Posts Tagged ‘Randy Newman’

John, Maurice & Randy Again

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 12, 2009

Off to the movies!

Here’s a clip of the opening sequence to 1964’s Goldfinger, with Shirley Bassey singing the title tune. Released as a single, the song went to No. 8 in early 1965.

And since it was on the same page at YouTube, here’s the opening sequence for 1965’s Thunderball. John Barry’s score for Thunderball was good but not at the level, I think, of Goldfinger. The opening sequence of the film was better, though (and the use of evidently naked women as a motif in the sequence was quite racy in 1965). I’ve never thought much of the title song, but Tom Jones’ single went to No. 25 in early 1966.

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Then, here’s the opening sequence for the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago, with Maurice Jarre’s main title track.

Finally, here’s the climactic scene from The Natural, released in 1984. The point I’m making here – if have to make a point; it’s a fun scene to watch no matter what – is to be aware of how Newman’s sonic cues heighten the tension and how his main themes and motifs then lead the viewer through the scene.

Note:
One of the seven tracks I posted yesterday – “Dawn Raid on Fort Knox” from Goldfinger – disappeared pretty quickly. That soundtrack is again in print on CD and is available here. Five of the other six soundtracks from which I posted single tracks yesterday are also available online. The only one that seems to be out of print is the soundtrack to The Natural.

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The Music Behind The Movies

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 11, 2009

My long-time fascination with film soundtracks began – as I shared here in the first few months of this blog – with Goldfinger, the third of the James Bond films. As I wrote, my parents were reluctant at the time – I was eleven – to let me either see the movie or read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. But the soundtrack to Goldfinger was available through our record club, and I spent hours listening to it.

By the time I saw the film, maybe a year later, I practically had the score memorized, and I was fascinated with the way the music enhanced the movie, highlighting passages and underlining transitions. I began to pay close attention to the music whenever I went to a movie.

And I have done so ever since. Sometimes I felt like the only one. “Did you notice the music during the scene when they’re taking the car to Syracuse?” I’d ask my friends over a post-film drink.

“What about it?” one might reply.

“It echoed the main theme and also brought in the theme the composer created for the girl from Jersey.”

“Oh. No, I didn’t really notice.”

I kept listening and buying the occasional soundtrack LP (and later on, CD). My library of them isn’t large – I’ve focused far more over the years on rock, pop and soul – but generally, it’s music I still find interesting. Some of the soundtracks haven’t aged well. I bought the soundtrack to Country, the 1984 film that starred Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard and Wilford Brimley, just days after I saw the film. But the New Age music – the musicians on it recorded frequently for the Windham Hill label – hasn’t worn well, I don’t think. Some others have lasted. And I think those include the three soundtracks that I absolutely love.

The first of those is the first soundtrack I owned: Goldfinger. Written by John Barry, the score for the third of the James Bond films provides a lesson in contrasts, from the blare and rumble of the main title to the insistent music that accompanied the film’s dawn raid on Fort Knox, followed by the hushed background to the arrival of a nuclear weapon before the pounding countdown begins. Matching the music, which I knew well, to the action on the screen was like reading a primer in film-scoring.

(I dabbled with the idea of scoring and soundtrack work as a career, but nothing came of it except a deeper love for the craft.)

The second of my three favorite soundtracks is Bill Conti’s work for Rocky, the first in what became a ridiculous series of films. Conti’s use of repeated motifs, often identified with one character, remains astounding, as does the variety of moods and arrangements he finds for each motif. How much of my affection for the score is a result of the film’s ultra-romantic story of the man who was almost destined to be “just another bum from the neighborhood”? I don’t know. I have a suspicion that it might be just as accurate to say that my affection for the movie is the result of the score. Rocky might have the prefect symbiosis between story and score: Each enhances the other.

The last of the three scores that sit atop my list is Randy Newman’s work for the 1984 film, The Natural. It’s true that the film’s story – especially its ending – bears only a passing resemblance to the Bernard Malamud novel from which it was adapted. (In the novel, given a chance at redemption, Malamud’s Roy Hobbs strikes out at the critical moment and his life and career unravel.) But given the producers’ decision to make Malamud’s cautionary tale into the Great American Fable, Newman came up with a score that was tragic, triumphant and Coplandesque.

So here is one selection from each of those soundtracks and four more from soundtracks that I enjoy, if not to the degree I love the first three:

A Six-Pack of Soundtrack Selections
“Dawn Raid on Fort Knox” by John Barry from Goldfinger [1964]
“Lara’s Theme” by Maurice Jarre from Dr. Zhivago [1965]
 “No Name Bar” by Isaac Hayes from Shaft [1971]
“Going The Distance” by Bill Conti from Rocky [1976]
“Blade Runner [End Titles]” by Vangelis from Blade Runner [1982]
“The Natural” by Randy Newman from The Natural [1984]
Bonus Track
“Hymn to Red October (Main Title)” by Basil Poledouris from The Hunt For Red October [1990]

‘You Hide Behind The Oak Tree . . .’

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 26, 2008

Every once in a while, a song comes along whose lyrics make me go, “Wha?”

That frequently happens with the songs of Randy Newman. He’s got a new CD out – Harps and Angels – that I have not heard, but the reviews I’ve read tell me that the CD marks the return of the acerbic and cantankerous songwriter responsible for such gems as “Sail Away,” “Short People” and many more. Being versatile, of course, Newman is also responsible for many sweet ditties, as testified to by his seemingly annual nominations for Academy Awards for song-writing and by his occasionally stunning work for film scores (the best of which, to me, was his work for the 1984 film, The Natural).

But it’s the odd and occasionally unfathomable Newman songs I have in mind today, specifically “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” from Newman’s debut album, 1970’s 12 Songs.

All-Music Guide says: “A sinewy ballad built around a fine bottleneck guitar riff, ‘Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield’ is a love song, basically, but the slightly demented lyric content is what gives it the edge.”

Slightly demented? You be the judge:

“Let’s burn down the cornfield,
“Let’s burn down the cornfield,
“And we can listen to it burn.

“You hide behind the oak tree,
“You hide behind the oak tree,
“Stay out of danger ’till I return.

“Oh, it’s so good on a cold night
“To have a fire burnin’ warm and bright.

“You hide behind the oak tree,
“You hide behind the oak tree,
“Stay out of danger ’till I return.

“Let’s burn down the cornfield,
“Let’s burn down the cornfield,
“And I’ll make love to you while it’s burning.”

Definitely a “Wha?” to me.

I missed Newman’s 12 Songs when it came out and didn’t catch up for a long time. So I first heard “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” in the early 1990s while listening to Come A Little Closer, a 1974 album by Etta James. I took in the disquieting lyric and scanned the record jacket, then nodded. Randy Newman, I thought. I should have known.

The list of artists who’ve covered “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” is not long. AMG says that sixteen different artists have recorded it, including Morgan Duke, Lee Hazlewood, Nolan, Rain Perry, Lou Rawls, San Samudio (of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs), Madi Sato, the Seatsniffers and the Walkabouts.

Along with Newman’s original, I have access today to two other versions: One by Alex Taylor from his 1972 album Dinnertime, and one by Long John Baldry from It Ain’t Easy, released in 1971. (I have not yet ripped the Etta James version, an oversight that will be rectified soon after we’ve moved and I have access to my LPs again.)

On Newman’s 12 Songs, the credits list three guitarists: Ry Cooder, Ron Elliott and Clarence White, so it’s almost certainly Cooder who provides the snaky guitar lines. Others credited at AMG are Al McKibbon and Lyle Ritz on bass and Jim Gordon and Gene Parson on drums. Lenny Waronker was the producer.

To my ears, Baldry’s cover of the song is more interesting than Taylor’s. The track was on the side of It Ain’t Easy that Elton John produced. (Rod Stewart produced the other side.) Of those who might have played on the track, the credits list Caleb Quayle, Sam Mitchell and Ron Wood on guitar, Roger Pope on drums and Ian Armitt and Elton John on keyboards (though one would assume that it’s John himself providing the superb piano work on “Cornfield”).

Randy Newman – “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” (1970)

Long John Baldry – “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” (1971)

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moons

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 20, 2008

I must have been about seven, which would put it sometime during the winter of 1960-61, when my dad showed me the darkened and red moon.

I’d been in bed a few hours, I imagine, with bedtime for a seven-year-old being about eight o’clock back then. But Dad woke me and had me look to the south, out the bathroom window. Floating above the trees, there rode the Moon, looking larger than usual, its normally pale white face colored a dusky red.

“It’s a total eclipse of the moon,” he told me. “The Earth comes between the Sun and the moon, and we can see the Earth’s shadow on the moon.” We looked for a while. I asked why the moon was red. He said he thought it had to do with the atmosphere, with the weather. (He was right.)

We looked at the moon for a little while longer and then went back to bed. It’s been nearly fifty years since Dad showed me the red moon. I imagine other total eclipses have come and gone, maybe many times, since then. There’s another one tonight, visible in most of North America. Starting at 7:43 Central Time, the Earth’s shadow will fall across the Moon. From 9:01 to 9:51, according to NASA, the eclipse will be total.

I hope lots of dads show their kids the darkened moon tonight.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moons
“Under the Darkest Moon” by Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith from Evidence, 1989

“Moon River” by Henry Mancini from the soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961

“Neon Moon” by Brooks & Dunn from Brand New Man, 1991

“Love on the Moon” by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from Reach For The Sky, 1975

“Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck, Private Stock single 45,036, 1976

“Blue Moon” by Elvis Presley , RCA single 47-6640, 1956

“All Around The Sun And Moon” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” by Bob Dylan from Self Portrait, 1970

“Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Levon Helm, from Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack, 1980

“Desert Moon” by Dennis DeYoung, A&M single 2666, 1984

“Yellow Moon” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Underneath the Harlem Moon” by Randy Newman from 12 Songs, 1970

“Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 622, 1969

A few notes:

“Under the Darkest Moon” comes from one of my favorite albums, one I shared here a while back. When I found it, I began to follow the solo careers of the two artists. In the past few years, though, I’ve pretty much quit following Hewerdine while continuing to track Smith, whose music continues to inhabit the intersection of rock, country and folk. (He’s issued nothing since 2005’s Field of Crows, so I’m waiting patiently.) Why did I quit following Hewerdine? His melodies are artful, sometimes beautiful, and his words are often eloquent, but, to me, the more I listened, there was a lightness in his work that was unrelieved; they needed a little more weight.

When I was working at the newspaper in Eden Prairie in the early 1990s, one of my colleagues, an ad man, was a country music fan, though he liked oldies as well. On his recommendation, I ordered through my music club one of Brooks & Dunn’s albums. I listened to it a couple of times, shrugged, and passed it on to Alan. Since the Texas Gal came into my life eight years ago this month, I’ve listened more to country music than I ever had before, and Brooks & Dunn are quite likely my favorite country performers. (Whenever they pop up on the RealPlayer, the little message box tells me that the only recording duo that has sold more records than Brooks & Dunn is Simon & Garfunkel. If that’s true, and I have no reason to doubt it, that’s an astounding fact.)

For most of the summer of 1976, the Starbuck tune was as inescapable as it is catchy. It spent fourteen weeks in the Top 40, beginning in mid-May, going as high as No. 3. It has to be one of the few Top 40 hits with a marimba solo. (I think it’s a marimba.)

When it was released in 1970, Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait was greeted with confused stares and derision. Among other things, critic Greil Marcus wrote, “I once said I’d buy an album of Dylan breathing hard. But I’d never said I’d buy an album of Dylan breathing softly.” “Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” has been one of the few tracks that, over the years, has been given some respect. Wikipedia reports that it was written by “Alfred Frank Beddoe (who was ‘discovered’ by Pete Seeger after applying for work at People’s Songs, Inc. in 1946).” (Exactly who was doing the applying there is unclear, but never mind.) To me, “Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” is not just the best track on the album, but one of Dylan’s best tracks ever.

I was never a Styx fan, but I found I enjoyed 1984’s Desert Moon, the first solo album by the band’s keyboard player and vocalist, Dennis DeYoung. Part of that was no doubt familiarity with the title track, as the song’s video was in heavy rotation on MTV that year, the first year I had cable. It’s still a nice song, but it sounds a little bit slight after twenty-four years.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 2

May 18, 2011

Originally posted November 7, 2007

Yesterday, as I listened to Matthews’ Southern Comfort’s version of “Woodstock,” a memory floated in, triggered, I would guess, by the second verse:

“Well, I am going down to Yasgur’s farm
“Going to join in a rock and roll band,
“Goin’ to get back to the land to set my soul free.”

It certainly wasn’t Yasgur’s farm, but in a barn on a farm somewhere north of St. Cloud during the autumn of 1974, I might have had my chance to join a rock and roll band. And I would have turned it down.

The band was made up of friends of one of the gals I hung around with at school. I’ve made reference before to the group of people who congregated every day in the lower level of Atwood, the student union at St. Cloud State, about twenty people who came and went during the day, all part of what we called The Table. Annie was one of those people, and sometime during the latter part of October 1974, she mentioned to the group at large that a band made up of her friends was looking for a keyboard player. From the other side of The Table, Amy and Jackie pointed at me, and Annie raised her eyebrows.

“You play?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Yeah,” I said. “Whether it’s enough for a band, I don’t know.”

“You wanna give it a try?”

I nodded, and late one Thursday afternoon, a week before Halloween, Annie and I drove north of St. Cloud to the farm and climbed to the hayloft of the barn, where the band practiced. I don’t recall their names at all, but the band members were a drummer, two guitar players – both of whom sang – and a bass player. There was a small electric piano off to the side. I sat down and turned it on, then let my fingers ripple the keys, checking the sensitivity of its action.

I only recall a few of the songs we played that afternoon and evening. We did a few country rock things that were fairly simple for me to pick up, some blues, too. One of the guitarists asked if we should try “Lucky Man,” a song by Emerson, Lake & Palmer that had reached the lower level of the charts during the spring of 1971. The other guys looked at me.

“I’ve never played it,” I said. “What are the chords?”

They told me, and off we went. At the end of the vocal, at the point when the synthesizer slides in, I filled in with the electric piano, nodding to myself as my hands and my ears worked together, doing a pretty decent job of faking the Keith Emerson solo that takes over the song as it nears its end.

When we finished, the four guys in the band looked at each other and nodded. The drummer asked me, “Anything you want to do?”

“You guys know ‘Layla?’” I asked.

They shook their heads, but the drummer said, “We can fake the second half, if you want.”

I nodded and laid my hands on the keyboard, playing the opening bars to the second half of the famous song, Jim Gordon’s elegiac piano-led coda. The other guys filtered in, and one of the two guitarists did a pretty fair job with the slide part that rides above the piano. We sounded pretty good for our first time playing together.

By the time we finished, the sun had set, and the gloom outside was winning its battle with the few dim electric lamps in the hayloft. The drummer laid down his sticks as the other guys put up their guitars. I turned the piano off as Annie came up to me, grinning.

“When you said you could play a little,” she said, “I thought you meant you knew a few chords. Good lord, you’re good!” I smiled and nodded.

I got the sense that the guys in the band were looking for a keyboard player to go on the road with them. There was never an overt offer, but I wondered how I might react if there were, and I spent a portion of a sweet evening talking the idea over with a lady friend in the back seat of my 1961 Ford Falcon. Had there been such an offer, the idea would have had its attractions, but I was only a year or so away from my degree, and that would have had to come first. A couple of years later, and my answer might have been different.

It didn’t matter anyway: A traffic accident on Halloween night put me in the hospital for a week and kept me homebound for a month. I never heard any more about the band from Annie or anyone else.

That was probably just as well. Looking back, as unlikely as it might have been, the thought of my traveling the rock and roll highway when I was twenty-one is scary. I’m pretty sure that, had I gone on the road, I’d have ended up in thrall to one drug or another, if not marijuana or heroin or cocaine, then to alcohol, which is only significantly different because it’s legal. And I wouldn’t have lasted long.

We didn’t play the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that evening in the hayloft. We probably should have.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1974, Vol. 2
“Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone from Wovoka

“Down The Road” by Little Feat from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

“Song from Half Mountain” by Dan Fogelberg from Souvenirs

“Blinded By Love” by Browning Bryant from Browning Bryant

“My World Begins and Ends With You” by Fallenrock from Watch Out For Fallenrock

“Over Jordan” by the Talbot Brothers from The Talbot Brothers

“Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman from Good Old Boys

“Ballad Of A Thin Man” by Bob Dylan and The Band from Before The Flood

“Good Times” by Phoebe Snow from Phoebe Snow

“Just Like Sunshine” by Cold Blood from Lydia

“Fountain of Sorrow” by Jackson Browne from Late For The Sky

“Summer Breeze” by the Main Ingredient from Euphrates River

“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen from Quah

A few notes on some of the songs:

After featuring Redbone’s Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes Monday, it only seemed right to start the random run with the album version of “Come and Get Your Love.” The single version reached No. 5 during an eighteen-week stay on the Billboard pop chart in early 1974.

Feats Don’t Fail Me Now was the fourth album for Little Feat, the extraordinarily eclectic group headed by Lowell George. The group’s audible influences included rock, country, blues, R&B and more. All-Music Guide calls the record “the pinnacle of Little Feat as a group” – as opposed to George’s personal peak – and I’m inclined to agree.

Browning Bryant is a name that almost no one knows today, and – to be honest – few knew it in 1974. He was a North Carolina lad, sixteen at the time he recorded “Blinded By Love.” The song was part of an album Bryant recorded for Reprise, with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint (who wrote the song) producing. “Blinded By Love” and a few other tracks were recorded in Atlanta, but a good share of the album was recorded in New Orleans, with some help from some of the Meters. (Thanks to Dan Phillips at Home of the Groove for the tune and the information.)

The Talbot Brothers were the co-founders of Mason Proffit, the highly regarded country rock band best recalled for the classic 1969 track “Two Hangmen.” After Proffit and its run of five fine albums, the brothers followed their faith and began recording more overtly Christian music: The Talbot Brothers is the first album along the path that found John Michael Talbot becoming, in the 1980s, the best-selling male performer in the field of contemporary Christian music. Not surprisingly, “Over Jordan,” sounds a lot like Mason Proffit.

As I ran the random search, I had expected a song to pop up from Before the Flood, the live album from the tour that Bob Dylan did with The Band in early 1974. The track that showed up, “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” is a good track, with Garth Hudson’s spooky organ snaking its way around Dylan’s biting vocal. I’d hoped, however, for “Like A Rolling Stone.” The opening to that track on Before the Flood is one of the truly great moments in all of rock music.

As long as we’re talking superlatives, considering the opening lyric to “Fountain of Sorrow,” Jackson Browne’s meditation on love and time lost: “Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer, I was taken by a photograph of you.” I shake my head almost every time I hear that line, awed by its simple brilliance.

[Revised significantly since first posting. Note added May 19, 2011.]

Randy Newman’s Americana

April 20, 2011

Originally posted January 21, 2007

Randy Newman’s score for The Natural (1984) is a classic in its genre, by turns heroic, whimsical and Coplandesque.

It was nominated for an Oscar, but the award went to Maurice Jarre for his score for A Passage To India, which I recall as a sound helping of Jarre’s usual glistening romanticism: good work but nowhere near as singular, to my mind, as Newman’s work for The Natural.

On the other hand, as Jarre implied in his acceptance speech, had Mozart been eligible for the score for Amadeus, none of the modern boys would have had a chance to hold that year’s statue!

Still, the score for The Natural remains a delight.

I found it on a blog somewhere (via a sequence of links I cannot replicate) and have rezipped it and uploaded it. It’s 47.6 MB ripped at 192.

Randy Newman – S0undtrack to The Natural [1984]