April 23, 2015

Song of the Day #1246

Song of the Day: Uptown Funk features the words and music of Jeff Bhasker, Philip Lawrence, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, whose vocals are delivered with flair on Ronson's recording, a selection from his album, Uptown Special. The song just ended its 14-week reign atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Its got a great throwback groove, with a touch of The Time and early Prince. Check out the hilarious official video on YouTube along with a live performance on SNL.

April 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1245

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("The Pieta"/"The Sepulcher"/"Resurrection") [YouTube link], composed by the great Miklos Rozsa for the 1961 film of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, marks the moment of his death, burial, and resurrection, which today is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians. The film, directed by Nicholas Ray, who was known for his work in "Rebel without a Cause" (starring James Dean), acts as a prelude to the tumultuous 1960s. In that decade, revolutionaries of many faiths forged a civil rights movement by means both violent and nonviolent. Indeed, change "by any means necessary," a Sartrean phrase extolled by Malcolm X, echoes Ray's characterization of the Judean rebel Barabbas (played by Harry Guardino) who opposed Roman aggression with violence. The character says he wants "freedom," but he differs from Jesus only in the means by which to achieve it. By contrast, Jesus is portrayed by Ray as a nonviolent revolutionary, echoing the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., a rebel with cause who died violently as the Christ he worshipped. To all of my friends and family who are celebrating today (my maternal grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos was, after all, the founder of the first Greek Orthoodox Church in Brooklyn, the Three Hierarchs Church on Avenue P and East 18th Street), I say: Christos Anesti! It comes at a time that for believers and pagans alike is a season of rebirth: Hope Springs Eternal.

April 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1244

Song of the Day: What a Little Moonlight Can Do, words and music by Harry M. Woods, appears as the first track on "The Centennial Collection," marking, today, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, whose repertoire ran from swing to blues, and whose voice captured the depth of struggles both personal and societal. A life cut short by the long-term tragic effects of substance abuse, she was a trailblazer for so many singers who followed, from Frank Sinatra (whose centennial we celebrate later this year) to Janis Joplin to Cassandra Wilson (who issues a tribute album of her own this week). And for those who haven't seen the underappreciated, heart-wrenching 1972 bio-pic, "Lady Sings the Blues," do check out the Oscar-nominated performance of Diana Ross. I picked this tune (first performed by Violet Loraine in the 1934 film, "Road House"), for, despite her personal agony, Holiday could swing through the sadness. Listen to her on YouTube [music link] in 1935 with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra, in a recording that also features the King of Swing, Benny Goodman. Long Live Lady Day!

April 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1243

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("Jesus Enters Jerusalem"/"A Tempest in Judea"/"Defeat"/"False") [YouTube link], composed by Maestro Miklos Rozsa, is featured as the cue in this 1961 Biblical epic, when Jesus of Nazareth (played by Jeffrey Hunter) enters the city of Jerusalem during the season of the Passover on what has become known as "Palm Sunday" in Christianity. It is at once triumphal, while also providing an undercurrent of unrest among a populace dominated by the forces of Rome. For those who celebrate Easter in Western Christianity and Passover in Judaism, I extend my good wishes for the season. Next Sunday is the Eastern Orthodox Easter, which will be marked by another Song of the Day tribute.

April 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1242

Song of the Day: The Fool on the Hill, credited to Lennon and McCartney (though written by Paul alone), was recorded in 1967 and included on The Beatles's "Magical Mystery Tour" album and film. It's a great song for an April Fool's Day; check out the original version by the Beatles, and also a really nice bossa-tinged rendition recorded by Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66 [YouTube links].

March 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1241

Song of the Day: Tonight May Have To Last Me All My Life, words and music by Donald Borzage and Johnny Mercer, is a song I discovered on a 1964 Nancy Wilson album, called "Today, Tomorrow, Forever." Where the hell have I been that I never heard this gem before? Beautiful song, and beautifully delivered by the always beautiful Nancy, with some nice guitar accompaniment by John Gray. Check it out on YouTube. What a nice way to begin a Vernal Equinox; after the lousy 2014-2015 winter (with more snow predicted today), the arrival of Spring tonight can last me all my life, indeed! Allergies included!

March 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1240

Song of the Day: The Godfather ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Nino Rota, is the central musical motif of one of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed, directed by the incomparable Francis Ford Coppola, who won an Oscar as co-writer of the adapted screenplay, with the author of the original novel, Mario Puzo. It starred Best Actor-winning Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, and a terrific supporting cast, including Al Pacino, who went on to film two sequels to this Oscar-winning Best Picture. Rota received a Grammy for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or TV Special, but was ruled ineligible for the Oscars; that travesty was corrected when he won (with Carmine Coppola) for his brilliant score to The Godfather Part II. It's the Ides of March; but instead of commemorating Julius Caesar on the famous day of his assassination, I recommend this film about a few modern-day "Caesars" in the criminal pantheon.

March 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1239

Song of the Day: We are the World, words and music by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, was released on this date in 1985. A quintessential Quincy Jones production, the song raised millions of dollars to feed the hungry through USA for Africa. It brought together performers from every genre of music, everybody from Ray Charles, Billy Joel, and Cyndi Lauper to Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder. Its melodic hook brought it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. Today, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of an enduring musical collaboration. It took a lot of work and received four Grammys: Record of the Year; Song of the Year; Best Music Video, Short Form, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Check out the official video on YouTube.

March 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1238

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("So Long, Farewell"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is heard a couple of times in the 1965 Best Picture. It's a lovely ensemble piece. We get to relish it, and each of the children's characters, at a Von Trapp party gathering. Later, it is performed as the finale to the Salzburg Festival, providing the family the means by which to escape from the Nazis, who are waiting in the wings to force Captain Von Trapp into naval service for the hated Third Reich. The film sequences leading up to the family's tense escape from the Nazis gives us just one more indication of the film's depth. It encapsulates moments of love, hope, betrayal, and suspense against the backdrop of one of the ugliest periods of twentieth-century history. In the end, of course, as I conclude my mini-celebration of the Golden Anniversary of this cinematic triumph, we are reminded that it is the liberating sound of music that symbolically vanquishes the forces of evil. Check out the version at the party and the reprise featured in the concert finale [YouTube links].

March 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1237

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Edelweiss"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is the one song in this splended film that sounds as if it is a genuine folk song. It is sung by Captain von Trapp toward the close of the film, near the end of a concert sequence that unites the audience through Austrian cultural solidarity, in the ominous shadows of the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria. The Captain is to be forcibly enlisted into the naval ranks of the Third Reich. So this song is performed by actor Christopher Plummer with both poignance and defiance. He nearly loses his voice as he chokes back tears, but the Von Trapp Family Singers join him, for they are planning to escape to freedom at the conclusion of the Salzburg Festival talent competition. Still, this song, named after the white flower found in the Austrian Alps, has all the sound of a folk culture that the Nazis must crush. At the young age of five years old, I initially resisted seeing this movie that everybody was talking about. Who wants to go see some silly musical event with a mob? Even then, I was exhibiting an individualistic interest in history and politics, rather than Broadway show tunes! But I went to the Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, grudgingly, and the songs and performances slowly carressed me. Entertainment morphed into an historical narrative of the growing Nazi threat, on the precipice of World War II. I was hooked. I've been in love with this film, and this song, ever since. Check it out on YouTube.

March 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1236

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Something Good"), is one of two songs written exclusively for the 1965 film by Richard Rodgers, whose collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II, passed away in 1960. The song provides a sweet romantic moment between Maria (played by Julie Andrews) and the Captain (played by Christopher Plummer). Having left the abbey, Maria has opened herself up to explore a new world, rich with love and possibility. Listen to it on YouTube.

March 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1235

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Do-Re-Mi"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, truly "start[s] at the very beginning," as Maria teaches the basic building blocks of music to the Von Trapp kids in the wonderful 1965 film. Check out the full version of this delightful song from the beloved film on YouTube.

March 02, 2015

Song of the Day #1234

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("I Have Confidence"), music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers, was written exclusively for the 1965 Best Picture Oscar winner, "The Sound of Music," a film that was released 50 years ago on this date. Oscar Hammerstein II had provided the lyrics for the original 1959 Broadway musical (it was the final Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration), which tied with Fiorello! for Best Musical at the 14th Annual Tony Awards. Hammerstein had passed away in 1960, five years before the debut of the celebrated film version. Many songs from this musical have become part of the Great American Songbook, and I have already included several in "My Favorite Songs," the classic "My FavoriteThings" (especially this terrific jazz version by my brother Carl Barry, a superb jazz guitarist, with my scorching sister-in-law, vocalist Joanne Barry), the inspirational" Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and the title song. Three songs from the Broadway production: "An Ordinary Couple" (featuring the Tony Award-winning Leading Actress of that year Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel), "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It" were cut from the film version, while two were added, including this wonderful song, delivered by the incomparable Julie Andrews as she makes her way to the Von Trapp household from the convent, where her desire to be a nun is still-born, once she falls in love with Captain Von Trapp, played in the film by Christopher Plummer. The audience gave a much-deserved standing ovation to Lady Gaga's tribute to the Golden Anniversary of "The Sound of Music" on this year's Oscar telecast, as did Andrews, who was brought on stage by Gaga. Over the next few days, I'll be featuring songs from the film, one of my favorite musicals of all time. Check out the song from the soundtrack album.

February 27, 2015

Song of the Day #1233

Song of the Day: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Leonard Rosenman who was nominated for Best Original Score for this 1986 film. This theme takes its first cue from the original television theme, as provided by composer Alexander Courage, and then takes us back to old civilizations (1980s America) in search of the extinct species of humpback whales, whose calls will reply to an alien signal that threatens life as we know it. I don't think there is a more joyous, more enduring "Star Trek" film in the whole film franchise, and some of the credit rests on the great shoulders of Leonard Nimoy, whose Mr. Spock has become an institution of Americana. Sadly, Nimoy passed away today, but Spock will go on and on: Live Long and Prosper, indeed.

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