December 17, 2013 - At the Movies: Poppins Fresh in Mr. Banks, Madea's Seasonal Family and More
The trailer for Saving Mr. Banks starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks features "Wack Wack," the Young Holt Trio jam from 1966, while the film itself, about the making of Mary Poppins, has another great instrumental, "One Mint Julep" by Ray Charles, and original Poppins songs by Julie Andrews and/or Dick Van Dyke: "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim Cheree," "Feed the Birds" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." The sounds of the season are soulfully represented in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Christmas: "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," James Brown's advice to Jolly St. Nick, Pearl Bailey's gift wish "A Five Pound Box of Money," and some Motown offerings including "What Christmas Means" by Stevie Wonder are on the movie's soundtrack. David O. Russell's star-studded American Hustle arrives in theaters with "Jeep's Blues" by Duke Ellington (from the 1956 live album Ellington at Newport) and "Delilah" by Tom Jones featured in the film.
December 5, 2013 - Live Sound of Music TV Production Plays by Broadway Rules...Almost
Kudos to NBC for reserving three hours of its schedule for something that hasn't been done in a long time. A production of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood, in rehearsals for the last couple of months, was performed live - in one take! - on prime time TV Thursday evening, broadcast coast-to-coast from a warehouse in Bethpage, Long Island. What makes it special is that it was based on the 1959 Broadway production, not the more widely seen movie from 1965...well, almost. One song, "An Ordinary Couple" (performed in the stage production by original stars Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel), sadly went missing, while "Something Good" (first heard in the film) was added unnecessarily. I'm nitpicking, perhaps, but there were three songs cut from the film version that, after 48 years of oversight, deserved a revival. The other two, "How Can Love Survive" and the wonderfully strange, defeatist "No Way to Stop It" were included and undoubtedly heard by many for the first time. Overall it was well done and had added appeal for those who delight in the possibility of seeing embarrassing flubs on live network TV broadcasts. Big disappointment, then! The show came off without a hitch.
November 16, 2013 - Zeppelin for American Hustle, Marilyn for Chanel No 5
Led Zeppelin's 1969 debut single "Good Times Bad Times" delivers our first impression of David O. Russell's star-studded American Hustle in trailers for the film, coming to theaters the week before Christmas. No word yet on what other classic tracks might be on the soundtrack. Marilyn Monroe, loyal wearer of Chanel No 5, has been associated with the fragrance in the past. Her image and voice from a 1960 interview ("What do you wear to bed?") come together in a current TV spot ("...Chanel number five! 'Cause it's, it's the truth!").
November 7, 2013 - Ho-Hum Motown Night on X Factor, Xbox Disturbingly "Happy Together"
Imitation not always flattering: The X Factor's Motown episode (an overplayed American Idol tradition) exposed the limitations of many of this year's contestants while casting doubt on the practice of assigning young singers the task of learning 50-year-old songs overnight. Versions of The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine," The Supremes' "Baby Love" and "Stop! In the Name of Love" and a Marvin Gaye-style duet of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" teetered on the brink of mediocrity while more modern Motown renditions fell horribly flat. So I'll point to the positive and praise the singers who succeeded (and perhaps deserve to be in the final five?): Josh Levi gave The Miracles' "Who's Lovin You" the right touch of soul. Khaya Cohen's unusual vocal ability took The Temptations' "My Girl" to a different place. Sweet Suspense made the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" workable (in sort of an '80s Kim Wilde way). Rion Paige walked a midtempo line with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" somewhere between Marvin and Tammi's original and the Diana Ross production number, resulting in the evening's most memorable minute-and-a-half. Lillie McCloud (already semi-successful in the '80s as Nicole) delivered Stevie Wonder's early-'70s song "All in Love is Fair" like the pro that she is, but the question "does she belong?" lingers.
More fascinatingly fun than any of these X Factor antics is the latest Xbox commercial, a freakish and unorthodox pairing (morbidly appropriate in today's zombie-filled universe) of the optimistic "Happy Together" by The Turtles as the soundtrack for the dark and violent Deadrising3 video game.
October 30, 2013 - It's "Dirty Water" Time Again in Boston, Angels "Back" for Old Navy, Movie Songs Cover Several Bases
"Dirty Water" by The Standells plays loudly in Boston once again as Fenway faithful celebrate the third Red Sox World Series victory in ten years, most of any major league baseball team this century. "My Boyfriend's Back," a number one hit in 1963 for The Angels, is the latest in what will hopefully be a long series of vintage originals featured in Old Navy TV spots. Animated feature film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 makes logical use of "Yummy Yummy Yummy," the '68 hit by The Ohio Express. Box office leader Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa dusts off three randomly diverse oldies: 1955 blues classic "My Babe" by Little Walter, Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere," first known through its 1968 version by The Byrds, and an off-color outtake of "Think Twice," a mid-'60s duet by Jackie Wilson and LaVern Baker.
October 17, 2013 - Ray Charles Finally Gets a First Class Stamp, Iron Butterfly, Nilsson, 'Groovy Now' on TV
Ray Charles is the latest to be honored with his own postage stamp (can't believe it hadn't already happened) as part of the U.S. Postal Service's Music Icons Series (Johnny Cash's Man in Black image received the "Forever" treatment in June). Each sheet is designed like a 45 RPM sleeve with 16 stamps; hopefully other long-overdue singers and musicians will be added soon!
Late '60s tunes are pounding in my brain: American Horror Story is back with insidious new ways to freak us out using vintage songs. Several minutes from Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" are featured in the season premiere; the 17-minute song's instrumental passage never sounded so frightening! Nilsson's theme from the 1969 sitcom The Courtship of Eddie's Father is getting play on a spot for Bank of America. Strong percussion in a cool new version of Friend and Lover's '68 hit "Reach Out of the Darkness" ('I think it's so groovy now!') made me take immediate notice of its presence in the new commercial for Target/Threshold; Jocelyn Alice and Right the Stars will certainly have a career spike from the exposure.
October 8, 2013 - A Strange Mix: Mickey and Sylvia, Will Ferrell, Friends of Distinction, Ichabod Crane and John Lee Hooker
A giant baby catches the eye while the recognizable rhythm of Mickey and Sylvia's 1957 hit "Love is Strange" plays in a current TV ad for Nationwide Insurance. Meanwhile Will Ferrell, reviving his Ron Burgundy character, stars in a series of silly spots for Dodge Durango, each capped by the opening riff of the '69 singalong smash "Grazing in the Grass" by The Friends of Distinction while tying into Ferrell's sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, coming to theaters in December. The other night I caught part of Fox's new Sleepy Hollow series and heard John Lee Hooker's blues benchmark "Boom Boom," reason enough to check out future episodes of the modernized adventures of Ichabod Crane, time traveler.