Passengers at the Václav Havel Airport in Prague waiting for their flight were recently treated to an impressive display by musician Maan Hamadeh. In the clip he performs Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” in multiple styles and then around the 2:30 mark turns to the theme to ‘Titanic’ in amazing fashion. I’m always astounded by people who possess such ability for musical instruments. I tried and failed at the drums and piano as a kid but always enjoyed watching and listening to my father play the piano when I was growing up. If you have a few minutes, take a moment and enjoy this brief clip, it really is wonderful.
Weird Al has a new album out this week and to celebrate he’s releasing a bunch of new videos, one a day for eight days. Today’s release, Word Crimes, is sheer brilliance. This educational ear worm gets added to my list of Weird Al songs that I actually like better than the originals. Other entries on that list include eBay, The Saga Begins and A Complicated Song. Word Crimes’ video features fun and fast-moving kinetic typography that I had to watch over and over to catch all the jokes. I bought Al’s album, Mandatory Fun earlier today on iTunes and it’s already one of my all-time Al favs. If you’re a Weird Al fan be sure to check it out!
Anyone who can find commonality between Deep Space Nine, Hogan’s Heroes, Back to the Future and Happy Days is okay in my book. I love TV and movie supercuts and this is one of the most clever I’ve seen. Take all those times when characters fix broken equipment with a good whack and what you get is percussive perfection. Enjoy!
When the award winning mini-series From the Earth to the Moon premiered on HBO in 1998, producers Tom Hanks and Ron Howard were flying high off the recent success of Apollo 13. Not content with simply telling the story of Jim Lovell, John “Jack” Swigert and Fred W. Haise’s near tragic NASA mission, Hanks, Howard and Brian Grazer set about filling in the missing NASA narrative of the agency’s monumental effort to put a man on the moon. The result was a spectacular 12-part series that landed an Emmy Award and Golden Globe for Best TV Mini Series. The show is hailed for its honest account of the Apollo program, ground breaking special effects and soaring musical score by composers Michael Kamen and Mason Daring.
When I first saw From the Earth to the Moon I instantly fell in love with the soundtrack. The opening and closing themes by the late Michael Kamen are full of hope and epic discovery. Individual episodes are chocked full of wonderful 50 & 60′s tunes, especially ep. 4 – 1968 and my personal favorite ep. 5 – Spider about the design and production of the Lunar Module. Kamen was a talented composer and has penned some of the most well-known television and movie themes of recent years including Band of Brothers, Mr. Holland’s Opus and Brazil. Mason Daring’s contributions to From the Earth to the Moon are not as grand in scope as the main themes, but his work on Spider is just wonderful and always makes me mindful of the people who dedicated their lives to building the Apollo spacecraft.
Unfortunately, HBO never released an official soundtrack to the series when it aired, at least not one that contained orchestral themes. There was a half-baked attempt at a soundtrack later, but it consists of mainly pop numbers, many of which never even appeared in the series. I’ve re-watched my copy of From the Earth to the Moon at least a dozen times and each time I did, it made me sad I didn’t have the music from the series at hand. Recently I decided to do something about it by scouring the internet and iTunes to construct my own personal soundtrack. All of the music I’ve chosen is significant to the show in one way or another. I’ve linked to the tracks that are available for purchase on iTunes so you can go buy them yourself if you wish. The rest are downloadable for your personal use. Enjoy them, but I ask you to please not redistribute them on file sharing services.
The Missing Soundtrack:
1 – From the Earth to the Moon – Main Theme – Michael Kamen
2 – Beyond the Sea – Bobby Darin (iTunes)
3 – It’s Not My Cross to Bear – The Allman Brothers Band (iTunes)
4 – Whipping Post- The Allman Brothers Band (iTunes)
5 – The Christmas Song – Nat “King” Cole (iTunes)
6 – My Favorite Things – Tony Bennett (iTunes)
7 – Fireball XL-5
8 – Let’s Go – The Routers (iTunes)
9 – Spider / Eagle – Mason Daring
10 – Camera Moon – Mason Daring
11 – From the Earth to the Moon – End Credits – Michael Kamen
If you’ve not seen From the Earth to the Moon and love space exploration, history or anything NASA related, I urge you to check it out. Unfortunately the television series is not currently available either on iTunes or Netflix, but signature edition DVD’s are available on Amazon and are well worth the price. Trust me, you’ll enjoy every minute of this epic space adventure. Go, flight!
Although modern smart phones can play a wide variety of musical and audio files as ringtones, very few work well. Popular songs are great for entertainment but aren’t written as attention getters from inside your pants pocket. Ever since the iPhone debuted, I’ve been using Marimba as my ringtone. Not because I’m a technophobe who doesn’t enjoy customizing his phone, but because nothing I tried managed to catch my attention like Apple’s default setting.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a brainstorm to ask friend and one of the composers behind Ramp Champ, Mike Weiser, to create a custom ringtone for me based on Marimba. I asked him to take the main theme from one of my favorite films and “Marimba-ize” it, with the following awesome results:
Please don’t ask me to post the Marimba-TRON ringtone. It’s based off music by Wendy Carlos written for the Disney movie and I had it made for my personal use. The last thing I’d want is to get myself or Mike in any trouble by re-distributing it. If you’d like your own custom designed ringtone, be sure to head on over to Mike’s website and learn all about the music-based services he provides, which now includes ringtones. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to go watch that TRON Legacy trailer for like the 50 billionth time. Is it December yet??
For designers and artists, the chance to collaborate with others who share your passion for creation is a wonderful event. Ideas feed off of each other and lead to new connections which can both surprise and delight. Such was the case while scoring Ramp Champ, the Iconfactory’s & DS Media Labs’ ode to the classic games of Skee-Ball and pinball for the iPhone. I’m pleased to report the game’s soundtrack was recently released on iTunes, something none of us at the factory could have dreamt of happening.
When we originally designed the game’s ramps, we knew we wanted the quality of the music to match the fidelity of the visual elements. Having a generic track repeat itself across multiple ramps, from outer space to under water, wasn’t going to be fun for the player. During the initial production phase of Ramp Champ, composer Noe Ruiz took the lead and created many of the tracks for the default levels such as Clown Town, Breakwater Bay and Space Swarm. Noe has a wonderful ear for rhythm and was able to incorporate these into the widely varied themes with ease. Of all the tracks he originally produced for Ramp Champ, Space Swarm (along with it’s dance and techno re-mixes) has to be my favorite of the bunch. Space Swarm is filled with old-school retro arcade sound effects that play perfectly into the look and feel of the ramp, helping to evoke the feel of a classic 80′s arcade game.
Atomicon’s David Weiner took up where Noe left off and came on board to help us produce the music for two of the game’s add-on packs. The Challenge Pack featured Molar Madness and Happy Place, both of which required a decidedly twisted approach when it came to the score. David’s work on Molar Madness is nothing short of brilliant. The samba-like piece he created for the ramp is both catchy and just the sort of thing you’d hear coming from the speakers of a dentist’s waiting room. Molar Madness is, without a doubt, one of my favorite pieces in all of Ramp Champ. Happy Place somehow managed to take the absurd notion of dolphins and unicorns floating in the sky and give them life. The track is zippy and light, but has decidedly dark undertones that foreshadows ominous events the player encounters within the level.
When it came time to write the music for our special Halloween add-on pack, David once again stepped up and gave us two wonderfully spooky tracks. When I approached him about Trick or Treat, I knew I wanted music that sounded both eerie as well as innocent. The ramp features children as they roam a neighborhood for candy on Halloween night. As we talked through our ideas, one of our inspirations was Vince Guaraldi’s classic Great Pumpkin Waltz from “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”. David’s final piece has this jazzy feel as well as elements that remind me of the creepy TV cult hit Twin Peaks, which worked out wonderfully. The other piece in the Halloween Pack, Grave Danger, draws obvious inspiration from Disney’s classic Haunted Mansion with all kinds of over the top scary sound effects like thunder, ghosts and werewolves.
For our 3rd release, David Weiner was already busy scoring the Challenge Pack as well as our other iPhone title, Pickin’ Time, and so we turned to composer Mike Weiser. Mike has created music for many iPhone games including Stick Wars and Tower Land and I was fortunate to be able to work with him on Plunderin’ Pirates and Star Struck. Mike’s score for Plunderin’ Pirates, inspired by Disney’s famous Pirates of the Caribbean ride, is one of the funnest pieces in the game and does a great job of evoking the high seas thanks to the use of instruments like the accordion and steel drums. The sound effects I produced for the ramp added to the overall feel and makes for what many players have called their favorite level in the game.
On Star Struck, both Mike and I decided to create something that reminded the player of space exploration, like you’d hear sitting in a planetarium. The “computerish” tones that come in at the start and end of the track were originally an ode from one of my favorite films ever, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, although Mike masterfully made them his own in Star Struck. The album version of Star Struck that appears on the soundtrack is a specially composed version of the game’s track and is my favorite piece in all of Ramp Champ. You’ll be able to catch more of Mike’s work in the Iconfactory’s next software title, coming to the iPhone in the second quarter of 2010.
Collaborating with Noe, David and Mike on the music for Ramp Champ was, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding things I’ve done during my time at the Iconfactory. The talent these guys posses to take one’s creations and run with them musically is nothing short of astounding. Their work made our efforts that much better and for that, we are all grateful. With Atomicon’s help, we’re proud to finally be able to bring you the complete original soundtrack. I really encourage you to check it out and hopefully you’ll enjoy listening to it as much as we had bringing it to you.
At the risk of becoming a YouTube blog, I present you with four very awesome videos. Sometimes surfing the web can lead to random discoveries that turn out to be treasures in their own right. After finding these wonderful clips I just had to share so if you have time, be sure to check them all out, they’re really worth it.
I’ve always loved Aqua ever since I first heard Barbie Girl, and now they’ve returned with the video premiere of their new hit – Back to the 80′s. Granted this tune is aimed square at Generation Xers like myself, but its still a great song. The beat is catchy and the lyrics are full of pop culture references like the Commodore 64, Banannarama and Moon Boots. Bravo Aqua, bravo!
I love the whole concept of flash mob performances, but this special event from Belgium has to be one of the very best. The moment when all the kids rush down the stairs is just wonderful. Bravo everyone, bravo!
Stumbled across this upbeat video on YouTube and just had to share. This is the kind of thing that my friends and I totally would have made back at RIT, so I feel like these guys are kindred spirits. Considering this mini-musical was obviously shot in a college dorm with zero budget, I think they did a pretty damned fine job. Sing it gentlemen!
An incredible music video with a message that I feel very strongly about. It’s a great example of how good design can communicate an idea effectively.
Hat tip to Andy Brewer for this.
Based on an idea I threw out on Twitter, I present you with a short list of my favorite “story songs”. These are the songs that, for me at least, drew me in and told a compelling story. So often we take for granted the effect good lyrics can have on a song’s success. This post is dedicated to those artists who go beyond repeating the same chorus over and over and instead give us memorable classics. After you’ve read my list, don’t forget to swing by the sites of all the bloggers who agreed to join me. Hopefully you’ll discover some tunes that just might become new favorites.
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Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)
Released in 1972 by Looking Glass, Brandy tells the tale of a barmaid living in a port town. She serves “whiskey and wine” to the admiration of many sailors, one of whom she falls in love with. In tragic fashion, the sailor isn’t willing to give up his true love, the sea. Despite this, Brandy continues to love the man and wears a braided silver chain with a locket that bears his name. I’m not exactly sure what it is about this song that gets me, but it always conjures up images of Brandy on an ocean dock with the sun setting behind her. I can picture her in my head, clear as day, clinging to her necklace as she pines for her man somewhere on the sea. Brilliant stuff!
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What Am I Doin’ Hanging Round?
Far from one of The Monkees‘ big hits, What Am I Doin’ Hanging ‘Round? is really a simple song about a man who travels to Mexico and falls in love with a local woman. Although he longs to be with her, the whistle of the train calls to him and he decides to return home. This turns out to be a decision which haunts him and he ends the song by telling us he “wants to go back again”. Who among us can’t identify with the prospects of lost love that this song sings? Music like What Am I Doin’ taps into experiences that almost all of us share as listeners and gives them a special place in our hearts. I also love how Nesmith changes the meaning of the chorus in the beginning of the song to that of the end, even though the words are the same. Definitely one of their sleeper hits.
• • •
Escape (The Piña Colada Song)
“If you like Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” is the chorus from one of the most famous story songs of all time – Escape by Rupert Holmes. The catchy earworm tells the tale of a man who has grown tired of his relationship with his lover and spies an ad in the local paper from a woman seeking a man. He decides to meet the woman at “a bar named O’Malley’s” only to ironically find that the woman is his own lover. The song thankfully concludes with the two discovering new things about each other and falling in love all over again.
Besides for having one of the most infectious melodies I can recall, the song also does a great job of telling the story of the two bored lovers. The twist at the end is the cherry on top (sorry) of one of the most iconic songs of the 70′s and 80′s. Holmes was forced to append the song’s name because people didn’t know its real title, Escape, and just kept calling it the “Piña Colada Song”. The tune has caused him a bit of grief over the years, and Holmes once even joked, “No matter what else I do, my tombstone will be a giant pineapple.”
• • •
The mammoth 1978 hit from the Eagles from the record of the same name is my second favorite story song of all time. The song quickly reached critical and popular success thanks in part to the quirky tale told by the narrator as well as the dark under-themes from Don Henley and Glenn Frey. On the surface, Hotel California tells the tale of a weary traveler who decides to break from his long drive and check into a mysterious hotel deep in the desert. The hotel is marked by all manner of dark characters, strange acts and a mysterious woman who seems to seal the narrator’s fate. When the narrator attempts to leave, the night man informs him that “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
When it was first released, many people theorized that Hotel California was really an allegory for a mental hospital, with the guests playing the parts of inmates. The Eagles have said that the story is a metaphor for the self-destruction of the Southern California music industry of the late 1970s. Whatever the subtext, the song stands on its own as one of the best story songs ever written.
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Ode To Billy Joe
My favorite story song has to be Ode to Billy Joe by Bobby Gentry. I’ve been fascinated by this song as long as I can remember and it seems that I’m not the only one. When it was released in late July of 1967, it touched off a cultural sensation with its gothic tale of mystery and southern culture. The song begins with the narrator and her brother returning, after morning chores, to the family house for dinner. Over dinner she learns that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge,” apparently to his death. The family doesn’t take notice of the narrator’s grave reaction and continues with dinner as if nothing is really wrong. Mama goes on to say Brother Taylor (the local preacher) visited earlier and he mentioned that he had seen Billie Joe and a girl who looked very much like the narrator herself, “throwin’ somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”
From the moment it was released, fans everywhere tried to piece together the puzzle the song told. What did the boy and the girl throw off the bridge? Why did Billy Joe jump to his death? Many popular theories have been flown including a forbidden affair between the narrator (a white girl) and Billy Joe (a possibly black boy) throwing their still-born baby into the muddy waters. Gentry has never revealed the true reason for Billy Joe’s suicide, which only served to heighten the song’s mythos. Ode was reportedly one of Frank Sinatra’s all-time favorites, who even had jazz great Ella Fitzgerald sing a few verses for his TV special. So next time this song comes on the radio, listen closely and see if you can decipher the clues and solve the mystery of Ode to Billy Joe. And if you figure it out, be sure to let me know!
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Check out these other “Story Song” bloggers:
The Sound of Silence
I threw out a fun idea for a group blog post today on Twitter and received a lot of positive feedback. A number of talented bloggers took me up on a simple proposal – What are some of your favorite “story songs”? Everyone loves music, but often times songs that tell a story stand head and shoulders above the rest. The musical tales these songs tell turn them into either one hit wonders, or classic generational hits. Which artists write the most loved story songs and is there a consensus on the best one of all time? We just may find out.
The rules for the group blog post are easy. Choose up to 5 of your favorite songs that weave a story and simply tell us why they made your list. You can be as detailed or generic as you would like, but be sure to keep your picks secret until the group post. Then, on Wednesday, September 3rd, publish your blog post along with with links to the other bloggers who are participating. We’ll get a peek inside your musical tastes and just might discover some new songs to fall in love with in the process.
Anyone is welcome to join in the fun (the more the better!), just leave your name and blog URL in the comments below. In the meantime, here is the list of bloggers who have so far agreed to participate. In no particular order, they are:
The Sound of Silence
Being a huge EPCOT Center nut, I thought it might be fun to check out some of the tracks from the park’s soundtrack set to Magnetosphere. The video you see here was one of the best. The iTunes visualizer has somehow captured the feeling I get when I think about Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow in flowing bands of shape and color. This is also my first experience using Vimeo and I’m encouraged. The service didn’t munge the video as badly as YouTube did, and it gave me an actual progress bar while uploading, which is a real plus. I love what happens after the 1:50 mark. The sweeping horns and strings really bring the visualizer to life. Enjoy!
They say confession is good for the soul, and since I’ve never had any problem with revealing my inner likes and dislikes, I jumped at the chance to join in on the fun of the latest group blog proposed by my friend Dave Caolo. This time around are songs that for one reason or another, you would be embarrassed to admit to liking in mixed company. I must say however that part of the reason I decided to throw my hat in the ring, was that it gave me the excuse to create the image you see above. What do Britney Spears and Bigfoot have in common? Well, read on my friends and find out!
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Merry Go Round
The Brady Bunch
I’m not ashamed to say that I have an entire iTunes playlist devoted exclusively to the perky tunes of those crazy Brady kids from my youth. Back in the 70′s the TV network suits figured the child actors of The Brady Bunch needed to compete with The Partridge Family and the Brady Six was born. Who among us can forget classics like Time to Change or Sunshine Day? Good times. Of all the Brady tracks I have however, Merry Go Round has to be the most sugar-coated piece of hippy jerky in the entire lot, and I love it! For some reason I can listen to Eve Plumb hit off-key notes until the cows come home and I just don’t care. Take a listen, but beware, the song is a total ear worm. Once I hear it, I usually can’t get it out of my head for days.
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You Drive Me Crazy
Ah Britney! Back in the day, this familiar teen-pop queen commanded respect and actually worked her ass off to become successful. One day I broke down and bought You Drive Me Crazy for no apparent reason other than it was stuck in my head. To me, all of Britney’s songs sound somewhat the same (beat, rhythm, breathy lyrics), so I only own one… and this is it. I’m kinda ashamed to even have the one track in iTunes, but every time it comes up on random play, I relive a little part of 1999 and think back fondly on what Britney used to be. Ah Britney!
• • •
The Spice Girls
Everyone says they hate the Spice Girls, but I think secretly, everyone really loves them. I find the bulk of their songs incredibly infectious, bubbly and the perfect pick-me-up when I’m down. Their music is like watching a summer popcorn flick – a meaningless plot combined with a pulse-pounding soundtrack and dazzling special effects. It’s not academy award winning material, but it’s still a great time. I mean, how much more fun can it get than this:
“Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really
really really wanna zigazig ha.”
• • •
If there is a more idealistic, or emotionally manipulative song in this world, I can’t think of one. I first heard America when I was 11, right around the time the classic Saturday morning cartoon School House Rock became popular. I think the SHR connection helps explain why I find this song so darned great. After all, it was SHR that taught me to love catchy songs about history like The Great American Melting Pot and The Preamble. Diamond’s America is like a top 40 School House Rock song on steroids. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
• • •
Love Theme from Boggy Creek
Charles B. Pierce
Ask any of the guys at the Iconfactory and they’ll tell you I’m obsessed with bigfoot/sasquatch/yeti and have been ever since I was a child. This embarrassing music track is one of my own making since it was impossible to purchase the soundtrack to the movie from which it came – The Legend of Boggy Creek. The song tells the funky tale of the Fouke Monster (bigfoot) and his lonely plight among the other creatures of the swamp. The song, like the movie, is cheesy, low-budget and so bad it’s good. I bust it out every year around Halloween, much to the dismay of my patience-filled wife. And now you know what Britney Spears and Bigfoot have in common – my twisted sense of musical tastes.
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Other blogger’s musical confessions: