponentially: Feminism and Punk. Yoko was both, first. All of her early recordings shine the paths for X-Ray Spex, Ut, The Slits, The Au Pairs, Xene Cervanka (X), Lilliput, Crass, Poison Girls, As Mercenarias, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Dickless, Frightwig, Bikini Kill, and Las Perras del Infierno.
Yoko's music was often as otherworldly as it was primal.
Her use of vocals as clipped sounds, staccato tones, feedback waves, and edgy deadpan set the stage for a new wave of singers like The B-52s, Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, The Flying Lizards, Suburban Lawns, Tom Tom Club, Romeo Void, Missing Persons, Malaria, Laurie Anderson, and The Sugarcubes (with Bjork).
"All day long I felt like
smashing my face in a clear glass window
but instead I went out
and smashed up a phone box round the corner..."
"Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneeman
You're getting old, that's what they'll say, but
Don't give a damn I'm listening anyway "
-"Hot Topic", Le Tigre (2001)
If no Yoko, no Kathleen.
There was Rock'n'roll before The Beatles, there were women in Rock before Riot Grrrl. But what's important is the powerful impact these arrivals unleashed in their wake.
The Riot Grrrl movement was as seismic a shift in music for a generation of women, gender-enders, and activists as The Beatles had been. Its tenets of Feminist rebellion, anti-sexism coupled with sexual tolerance, political anthems, personal empowerment, agitprop flyers and posters, and a dose of humor come straight out of Yoko Ono in the early '70s. There is no other figure in Rock history who encompassed all of these like she did, and first.
Yoko's themes of gender inequity, self-empowerment, and spiritual struggle likewise set the path for Bikini Kill. Her sonic assault, body politics, and fearless attitude leads to Tribe 8 and Babes In Toyland.
There's a direct line from Yoko's anti-Vietnam activism and "No Fucking War" (1991) by 7 Year Bitch. L7 sampled Yoko on their protest song "Wargasm" (1992), and Yoko responded with the metallic roar of "Warzone" (1995).
For a modern retread of how badly Yoko was mistreated for marrying the guy she loved, look no further than Courtney Love.
with Yoko Ono
If she 'screams all the time', how come she has ten #1 Dance hits?
Just as critics caught up to the tough New Wave of her 1980 songs, the dance culture revamped those to the Electro age.
Across this century, DJs did remixes of Yoko's songs that hit the top of the Billboard Dance charts ten times in a row: "Walking On Thin Ice", "Everyman...Everywoman...", "No No No", "Give Peace A Chance", "I'm Not Getting Enough", "Give Me something", "Wouldn't It (I'm A Star)", "Move On Fast", "Talking To The Universe", and "Hold Me".
For "Everyman...Everywoman...", Yoko resung her original song "Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him" to now say "every man has a man who loves him" and "every woman has a woman who loves her".
Two remix albums have come out with remixes and cover versions by The Flaming Lips, Peaches, Le Tigre, DJ Spooky, Cat Power, Basement Jaxx, Pet Shop Boys, and Hank Shocklee (Public Enemy).
There have been two tribute albums of Yoko covers: one with Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack, and Harry Nilsson; and another of all Brazilian female singers. Her songs have been covered by The B-52s and Sonic Youth, and sampled by L7.
And there are many songs about Yoko. "The Ballad Of John And Yoko" (1969) by The Beatles, and "Oh Yoko" (1970) and "Dear Yoko" (1980) by John. Another John song, "Move Over Ms. L" (1974) was covered by Keith Moon. There is "Yoko Ono" by Die Arzte (2001), "Yoko Ono" by Jointpop (2007), and "Yoko" (2009) by Pegasus Bridge. Yoko has received shout-outs in "Bring The Noise" (1988) by Public Enemy and "Hot Topic" (1999) by Le Tigre. Barenaked Ladies scored a hit with "Be My Yoko Ono", while Dar Williams responded with "I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono".
O N O :
Peers And Disciples, 1968-Today
*(MUSIC PLAYER coming soon)
or directly influenced by her!
"Woman is the other half of the sky."
-John Lennon (1980)
So let's be clear on a few things.
-The Beatles broke up The Beatles.
-John Lennon became his full self with Yoko Ono.
These two core truths are essential to respecting the legacy of the band or the man. Those who haven't caught up to this show no true respect for either.
John felt that if Yoko was supposed to take his last name as dictated by social custom, then he would take hers too and became John Ono Lennon. Knowing they were in the public eye, the couple turned the media circus into a theatre of ideas. Their public life was a running performance event along the themes art is an idea, zen self solutions, transmutation of suffering, breaking barriers, participation, challenging preconceptions, identity, empowerment, possibility, and all with a sense of humor.
Open-minded people got it. But in other quarters their positive actions were met by negative reactions.
On the THE WEDDING ALBUM (1969) is a portrait of John and Yoko kissing at the start of their partnership. On their last covers for DOUBLE FANTASY (1980) and MILK AND HONEY (released 1984) they did it again.
This is the story, the only story, the one that matters.
Critics taken aback by the rotating songs on DOUBLE FANTASY had missed the point. Everything the couple had ever done from the beginning was that same duet, that tango, that partnership. By subtracting her at every turn, they had never known John or Yoko at all.
"When 'Hammer A Nail' painting was exhibited at Indica gallery, a person came and asked if it was alright to hammer a nail in the painting. I said it was alright if he pays 5 shillings. Instead of 5 shillings, he asked if it was alright for him to hammer an imaginary nail in. That was John Lennon. I thought, so I met a guy who plays the same game I played."
It was the humor. That was the magic moment. Yoko then opened John up to the things he was trying to unleash inside him; in art, music, politics, philosophy, emotions, love, and maturity.
To respect John Lennon is to respect Yoko Ono.
In the movie portrayals there's Drama John. This is a dramatic caricature of John, all angry drama notes and snarky asides. This plays well enough in good movies ("Nowhere Boy", "Back Beat") and less so in others ("Lennon Naked"). But it's a 2D cartoon. The actual John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Yoko are well-rounded, with flowing emotions, casual humanity, and always a loopy sense of humor. Watch any footage, hear any recording from any period of any one of them, and it holds true. That's the magic, that's why we love them. Human, fun, positive.
Yoko and John were soul mates. For the first half of their marriage, the crush of being in the public eye nearly destroyed them. But in the second half, in their private years with everything straightened out, they became spiritually whole. They were yin and yang, always responding to negatives with positives.
That's all that really matters.
So, for all of us who love and respect Yoko, this is a positive celebration.
For any holdouts, well, "I hope someday you'll join us..."
© Tym Stevens, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
influences decades of popular music
...with 2 thunderballing Music Players!
One life for yourself and one for your dreams."
The great film composer JOHN BARRY lives on doubly in the lifetime of great music he gave us and in the galaxy of artists who have homaged him for six decades.
Here's two Music Players and essays to prize his sound and sing his praises.
Music Player Quick Links:
1) JOHN BARRY: a musical career overview
2) JOHN BARRY's Rock Disciples and the James Bond sound
Each Music Player is in chronological order, from the '50s to the present.
John Barry was the Man.
In the early '60s he usurped Henry Mancini's mantle as the hip film composer of choice. Mancini had straddled an odd space between soothing sounds and hipster lounge culture. He could knock out the eerie lullaby of "Charade" or "The Days of Wine and Roses" for the straights, and crank out the tipsy joy of "Baby Elephant Walk" and the sly jazz of "The Pink Panther" for the fingerpoppers. But it was his score for the 1959 TV detective series, "Peter Gunn", that clued him to the youth. With its jazzy nocturnal strolls through the hardboiled cool of wet streets and nightclubs it gripped them by the scruff and the hips. It may even have undone him. A stringslinger named Duane Eddy, "the Twang Bar King", covered its theme as a Rock'n'Roll instrumental, surpassing the original so much that most folks think it is the original. It also became the prototype for Henry's emerging challenger.
John Barry was trying to make it in London as a bandleader of a combo that belted out Rockabilly, Swing Jazz and light Pop for dancehalls. He conducted by trumpet like jazzers but had an eye for the emerging phenomenon of Rock. As an arranger he could absorb the styles of the day and craft canny showpieces for his John Barry Seven. There's even a live album with teen girls squeeling at every brass blast-off. But there is already a sense that Pop was too limiting for him, that he had something grander to say and needed a new canvas to express it. The first indication came with a track called "Bees Knees", as the Seven's signature macho brass fanfares click with a hard clanging guitar lead. Soon, John discovered a guitarist named Vic Flick, whose ringing reverb crystallized the heart of where he was heading.
Their vehicle was the theme song for the 1960 British film, BEAT GIRL. This overlooked gem is the moment he became the Man. With Vic's terse tremolo, the jazz drums, and the striding tides of brass, it distills his future in a minute-and-forty-one seconds. Perfect. He continued to refine this sound on subsequent instrumentals, counterpointing Vic with pizzicato strings and trumpet codas.
And then the big break came. He was asked to supplement Monte Norman's calypso score for the first film based on a popular spy novel series. John created "The James Bond Theme" for the opening credits. Vic's guitar, straight out of the pioneering Rock of Duane Eddy and Surf king Dick Dale>, hit the screen and the audience like a full clip. It defined the flinty cool of Bond instantly, and assured Barry's ascension into the film pantheon. Though an obvious extension of his work on BEAT GIRL, to his chagrin the tune was eternally credited to Monte Norman(!). John had his restitution when he was selected to score the entirety of all the Bond films to follow. His sound proved more defining to the character than even the actors who would portray him. At last he had the outsized, sophisticated canvas he needed.
Until that time, film scores had been descendants of Classical music; big orchestras that underscored every moment of film with swelling eddies of sound. This began to change in the '50s with the increasingly experimental textures of Bernard Herrmann (Hitchcock's VERTIGO) and the pop savvy of Mancini. Barry synthesized these advances and intensified them. His was a world of strong, immediately memorable melodies reiterated as tonal themes, honed by his Pop days. He played with dynamics of silences, murmurings, and crescendos. There was an unapologetic boldness to his arrangements that was loud, sometimes abrasive, and triumphant. Very Rock'n'Roll, very Space Age, very erotic, very modern. He trysted dark cellos with crashing brass, merging Classical and Jazz into an edgy, elegant majesty, like "Bolero" meets "Harlem Nocturne". As locales changed in each Bond film he gleefully absorbed world musics into his arrangements. Here Koto strings, there Ragtime piano. Here delicate elegies, there screaming Clavioline organ. With the tensions of his sounds he captured the contemporary ambivalence about sensuality and violence, compassion and passion's folly. Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
John Barry's grip on the pulse of the times made him the Man. If he was the hero of the era, then Ennio Morricone was the anti-hero, the deconstruction worker inverting and subverting it all. But John had grip. He expanded into many sounds over many films while always maintaining his melodic and dark lustrous sensibility. In the latter end of his career, he made albums for himself of contemplative beauty or trinkling bebop, like someone who has done it so well he disn't have to prove anything to anyone but himself.
This Music Player contains six decades of music influenced by John Barry, including:
The Beatles, Movie and TV Theme Songs, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Roy Budd, Paul McCartney, Alice Cooper, Blondie, Devo, New Order, The Cure, The Delmonas, XTC, John Zorn, Portishead, Garbage, Fatboy Slim, Goldfrapp, Dengue Fever, Chris Cornell, Adele, Jack White, and Sharon Jones!
JOHN BARRY: James Bond Disciples
Hear the unlimited Playlist here.)
What does this have to do with Rock, you ask? A great deal and much more.
Barry created a new kind of jet-age torch song for the Mod generation, which became hit pop songs. These bold songs required bold singers. Shirley Bassey set the standard for all to follow with a fearless blast on 1964's GOLDFINGER which easily matched his horn bombast. Tom Jones reportedly went so far for glory on THUNDERBALL that he nearly passed out holding that last triumphant note! But Barry could blow cool as well as hot, such as the serene calm Nancy Sinatra brought to the immortal YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1968). His declarative brass, slinky ballads, and aching melodies haunt everyone in his wake, beyond time or genre.
His dynamic crescendos especially set the standard for his rivals and successors. This defiantly over-the-top blast invigorated great scores and Rock songs. The breathless bravado of THE BIG GUNDOWN by rival Ennio Morricone owes as much to Barry as it does to Elmer Bernstein's galloping western scores, with singer Christy sounding like she's sprinting across the desert with a message burning her tongue. Paul McCartney brought real Rock swagger and some Reggae saunter into LIVE AND LET DIE (1972); the underrated score was actually by George Martin, but their inspiration was Barry's template. Chris Cornell, Public Enemy, Jack White, Alice Cooper, all have rocked out on the momentum of his piledriving cues.
The generation that grew up on these films and pop hits reflected it in the decades to come. John Barry's dynamic sound has seeded through Rock anthems, Pop ballads, HipHop samples, and TripHop headscapes. The attached music player above tours all of that by comparing John's songs to the songs that were inspired by him (and a few songs that inspired him first). Here's a checklist of the party guests...
Barry created the sound of action cinema for the entire decade.
The spy craze set off by Bond canonized Barry's sounds in countless theme songs. Movies like the MATT HELM and FLINT series, MODESTY BLAISE, FATHOM, and endless imitations worldwide. And TV shows like "The Avengers", "The Saint", "The Man and Girl From U.N.C.L.E.", "I Spy", "Danger Man (a.k.a., Secret Agent)", "The Prisoner", "Mission: Impossible", "Jonny Quest", "Lancelot Link", and "Get Smart". Even the modern descendants of these, whether "Alias" or "The Venture Brothers", retain the echoes of his touch.
The Surf guitar sound, paved by The Ventures, Duane Eddy, and Dick Dale, had inspired the hard guitar clang of the Bond theme. And in its wake, the Bond theme inspired an entire sub-genre of spy theme surf songs that continues to this day: you can hear in it The B-52s, Man Or Astro Man?, Laika And The Cosmonauts, The Mermen, and The Aqua Velvets.
James Bond was so influential on mass culture that the spy sound pervaded general Pop. The brassy power of Barry and Bassey is especially intense in British Soul sirens, in songs like "The Silencers" by Patti Seymour, "Untrue, Unfaithful (That Was You)" by Nita Rossi, "I've Been Wrong Before" by Cilla Black, and "I Know You Love Me Not" by Julie Driscoll.
James Bondage also shimmied through Soul music, with such hits as "Agent Double-O-Soul" by Edwin Starr, "Sock It To 'Em, J.B." by Rex Garvin, and namechecks in Shorty Long's "Function At the Junction".
There is a funny connection between James Bond and The Beatles over the years. This makes perfect sense, because the smash succcess of the Bond films transformed the British image into hyper-cool modernity overnight, and set the avalanche in motion for the British Invasion soon after.
-In GOLDFINGER (1964), Sean Connery makes a flip joke insulting them.
-An action sequence in The Beatles' HELP (1965) is underscored by a short orchestral burst imitating the Bond theme.
-When John Barry was too busy to score LIVE AND LET DIE (1972), the baton was picked up by Beatles producer George Martin who enlisted Paul McCartney for the theme. To his chagrin, the clueless film producers treated it like a demo and started casting about for a standard balladeer to sing it. Martin politely put his foot down. Paul's Oscar -nominated theme is one of the best-loved and most covered Bond themes ever.
-Barbara Bach reached international fame in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and then marred Ringo Starr. Carly Simon's sultry theme "Nobody Does It Better" for this film is firmly in the tradition of McCartney ballads like "My Love".
-"You Only Live Twice" was covered by an '80s Mod calling herself Eleanor Rigby.
-Showing there's no hard feelings, Sean Connery ended up narrating a version of "In My Life" on George Martin's retirement album.
-In QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) Bond meets an agent who insists on being called Miss Fields; it's only on the end credits that we learn her first name is Strawberry.
HE LOVES ONLY GOLD
McCartney's theme was nominated for an Oscar and sold like crazy. The producers moved in the direction of dollars by enlisting the hottest artists of any given moment, like Sheena Easton, Rita Coolidge, Duran Duran, A-Ha, and Madonna.
There are special stand-outs along the way. The Pretenders delivered two sadly unsung classics for THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) with "Where Has Everybody Gone" and "If There Was A Man". LICENSE TO KILL (1989) has an equally unheralded and soulful performance by Gladys Knight. Garbage was so into recreating Barry's signature sound that they made a brilliant spy video to accompany THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999). Chris Cornell channels Bassey and Tom Jones in CASINO ROYALE (2006) with his "You Know My Name". And Jack White and Alicia Keyes roar through "Another Way To Die" for QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008).
Moon River> Goldfinger> Moonraker> Goldeneye> Goldmember
There's a funny pretzel loop involving the theme for GOLDFINGER (1964), immortalized by Shirley Bassey. At the time it was so noted for its sonic resemblance to Henry Mancini's "Moon River" that it was often called "Moonfinger". Later, John Barry scored the Bond film MOONRAKER (1979), which was perversely sung by Shirley Bassey. Bono and The Edge were clearly homaging "Goldfinger"> in writing the theme for GOLDENEYE (1995), sung by Tina Turner in her best Bassey belt-out. Eventually the telephone game loses its mind. Though Austin Powers goes up against GOLDMEMBER (2002), the movie actually homages 70's action films; so Beyonce's theme completely loses the plot by combining two songs by KC And The Sunshine Band!
When Bondmania hit, an Italian journalist nicknamed the lascivious spy 'Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'. Barry liked this phrase enough to create a song for THUNDERBALL (1965). It was meant for Shirley Bassey but then went to Dionne Warwick. The brass worried about a song lacking the film title, the Tom Jones theme was used instead, and Dionne's recording was released 30 years later. An Italian spy knock-off, "BACIA E SPARA" (1966) was renamed "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" in American release, with a score by the great Bruno Nicolai. KISS KISS BANG BANG has been used to name two comedies since, including the terrific noir spoof with Robert Downey Jr (2005). It has also been the name of original songs by Nitzer Ebb, Specimen, The Celibate Rifles, and Cinerama. And a collection of film essays by Pauline Kael because it is "perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies."
Many artists pitched great songs for Bond films that got rejected.
These were alternate original songs that are just as cool for their own sake; Johnny Cash's "THUNDERBALL", Alice Cooper's "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN", Blondie's 'FOR YOU EYES ONLY", Scott Walker's "Only Yourself To Blame" for THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, and a raft of TOMORROW NEVER DIES original songs by Pulp, Saint Etienne, Marc Almond, The Cardigans, and Swan Lee.
And sometimes an artist makes a song in the vein of the Bond/ Barry sound for their own pleasure. New Order's "Blue Monday" (1983) owes as much to Vic Flick's treble as to Duane Eddy. A particular unknown delight is Lori & The Chameleons' "The Lonely Spy" (1981).
And then there's always a great cover.
Just marvel at the terrific cover of "Goldfinger" by postpunk pioneers Magazine! "You Only Live Twice" has been done by Marc Almond, Coldplay, and Bjork, and sampled by Robbie Williams and Cee-Lo Green. John Barry was lucky to have his hero Louis Armstrong perform "We Have All the Time In the World" for ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE before his passing; this song has been covered by My Bloody Valentine, Fun Lovin' Criminals, and even a tender take by Iggy Pop. Arctic Monkeys and Kanye West have tried on "Diamonds Are Forever". The first cover of "Live and Let Die" was actually on its own soundtrack, with a Funky Soul version by B.J. Arnau; we see her performing it in a New Orleans bar in the film. Linda McCartney had suggested a Reggae middle section, which triggered a Reggae cover by Byron Lee & The Dragoniares, who had done Calypso songs for the first Bond film, DR. NO (1962). And it became the signature song of Guns'n'Roses. In Radiohead's cover of "Nobody Does It Better" they pronounced it the sexiest song ever written.
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
And then there's cloning.
Though Barry hasn't done the Bond music for two decades, his hand-picked successor David Arnold has done near-flawless homages for the past dozen years. Likewise, pastiches of Barry run through AUSTIN POWERS and brilliantly in Michael Giacchino's score for THE INCREDIBLES.
NEVER SAY DIE
And then there's sampling.
Barry's riffs and moods have been sampled by Moby, Public Enemy, House Of Pain, and The Prodigy. Propellerheads took their whole Big Beat easthetic from Barry, even enlisting Shirley Bassey for their dance hit "History Repeating" (1998), as well as remixing an amped ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. This earned them the clout to throwdown in the score for TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997). Fatboy Slim took the key guitar riff of John's breakthrough "Beat Girl" as an essential part of his breakthrough, "The Rockefeller Skank". ("Right about now, the Funk Soul Brother, check it out now..!")
DANCE INTO THE FIRE
And then there's TripHop.
In the '90s, Barry's atmospheric darkness and propulsive rhythms influenced a new wave of edgy dance music with cinematic arrangements. Many acts lopped under the TripHop umbrella took inspiration from film composers like Barry, Lalo Shifrin, Roy Budd, Angelo Badalamenti, and Ennio Morricone.
Portishead made their breakthrough with a longform video called "To Kill a Dead Man", which combined the style of Bond films with the anti-Bond grit of Michael Caine's 'Harry Palmer' spy series. Their sound sampled from the dark shadows of Barry and Shifren. Likewise, Mono's big hit "Life In Mono" uses the creepy harpsichord of Barry's THE IPCRESS FILE as its hook. Similarly, Goldfrapp, Barry Adamson, Tricky, Sneaker Pimps, Hooverphonic, David Holmes, Blue States, and Massive Attack have haunting refrains of Barry in their cinematic dance themes.
And then there's the real thing. When Jarvis Cocker of Pulp curated the 2007 Meltdown Festival, he had a philharmonic night celebrating Barry, with both of them performing together. A proper tribute to a proper man.
This sadly is the end of our hero, who passed away in 2011, but John Barry will return in some other group dear to your heart. Until then, "Live one life for yourself/ And one for your dreams."
© Tym Stevens
Monday, February 7, 2011
One good thing leads to another...
Here's the fearless FUNKADELIC with their unblinking appraisal...
FUNKADELIC, -"Can You Get To That?" (1971)
And here's SLEIGH BELLS popping up from the underground with their own demented take...
SLEIGH BELLS, -"Rill Rill" (2010)
Sunday, February 6, 2011
The Italian Western soundtracks by ENNIO MORRICONE are among the coolest music ever made. Here's the surprising trail that led there.
It begins with a traditional British Isles folk song called "Pretty Polly", a ballad about the murder of a young woman by a heartless @#%&er. Perhaps because of the misogynistic pall, other variations of the song arose expanding it with her ghost coming back to destroy him. The song, like all euro-folk music, immigrated into the Appalachian regions of America and pollinated through folk, country, blues, and bluegrass versions.
The song has been covered by artists from THE BYRDS and SANDY DENNY to CURRENT 93 and GILLIAN WELCH. It is also reportedly the inspiration for BOB DYLAN's "The Ballad Of Hollis Brown", THE POISON GIRLS' "Pretty Polly", and NIRVANA's "Polly".
Here is a Bluegrass version by Bill Cornett...
BILL CORNETT -"Pretty Polly"
But back on the main path of our trailblazing...
The People's Troubadour WOODY GUTHRIE turned the general melody of the song into an epic anthem for migrant workers called "Pastures Of Plenty".
WOODIE GUTHRIE -"Pastures Of Plenty" (1941)
ENNIO MORRICONE was a pop arranger in the early 60's, and did a dramatic arrangement for this cover version by Italian singer PETER TEVIS. The background vocals are almost certainly by I Cantori Moderni (The Modern Singers), and the twanging guitar by their leader, Alessandro Alessandroni.
PETER TEVIS, w/ Ennio Morricone -"Pastures Of Plenty" (1962)
A few years later, as he began his career scoring films, Morricone was asked by director Sergio Leone to compose for his film "A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS", a Western remake of Kurasawa's wayward samurai film "Yojimbo".
Leone asked for a sound in the style of Dmitri Tiomkin, but when he heard a 45 of Tevis' song he was thunderstruck and insisted that was the dynamic sound they needed.
The backing track then became the basis for the revolutionary Italian Western sound. Alessandro Alessandroni stepped up to the mike with his trademark haunting whistling. The "with the wind" background chant became what everyone interprets as "we can fight".
ENNIO MORRICONE -"A Fistful Of Dollars" (1964)
The italian Western sound -galloping rhythms, hard twanging guitar, eerie whistles, monastic chants, triumphant Spanish horns, and ethereal arias- has had an endless impact on Rock'n'Soul music. Disciples include Blondie, Adam Ant, Wall Of Voodoo, Crime And The City Solution, Nick Cave, Pixies, Air, Muse, Calexico, Gnarls Barkley, Mike Patton, and Goldfrapp.
I'll make a new Blog post profiling that influence with videos and music players soon!
Hear more at MORRICONE Rocks!
Saturday, February 5, 2011
"Transmitter, picking up something good/ Hey, Radio Head/ The sound of a brand new world!" -Talking Heads
Another example of how everyone relays a wavelength.
DAVID BYRNE co-wrote and starred in an indie film called "TRUE STORIES" in 1986. Naturally the TALKING HEADS made a soundtrack record, including this song:
TALKING HEADS -"Radio Head" (1986)
The trick was that, in the film, the songs were sung by the actors. "Radio Head" was sung by TITO LARIVA, backed up by famed accordianist Esteban "Steve" Jordan and his band.
Tito Lariva had been a pioneer in the Los Angeles Punk scene with his band THE PLUGZ. They're most famous for their cover of "Secret Agent Man" as "Hombre Secreto", and for their Morricone-esque work on the "REPO MAN" soundtrack. He then fronted THE CRUZADOs with their hit "Motorcycle Girl". And he's been a staple in Robert Rodriguez films as TITO + TARANTULA from the "El Mariachi" era to the theme for "MACHETE".
TITO LARIVA -"Radio Head" (1986)
An English band named ON A FRIDAY was signed in the early 90's, but then changed their name to RADIOHEAD based on this song. Here's THOM YORKE signaling his feelings:
RADIOHEAD -"Creep" (1992)
"Baby, you're mind is a radio
Got a reciever inside my head
Baby, I'm tuned to your wavelength
Let me tell you what it says..."