(How has Dinosaur Gardens managed to avoid all references to the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop until this post? Surprising…)
So much has been written and said already about the infamous and influential BBC Radiophonic Workshop that I start this post at a loss. I mean, they deserve the praise — their legendary status is well-deserved — but with so many articles and other dissections of their career and influence, I think I’ll take the easy way out and stick to a short obituary of their accomplishments.
If you know only one thing of their work, it would be the theme to Doctor Who, the venerable BBC sci-fi television series. They also did the sound effects. And incidental music. In fact, they were a BBC department that produced all manners of strange noises and sound effects (and theme songs) for over 200 other BBC shows. In doing so, they paved a superhighway of innovation that led electronic music growth for decades, from studio engineering to electronic composition to sound collage to synthesizer technology.
I came across this album in a dilapidated Leeds (UK) record shop for just a couple quid and have held onto it for dear life — BBC Radiophonic Workshop on vinyl doesn’t sell cheap. The standout track for me is easily Vespucci, a funky saunter with a very sampleable cool synth melody. The abstract cover from this 1973 release looks quite a bit like a CD exploding, perhaps another ahead-of-their-time move from these old-timers. And finally, this great closing line from the liner notes:
“The specially created stereo is not an attempt at realism, but is used as a sound object in its own right.”
Carl Stalling was a silent-movie organist in Kansas in the 1910s and early 1920s who later went to work for his friend Walt Disney, composing soundtracks for his new cartoons. His involvement in one of the most important cartoons of all time, Skeleton Dance, was crucial; it was entirely set to Stalling’s music.
But he is best known, of course, for his work with Warner Brothers, with whom he started in 1936. Every WB cartoon for the next 22 years featured Stalling’s music, making him one the most-recognized composers in history (though certainly not the best-known). With Warner Brothers, Stalling could pull any composition from their massive music publishing subsidiary, and mash it up for his own needs. His rapidly-changing tempos and instrumentations along with his proto–sound collage would make him an unknowing avant-garde pioneer.
Stalling’s work wasn’t generally appreciated until 1990, when producer Hal Wilner put together the CD The Carl Stalling Project. After searching for a long time through Warner Brothers’ archives, Wilner managed to find the original music tapes of most of the cartoons, without the overdubbed voices. The CD he put together was a fantastic overview of Stalling’s career, with a combination of entire cartoon soundtracks in addition to collected cues from various decades.
The Carl Stalling Project has additional significance for me; it was the first CD I ever bought. I went to my favorite record store in 1990 to pick it up: “What do you mean, it’s only available on CD?”, I still remember asking the clerk. I couldn’t believe they would issue something on CD but not on LP. I bought it anyway, although I wouldn’t have a player for it for another year; any time I went to a friend’s house with a CD player, I would bring it along.
As it happens, it wasn’t only available on CD; it was also sold on cassette. And the cassette had a bonus track, oddly enough: the music from the 1956 cartoon Stupor Duck. Cassettes have a slightly longer running time than CDs but this is still the only time I know of this happening.
While the CD is still available, record companies haven’t sold pre-recorded cassettes in years. So this long out-of-print track is presented below. If you like it, be sure to buy a copy of the CD. And if you already have MP3s of the CD on your hard drive, go ahead and add this; you’ll have to renumber the tracks to make room. This is the new track #11, and it goes between “Medley: Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” and “Carl Stalling with Milt Franklyn in Session”.
Dudley Moore is known as the piano-playing drunk millionaire Arthur on this side of the Atlantic, but in England he’ll always be known as one half of a comedy duo with Peter Cook, who wrote and co-starred in Bedazzled along with Moore, who wrote the music for it in 1967. (It was remade in 2000 with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley.) They’d come fresh from success after success in the UK for their radio and TV sketch-comedy shows, in which Cook was often the antagonist to Moore. In Bedazzled Cook is the ultimate antagonist — the Devil — come to Swinging London to claim a sad-sack short-order cook’s soul. Cook saw the film as his chance at transatlantic moviestardom; he took sole charge of the screenplay and made sure Satan got all the best lines (“We’ve been hit very badly by this peace scare”). Ironically, his intentionally subdued performance (the better to contrast himself with Moore’s pathetic, desperate, but sympathetic character) did too good of a job: Bedazzled was the beginning of Moore’s brief reign as American box-office king with films like 10 and Arthur, and the beginning of Cook’s slide into undeserved relative obscurity (American audiences know him from his cameo as the speech-impaired bishop in The Princess Bride).
The disparity between their characters’ natures is used to great effect in the film’s pop-star sequence, in which Moore, having requested that the Devil make him an adored figure, is transported to a Ready Steady Go–like studio set. Moore belts out a Tom Jones–esque song pleading for the audience to “Love Me”, and the audience duly screams for him in a perfect parody of Hard Day’s Night. Cook, again turning up to crush Moore’s fantasies, arrives on set after him as “Drimble Wedge and The Vegetations” and delivers “Bedazzled,” a bizarre tune that features Cook intoning “I’m callous / I’m dull / you bore me” in a monotone while undeterred backup singers sing “you drive me wild!” The challenge of “I’m not available” is too much for the studio audience, who forget all about Moore and swarm Cook.
The film’s soundtrack, composed by Moore, has some great pieces on it; besides the two songs above, the film’s main title is memorable. There’s some easy-listening filler, but it’s intended as schmaltz to underscore the vapidity of the characters in certain sequences. There’s some good strip-club music to showcase Raquel Welch (Cook wanted to call the film “Raquel Welch” so the posters could read “Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in Raquel Welch”), as the personification of the deadly sin Lust.
Ennio Morricone, one of the world’s greatest and most prolific film composers, picked up an honorary Oscar at the last Academy Awards. Clint Eastwood’s introduction was doddering, and the montage of “famous Morricone moments” could have been better (they didn’t even use the original music from the films in some cases!), but the gesture was appreciated and long overdue. “I have received so many beautiful, incredible prizes, but there was a little hole – maybe the Oscar fills the hole.”
Here’s 17 tracks from the man they call Il Maestro.
I just don’t even need to say anything about this, do I?
Well, I will say a few things. As the opening stock-music fanfare gives way to the manly announcer proclaiming, “When it comes to handling manure, you need dependable equipment!” you know you’re in for a good thing. Plenty of fun quotes, such as “Teeth are arranged to pull manure inward,” though for some reason I just love the brief statement, “Adjust suck.”
Incidentally, the reason I have it is that my grandfather and my uncle ran the John Deere store in Plain City, Ohio (yes, “Plain City”… you can’t make that stuff up) for many years. Although my family was far from rural or white trash, this meant we had John Deere everything: John Deere calendars, John Deere bicycles, John Deere wall thermometers. When they closed up shop, my parents managed to hold onto a couple dozen of these records, all 45 RPM soundtracks to sales presentations. This is easily my fave.
Following up on the previous Holy Mountain soundtrack post by Colin, I humbly present the entire Douglas 6 reissued vinyl soundtrack to Alexandro Jodorowsky’smotion picture, El Topo (aka The Mole), often referred to as “the first midnight movie”.
Based on brief online searching, it appears neither the original Apple label release nor the Douglas 6 release are on CD yet but supposedly, according to this trailer there will finally be an official (hopefully North American NTSC) release of El Topo on DVD as well as Holy Mountain and Fando and Lis, so it would logically follow that the soundtracks for both could be released on CD. One can hope anyway. Here are the liner notes transcribed:
MUSIC OF EL TOPO
Composed by Alexandro Jodorowsky
SHADES OF JOY
Arranged and conducted by Martin Fierro
EL TOPO blew my mind like it’s blown everyone else’s. But being Mexican I felt especially close to it, felt a very complete connection with it. So I think there’s a real organic relationship between what we’ve done with the music on our record and what the music is essentially about. The music, like the rest of the film, is very spiritual — Alexandro’s a very far out cat. What we’ve done with the music sort of takes up where Alexandro left off. In terms of styles and forms we take in many things that have been happening in music since the soundtrack was made, and that makes the music on the record more related to what’s happening on the street and in the society now.
The cats in Shades Of Joy, they’re all ”˜bad’ cats, with different backgrounds and experiences. And we can play a lot of different trips, from Rock to Jazz to Latin to Hillbilly to Country and Western. We got everything into the music — all the things we’re able to do. You see, all the tunes in EL TOPO portray a mood and have so many emotions to explore and develop. There is frustration and pain and love in them. There are pensive moments and happy moments. I took the songs and shaped them the way I saw fit. I think we succeeded in complementing Alexandro very well.
I believe that the only end of all human activity — whether it be politics, art, science, etc. — is to find enlightenment, to reach enlightenment. I ask of a film what most North Americans as of psychedelic drugs. The difference being that when one creates a psychedelic film, he need not create a film that shows the visions of a person who has taken a pill; rather, he needs to manufacture the pill
I think there are multiple influences in El Topo — I have them all: the influence of all the books I’ve read and all the films I’ve seen, of all the winds that have blown against my skin, of all the stars that have exploded during my lifetime, of each manifestation of the now manifested, of each flea that’s shit on me. Especially a flea I met in 1955. It shit on me in such an incredible way, that it changed my life. I’m sure that flea’s in my film
ON LISTENING TO MARTIN FIERRO’S MUSIC FOR EL TOPO
I was a seed
Watching itself grow on a tree
I was the tree,
Apart from it.
Earth and water
With my energy
And the fruits and branches
Were larger far beyond
What I had ever thought.
I sat there
Watching myself grow.
I wanted to leap up out of
The depths of the earth
And drop into the heart of the fruit
Be the future seed, one of them,
Not be the origin.
Eddie Adams, Ken Balzell, Hadley Caliman, Jack Dorsey, Martin Fierro, Luis Gasca, Jackie King, Jerry Love, Mel Martin, Frank Morin, Ivory Smylie, Roger ”˜Jellyroll’ Troy, Howard Wales, Peter Walsh, Jymm Young
All selections composed by Alexandro Jodorowsky except Freakout #1, by Martin Fierro, published by Editions Douglas Music / BMI.
While the best-known American version of Kurt Weill and Bert Brecht’s Threepenny Opera is the 1954 Off-Broadway production with Lotte Lenya, the definitive performance was put on in 1976 by the New York Shakespeare Festival.
The 1954 version was tremendously watered-down, both lyrically and musically. The instrumentation had been changed from Weill’s 1920s-jazz small band style to a much more conventional theater orchestra, and the timing was “fixed” — whereas in the original production, the lines were sung off-beat from the music (a deliberate decision by Brecht and Weill), the American show had everything fit perfectly. And Mark Blitzstein’s translation was largely bowdlerized: “Ballad of Sexual Obsession” became “Ballad of Dependency”, for instance. (Other English recordings are just too classical, taking the “Opera” part too seriously, or are simply abominations.)
When the famous theatrical producer Joe Papp revived the show twenty years later, he made a point to be as faithful to the original as possible. He used a much better translation and restored song verses that had never been published (one about “the ghastly fire in Soho” in “Mac the Knife” and a disturbing one about Jenny’s forced abortion in the “Ballad of Immoral Earnings”). The show also went back to the original orchestration, even ordering a custom-built acoustic Hawaiian guitar (as only electric ones were available at the time of production).
The cast was top-notch, featuring a young Ellen Greene (best-known for her later performance as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors) as Jenny and Raul Julia playing a charismatic, rascally, menacing Macheath — the best performance of that character that ever has been or ever will be.
The cast recording was issued by Columbia in 1977 and, naturally, has never been reissued on CD. It featured some highly-informative liner notes by Papp and Stanley Silverman (from which I cribbed much of the information for this post), which included a good, concise description of Threepenny‘s revolutionary appeal:
… From that moment in 1928 when the banjo entered playing lowdown jazz in “Ballad of Mac the Knife”, following a sophisticated neo-classical overture, the course of music history was ineluctably altered.
El Topo is his most highly regarded film, depicting a guru-gunslinger in a highly symbolic spiritual quest. The idea of the quest is repeated in The Holy Mountain, but the scope of the film is much larger, with elaborate sets, a large cast, and jaw-dropping scenes like frogs reenacting the Spanish conquest of Mexico and religious symbols made into weapons. Its filming was no less bizarre: Jodorowsky made the cast train for months under a human-potential guru he’d hired, insisted that the female members of the cast sleep with him (“No men. Only the women,” he laughs), and he was nearly killed in Mexico after being suspected of performing a Black Mass. All very hippy-dippy Carlos Castaneda Sixties, but Jodorowsky’s commitment to change people through art is intense: “Now I think is a fantastic moment for all of us because now we are fighting for our world, our life. Now is the moment to be awake or to die.” For Jodorowsky, Hollywood is “a child’s industry – for me, a good picture changes your life.”
After The Holy Mountain Jodorowsky attempted to film Frank Herbert’s Dune, which if completed would have floored cult-cinema junkies worldwide. Artists recruited included H.R. Giger and Moebius, both of whom would go on to work on Alien along with screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Pink Floyd was to score the film, and the cast was an absurdist parade: David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Alain Delon, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dalí (who demanded $100,000 for an hour’s shoot). Nothing this strange — and colossally expensive, and 14 hours long — could live, and the film adaptation of Dune would have to wait for David Lynch to come along a decade later.
After the collapse of the Dune project threemorefilms were made, none of which approached the madness and extravagance of his previous work. Plans were made for a sequel to El Topo starring Marilyn Manson (the two are close friends — Jodorowsky officiated Manson’s wedding), but nothing came of it, partially because the rights to both El Topo and The Holy Mountain were in the hands of Beatles manager Allen Klein who refused to release them. Existing DVDs (there have been legitimate relases in Italy and Japan) were of poor quality due to the lack of access to film elements.
Nothing was heard for decades but the news has arrived that both El Topo and The Holy Mountain are indeed being digitally remastered and released. Happy news, made happier by the thought that one day another Jodorowsky film will be made.
Featured here is the soundtrack to The Holy Mountain, credited to free jazz god Don Cherry and Archies keyboardist Ron Frangipane along with Jodorowsky. The quality could be better (it’s directly from the film so all the dialogue is present), but enjoy.
Update: thanks to Nick Scholl for sending the missing 17th track!
It took a long time for me to appreciate Masaru Satoh‘s soundtrack for Yojimbo. I’d seen the film, directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1961, many times but never paid attention to the music — I was watching Toshiro Mifune be the badass, or thinking about Yojimboremakes like A Fistful of Dollars or Last Man Standing.
What impressed me about the music was that I could see that Ennio Morricone had borrowed a little of Satoh’s power and playfulness when it came time for him to score Sergio Leone‘s Westerns — as Philip Brophy says, “electric guitar, bongoes and harpsichord jostle against brooding Gothic intonations … Just as Marco Polo imported noodles from the Chinese to make Italian pasta, Morricone fused this postwar Japanese eclecticism with an equally unique Italian tradition of excessive ornamentation.” The constant whistling of Mifune’s revenge-obsessed character in The Bad Sleep Well reminds me of Charles Bronson’s harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West.
Satoh scored many more Kurosawa classics, beginning with Throne of Blood in 1957, to Red Beard in 1965, coincidentally Toshiro Mifune’s last film with Kurosawa as well. Satoh also scored less-well-known but fantastic Kihachi Okamoto samurai films like Sword of Doom and Kill!, starring the incredibly underrated (in the West) Tatsuya Nakadai.
Another thing he was known for was his music for the Godzilla films — his Godzilla career began with the second Godzilla film (the first was memorably scored by Akira Ifukube, who would do the music for Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo in 1970) and ended in 1974 with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.