Friday, September 7, 2012

What Songs Look Like: Black Cherry

One of the treats of posting videos is that some of them are mini-movies, with a complete (if short) storyline. We know that songs can tell a complete story using lyrics, of course, but watching something unfold visually rather than aurally gives a new angle on things.

Black Cherry, by the j-rock group Acid Black Cherry, is a torch song (and we did a week of those last summer, if I remember rightly). It starts off as a pretty straightforward jazz tune, then kicks into high gear with a high-energy jazz-rock finale…with a twist. A few of the translated lyrics (courtesy of papersnow):
It's all right if you don't love me...since I don't love you, Make me wretched like this! Black Cherry, give it to me...Black Cherry, give me more. Even though the truth is I've always loved you, Our short's just a petty fling on the way to something else, With this, finally, though...once in a while, remember me like this...

The video serves up these emo-angsty words as sung by a female vocalist who is the disputed object of two yakuza (organized crime members), complete with wacky minions. In a highly stylized clip meant to mimic old gangster movies, we don't even have to be able to read the placards to get the drift of the ill-fated card game.

Hats off (and other things, heh!) to A.B.C. and lead singer Yasu for this crazy vid of a great song. Bonus visual kei hairstyling tip: the drummer's spikey 'do is kept in place with white glue.

Monday, September 3, 2012

What Songs Look Like: She's Gone

I really miss posting on SMM, but like so many of us here, I've got no host at the moment. What I really miss is the sheer fun of sharing stuff, so I'm going to take full advantage of Darius's creative theme this week and just have fun with some music.

So what does "She's Gone" look like and do penguin flippers adequately express the emotional loss of the singer's lyrics? If you haven't had the pleasure of seeing this video before, then let me be the first to introduce it to you. Or rather, let's let John Oates introduce it his own bad self, from this 2009 interview:

Well, I’ll give you a little background about what happened with that “She’s Gone” thing. First of all, it was 1973. There was no MTV, there was no outlet for anything like this. You know, it might be one of the first music videos ever made. I really couldn’t say, honestly, but it definitely would be a contender. What happened was, we were asked to lip sync “She’s Gone” for a teenage TV dance show broadcast out of Atlantic City, New Jersey. And we really didn’t want to do that; we didn’t want to pretend to sing the song. It was supposed to be shot in a television studio in Philadelphia. So we thought, with the mindset that we were in at the time – and I won’t say more on that, either…They thought we were completely insane. They actually didn’t air it; they wouldn’t air it. But we had it this whole time, and eventually I leaked it out to the internet, ’cause I just thought the world should see it.

I think in light of how I'm feeling about the music industry at the moment, I share this "Take that, you guys!" attitude.

What Songs Look Like: Money For Nothing

Back in the 80s, where I live, we had no MTV - until very recently - at which time it had degenerated so far that it wasn’t worth watching any more. That’s not to say that I was totally out of the main stream: I had friends who would record MTV to VHS cassette and send it to me “over here”, where we would watch the same 60 minute tape again and again trying to gain a sense of “main stream” America. And enjoying the music/media, of course.

Of these early videos, one in particular stands out – trite, but quintessentially classic – partly because of its name, partly because Star Maker has never given enough due credit to the group/the man. From the 1985 album Brothers In Arms: Money for Nothing. Here is Mark Knopfler  - among the guitarists supreme. I have a CD that includes him playing with Chet Atkins: excellent. I have a web-flv of him with Clapton.

I know he’s done much, much more. Dire Straits' “I want my MTV” seems to me to be among the best MTV clips. It’s got graphics that push the limits for the time, the music is timeless…

As Darius said, this was all before the time of what we take for granted as every-day computer generated graphics, so cut the visuals a break accordingly

What Songs Look Like : Independent Woman

Elbow : Independent Woman Part 1

Ten years before they were one of the few bands chosen to perform at the Closing Ceremonies of 2012 Olympic Games, the UK alternative band Elbow recorded an acoustic version of the Destiny's Child #1 hit "Independent Woman, part 1". Like I said it was a #1 hit. One of the biggest songs of the Aughts. But by the turn of the century, I stopped listening to what was on the radio. I had an iPod. I was my own radio station.

So the first time I heard "Independent Woman", the 18th biggest song of the decade, it was this Elbow cover as performed by singing kittens on the viral video seen above. And it sounds nothing like Destiny's Child. I know because I just played their version on YouTube.

Not sure what this says about this digital age in which we live.

But I didn't see Beyonce in London at all this summer.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What Songs Look Like: Binoculars

Last week, I discussed plagiarism, and touched upon the increasingly complicated issues that confront the music industry in the Internet age. The fact that so many contributors to this fine blog have lost their file hosting ability is a result of the tension that exists between copyright and fair use, between the desire of bloggers to expose readers to good music and the right of artists and labels to control distribution of that music. My guess is that most of the musicians whose songs get posted here would not care, if they even knew, and some would probably be happy for the promotion, but there is no way for me to conveniently ask. So, instead of there being some reasonable standard that allows bloggers and critics to post songs, say, for a limited time, or at a low bit rate, we simply post and wait to see whether we get shut down.
When I briefly worked at a record label in the 1980’s, the concern was cassette taping, but that was a hiccup compared to the devastating effect of the web, and Napster and similar services, that have seriously changed the way that music is distributed. You can pretty much find a free download of any song you want, if you look hard enough, and I understand that for most acts, the money comes from performing and merchandise, not the actual music itself. Although the days of small bands getting major label contracts seem long over, it is now possible for a musician to get his or her songs out to the public without a record label at all.
My subject this week is an example of this DIY approach. Julia Nunes is a talented singer/songwriter who became “YouTube famous” by making videos of herself singing, initially covers and then original songs, usually playing the ukelele. The quality of her music and the wit and charm of her videos, set her apart from most independent artists uploading to YouTube, and as a result, her following became pretty incredible.
Remarkably, Nunes’ popularity began while she was a student at Skidmore College. This video, for the song “Binoculars,” about a stalker, puts a spin on Nunes’ path to fame—she asked her fans to send in video of them singing her song, and she edited the footage and added more of herself, in her dorm room, as well as clips of her friends dancing in her room. My son, who seems to get into this blog every other week, was a year behind Nunes at Skidmore, and they met and became friendly. He got himself invited to the shoot through a mutual friend, and he is the tall skinny guy, wearing a blue t-shirt and black Mets cap, in the group dance scenes. (And not to leave my daughter, a talented singer in her own right, out of this post, I’m pretty sure that she started playing the ukelele at least in part because of Nunes).
Nunes’ Internet fame has made it possible for her to release a number of albums, all on her own label, open for major acts, including Ben Folds and Ben Kweller, play at Bonnaroo, and perform on Conan, as well as maintain an active touring schedule. She also continues to upload her charming videos to YouTube and recently recorded a cover of fun.’s “Some Nights” with the band Walk off the Earth. She is a great example of how musicians can succeed in the current market without the backing of a major—or even indie—label with persistence, ingenuity and talent.

What Songs Look Like: Universal Mind Control

Common : Universal Mind Control


No one can dispute the various nuances and colors of music, and I've heard plenty of pieces that qualify as “sound paintings.” Coloring is a function of the music's tone, and the relationship of notes to each other. A “chromatic” music scale literally means that it's colorful.

At the same time, the visualization of a song requires focus, concentration and attention to detail. How many of you find hip-hop or rap music to be a little distracting? Over the years, I've tried to be more open-minded and accepting of all genres of music. If you can stay on course and follow the statement of a song like “Universal Mind Control,” then you can develop a heightened sense of visual perspective. As you listen, twirl the telephoto of your own senses. I've learned to appreciate this kind of music by viewing it both in telescopic detail, as well as with a wide-angle perspective. Universal mind control should be a personal goal anytime we listen to music. It's a result of being mindful and fully aware of what we are hearing and seeing.

As Common sings, “This is that new shit, keep 'em standing in line ... That universal mind control, now move yo' behind.” As you view this sensory video, go ahead and “trance to melodic technotronic.” That'll help you get it. Bop, diggy, bop, d-dang, d-dang, dang.

What Songs Look Like: Sledgehammer

[purchase CD]

As a reader here, I’m sure you have noticed that the volume of posts has been way down lately. That is because the recording industry recently cracked down on file hosting services, and now many of the posters here, including myself, are without file hosts. We would be happy to hear from anyone who can offer suggestions or help. Feel free to respond either in the comments or by a private message to the e-mail address on the sidebar, and thank you. Meanwhile, this week’s theme offers a temporary solution.

This week, Star Maker Machine invites you the reader to watch some videos with us, and read our thoughts. Music and visuals have been connected since the rise of MTV, but the connection goes back much further than that. The history of opera takes us back more than 300 years, but again, the connection is still older, probably going back to ancient times. Dances and rituals both combined music and visuals, and they are two of mankind’s oldest activities. We need as a species to express ourselves musically, and we also seem to need to know what those songs look like. When properly wedded, both the song and the visual become something greater than either one by itself.

Having said all of that, I would like to start our exploration in the 1980s. The art of the music video flowered in the 80s because of MTV. Nowadays, it’s hard to remember that those letters originally stood for Music Television. MTV hit the airwaves in 1981, and almost immediately began to change the sound of popular music. The programmers there could be musically adventurous as long as a video was visually striking, and that made it possible for new wave to gain broad acceptance. Thomas Dolby is one example of an artist whose music most people would probably never have heard otherwise.

The first video ever played on MTV was Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles. But I didn’t get my MTV until around 1985 or so. I don’t remember the first video I saw, but the first to make a big impression on me was Sledgehammer, in 1986. Today, a video like this would use digital effects, and the motions would be smooth. But digital technology wasn’t an option back then, so the video relied on an ingenious mixture of live action footage and animation. Everything moves in a jerky fashion, but Peter Gabriel and his crew use this to their advantage. The song is a plea for love, but the video reveals a layer of nervousness that really adds to the overall effect. The images are imaginative and memorable. The ice head and fruitface are the two that I see in my head whenever I think of this song.