Literal Music Video Monday: Mocking the Monkees

People said they monkeyed around, but this mashed-up video of Monkees song “Daydream Believer” is an example of someone playing a trick on the Monkees. In case you haven’t heard of the amazing ‘Literal Video Version’ phenomenon, it’s a simple concept: People take a music video and sing new lyrics over the song’s original lyrics, describing verbatim what’s happening in the video. If you’ve ever watched a music video and scratched your head dumbfounded, you’ll appreciate this. So, my friends, consider this a new tradition of Philosophy of Music: ‘Literal Music Video Mondays.’ Enjoy this inaugural clip.

Until the next musical musing,
your music philosopher

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Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress

You’ve probably heard the song I’m about to share. Having said that, I never want to assume that other people my age every actually listened to Oldies music when they weren’t cruising around as a passenger in a car their parent’s drove.

Anyways, this Hollies song “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” is the epitome of pretty cool for the early 1970s.

This video you can view on my site. The video below it is simply too cool to be viewed on this blog. You have to watch it on You Tube.

Let’s discuss this song before hitting play (or if you’ve already watched the videos, we can recap what you might have seen and heard).

There’s this woman, she’s long and cool and she wears a black dress. Then, Hollies singer Allan Clarke seems to sing as if he’s gargling mouth wash and in a key that is slightly too high for him. Then there’s the visual cues that come with these two music videos. The band looks so cool. In the first video there’s some state-of-the-art font types that announce each band member’s name. Now if I was underrated guitarist and background vocalist Tony Hicks, I too would be happy about that (I assume he’s happy because he gives the camera). And then, in the second video, lead singer Allan Clarke not only rocks his Fender Telecaster in style but also shamelessly sports no-shirt-underneath open leather jacket exposing his English chest. That’s cool. What is this video missing? A long cool woman.

What made me write about this song is that my mom sent me this video and said my band, Ginger Binge, should cover the song, and my fiance should wear a black dress and hit a tambourine while we grind out this staple ’70s song. I hope this happens at some point in my life.

Until the next track,
Your musical philosopher

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Irish Step Dance and March Madness

Two events sum up my existence today, March 17.

The cover of the EA Sports video game March Madness '99. When there was only one Playstation.

The first is St. Patrick’s Day. The second is the real start of March Madness, the first of four crazy days of college basketball where the 64 remaining teams in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament shoot, bounce, rebound and assist (so long as there isn’t a ball-hogging point guard on the team) their way to the next round, one game closer to the Final Four. What I’m most concerned about for this Philosophy of Music blog post is linking these two pretty unrelated events. I could, I suppose, post a video of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish fight song — after all, they are in the tournament as a No. 2 seed and face No. 15 seed Akron in the first round. Those poor Zips (that’s Akron’s mascot for all of you who don’t care about the teams that play in the Mid-American Conference in the NCAA. If the Zips magically pull off an upset, I’ll try to find a video of their fight song and post it. As it stands, let’s forget the idea of posting either a Zips or Fighting Irish fight song. I simply want to provide you, the remarkably patient reader, an opportunity to enjoy both this Irish person holiday and musically prepare yourself for the Big Dance.

So after, ahh hours of research — seriously just seconds into a Google search — I came up with this gem. For all of you who have ever wanted to honestly perform an Irish jig (I’ve never wanted to but I respect all of the talented people who can dance like this) here’s an amatuer video of high schoolers doing an Irish Step dance ON a basketball court. You see? It’s St. Patty’s Day married to the start of March Madness. It’s Patrick Ewing meets Gaelic Storm, metaphorically speaking.

Until again,
a Philosopher of Music

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Blind Faith

A faith that is blind — is it faith? What kind of faith is it? Is it a child-like faith that Jesus preaches about in Gospel sermons? Or is Blind Faith more tangible than a sermon? Is Blind Faith just a bunch of free-spirited British musicians with a knack for melodies that soar and a post-Blind Faith future laced with No. 1 singles, a life full of Rock’n’Rollin,’ and songs that your parents made love to? That final question is rhetorical.

I’m referring, if you haven’t caught on, to the short-lived but sort of beloved 1969 super-group Blind Faith.

Blind Faith jams, bassist grooves shirtless. Picture courtesy of angelfire.com/wi/blindfaith

As if having Ginger Baker behind the drumset wasn’t enough, the band included former Traffic and Spencer Davis Group British bluesy singer phenom Steve Winwood (He wrote a song called ‘I’m a Man’ when he was 14. That’s pretty manly). Oh, there was another British fellow in the band, Eric Clapton. Like my rhetorical question implied, your parents could have very well made you while listening to a part of the discography of one or more of the members of Blind Faith. Think Layla, Bell Bottom Blues. Think ‘Valerie’, think ‘Higher Love.’ Think Cream — the band.

The above is a nine-minute musical romp. (Blind Faith was so cool that you can’t even play the video I embedded on this website. You have to go directly to the source, You Tube). ‘Had to Cry Today’ is a bloated song. You either love it or hate it. Or, your just apathetic about Blind Faith (or maybe faith in general?).

Until next time,
A philosopher of Music

PS - I couldn’t finish this post that references Steve Winwood without sharing one of his music videos.

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Joaquin Pheonix documentary not here—or anywhere

The bearded Pheonix remains an utter mystery.

Two weeks ago, I blogged about a new documentary “I’m Still Here.” The trailer advertised a movie that would tell the where-is-he-now story of once-famous actor Joaquin Pheonix, and it was supposed to open Sept. 10.  Except that it didn’t.  It never will open.  The Movie Blog reported Sept. 17 that the documentary was a hoax.  Casey Affleck, the supposed director of the documentary, said he never intended to trick people.  And yet, he managed to do so.  He duped me…that’s for sure.

The armchair philosopher slumps in his seat, realizing that he posted wrong information on this blog. My apologies.

Pheonix will be a guest on David Letterman tonight.  Check out the show if you want to find out what the former “Gladiator” villain and “Signs” brother is up to.

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Where Sesame Street and Paul Simon intersect

I was browsing You Tube looking for a video of Paul Simon playing “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” because I plan to cover the song at a coffee shop gig tonight.  I came across this clip of Simon performing on Sesame Street with a bunch of cute little kids clapping, grooving and free-styling along with the New York singer/songwriter. I hope it brightens up your day a little.  Notice the boy toward the end sort of dancing the Robot.  I didn’t think that move was around in the early 70s.  Sesame Street: Making breakthroughs in educating children and in introducing killer dance moves.

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Vampires at night in the big city

When an artist plays a three-night stand at New York City’s illustrious Radio City Music Hall, chances are the act is something special.

Radio City

The bright lights of Radio City theater on Sept. 15

Vampire Weekend—they share little in common with the “Twilight Series,” or any spin-offs—is a young four-piece rock band from New York doing the improbable: They are slated to play three consecutive nights, Sept. 15 – 17, at Radio City. All shows are sold out.

The men behind Vampire Weekend are all twenty somethings with a hipster image that doesn’t scare off regular suburban kids.  Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Chris Tomson all met at Columbia University, and formed their band just before graduation.  Since their 2006 inception, Vampire Weekend has plunged right into the mainstream music scene. They sound sophisticated, worldly and poppy, a cross between Peter Gabriel (who they reference in the song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”) and Paul Simon via the “Graceland” album.  Yet, their sound appeals to teenagers and professionals alike.

While their songs sound inspired by progressive rock and pop music predecessors, Vampire Weekend is not a copycat or revival band.  They offer a unique sound and image.  The band is flashy, smart and—most importantly—talented musicians and careful songwriters.  They writes songs that only last as long as is necessary, with hits like “A-Punk” and “Cousins,” clocking in at around 2 minutes and 30 seconds and “Mansard Roof,” at around 2 minutes.  Listeners don’t have to wait for a catchy chorus to sing-a-long or hum.  Likewise, many Vampire Weekend songs begin, like a well-crafted narrative, in an action-filled moment.

If the sold out shows at Radio City Hall aren’t proof enough that the band is on its way to stardom, their sophomore album “Contra,” released in January 2010, debuted No. 1 on the Billboard 200.  For a band of rockers who, only several years ago, worked day jobs, that is one impressive feat.

A similar sounding band from the late 70s and early 80s, The Police, featured a lead singer and bass player who also worked a day job before making it big in the music world.  Sting—you might have heard of him before—was a school teacher in England before the Police hit the airwaves in 1977 with the single, “Roxanne.”

Radio City

Vampire Weekend takes over the stage at Radio City.

One fan at the opening Sept. 15 show at Radio City, Angela, a recent college graduate from the Fashion Institute of Technology at Radio City, was overwhelmed after experiencing Vampire Weekend live.

“I don’t know.  It’s just…my mind is a blur right now,” she said.

Her friend, Joe Hineman, a recent Rutgers graduate, said Vampire Weekend handled the Radio City venue really well.

“I think they did it justice, they know what it is all about,” Hineman said.

“Everyone was getting wild in there,” Angela said. “There was a lot of drinking and jumping around.”  She also suggested that Vampire Weekend’s sound compliments the acoustics and allure of Radio City.

Hineman said the harpsichord sound in the song, “M 79,” advanced the vibe of Radio City, a famous and historic music space.  The song is about a popular bus line in the city and evokes a particularly special meaning when played in New York that might otherwise be missed in other touring cities.

Fortunately, I had the chance to see Vampire Weekend twice on their current tour: once in New York and once in Chicago.  What I witnessed at both concerts was a confident band hitting their stride: they control the stage without being annoying or cocky; they swagger without appearing stuck-up or stand-offish.

At Aragon

Koenig delivers his distinctive vocals at the Aragon.

In both cities, fans roared before, after and during nearly every song.  The venue in Chicago, the Aragon Ballroom, was much more intimate.  It is a general admission seating venue where the entire crowd stands. Radio City, on the other hand, offers ticket holders comfortable movie theater seats with stuffed cushioning.  Simply put, Radio City is a classy place.  And the Aragon Ballroom is no slouch either.

When Vampire Weekend opened the show with their catchy new single “Holiday,” about half of the crowd in Radio City immediately stood up to dance or stare at the performers in awe (in Chicago, the crowd was already on their feet).  By the time the band rolled into what lead singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig calls “Part Two,” of the concert, playing a suite of college-themed songs “Oxford Comma” and “Campus,” at least three-quarters of the crowd in Radio City was on their feet.  And once “Horchata,” a clever song about drinking a popular Mexican rice-based sweet drink, blasted from the speakers, nearly every person in Radio City stood and moved hips and limbs along with the music.  It was the encore, and the crowd knew Vampire Weekend’s glass slipper would fall off soon.  Even a security guard was spotted swaying his body in response to the catchy rock-dance grooves.

One fan spent the entire night dancing till his entire shirt was swamped in sweat.  Michael Giodano, a 20-year-old Manhattan College student who majored in English until his parents persuaded him to switch to finance, said after the show he felt as if Vampire Weekend was playing a gig just for his friends and him.  Still, he connected with the overall pulse of Radio City.

“I thought they rocked out in the perfect way,” Giodano said.  “They changed the face of Radio City Music Hall.  It is now Vampire Weekend’s Hall. Period.”

Radio City fans

The crowd thanks the band after the Sept. 15 show.

As the Radio City Music Hall website puts it: “To step out on the Great Stage of the Music Hall is to know what it is to be a star.”

It was over 45 years ago when another four-man group took New York City by storm, performing multiple times for ecstatic fans.  Ladies and gentlemen, “Vampire Weekend!”

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Inspired by ‘Treetop Flyer’

Singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne released his fourth studio album “God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise” three weeks ago.  Selling over 60,000 copies in its first week, the album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200.  That’s impressive.  While a $3.99 Amazon.com price probably helped push sales, LaMontagne’s commercial success shows there is still room for folk-rock in the pop music scene.  James Taylor, Carole King, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell…your art is not lost on vinyl.

And Stephen Stills—you inspired LaMontagne to become a full-time musician.  According to wikipedia (this information coming from a 2004 article in a music magazine), LaMontagne decided to pursue music after listening to the Stephen Stills song “Treetop Flyer” at 4 a.m. in the morning.  At the time, LaMontagne was a 25-year-old working at a shoe factory in Maine (try walking a mile in HIS shoes).  It is a tribute to Stills that one song, and one album could affect a young person so much as to convince them they had a calling to the music life.  Kudos to you, Stills.

Here is a youtube link to “Treetop Flyer”:

Now listen to this new song “Beg Steal or Borrow”  from LaMontagne’s new album.  Do you hear remnants of Stills’ sound?

I hear distinct traces of Ryan Adams, a North Carolina singer-songwriter who is popular enough that about half the people I ask are familiar with his music.  Adams has a folk rock, country twang like LaMontagne.

Maybe Stephen Stills inspired Ryan Adams too.  I’m sure Adams, as a little tyke, was spoon fed some Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young while his in his mother’s arm on a rocker.  Well I’m not certain of that—it is just a mere speculation from an armchair music philosopher.

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Joaquin Phoenix the rapper?

I am not quite sure if I should laugh or treat this forthcoming documentary about the rapping Joaquin Phoenix as a serious story:

Phoenix is pulling a reverse Mark Wahlberg—transforming himself from an actor into a rapper.  But again, how serious is this move?

One quote from the trailer for the movie, “I’m Still Here,” the documentary about Phoenix’ life as a wannabe rapper: “Life is a journey that goes around and around and the end is the closest to the beginning.” Now that is a philosophy to ponder. Hmm…  Reincarnation. The circle of life. Was Phoenix a rapper during early childhood?

The movie opens Sept. 10.

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“I’m Having Fun Now,” offers some happiness

A friend of mine put it best in a text message she sent after I suggested she listen to the new album “I’m Having Fun Now” by the band Jenny and Johnny. “Hold it,” my friend said.  “Is that Jenny Lewis? In yet ANOTHER band??”

Jenny and Johnny
The album cover, or Rice and Lewis “having fun.”

The standout track is the second cut on the album, “My Pet Snake.”  Lewis delivers girl-group vocals with a serpent-like seduction that can’t help but entice listeners.  Further, she references Paradise Lost, which is pretty cool.  She doesn’t believe we have lost Eden—but is nevertheless “crossing her fingers”.  Rice sings the bridge/chorus part of the song, which is not nearly as catchy as Lewis’ part.  No offense to him, but his raspy, manly vocals just don’t quite please the ear as much as Lewis’ playful voice.

Track 5, “While Men are Dreaming,” is unique because it is almost entirely a cappella.  It would have no instrumentation were it not for a twangy electric guitar in the background (presumably, the strum comes from a Fender Telecaster).

The final track, “Committed,” delivers nearly as much pop as “My Pet Snake.”  It is a short and sweet alt-country song that sounds a lot like Billy Ray Cyrus’ early 90′s stomp “Achy Breaky Heart.” Rice’s version, however, is not about getting your heat broken, and Rice does not sport a full-fledged mullet. What Rice does with the lyrics is offer a first-person narrative of a clinically depressed individual who needs sun, pills and “to be committed” in a clinic.

Other songs from the album, while less prominent, are still noteworthy.  A line from the song “New Yorker Cartoon” shifts from the incestuous to the reincarnated in fewer than 10 words: “I was making love to my sister from another life.” Track 7, “Just Like Zeus,” offers simple Greek mythology, which is always fun.  And the song “Animal,” uses biblical references and raises philosophical questions.  One of the lines in the bridge, “If you lose your fear of God, you are an animal at heart,” is worth pondering.  Are you just an animal?

Overall, this album is nothing new for Rice and Lewis.  It continues the sound each artist developed alone or with other groups (several songs sound like scrapped B-sides from Lewis’ first band Rilo Kiley).  “Scissor Runner,” the opening track, sounds like early Rilo Kiley material with a hint of the Pixies and REM, in particular, “It’s the End of the World.”

The album’s first single, “Big Wave,” doesn’t actually catch enough of a wave.  It features angelic harmonies that recall West Coast power pop, but that’s about it.

“I’m Having Fun Now,” is somewhat successful and offers listeners a new reason to embrace Jenny Lewis (and Rice too). Both artists have poignant musical brains and hearts, and thus you might expect a little more muster.  Having said that, I’ll be humming “My Pet Snakes” and “Committed” for quite some time, at least until the next Rilo Kiley or Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins release.

Track Listing and Grades for “I’m Having Fun Now”:

Scissor Runner: B-
My Pet Snake: A-
Switchblade: B-
Big Wave: B-
While Men are Dreaming: B
Animal: C+
Just Like Zeus: C+
New Yorker Cartoon: B+
Straight Edge of the Blade: B+
Slavedriver: B
Committed: B+

OVERALL GRADE for “I’m Having Fun Now”:  B

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