Friday, October 30, 2015

Does Darth Vader's Theme Have Its Roots in the 1930s Dance Band Era?

Vader artwork by Terry Fan for Monde Mosaic
When the official trailer for Star Wars: the Force Awakens was released a few weeks ago, I thought I heard a collective orgasm from Star Wars geeks ripple through the universe (a great disturbance in the force, indeed!) While everyone is waiting for the movie's release date of December 18 to get here, I thought this might be a good opportunity to point out a huge similarity I've heard between "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" and two other songs -- one of them from 1932!

It all started when I first heard the 1997 song "Your Woman" by White Town being played on my local independent radio station a few years ago. "Hey, that sounds just like Darth Vader's theme!" I'd think to myself when I heard the repeated trumpet melody...and every time the song aired in my car on the way to work or home, it would just reconfirm my opinion. I thought it was cool that someone gained copyright permission to sample John Williams' composition, until I did more research into "Your Woman."

It turns out that White Town was inspired -- not by the Dark Side -- but by a 1932 song by Al Bowlly called "My Woman." Bowlly was a South African/British singer, songwriter, composer and band leader whose career lasted from 1927 until his untimely and tragic death in 1941. He recorded over 1,000 records including the classic love song "The Very Thought of You" as well as "Midnight, the Stars and You" and "Goodnight, Sweetheart." 

"My Woman" was actually credited to Lew Stone and the Monseigneur Band featuring Al Bowlly. It may have been heavily inspired by Bowlly's heartache at the time -- in 1931 he married a woman named Freda Roberts only to later find his new bride in bed with another man on their honeymoon night (he remarried in 1934 and that marriage lasted until his death.)

The comments on YouTube for "My Woman" are guy said Darth Vader dons his top hat and cape and goes out on the town to this tune...another said his woman left him so he turned to the Dark Side. Some people thought it sounded nothing like "The Imperial March"...I disagree. In my opinion, there's a huge, almost bizarre similarity here that seems too obvious to be ignored. The question remains...did Williams plagiarize Bowlly? 

Anyways, here's Bowlly's "My Woman" followed by White Town's "Your Woman" followed by "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)". You can be the judge. 

By the way, I've found my Halloween costume idea for next year. Why haven't I thought of getting dressed up as a sexy, female Darth Vader before? (She's missing her cape and lightsaber, though.)

100 Years of Halloween Costumes in 3 Minutes has been giving us some great videos this year showing the evolution of style during the past century. Their latest, 100 Years of Halloween Costumes in 3 Minutes -- proves that the old timey Halloween costumes from the beginning of the 20th century were definitely the creepiest. Check out that paper mache mask from 1915 -- yikes!

It's easy to choose my favorites here: 1935 (adorable), 1955, and especially 1965. My least favorite? That's easy...2015's choice makes me want to vomit. I'm a little surprised it wasn't a zombie, given the popularity of shows like The Walking Dead

Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why Sam Smith's New Song Is the Worst James Bond Theme Song Ever

Three years ago at this time, Adele's "Skyfall" -- the theme for the new James Bond movie in 2012 -- was getting lots of radio play. I remember it took a few listens for me to warm up to it, but all in all it turned out to be a fine modern addition to the Bond theme song legacy. Not one of my favorites, especially as I prefer the themes from the '60s through the '80s, but certainly not one of the worst.

Then I heard Sam Smith's "Writing's On the Wall" for the upcoming Bond film Spectre. Surprisingly (or maybe not) there's been little PR and airplay surrounding this composition. Maybe it's because -- to put it bluntly -- it...well, it sucks. In my honest opinion anyway. 

To make sure that I wasn't being unfair, I posted a link to the song on Facebook and asked others what they thought. It was unanimous. Everyone who commented thought it was awful, too. 

I should probably preface this by saying that I'm just not a Sam Smith fan. I find his music too slow and ponderous and I think it's safe to say that he (if even unconsciously) ripped off Tom Petty when he released "Stay With Me" and plagiarism just isn't cool. (For those who weren't in the loop, Tom Petty sued Smith last year because "Stay With Me" sounded too much like Petty's "I Won't Back Down." The two musicians reached a settlement out of court.)

But despite that, I was ready to give him the benefit of a doubt here and I was open minded to hearing the song, because it isn't that often a modern musician strikes a chord with me. Here's the song, by the way, if you want to listen to it first before hearing my further thoughts...

For starters, it's too painfully slow. The opening orchestra sweep at the beginning certainly sounds like a 007 theme. But then that droning piano makes me impatient. You would think after "Skyfall" the Broccoli family would have asked for a more upbeat theme, like "You Know My Name" from Casino Royale and "Another Way to Die" that accompanied Quantum of Solace. I nearly dozed off listening to "The Writing's On the Wall" until...

That falsetto begins. Sweet Lord, are my ears really hearing a falsetto in a Bond theme song? I have nothing against falsettos as long as they're appropriate for the song; Mick Jagger can rock (key word: rock) a falsetto on many Rolling Stones songs, and Prince made the singing style his trademark. However, it just doesn't work on a Bond song. A man like Bond is worthy of a deeper, majestic baritone singing his theme song, like Tom Jones did on "Thunderball", not someone who sounds like Barry Gibb. 

And the falsetto gets repeated...and repeated...and repeated...throughout the song. 

I get that the producers like to keep up with the times and have a modern singer record the Bond theme songs, but this one seriously left me craving the classics from previous decades. Something interesting to note: the original motion picture soundtrack for Spectre contains only the instrumental version of the Sam Smith composition; not the sung version. Hmmmm. 

At the end of the day, I suppose it doesn't really matter what gets used for the opening theme song or who sings it when all I care about is the movie itself and if it's entertaining and well done. But considering that Daniel Craig has been hinting in interviews lately that he's about ready to leave the Bond role, maybe this is a sign that some things in Bond's current world are getting tiring and need some rejuvenating. 

And call me crazy, but if I'm not mistaken, I thought there was a rumor quite a ways back that Depeche Mode was going to record the theme song for Spectre. "Personal Jesus", anyone?

I sincerely don't mean to offend the Sam Smith fans out there. The tune just isn't my bag. Nonetheless I'm interested in hearing your opinion -- leave a comment and let me know what you think of it. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Pumped for Peanuts

Am I the only one I know who's planning on seeing The Peanuts Movie when it opens in theaters in a few weeks?

When I mentioned my desire during a recent outing with my Meetup group, the reaction it caused at the restaurant table were giggles. No, make that laughter...raucous, rollicking belly laughter a lot like Snoopy's trademark "HEE HO HAWS" (accompanied by fingers pointing at me):

Good grief. OK, it wasn't quite like that, but you know what I mean. These are women that wouldn't think twice about taking their kids or grandkids to see Inside Out, Transylvania Hotel 2, or those God-awful obnoxious Minions (no offense to kids and adult minions fans, but I personally find them annoying and think they look like multi-vitamin tablets.) Somehow, though, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang aren't quite what you would consider cool  -- or at least, cool enough to shell out money for to see them on the big screen. Too old school, I guess. But in my opinion, old school is cool. 

Maybe it's a generation gap thing. I grew up on Peanuts. I was 3 or 4 years old when I first discovered them, via those Dell paperback books containing several strips that my sisters would read to me. My oldest sister, in fact, insists that I learned to read (with supplementation by Sesame Street and The Electric Company) by going through the books on my own. I was immediately fascinated by Charles Schulz's characters even at my young age; they were kids not that much older than I was with larger than life personalities. I grasped the sense of humor, the heaviness of Linus' musings, the punchlines, and most of all, I felt empathy for Charlie Brown, an underdog who always seemed to be getting kicked by life. I had Peanuts dolls -- including a dress-up Snoopy -- Christmas ornaments, and assorted toys. Peanuts were absolutely a large part of my childhood. 

So if anyone should have any misgivings about a Peanuts reboot circa 2015, it oughta be me. But so far, I don't have any. 

I remember when The Peanuts Movie was first announced a few years ago, there were grumblings and skepticism online by other long-time fans over the fact the movie would be computer generated and in 3D. But I have to say, the more I've seen and heard about the film, the more it looks like the heart and soul of creator Schulz's strip has remained safely intact. Yes, the movie wasn't done in the flat, hand-drawn animation found in all of the TV specials my generation grew up with. But the final product reminds me a lot of something else from my childhood: those View-Master slides that featured three-dimensional Peanuts characters. (Did you know that View-Master is still manufacturing viewers? They can now be used with a smartphone to create virtual reality worlds, but I prefer the reels I grew up on in the '70s.)

Both Schulz's son and grandson are the producers and writers of the movie. That should at least soothe any concerns that the film won't remain true to the spirit of the original strip and TV specials. And the plot is classic Peanuts: the little red-haired girl has moved into the neighborhood, which sets everyone into a tizzy, most of all our hero, Charlie Brown. 

The only thing somewhat new is the addition of Snoopy's girlfriend, an adorable French poodle named Fifi (what is it about the allure of French girls?) (Fifi actually made an appearance in the 1980 TV special Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown.)

I have read some complaints about the music being used in the trailers -- "Baba O'Reilly" by the Who, for example, doesn't exactly invoke images of Snoopy battling the Red Baron. While some contemporary music is part of the soundtrack, film score composer Christophe Beck -- the same guy behind Frozen -- insists that Vince Guaraldi's trademark melodies are used in several appropriate moments during the running time. Also, archived audio of Bill Melendez was resurrected to preserve Snoopy's and Woodstock's vocalizations. 

My only hope for this movie is that everyone's favorite blockhead finally gets his redemption after all these years; his shining moment of well-deserved glory, a home run and a kiss from the red-headed girl, perhaps? A justification to put his thumbs in his ears, waggle his fingers, and sing, "nah, nah, nah, nah nah nah!" at Lucy and all of the other naysayers. 

Or maybe not. The movie was produced by Schulz's family members, after all. Nonetheless, I'll be watching and hoping, sometime next month. 

Here's the trailer for the film, in case you haven't seen it yet:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A New Kind of Beatles Cover Band: AfterFab

We've all watched a Beatles cover band at some point. They run the gamut from those with members that don't dress up like the Fabs (Beatlejuice) to the ones that go all-out with costumes and Liverpudlian accents emulating John, Paul, George, and Ringo during each phase of the Beatles' career (The Cast of Beatlemania.) 

But there's a new Beatles tribute band on the scene -- at least in the New England area -- that is currently the only one of its kind in the U.S.: AfterFab. As you may have guessed by the name, AfterFab covers only the Beatles' solo hits after they broke up in 1970. And I have to say, after seeing them play at the Chelmsford Center of the Arts in Chelmsford, Massachusetts last weekend, I totally fell in love with them. If you're tired of seeing too many guys in shaggy wigs singing "Love Me Do" too many times, then AfterFab is the band for you! (I have nothing against "Love Me Do" or any of the Beatles' songs, by the way; just grabbing one out of thin air as a common example.)

To be honest, I was in a little bit of a blah mood on Saturday and not all that psyched about going for some reason. I had bought a ticket and posted the show as an event with my Meetup group during the summer, then later found out an annual Octoberfest dinner I really love attending was slated for the same night. I was missing out on bratwurst, spaetzle, and apple strudel. 

That all changed as soon as AfterFab hit the stage and immediately launched into John Lennon's "Nobody Told Me" followed by "Power to the People" and the Paul McCartney-composed Badfinger hit, "Come and Get It." For the next two hours they shook the center's intimate performance hall with a trip through the Beatles' solo careers accompanied by a slideshow that flashed picture sleeves from notable singles as well as introspective quotes from the Beatles themselves on their post-Fab careers. 

It was such a delight because it's not that often you get to hear John Lennon and George Harrison gems like "Whatever Gets You Through the Night", "My Sweet Lord", "Watching the Wheels", "What Is Life," "Imagine", "Devil's Radio" and others get played live. A highlight for me was hearing the band's rendition of George's bittersweet tribute to John, "All Those Years Ago." It sounded exactly and perfectly like the album version. 

They also rocked through Paul's "Hi Hi Hi", one of my favorite Macca songs of all time that always gets my hormones pumping notably because of its sexiness and suggestive lyrics. At this point it took all of my restraint not to get up and dance to this song. Another nicely executed Macca cover was "Let 'Em In," complete with the opening doorbell effect and synthesizers nicely substituting for the flute and horn parts. This was in addition, of course, to Paul's standards typically played during his tours such as "Band on the Run," "Junior's Farm", "My Love", "Silly Love Songs", "Jet", and "Live and Let Die."

Have I mentioned that a Traveling Wilburys song was performed as well? The band did a fine job on "Handle With Care." Ringo Starr fans, however, may have been wanting more than three hits: "Photograph", "Back Off Bugaloo", and "It Don't Come Easy." This was explained by the band reporting that they were hearing requests for more Harrison songs for their set list (no offense to Ringo, but as a Harrison girl I couldn't complain.)

The group is comprised of six members: lead singer Jon Paquin, guitarist and keyboardist Adam Boc (also the band's founder), lead guitarist Lauren Passarelli, drummer Tom Evans, bassist Mike Bishop, and keyboardist Bryan Eyberg. Paquin looked like he literally stepped out of the 1970s with his flowing hair and white shirt and pants. He reminded me a bit of Jim Morrison and brought so much energy onto the stage, leaping and clearly enjoying himself while mastering the vocals of each composition, without feeling the need to actually imitate each Beatle's voice. 

But my favorite band member was Passarelli. When she's not blowing people away playing the tricky guitar high notes and effects that Harrison composed, she's a music professor at Berkeley and actually used to play George in an earlier Beatles tribute band. 

The only bad thing one can say about AfterFab is their touring base is currently limited to the New England area, and mostly my home state of Massachusetts. But maybe -- to borrow a McCartney lyric -- with a little luck (and publicity) they'll expand their shows to other areas of the U.S. 

I can't wait to see them again at some point. And dare I say it -- it was even more enjoyable than an Octoberfest meal. 

Here's a promotional clip of the band from their site but be forewarned -- they sound even better in person. You can visit their site for more info on upcoming performances. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Not Your Pop's Playboy Anymore

"What sort of man reads Playboy?" In light of the news this week about Hugh Hefner's famed mag ditching nude photos from their pages, probably the most obvious answer is, not the type of guys depicted in these ads anymore...these Don Draper, Steve McQueen, and Ron Burgundy wannabes. Forget calling them a dying breed; they're already extinct. So let's take a look at a few bygone examples of nostalgia, before getting into Playboy's changes and the kind of man they're probably now going to set their sights on...

Thursday, October 08, 2015

A Song's Story #7: Take On Me

Thirty years ago an iconic music video began airing on MTV and other music video stations. Oh, we didn't know back then that it was about to live on in infinity quite yet, but it's now 2015 and A-ha's "Take On Me" has truly stood the test of time -- it's even been parodied on Family Guy and Volkswagen did their own take on it for a commercial spot a year or two ago. Back in the '80s, most music videos -- if they were done right -- were like short films that told a story, and "Take On Me" should definitely be on any list of the best music videos ever made. It was clever, cute, fascinating, and backed by a good song with a bit of an interesting history, too. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

10 Grooving Conversation Pits From Back in the Day

I guess you could say one of my retro-related regrets is that I've never been in a home that had a sunken room, or conversation pit. I think my first introduction to the interior design feature was when I saw the Beatles' quirky house in the movie HELP! for the first time -- remember John's below floor level bed in the Fabs' living room? Don and Megan Draper also had a pretty snazzy sunken living room in their NYC apartment on Mad Men. But in real life, I just haven't had the good fortune yet to see one in person. 

That may change because I've been reading that conversation pits may be poised to make a comeback, or at least they're finding their way into much newer homes from what I've seen on interior decorating sites. However, the photos of sunken living areas that are being added to the newer homes can't compare to the images of ones from the '60s and '70s. There's something about a conversation pit that makes it better matched to a house constructed during one of those decades -- it probably has to do with the surrounding decor and the general atmosphere. 

To see what I mean, here are vintage photos of conversation pits gleamed from Pinterest and Flickr that are definitely ten of the coolest sunken living areas I've ever seen...maybe you'll agree as well.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Movie Review: Elvis and the Beauty Queen (1981)

Ever since Elvis Presley's death in 1977, there have been more movies made about him then you can shake a stick at. According to IMDb, a total of 43 actors have portrayed the King on screen, including Val Kilmer, Harvey Keitel, and Kurt Russell. One of the best performances, in my opinion, was by Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the 2005 TV movie Elvis. I thought that he looked like Elvis, spoke like him (I was even more impressed once I learned that Meyers is British), and swiveled his hips like him. Definitely at the top of the heap.

So who would be at the bottom? Well, I haven't seen too many of the other films for a fair comparison, but Don Johnson's portrayal in the 1981 TV movie Elvis and the Beauty Queen has to be one of the worst. Now, if you saw my post from last week, Young Don Johnson Was Ridiculously Smoking Hot, then you know I like the guy. However, to paraphrase a comment I saw on YouTube under the movie, "Don Johnson playing Elvis Presley is like Colin Farrell playing Sonny Crockett." 

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