Archive for the ‘music’ category

Roll Credits: A Hard Day’s Night

This is the second installment of the Pictorial’s series “Roll Credits,” profiling some of the greatest title sequences in film history.

Richard Lester’s 1964 rock and roll musical, A Hard Day’s Night, has long been heralded as the movie that invented the music video. And while we could spend an entire post debating that, the fact remains, A Hard Day’s Night exemplifies the non-linear, creative sequences that would soon inform the grammar of music videos. A truly groundbreaking piece of filmmaking, Lester keeps the viewer surprised from the very first frames of the film: The Beatles shoot towards the camera like a charging locomotive– along with the crashing opening guitar chords of the theme song– and never slow down once. Read more ►

A Baker’s Dozen of John Lennon

It doesn’t seem possible that 72 years ago, one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century was born. It was on a night the Nazi’s bombed Merseyside, and his Aunt risked the danger to run across town to be with her sister at the Green Street Hospital. (Her steely fearlessness would influence John in so many ways.)
There is something almost prophetic in the fact that his turbulent, angst-filled life began on such a night; things were never going to be normal for John Lennon.
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Pinched in the Astor Bar: Frank Sinatra

So once in awhile, Ol’ Blue Eyes gets under my skin and, ring-a-ding-ding, he absolutely ends up doing it his way and there’s nothing I can do-be-do-be-do about it.
The Wee Small Hours and No One Cares have been regulars on my semi-new turntable– pieces of art that positively thrive in the acoustic-friendly, teensy confines of my studio. (One of the small perks to overpriced, undersized Hollywood living.)

Frankie, by many accounts, may have been an insufferable pain in the arse… but I’m perfectly willing to go out of my way to understand those foibles (God knows I’m an insufferable pain in the arse myself) the minute his light baritone hits the scratching vinyl. After all, who are we if we are not all flawed?

Prior to his Academy Award winning role in 1953′s From Here to Eternity, Sinatra’s career had become a total write-off. From bobby-soxer idol to matinee movie star, Sinatra surrendered it all to face scandal head-on by marrying the woman of his dreams in 1951, Ava Gardner. The press had not been kind. Nor had his fans been loyal.

In between Frankie’s rejuvenating venture as a vocal artist with In the Wee Small Hours (1955) and his poignantly beautiful Where Are You? (1957), Sinatra’s resurrected career as popular recording artist and movie star benefited from this splashy MGM musical, 1956′s High Society.

The Pictorial could write volumes on Frankie but for the time being, I happen to love this delightful moment of unbridled frivolity in which, it is quite obvious, Frankie is having an absolute ball. The demons were still around the corner, chasing him as they always had and always would be, but it’s marvelous to see Frankie bring his A-Game in charming fraternal intoxication with Bing Crosby in High Society.

Just watch and let Frankie pinch YOU in the Asss-tor Bar:

p.s.: Frankie’s duet with Celeste Holm is likewise delightful:

Indie Rock Meets… Bette Davis?

Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak in 1932's THREE ON A MATCH

Three on a Match is a sharp, street smart 1932 melodrama starring Ann Dvorak and Joan Blondell, under the always socially conscious direction of Mervyn LeRoy. You’ve got a very young Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart in supporting roles, saucy, fast-talkin’ dames, and plenty of gritty precode slumming. It’s a film so gloriously unrefined that it still views remarkably relevant to a modern audience.

Three on a Match also happens to be the name of an Indie rock band who, by their own description, are a “new songwriting project inspired by the films of the great Bette Davis. The songs draw on plot elements, characters, actors, biographic details, or, in some cases, the film titles alone.”

And with tracks like “Mr. Skeffington,” “Now, Voyager” and, the album’s best track, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” it is quite obvious that musicians Neil Carlill, Jeff Mellin and King Toad are quite sincere in their work. Do not expect to find a vintage-inspired set of neo-standards, this band is more Belle and Sebastian, Velvet Underground and Sufjan Stevens than anything else. Interspliced with dialogue from Davis films (including that great crowd pleaer: “After you kissed me I always used to WIPE MY MOUTH!) these films are obstinately original, yet at the same time, endearingly reverent to their inspirational source.

From their album liner notes:

“Each Bette Davis film resonates with me in its own way,” says Carlill. At times he finds inspiration in of the back story, rumor mill and pop-culture trivia because “the surrounding mythology yields too much comedy, irony and tragedy to go un-eulogized.” He conceived abstract character sketches and highlighted iconic lines to evoke the films’ atmosphere and to produce a musical structure “that sets the listener quite literally off-balance.”

Mellin says that Bette Davis movies are “perfect seeds for songs.” His approach was to focus on the titles alone: “I wanted to let the raw sound and rhythm of the words shape the songs’ creation, knowing there’d be no escaping the inherent aesthetics and my own subconscious associations.” He says the titles’ infuse the songs with a “vintage mystique” and “cinematic narrative” that results in the “sort of memory dream you might’ have falling asleep to Turner Classic Movies.”

And, in perhaps the most touching gesture of reverence to Bette, the band released the album as a name-your-own-price download on April 5– Bette Davis’ 103rd birthday.

While it may not be be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s been on my play list quite consistently and, if you are so inclined, I would highly recommend downloading this truly unique album here. Or, if you’re feeling indulgent, order their exquisite special edition. Worth ever bloomin’ penny: the art deco design is simply irresistible– any album that includes a match box and candy cigarettes is simply aces.

Three on a Match - the special edition album, available now

Why the Beatles’ 1964 Washington D.C. Concert Kicks Ass

Last week, on  a rainy Friday evening, The American Cinematheque here in Hollywood showcased a screening of The Beatles First Concert in America: The Washington D.C. Coliseum, to a sold out audience. The energy of that performance, which has only intensified with age, left every last one of us riveted.

Which is the reason for this blog post. Apologies just might be in order: I’m an unabashed Fangirl.

1.) No Pyrotechnics. No HD Mega Screens. No sound monitors of ANY kind.

Today, the production of a concert is just as memorable as the music itself– and, often, moreso. Laser light shows. Pyrotechnics. Fireworks. All the bells and whistles that can keep the audience keen. On February 11 1964,however, what the audience got was a concert as performed by your local high school band. Only … they kinda happen to be the best rock band on the planet.

You can easily count the number of amps they’re using because… they’re all on the stage. In a stockpile. One, two, three, four … five amplifiers. The boys were using Vox AC-30 amps that night, just as they had used back in Britain for about a year or so. Their sound was sharp, hard and clear– perfect for the clang of an early 60s guitar. But… still… 30 watts! It wasn’t until 1965 that Vox would design a special 100 watt amp specifically for the Beatles, and so they relied on 30 watt amplifiers to feed a crowd of three thousand hysterical, screaming teenage girls. Without sound monitors. Today, it would take four of Vox’s AC-30 amps to equate to one Vox Valvetornic amp. I’d love to see some of our over produced contemporary bands try something like that!

The Beatles in Concert. Photo by Rowland Sherman

 

2.) U.F.O.s.

Today, a high-profile band is guarded by 400 pound security gorillas armed with oozies. In 1964? It was every man for himself. The Beatles were shoved onto a plywood 20 x 20 stage guarded by a few white-collar pencil pushers as a hysterical teenage audience pelted them with… jelly beans. The gesture was meant to be affectionate as it was a well known piece of Beatle-lore amongst teenage fans that the Beatles loved jelly babies. But in England, jelly babies are a soft little candy. Their American cousins, jelly beans? Quite another story. Recounts George Harrison:

That night, we were absolutely pelted by the fuckin’ things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on your from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, travelling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished! … Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.

 

3.) Rock and Roll

In the years before albums like Sgt. Pepper, Revolver or Rubber Soul pushed the boundaries of contemporary music, The Beatles were just a straight up Rock and Roll band.  They idolized black American R&B, emulated its raw intensity and the result was magic. This rendition of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally had been a stage staple since the early 60s, when The Beatles were nothing more than cellar regulars at The Cavern Club.

It has rarely been played with more purity and energy than this two minute bit in D.C.:

 

4.) RINGO

Ringo tends to get a hell of a lot of flack. People dismiss him as just a third wheel, a yes-man, or the luckiest substitute drummer in the history of music. Truth is: Ringo rocks. He was a major name in Liverpool WAY before The Beatles were even a blip on the radar and did the Lads a favor by playing with them over in Hamburg.

And if you insist on demeaning his skill as a musician, I highly suggest first taking in this particular number from the Washington D.C. concert.

Not only does he showcase his worth as a major percussionist… he is the man of the match!

5.) THE FANS

For the few of you out there who may not know… there is an art to being a Beatlefan. The head bump, the seat bounce, the finger scrunch– all are the result of much study and practice. Then again … it’s actually just the spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction of exposure to what was the most head-pounding rock and roll of its time.

The Beatlefan is unmistakable. And the 1963 Washington D.C. concert is especially noteworthy since the Beatlefans are at their unruly best. Beatlemania in the US was a new disease… and the symptoms manifested itself in some particularly entertaining cases…

best date night ever!!

Conniption Girl. This gingham gal probably has a good 10 years on her fellow fans … but age poses no barrier on conniption fits.

This guy … oh this guy. Lost a spring in his neck somewhere in the middle of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ That’s Ok, luv. We all did.

I call this one “Sweetpea.” She’s the everygirl Beatlegirl. LOVE her.

The Pirate Bay. These supremely cool front row chicks, smuggled in a tape recorder and microphone. (Ohhh those years before intellectual property rights…)

This girl? Love her. Squealing, screaming and then staring straight into the camera as if to say ‘Eat your heart out, girls. I’m the shit.’

And at every Beatles concert there is always THE number one fan. Ladies and Gentleman, here’s Ringo’s!