Soundtrack to Friday - Power Duets

Friday in a 9 to 5 office job is the hardest day to get through.  Concentration levels are challenged and you are just knackered and ready for the weekend.  A way to get through the day is to choose a soundtrack to the day and share it with your colleagues.  Yes there is an up swing in YouTube use that day, but office morale and the chance that staff will come back to work on Monday does increase.

This Friday we chose Power Duets and these were the suggestions in no specific order.  Enjoy.

Up Where We Belong - Jennifer Warnes & Joe Cocker

Islands In The Stream - Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton

Guilty - Barbra Straisand & Barry Gibb

Don't Give Up - Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush

Endless Love - Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

I've Had The Time Of My Life - Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes

The Divine Ms A

This week Chrissy Amphlett, lead singer of The Divinyls died of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis at age 53.  She revealed she had multiple sclerosis in 2007 and breast cancer in 2010, and in March 2012, she posted a message on her facebook page about her health problems that showed the impact the diseases and the treatments were having on her. Chrissy was born in Geelong, Victoria, Australia and died in New York city and along the way she  captured a generation of rock fans.  

Here is an interview she did with Australian journalist James Valentine around the time of the bands US success in the 1980s.

The Divinyls were part of the pub rock Australian rock scene in the 1980s and 1990s.  They had many hits, most notably I Touch Myself, Boys In Town, Science Fiction, Human On The Inside and Pleasure and Pain. In this male dominated genre of music, Chrissy broke down the gender barriers and rocked out, stamping her mark on Australian music. She is known for her great live performances and no holds barred attitude to rock and roll.  But her husband Charley Drayton (former Divinyls drummer) summed it up in a statement released by the ARIA, "With her force of character and vocal strength she paved the way for strong, sexy, outspoken women."  And boy did she.  

Here is a you tube playlist of songs by The Divinyls.

A Little Bit of Country

The Zac Brown Band played a packed out house last night at The Hifi, Sydney, and I was the only person at the venue who had not heard their music before.  It was certainly a great way to be introduced to a new band.  And what a new band,  their latest album debut at no.1 in the US Billboard chart and won five Grammys this year. So they looked good on paper, and thankfully they were totally awesome live.   

How did I not know about them?  I like to think I keep up to date and usually get some inkling of a band or a song before they are playing to sold out concerts.  What I realised was that I hit the genre wall.  This band is classified country, which they certainly are, but with quite a bit more (they covered songs by Metallica and Van Morrison).  It is interesting to see that a whole genre of music is given a dedicated radio station and TV music channel and carved out from other radio playlists. I am not a fan of segregated music, I like to think that if a song or a band makes you feel and connect with you, who cares how they are classified.  

I am glad I don't have to only rely on the radio to introduce me to new music, seeing a band live and saying thanks for the tickets is a good way broaden the horizons. It was great to see a band in their prime playing an intimate venue like The Hifi,  a very different setting to sold out stadiums.  This may be their first tour of Australia but their fans know every word to their songs and clamoured for more.  I am sure they are going to have fun at the Byron Bay Bluesfest this weekend and I am sure they will have more fans before they go home.

Road Trip Radio

Listening to the FM radio while driving across the South West of USA was a great way to set the tone of the trip.  Just pushing the seek button and stopping when there was a good song was leaving my soundtrack to happenstance.  There were a couple of things I found out:

- for every rock station there is three country stations, at least three christian music/talk and about four Spanish speaking stations;

- Bohemian Rhapsody from beginning to end is about five miles of driving;

- catching a glimpse of your reflection in the windscreen while singing along (with hand gestures) to Sweet Caroline is hilarious.  But hands do need to reach out and touch.  I promise you;

- I know more Led Zeppelin songs that I than I realised;

- I don't understand how Taylor Swift can make the word 'eyes' into two words.  That is just wrong.

- The US really likes Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers.

I would like to give a shout out to the following radio stations for creating the soundtrack of my roadtrip.  

Sydney Festival - Sing The Truth

The State Theatre in Sydney was home to Angélique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright last night.  Three beautiful voices shaped and moulded songs from women who have inspired them – Billie Holiday, Odetta, Abbey Lincoln, Joni Mitchell, Lauryn Hill, Ani DiFranco and Miriam Makeba – and made them their own.

Developed from the one-off tribute to Nina Simone (Sydney Opera House, 2010), Sing The Truth now encompasses a wider source of music and songs, most notably Mamma Africa herself, Miriam Makeba.   Beninoise singer-songwriter Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, commonly known as Angélique Kidjo, has inherited the crown from Makeba.  She weaved three of Makeba’s hits through the line up giving the evening a sharp edge to the smooth jazz vocals of Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright.     

Lizz Wright is from a small town in Georgia (the US one not the Russian), and is the daughter of a minister and musical director of their Church.  Her gospel infused jazz and RnB vocals are deep and rich and her duet with Reeves soared as they gave the crowd a glimpse into a Southern gospel concert with an upbeat message on Canaan.

Dianne Reeves was born in Detroit and bred in Denver by a very musical family who introduced her to the music of jazz singers from Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan to Billie Holiday.  When she moved to Los Angeles her interest in Latin American music grew and she experimented with different kinds of vocal music.  She showed this vocal mastery last night with her rendition of Ani DiFranco’s 32 Flavours.  It was magnificent.

You cannot hold one of these singers above the other, the blending of their talents and voices with a fantastic backup band, gave us a truly beautiful evening of music that brought you with them into the songs and left the audience spellbound.

Sydney Festival - Sergio Leone on the Beach

Los Coronas was a great way to spend a Friday evening.  They started off the night at the Spiegeltent with a fantastic hour long set of Spanish influenced surf music.    Like a spaghetti western scored by Brian Wilson, the music is a mixture of genres that gets the dance floor jumping. 

Quentin Tarantino used this type of music in Pulp Fiction, putting Dick Dale's now-iconic rendition of Misirlou to play over the credits.  Los Coronas do a mean version of this song.  Check it out below.

Los Coronas was another hit it my gamble on new music that I am trying out during the Sydney Festival.

Sydney Festival - Angry Female Singer-Songwriters Who Sing Beautifully

This is the first time since I have been living here in Sydney that I have managed to get tickets to the very popular Speigeltent at the Sydney Festival.  This intimate music and theatre venue has a range of acts throughout the festival, and tonight I went to see Sharon Van Etten, a New Jersey native who played songs from her 2012 album, Tramp.  As she said tonight on stage, some songs came from a place of anger and some from a place of love.  What was very apparent was that she loved playing them all. 

I picked the concert without having heard her music before as part of an experiment to broaden my taste in music.  I  then went onto youtube to see what I got myself into.  Her songs are beautiful, if a bit in the same vein.  As a live performer, Van Etten has a stunning voice that builds atmosphere and layers of sound and is perfect for the venue.   It was a good concert on an extremely hot evening in Sydney, and I am happy with my choice.  Next up in my foray into new music is Los Coronos on Friday, back in the Speigeltent.

This clip below is from the US National Public Radio (NPR) Tiny Desk Concerts.  It shows you what I mean

Top 10 One Album Wonders

Here are my top 10 one album wonders where the band or singer has one album that is a phenomenal success, both commercially and critically.  So much so that the band or singer or the album makes the traditional top 10 lists of the year.  The kicker is that they, to date, do not have any further albums that achieve similar commercial or critical success. I have no clue why most of them are albums from the 1990s.  Maybe it is the change to the music industry, consumers or I just not listening to the latest music much, but here it is, my very narrow list that is, of course, informed by my taste and knowledge of music.

10. Crash Test Dummies, 'God Shuffled His Feet' (1993)

9. Spin Doctors, 'Pocket Full of Kryptonite (1991)

8. Counting Crows, 'August and Everything After' (1993)

7. Macy Gray, 'On How Life Is' (1999)

6. Tracy Chapman, 'Tracy Chapman' (1988)

5. The Verve, 'Urban Hymns' (1997)

4. Hootie and the Blowfish, 'Cracked Rear View' (1994)

3. Lauryn Hill, 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' (1998)

2. Alanis Morrisette, 'Jagged Little Pill' (1995)

1. Jeff Buckley, ‘Grace’ (1994)

10 Questions About This Music Video

Check out the new 'music video' from Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta and ponder these questions: 

1. Why destroy everyone's childhood memories of a classic movie?

2. I was meaning Grease, but why destroy everyone's childhood memories of another classic movie - Its A Wonderful Life?

3. Would you classify chin hair as another of John Travolta's beards?

4. How many animals were hurt in the making of the botox for this video?

5. Why is there line dancing, but no hand jive?

6. Was a real hair line optional in the making of this video?

7. What is with the slow driving?

8. There is a whole album of these?

9. Was this sanctioned by Scientology?

10. Ok there is a lot of line dancing, why?

A Little Light Music

The little I know about opera, comic or otherwise, is gleaned from references in movies, TV or adverts.  I was introduced to O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini, through THAT scene in the 1985 film, A Room With A View.  On the hillside.  You know the one I mean.  I have just never delved into this musical form before and am always pleasantly surprised when I hear something familiar in its original context.    I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General is one of those songs.   This tongue-twisting patter song is from the first act of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, the fifth collaboration of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership.  Its debut was in New York on 31 December 1879 and it follows the story of Frederic, who is released from his apprenticeship with a group of tender-hearted pirates, and meets Mabel, one of the daughters of Major-General Stanley. They fall in love.  Hijinks ensue, with lots of songs and swordplay.

Pirates of Penzance is in the tradition of comic opera and musical comedy, two types of British light opera that are lineal descendants of the ballad opera, that eighteenth-century protest against the Italian conquest of the London operatic scene¹.   W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan first worked together in 1871 on a Christmas opera, Thespis.  They worked together and apart over the next few years, developing a signature working method that expected the music, libretto (the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical), staging and performances to be of the very highest quality even though they knew they were creating light entertainment.  Their three most well-known productions are H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), Pirates and The Mikado (1884) and an insight into their lives can be glimpsed in the Mike Leigh movie Topsy Turvy in 1999, which is based on their lives in the lead up to the creation of The Mikado

I saw Pirates of Penzance for the first time last Friday at the Sydney Theatre Company.  This all male production from London is, according to the critics, a fresh take on the story.  Sasha Regan, the director, says in the program “By casting young men in the roles we have the faces and voices that encapsulate those innocent days [of school productions].  We totally and utterly respect the original score and script and work hard to produce a joyful and exciting piece of theatre for everyone.” It is very funny and cleverly done, and I suspect this ‘fresh take’ gives a modern audience a way into quite a light story.   You definitely leave the theatre happy, humming a couple of tunes that you did not realise you knew. 

¹The Complete Book of Light Opera, Mark Lubbock. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 467-8.

The Rolling Stones' New Video

When did you last hear someone ask you if you had seen the latest Rolling Stones' music video?  Well, you may here it more often in the next couple of months, with the release of Grrrr, the Rolling Stones' new album.  They have launched their latest single, Doom and Gloom, with a good old-fashioned rock video featuring Swedish actress Noomi Raplace

The girl who played with fire is a great choice to illustrate the song.  Check it out below.  

Guilty Pleasure - Streets of Fire

The term 'guilty pleasure' has come to the fore in the last few years in relation to music, films or TV shows that people are a little embarrassed to admit that they like.  This is the album that I'm a little embarrassed to like, but that does not mean I don't completely love it -  the soundtrack to the 1984 film Streets of Fire.  The movie is utter rubbish.  It stars Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Amy Madigan and a very young Bill Paxton.  The story is inconsequential, some 1950s inspired pulp gang warfare with motorbikes and heroics.   However the music is awesome.  It is a mixture of 1980s rock pop with soaring Bonnie Tyler like songs (Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young and Nowhere Fast) with 50s doo-wop, such as I Can Dream About You, which was the hit single from the soundtrack.  Songs on the soundtrack were written by Jim Steinman (who worked on Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell and Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart), Stevie Nicks, Dan Hartman and Ry Cooder.  What's not to love?