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August 30, 2014

Song of the Day #1205

Song of the Day: Jurassic Park ("T-Rex Rescue and Finale";), composed by John Williams, is one great way to celebrate Richard Attenborough, who played the film's visionary John Hammond in this classic Spielberg dinosaur flick, "unintended consequences" gone wild. Attenborough passed away at the age of 90 on August 24th; he was a fine actor who graced such films as "The Great Escape", and who showed his Oscar-winning directorial chops on the sprawling epic that was "Gandhi". Check out this tense moment in music that brought us to the film's finale [YouTube link].

August 25, 2014

Song of the Day #1200

Song of the Day: 24 ("Theme"), composed by Sean Callery, captures all the urgency and tension of this remarkable series, for which Callery has won multiple Emmy Awards. This summer's reboot ("Live Another Day") was one of my all-time favorite seasons of this suspenseful morality tale, starring the intense Kiefer Sutherland as the tortured Jack Bauer. Check out the television version and the Full Orchestra Version. And so ends our annual mini-tribute to TV Themes. And watch the Emmy Awards tonight!

August 24, 2014

Song of the Day #1199

Song of the Day: Mickey Mouse Club ("The Mickey Mouse Club March") was composed by the original Disney variety show's primary adult host Jimmie Dodd. Among the original Mouseketeers were such kids as Annette Funicello and Sharon Baird. The show aired intermittently from 1955 to 1996. Check out the original march on YouTube and its 1990s update, which featured young kids named Britney (Spears), JC (Chasez) (later of NSYNC), Keri (Russell), Christina (Aguilera), and Justin (Timberlake), a few of whom went on to appear and/or win a statuette on the MTV Video Music Awards, a show that happens to be airing on TV tonight.

August 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1198

Song of the Day: Winky Dink and You ("Theme Song"), composed by John Marion Garth and John Redmond, was one of the most memorable TV shows of my youth. The CBS children's show was in syndicated revival by the time I was watching it. Hosted by Jack Barry (who joined Mae Questel on vocals), it is credited by Bill Gates as the first "interactive" TV show. It invited you to draw on the television screen (with protective covering, of course, though sometimes crayon marks seemed to make it onto the screen anyway). Check out the adorable track on YouTube.

August 22, 2014

Song of the Day #1197

Song of the Day: F-Troop ("Main Theme"), music and lyrics by William Lava, Irving Taylor and Frank Comstack, was a regular theme heard around my house in the mid-1960s, when I watched this show religiously. Check out the Season One Intro (with lyrics) and the Season Two Intro (without).

August 21, 2014

Song of the Day #1196

Song of the Day: Queer As Folk ("Dive in the Pool"), composed and performed by Barry Harris, featuring Pepper Mashay, is a signature track from the first season of this path-breaking Showtime series, based on its British counterpart. With its "Let's Get Soak and Wet" motif, it practically defined the series. Check out the original mix on YouTube.

August 20, 2014

Song of the Day #1195

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, offers us an alternative to the haunting main theme from the 1967 film. The ABC prime time drama was inspired by the same 1965 Arthur Hailey novel. Still, this theme is Pure Mancini, which means Pure Magic.

August 19, 2014

Song of the Day #1194

Song of the Day: Saturday Night Live ("Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the legendary Howard Shore and performed by the SNL Band, opens one of the longest running comedy shows on American television. And tonight, the voice of its 96-year old announcer, TV Hall of Famer Don Pardo, who has held the job for 38 seasons, has been silenced. His sad passing doesn't take away any of the joy that he brought to one of the funniest gigs on TV. In tribute to Pardo, and kicking off my annual tribute to TV themes in anticipation of the Emmy Awards (to be broadcast on August 25th), enjoy the music!! [YouTube link].

August 13, 2014

Song of the Day #1193

Song of the Day: To Have and Have Not ("How Little We Know") features the words and music of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, who is the pianist accompanying Lauren Bacall in her smoldering 1944 screen debut in this film, loosely based on Ernest Hemingway's famous work. (It is "Lauren" who is mentioned among the smoldering celebrities rapped about by Madonna in her terrific dance single, "Vogue" [YouTube link].) Check out Lauren's performance of this song on YouTube. Still, Bacall's most famous words in the film had little to do with music, even if it was lyrically melodic to the ears of her co-star, and future husband, Humphrey Bogart. She tells him: "You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow" [YouTube link]. It left him whistling, indeed. Sadly, the accompished actress passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

August 12, 2014

Song of the Day #1192

Song of the Day: We Are Family, music and lyrics by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers, was a Number One 1979 R&B Hit for the group Sister Sledge. But it is eternally wedded to the hilarious 1996 comedy, "The Birdcage," which starred Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, who died yesterday from an apparent suicide. The Oscar-winning Williams was one of the most manic comedic geniuses I've ever seen in stand-up or on screen, and the grace with which he shared his talent with this world will be deeply missed. I loved him in this film, one of my favorite comedies. A remake of the 1978 film, "La Cage aux Folles," it also features great comedic turns by Gene Hackman and Hank Azaria. RIP, Robin Williams. Check out the Sister Sledge single, the 1979 Extended Dance Remix, and the scene in which it is used in the 1996 film.

July 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1191

Song of the Day: The Great Escape ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is one of my all-time favorite themes from one of my all-time favorite POW adventures. And this 1963 film is full of adventure and suspense, with an all-star cast that included Steve McQueen in a sizzling iconic cinematic moment on a motorcycle trying to escape the Nazis. The film also featured the always affable, down-to-earth gentlemanly actor, James Garner, who passed away on 19 July 2014.

July 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1189

Song of the Day: Always, words and music by Irving Berlin, is a 1925 gem that Berlin wrote as a wedding gift for his wife. The song has been recorded so many times by artists from Frank Sinatra to Patsy Cline and Billie Holiday, who gives it a swing feel [YouTube links]. But its most memorable spin, for me, can be heard in the greatest sports film of all time, in my view, the 1942 Lou Gehrig biopic, "The Pride of the Yankees." Check out one scene from the film [YouTube link], featuring singer Bettye Avery, with Gary Cooper playing the immortal Gehrig and Teresa Wright, his wife Eleanor (Cooper and Wright received Best Actor and Actress nominations, respectively; only Wright walked away with the gold statuette, but for her Best Supporting Actress role in the Best Picture of that year, "Mrs. Miniver"). Seventy-five years ago today, Gehrig gave one of the most remarkable speeches in all of Americana, saying goodbye to 60,000+ Yankee faithful in attendance at a 1939 Indepedence Day ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Check out the speech as given by Gehrig, as emulated by Major League Baseball, and also as immortalized in celluloid history by the wonderful Cooper [YouTube links] (and that's the real Babe Ruth appearing in the film). Gehrig later passed away from ALS, a disease known to many as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." Gehrig was one of the Yankees' most memorable team captains; today's Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, in his final career season, recently tied Gehrig's franchise record for lifetime doubles. For Yankees fans, for fans of America's game, Gehrig will always be the Iron Horse; on this Independence Day, we say Happy Birthday, America, and we celebrate Gehrig and the national passtime with a song written by one of America's most celebrated songwriters.

June 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1186

Song of the Day: The Love You Save, music and lyrics by The Corporation, Motown's Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Alphonzo Mizell, and Deke Richards, went to Number One, the third of four straight number one singles released by the Jackson 5, which held that position on the Billboard chart for two weeks, 27 June through 4 July 1970. But Casey Kasem, who passed away yesterday, was always one week ahead of the curve, giving us a weekend countdown that reflected the chart of the following week's Tuesday release of Billboard. So the song had actually dropped to the number two position on the 4th of July debut show of Kasem's classic, "American Top 40 (AT40)." I can't help but credit Kasem with stoking my love of pop music as I grew up listening to his show on the radio, whether it was in the dead of winter or on the hot sands of Manhattan Beach through Brooklyn's steamiest summers. This song was one of my favorite early Jackson 5 songs, made all the more poignant because its lead singer is no longer with us either. Check out the original single here, and while you're listening, save a little love too for screen and stage actress Ruby Dee, who passed away on June 11th, the great and endearing Don Zimmer, who passed away on June 4th, and the ultimate gentle man of baseball, Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres Hall of Famer, who sadly passed away today, at the young age of 54. All of them gone too soon.

June 13, 2014

Song of the Day #1185

Song of the Day: Friday the 13th ("Opening Theme") [YouTube link], composed by jazzman Henry Manfredini, clearly exhibits the composer's Bernard Herrmann "Psycho" lineage. What better way to mark a rare full-moon Friday the 13th on a rainy and grim New York June day. ("I love New York in June, How About You?"... but this one's been too rainy and it feels like March!). Nevertheless, a few thunderstorms will add to the atmosphere of watching this film. Manfredini actually composed for the whole "Friday the 13th" franchise, but the original 1980 Jason was the best (especially in that famed Hockey mask, so appropriate on a weekend in which the New York Rangers are struggling for the Stanley Cup, right now having won only 1 frightening game to the LA Kings, who are one game away from winning that horror series). The first two John Carpenter produced-"Halloween" films are, in my view, better examples of the post-1960s evil slasher genre, all of which owes its spirit to Hitchcock's utterly brilliant "Psycho." In any event, Friday the 13ths have been typically "good luck" days for me, having signed contracts for books on those days, in fact, but it's always fun revisiting a horror film from the vault.

June 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1183

Song of the Day: Wicked ("For Good"), music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, is from one of the finest Broadway musicals I've ever seen. If ever there were a musical showing us a kind of "transvaluation of values" in such an entertaining way, I don't know of one. But it was terrific, precisely because of its clever inversions, twists and turns, fabulous music, and stirring performances (in the original run that I saw ten years ago, with standouts, Tony-nominated Kristin Chenowith and Adele Dazeem). Oops, I mean, Idina Menzel, who won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. The show endures. And so does Dazeem! This past week, the 68th Annual Tony Awards celebrated the tenth anniversary year of this charming musical, which actually opened on Broadway in October of 2003, with a performance of this song, one of the best. Check it out in its Chenowith-Menzel incarnation on YouTube.

May 06, 2014

Song of the Day #1182

Song of the Day: That's Jazz [YouTube link], an impromptu tune put together by Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald at the Grammy Awards, broadcast in February 1976. Sadly, Mel and Ella are no longer with us; but we are living in an era where jazz is almost never mentioned (or featured) as a category during the Grammy broadcast, so seeing something like this is like the discovery of a rare gem from some sort of paleolithic era in television history. Enjoy!

March 02, 2014

Song of the Day #1181

Song of the Day: Despicable Me 2 ("Happy"), words and music by Pharrell Williams, is one of 2013's Oscar-nominated songs in the "Best Original Song" category. It's a #1 Billboard Hot 100 song that channels some wonderful R&B influences, from Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Check out the official music video and one that uses "Despicable Me" characters to showcase the lyrics. Watch the Oscar telecast tonight to see if it wins its category. Dare I say it: This song really makes me feel happy. And that's the way I'd like to conclude this year's tribute to film music.

March 01, 2014

Song of the Day #1180

Song of the Day: The Third Man (Theme) [YouTube link] is a famous theme composed by Anton Karas through extensive use of the zither, a 40-string Middle European cousin to the guitar. This 1949 film noir classic, directed by Carol Reed, stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten (of "Love Letters" fame, a 1945 film whose screenplay was written by Ayn Rand), and Alida Valli (of "We the Living" fame, the Italian 1942 film version of the Rand novel, later restored by Duncan Scott and re-released with English subtitles in 1986).

February 28, 2014

Song of the Day #1179

Song of the Day: With a Song in My Heart (title track), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, is sung in the 1952 film by Jane Froman, who is played by Golden Globe winner and Oscar-nominated Best Actress Susan Hayward. This biopic tells the story of Froman, who was crippled in an airplane crash on 22 February 1943, and who went on to entertain the troops in World War II, despite her serious injuries, which required nearly 40 surgical procedures in the years thereafter. The legendary Alfred Newman won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and the film also received nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), Best Costume Design, Best Color, and Best Sound Recording (Thomas T. Moulton). The title track [heard in this great overture, with Froman's vocals], of course, originated in the 1929 Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical, "Spring is Here", which, itself, is a great song. The title track in this film has also been featured in other films, including: the 1948 film, "Words and Music," where it gets a classic Perry Como treatment [YouTube link] and the terrific "Young Man with a Horn" (1950), featuring a loving performance by Doris Day and trumpeter Harry James [YouTube link]. Other definitive recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and The Supremes [YouTube links] illustrate just how deeply this standard has become a part of the Great American Songbook.

February 27, 2014

Song of the Day #1178

Song of the Day: BUtterfield 8 ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Bronislau Kaper, has that lush quality that Kaper brings to anything he touches with his musical sensibility and jazz inflections (take a listen to Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez on "Invitation" or
Kaper himself [YouTube link]). This theme opens the 1960 film that brought Elizabeth Taylor her first Oscar for Best Actress. On this date, in 1932, Taylor was born.

February 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1177

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ("Showdown") [YouTube link], composed by Alexandre Desplat, encompasses all the passion of the ultimate film of the great series of feature films dramatizing the ultimate showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. A truly terrific piece from a truly terrific scene, illustrating the art, and the power, of a great score. (If you ask me, the people who give out Oscars truly missed the boat, so-to-speak, in virtually ignoring all the films of this series.)

February 25, 2014

Song of the Day #1176

Song of the Day: Flight ("Opening") [theost excerpt], composed by Alan Silvestri, is the pensive opening theme for the 2012 film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, and starring Denzel Washington, who gives a superb Oscar-nominated performance. The film provides hair-raising moments of suspense and poignant moments of raw honesty.

February 24, 2014

Song of the Day #1175

Song of the Day: Never Say Never Again ("Main Title") is the title track to the one "unofficial" James Bond film not produced by Albert Broccoli and company; it's a 1983 remake of "Thunderball" with a theme song that featured the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the music of Michel Legrand (who celebrates his 82nd birthday today! Joyeux Anniversaire, Michel!!!), and the vocals of Lani Hall, who performed with Brasil 66. With a cluster of talent like that, the song still doesn't hold a candle to the original "Thunderball," but I still think it's a mini-miracle that, with lawsuits hanging over the film, Legrand was still able to draw from his jazz roots and come up with a score fully consistent with the 007 musical canon. Listen to the title track on YouTube.

February 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1174

Song of the Day: Samson and Delilah ("Main Title")[YouTube link], music by the legendary Golden Age film score composer, Victor Young, is the perfect main theme for this DeMille directed 1949 film; it captures the grandeur, the flaws, the love, and the devastation to come. Starring Victor Mature as Samson and Hedy Lamar as Delilah, it is one of those memorable Hollywood Biblical epics. And here's a point of trivia: it is the film's title that is on the marquis of the movie theater where the townspeople have gathered in the George Pal-produced 1953 sci-fi classic "War of the Worlds," as they witness the first of many "meteors" falling in the Los Angeles area, as part of an invasion from Mars.

February 22, 2014

Song of the Day #1173

Song of the Day: Demetrius and the Gladiators ("Prelude") [YouTube link] features a score composed by Franz Waxman, who had two tough acts to follow: the stupendously successful film for which this one stood as a sequel, and its equally stupendous soundtrack, written by one of the Golden Era's Greats. This 1954 film was a "sword and sandal" sequel to the 1953 epic, "The Robe," which was actually filmed twice: once in the typical "flat screen" process of the day, and a second time in the revolutionary widescreen format of "CinemaScope," for which 20th Century Fox got an honorary Oscar (though, as a sidenote, for me, the performances in the "flat screen" version of "The Robe" are far better than its widescreen sibling). The sequel picks up where "The Robe" leaves off.  Waxman wisely kept reverential musical references to certain heartfelt themes composed by Alfred Newman for this film's predecessor. Listen up to 2:30 in the first YouTube link above to see how well Waxman incorporates the Newman motifs, while providing us with a strong score that stands on its own merits.

February 21, 2014

Song of the Day #1173

Song of the Day: Sleuth ("Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John Addison, opens up the 1972 mystery, the last film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, a dangerous game of daring wits played to perfection by strong Oscar-nominated performances for Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine (both of whom lost to Marlon Brando, who played Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather"). The theme almost sounds circus-like, but it is precisely a circus we watch, albeit the kind that includes the thrilling task of walking a tightrope without a net.

February 20, 2014

Song of the Day #1172

Song of the Day: North By Northwest ("Crash of the Cropduster") [YouTube link], composed by Bernard Herrmann for this 1959 cinematic Hitchcock gem, is as much about what music is not heard as much as it is about what is heard. This scene is the ultimate in Hitchcock iconography; Cary Grant is alone, with vast empty plains stretching for miles in every direction, as he awaits the arrival of the nonexistent George Kaplan. Suddenly, he is being chased by a cropdusting plane with a trigger-happy pilot. The whole scene is without accompanying music at first, as Cary runs from the plane, finding cover in crops until the cropduster flushes him out to re-target him. But as Cary flags down a huge fuel truck, the plane unavoidably crashes into the truck and disintegrates into flames. The suspenseful music begins with the crash. When Hitchcock and Herrmann were in sync, they knew when to let the action speak for itself, and when to let the music enhance the scene. Herrmann's non-score to this truly iconic scene is as effective as Rozsa's non-score during the chariot race in "Ben-Hur," also a 1959 film: we have a "Parade of the Charioteers" before the race and music announcing victory in its aftermath. But during the scene, we are assaulted by the deafening noise of the crowd, the horses and chariots, the tramplings, the sound and fury of a race to the death. (A similar pattern is used in the film "Independence Day," where at the Zero Hour, all of America's key monuments and cities are destroyed, the music not engaging us until the very end of that apocalyptic series of events.) In any event, the cropduster scene is one of my favorite scenes in one of my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. In honor of my mother, who was born on this date in 1919, I post it; she passed away in 1995, but seeing her Cary was among the few things that could perk her up even in illness. The film is often thought of as the first "Bond" film, before 007 made his cinematic 1962 debut, and it is not difficult to see why.

February 19, 2014

Song of the Day #1171

Song of the Day: Valley of the Dolls ("Theme") was composed by Andre Previn and Dory Previn for the 1967 film version of the Jacqueline Susann novel (Mr. Spock in "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" clearly understood "The Greats" of the twentieth century). The original recording of the song was to be sung by Judy Garland, who had been fired from the film. It was sung by Dionne Warwick. There is a John Williams arrangement of the song in the film; his arrangements were noted by the Academy, and became the first of his 49-to-date Oscar nominations, this one for "Best Score Adaptation." And then there is the single version from Warwick's album [YouTube link]). Listen to the Dory Previn version as well [YouTube link]. For all its kitsch and camp, the film depicts tragedy, and there are so many tragedies that go beyond the film; one need only remember that Sharon Tate was one of its stars.

February 18, 2014

Song of the Day #1170

Song of the Day: Pressure Point ("Main Title") [excerpt therein], composed by Ernest Gold, is a jazz-infused theme from the 1962 film. It has elements of its time, even its "West Side Story"-like moments.

February 17, 2014

Song of the Day #1169

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Salute for Messala") [audio clip at that link] is a 10-second cue composed by the legendary Miklos Rozsa, which is heard in the 1959 MGM epic upon the arrival of Judah Ben-Hur's childhood friend, Messala, who has returned to Jerusalem, a tribune of Rome, ready to assume command of the Roman garrison. To me, despite the flaws and corruptions that have engulfed the soul of the man who becomes Ben-Hur's nemesis, this particular cue, designed to express the requisite regality, also expresses strength of character and certainty of purpose. And it was a cue that never showed up on the umpteen versions of this film's soundtracks that had been released since the film's 1959 debut. That was rectified in 2013 by FSM Golden Age Classics, with the release of an utterly definitive 5-CD collection illustrating the complete brilliance of Rozsa's Oscar-winning score, one of the 11 Oscars that remains an Academy Award record (tied, but never bested by "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"). Since the beginning of Notablog, I've highlighted many cues from this soundtrack. Of this, one can be certain: On February 17th of any year, you'll find a "Ben-Hur" selection: in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and the tradition continues today. It's my 54th birthday, after all, and it allows me to offer an annual salute to my all-time favorite movie and my all-time favorite score.

February 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1168

Song of the Day: The Deer Hunter ("Cavatina") [YouTube link] is a piece composed by Stanley Myers, and was first heard in the 1970 film "The Walking Stick." Singer Cleo Lane added her own lyrics to the piece, and recorded it as "He Was Beautiful" [YouTube link], accompanied by classical guitarist John Williams. But it was that guitarist's version of the composition that is best remembered as the theme to one of the most shattering antiwar films ever made: "The Deer Hunter" (1978), starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, John Cazale, and Meryl Streep.

February 15, 2014

Song of the Day #1167

Song of the Day: Second Hand Rose, music by James F. Hanley, lyrics by Grant Clarke, was introduced with comic musicality by Fanny Brice in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921. In 1968, it was featured in the Brice biopic, sung to comic perfection by "Funny Girl" Barbra Streisand, who shared her Oscar that year in a rare tie with another actress, Katharine Hepburn, for her strong performance in The Lion in Winter. (The tie was announced on the Oscar broadcast by yet another great Oscar-winning actress: Ingrid Bergman [YouTube link]. Hepburn [YouTube link] appeared on only one Oscar broadcast: on 2 April 1974, the year of the streaker, to present the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.)

February 12, 2014

Song of the Day #1164

Song of the Day: The Little Colonel ("Stair Dance") [YouTube link] created a magical moment in cinematic history, pairing the great tap dancer, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and the late great Shirley Temple. In later years, she became a diplomat, and added the surname of her husband, becoming "Shirley Temple Black." But it was not the added surname "Black" that broke the color barrier; it was Shirley's joyous appearances in films like this 1935 gem that did more to mow down racial stereotypes by showcasing great and precious talent. Shirley Temple will always be remembered as that endearing little girl in so many wonderful movies from the 1930s; but it was roles like these that truly showed what a trailblazer she was (check out "The Littlest Rebel" as well). She passed away 10 February 2014 at the age of 85 ... RIP Shirley.

February 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1163

Song of the Day: The American President (Main Theme) [YouTube link], composed by Marc Shaiman, is a stately theme that opens the 1995 film, starring Michael Douglas as widowed President Andrew Shepherd, who falls for Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, an environmentalist lobbyist. The film has many of the trappings of contemporary liberalism in terms of its politics and its cast of characters, and it served as an inspiration to writer Aaron Sorkin, who launched the equally idealistic liberalism of the brilliant TV series "The West Wing," which began in 1997. But it is not the politics that interest me here. This is a film with a lot of heart, plenty of laughs, and much poignancy. In anticipation of President's Day, I highly recommend the Shaiman soundtrack.

February 10, 2014

Song of the Day #1162

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Key Case") [YouTube link], written by Scottish big band composer and arranger Johnny Keating, is a grooving classy jazz track. It's a real throwback to the cool 1960s jazz sound, and is featured in the 1967 film.

February 09, 2014

Song of the Day #1161

Song of the Day: All My Loving, written by Paul McCartney (but credited to both McCartney and John Lennon), was the song that opened up the set that The Beatles performed in their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," 50 years ago this very day. It was the ultimate symbol of the "British Invasion" appearing on one of the most popular variety shows of its day; indeed, 73 million people are estimated to have seen The Beatles that Sunday night, and I was among them. A sample of this song also made it into the 1964 film, "A Hard Day's Night," a black and white classic of the comedy-musical genre. Beatlemania had begun, and popular music would never be the same. Check out the single version, an excerpt from the "Ed Sullivan" performance on 9 February 1964, and its sample in "A Hard Day's Night" [YouTube links].

February 08, 2014

Song of the Day #1160

Song of the Day: Deep Impact ("A Distant Discovery") [YouTube link], composed by James Horner, is the central theme of the 1998 film, which had an all-star cast, echoing the approach of many of the "disaster films" of the 1970s.

February 07, 2014

Song of the Day #1159

Song of the Day: Pinocchio ("I've Got No Strings"), music by Leigh Harline, lyrics by Ned Washington, is heard in the Walt Disney animated film that made its debut on this date in 1940. In the film, the song is sung by Dickie Jones, the voice of Pinocchio [YouTube link here]. My favorite version is the jazzy, swinging recording of Barbra Streisand for her utterly superb album, "My Name Is Barbra" [YouTube link].

February 06, 2014

Song of the Day #1158

Song of the Day: Funny Lady ("Isn't This Better?"), words and music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, is a sweet song from "Funny Lady," the 1975 sequel to "Funny Girl" The film continues the (highly fictionalized) story of Fanny Brice, centering on her relationship with songrwriter Billy Rose, played by James Caan. Check out Streisand's lovely rendition here on YouTube.

February 05, 2014

Song of the Day #1157

Song of the Day: Peter Pan ("You Can Fly!"), words by Sammy Cahn, music by Sammy Fain, is one of the highlights of one of my favorite childhood Walt Disney Films, released on this date in 1953. The vocals in the original Disney cartoon are provided by Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, The Jud Conlon Chorus, and The Mellomen. One of the really enchanting things about my childhood is that my mother used to read me bedtime stories all the time, and so many of them came from "Walt Disney's Story Land". So I knew this lovely story before having seen the Disney clasic.  Check out this joyous tune in a scene from the film on YouTube here.

February 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1156

Song of the Day: Suspicion ("Main Title") [Amazon.com excerpt], music by Franz Waxman, is the first collaboration between the absolutely debonair Cary Grant and the master director, Alfred Hitchcock. This 1941 film also starred Joan Fontaine, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The estranged sister of Olivia de Havilland, the two of them are the only siblings to have won lead Oscar awards. Amazingly, she is also the only actor to win an Oscar under Hitchcock's direction. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 96 on 15 December 2013. She is survived by sister Olivia. The Waxman score is not the only one that the famed composer did with Hitchcock; he also composed the soundtracks to the 1940 film, "Rebecca," and the 1954 film "Rear Window."

February 03, 2014

Song of the Day #1155

Song of the Day: Capote ("Out There") [YouTube link], composed by Mychael Danna, is a simple theme that holds within it the complexity of the person at the center of the 2005 film, Truman Capote, and the complexity of the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won a Best Actor Oscar for the role. Sadly, this 46-year old actor passed away yesterday; death need not be tragic, since it is an organic part of life, but when it comes so young to an actor with so much talent and promise, I can find few other words to describe it. RIP PSH.

February 02, 2014

Song of the Day #1154

Song of the Day: Judgment at Nuremberg ("Overture") [YouTube link], composed by Ernest Gold, offers a kaleidoscope of themes from the magnificent film starring among others the great Spencer Tracy (who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar), Burt Lancaster, and Oscar-winner Maximilian Schell, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83. The film is a morality tale about those who executed the orders of the Third Reich in perpetuating one of the greatest mass murders in human history.  Playing the attorney Hans Rolfe, Schell had the difficult task of representing the reprehensible defendants, and he does so with dignity and integrity, and won a well-deserved Academy Award. (Other shattering performances are offered by Judy Garland and Montgomery Cliff, each of whom was nominated in their supporting categories). Directed by Stanley Kramer, it is one of my all-time favorite films. RIP Maximilian Schell.

February 01, 2014

Song of the Day #1153

Song of the Day: The Hawaiians ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, opens the 1970 film I saw (a sequel of sorts to "Hawaii," covering the later chapters of James Michener's book) at the Somer Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, where its star Charlton Heston made an appearance to promote the film. I was awestruck; I could not believe the redness of his hair or all the freckles. Just the previous year, I'd seen "Ben-Hur" for the first time, at the Palace Theatre, and here he was in Brooklyn: Judah Ben-Hur, Michelangelo, Moses in the flesh. Anyway, today begins my annual film music tribute, now beginning its ninth consecutive year, leading up to the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

November 13, 2013

Song of the Day #1144

Song of the Day: Minor Swing, music composed by Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, was performed memorably by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, featuring Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli [YouTube link]. But there are also wonderful versions by David Grisman and Stephane Grappelli (also featuring monster bassist Eddie Gomez) [MySpace link] and the version adapted by Rachel Portman [YouTube link] as one of the standout themes from the Oscar-nominated score for the wonderful 2000 cinema morality tale, "Chocolat," which starred Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Today is a standout day for chocolate, or, at the very least, one of the classic chocolate-coated cookies: Mallomars are officially 100 years old today! Happy birthday to one of my favorite seasonal cookies.

October 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1142

Song of the Day: You'll Never Walk Alone, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is one of the standout songs from the great 1945 Broadway musical, "Carousel." It has been performed by everyone from Christine Johnson (in the original Broadway musical), Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Shirley Jones and Claramae Turner in the 1956 film version (and finale) to Tom Jones, Barbra Streisand, and Jerry Lewis, who sang this song religiously at the conclusion of every Labor Day telethon he hosted from 1964 to 2010 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (all YouTube links). (Thanks to Michelle Kamhi and Louis Torres, my friends, who sent me the Tom Jones link.) There are few songs that sum up my own feelings of appreciation to those members of the FDNY who saved our apartment and our lives, as they battled a fire in my room, which, if it had had one more minute to breathe, could have consumed the rest of our home. My deepest thanks as well to all those who have offered their support as we recover from that fire, which occurred a week ago today. I had just received copies of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and it was my honor to inscribe the very first shrink-wrapped copy "To the company" of the FDNY, our heroes, "with love and admiration always . . ." for their bravery and courage. Though we have lost much, we count our blessings, which are more; we are thankful that we are alive to contemplate both losses and blessings. Part of the reason that a song such as this remains legendary is, of course, due to its lyrics. As David Hinckley wrote in his review of "Oscar Hammerstein II: Out of My Dreams" (a PBS biography): "You gotta have some powerful cards to even get into the discussion of the 20th century's great lyricists, and it's a tribute to Oscar Hammerstein II that no one even needs to look at his ID. Just think 'Oklahoma!', 'South Pacific', 'The Sound of Music' and 'The King and I'---you know, shows like that. He could be prickly to work with, but the results were worth whatever it cost, and this show wisely sticks to what mattered most, the songs that will be sung as long as humans have working lips" (see here; but this statement appeared in the Sunday New York Daily News "New York Vue" section for the week starting 4 March 2012).

September 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1141

Song of the Day: All in the Family ("Those Were The Days") [YouTube link], music and lyrics by Charles Strouse, is recognized as one of the Top Fifty Television Themes of All Time. Its iconic status in the history of TV themes is only eclipsed by the iconic status of this remarkably daring show, which simultaneously made us collapse with laughter and confront the social prejudices that are as relevant today as they were when Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin introduced this show on the CBS Television Network. Part of what made the show work was the real chemistry between its two prime players; no less than Lucy and Ricky, Alice and Ralph, Edith and Archie have become part of the culture of television excellence. And this year, it is especially poignant to end our mini-tribute to TV themes with the song that introduced the world to Lear's comedy, and to the brilliance of Emmy-winning actress, Jean Stapleton, who passed away on 31 May 2013. Tonight, when they do that Emmy Awards "In Memoriam" tribute section to people who have passed away, expect an ovation for this wonderful actress. And take a listen to that opening theme once more. So comes the end of our mini-tribute to television music.

September 21, 2013

Song of the Day #1140

Song of the Day: The Meow Mix Theme, music by Thomas G. McFaul, lyrics by Ron Travisano, was a hit for Ralston-Purina cat food, and it has undergone a few transformations. How could a tribute to TV (and earlier radio) music not bow its head to the creativity that has been unleashed within the advertising community? This one, from the 1970s initially, is part of "The Jingle Hall of Fame." Check out a few variations on the theme: here, here, a 1920s spoof, the Cee Lo Meow Mix Remix and opera singer Richard Troxell's take on Jimmy Fallon.

September 19, 2013

Song of the Day #1138

Song of the Day: Monsanto Legrand Jazz Interlude [mp3 link] is a composition (whose name I just made up) by the incomparable Michel Legrand, and the only time I have ever heard it is on a television show broadcast on our local Channel 5 (now a Fox affiliate) back in 1972ish, as part of the occasional series, "Monsanto Presents." The cassette tape that I made of that special night of music was done by placing a primitive microphone right up to the television set and hitting the record button. I have never been able to find this track anywhere, I have never been able to track down the show in searches popular and obscure, but if there were ever a great example of the artistic heights to which television can take us, it is this burning jazz track that features the greatest musicians "that love can buy," as Michel puts it. The soloists (in order) are jazz giants: tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, trombonist J. J. Johnson, trumpeter Pete Candoli, pianist Dave Grusin, drummer Shelly Manne, bassist Ray Brown, and on organ, Michel himself. The only proof, apparently, that the show was ever broadcast (except for my cassette recording of it) is this photo featuring, ironically, the all-star line-up of this very track. The show also featured great performances by Lena Horne, Jack Jones, and Michel himself (doing utterly heartbreaking renditions of such songs as "The Summer Knows" (from "Summer of '42") and "What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" Because this recording was made with an old home cassette recorder, without a direct line to an audio line-in, it turns out that the truly best soloist of the bunch can be found only on my recording of it: it is my brother's beautiful (and long-departed) Irish setter, Shannon, who can be heard doing his version of jazz interplay over solos by Manne and Brown. It's the best jazz interplay between dog and man ever recorded. And I am proud to be able to present what appears to be the only existing recording of what has come to be a timeless classic in my own TV memory book.

September 18, 2013

Song of the Day #1137

Song of the Day: The Dick Van Dyke Show ("Theme") [YouTube link], music by Earle Hagen, rare lyrics by Morey Amsterdam, is heard at the beginning of one of the most iconic television shows of its era. Check out YouTube also for this precious moment on "The Rachel Ray Show," with Dick Van Dyke singing the rare lyrics, with Mary Tyler Moore looking on.

September 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1136

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("A New Love"),composed by Peter Rugolo, captures the alienation of the central character, Dr. Richard Kimble, played with subtle brilliance by the great David Janssen, as he searches, week after week, for the One-Armed Man who killed his wife. Dr. Kimble would have been executed had he not been "reprieved by fate" in a train wreck that freed him en route to "the death house" (as told to us with characteristic authority by the narrator William Conrad). Each week viewers saw a man torn between his struggle to survive in pursuit of the justice he deserves, while encountering characters who either need him (and the strength of character he provides) or who test his integrity. Through it all, he proves as unshakeable as Lieutenant Philip Gerard (played with relentless obsessiveness by Barry Morse), whose concern is not the justice of the verdict, but in apprehending the convicted killer and carrying out the sentence the law requires. There are so many magnificent episodes in the four-year series (which I watched over the past year on DVD), including such gems as "The Girl from Little Egypt" (season 1), "Angels Travel on Lonely Roads" (a two-parter from season 1) and "The Breaking of the Habit" (season 4) (all three episodes of which provide us with a terrific star turn by the great Oscar-winning actress Eileen Heckart), and, of course, the final two-parter episodes of the series, "The Judgment," Parts 1 and 2, in which both Kimble---and Gerard---finally confront the One-Armed Man. Those episodes remain among the most-watched finales in the history of television (a 50.7 rating and a 73.2 audience share). This show was a morality tale for sure, with an obvious debt to Hugo's "Les Miserables." Its cast and guest stars were consistently splendid and its first three seasons were as close to classic film noir for television as has ever been seen (it went "in color" in the final fourth season). Fifty years ago today, the show debuted on the ABC television network. I can agree with Stephen King who understood how the series turned everything on its head, questioning the justice of 'the system'. As he put it in the Introduction to The Fugitive Recaptured by Ed Robertson, it was "absolutely the best series done on American television." After seeing the show for the umpteenth time, I confess to "A New Love" for it and its wonderful soundtrack by the great Peter Rugolo. Happy Fiftieth!!!

September 16, 2013

Song of the Day #1135

Song of the Day: Blue Bloods ("Reagan's Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Rob Simonsen (on a show to which composer Mark Snow, of "X-Files" fame also contributes), is a wonderful theme for a show whose passion is not drawn so much from the danger and violence of New York City police life, but from the trials, tribulations, and poignant bonds of love among
the individuals of a family working in various areas of law enforcement. It often moves me emotionally, as does the theme every time I hear it. It stars, among others, a strong Tom Selleck and combustive Donnie Wahlberg.

September 15, 2013

Song of the Day #1134

Song of the Day: The Syncopated Clock, composed by Leroy Anderson, was the theme song (as recorded by Percy Faith) for "The Late Show," a late-night ritual for generations of New York tri-state TV watchers, which presented terrific movies nightly on WCBS television. Listen to the classic theme here in full and the shorter opening used for the TV incarnations.

September 14, 2013

Song of the Day #1133

Song of the Day: One Life to Live ("Brand New Start") [YouTube at that link], composed and recorded by Iza, featuring Snoop Lion, is the new theme song used for an old soap favorite that ended its run on ABC television after 43 years on January 13, 2012. But the show was reborn online and can be accessed at hulu.com and other venues; this is a nice slick theme, recorded by one of the show's biggest fans (who has made a few cameos on the show as well): Snoop Dogg (Lion now).

September 13, 2013

Song of the Day #1132

Song of the Day: The Adventures of Superman ("Superman March")" [YouTube link], composed by Leon Klatzkin, opened one of my favorite childhood superhero shows. Considering that the Superman character is celebrating his 75th anniversary this year, I can think of no better way to kick off my annual mini-tribute to television themes, in honor of the upcoming broadcast of the Emmy Awards. The series ran from 1952 to 1958, and starred George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman.

July 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1130

Song of the Day: Captain America ("Theme Song"), composer mysteriously unknown, was the classic theme song to the 1960s Marvel Super Heroes cartoon. It's a favorite from my childhood, and while there have been lots of takes on Captain America, this one still holds a special place in my heart. Take a look at the animated opening theme [YouTube link], and have a safe and happy Independence Day!

June 09, 2013

Song of the Day #1129

Song of the Day: West Side Story ("A Boy Like That" / "I Have a Love"), music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is heard in one of the greatest musicals ever to grace the Broadway stage, made into a huge hit 1961 film. In the musical, the song is a duet between Anita (played by Chita Rivera) and Maria (played by Carol Lawrence). Check out the original soundtrack recording on YouTube here (set to "West Side Pony"), and the wonderful film adaptation here, in which Anita is played by Rita Moreno (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) and Maria is played by Natalie Wood (the voices heard on the film recording are actually those of Betty Wand and Marni Nixon, respectively. Tonight, enjoy the Tony Awards.

June 08, 2013

Song of the Day #1128

Song of the Day: Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In, lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Galt MacDermot, is a medley of two songs from "Hair," the Broadway hit that was nominated for a 1969 Tony Award for Best Musical. The track was the first medley to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, performed with an R&B-jazzy groove by The 5th Dimension. As a 9-year old Aquarian, I fell in love with the recording the first time I heard it. In 1969, the Score scored a Grammy for what is now called "Best Musical Theater Album." And this particular medley won a 1970 Grammy for Record of the Year. Check out The 5th Dimension recording on YouTube and each song performed separately by the original Broadway cast: The Age of Aquarius and The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In). Tomorrow, the Tony Awards will be broadcast on CBS.

May 07, 2013

Song of the Day #1127

Song of the Day: Jason and the Argonauts ("Skeletons"), composed by Bernard Herrmann, provides the atmospheric musical motif for one of the greatest special effects achievements in the storied history of legend Ray Harryhausen, who passed away today at age 92. Check out this iconic scene from the fun 1963 fantasy film on YouTube.

May 05, 2013

Song of the Day #1126

Song of the Day: Jesus of Nazereth ("Jesus of Nazareth") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the stupendous Maurice Jarre, is a loving overture heard throughout the epic television miniseries, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, probably the best story of Christ I've ever seen in any medium. The film features a sensitive performance by Robert Powell in the title role, and memorable appearances by Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Anthony Quinn, Ernest Borgnine, James Farentino, Anne Bancroft, Christopher Plummer, Rod Steiger, Olivia Hussey, and so many others. A Happy Easter to all of my Eastern Orthodox compadres!

April 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1124

Song of the Day: Return of the Jedi ("Return of the Jedi") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is from the third entry in the "Star Wars" film franchise (officially "Episode VI" of the series). Roger Ebert, who passed away today, famously defended the series on "Nightline" (clip at that link) back in 1983; he and the late Gene Siskel brought us years of entertaining film critique in their "At the Movies."

February 28, 2013

Song of the Day #1120

Song of the Day: Runnin' Wild, music by A. Harrington Gibbs, lyrics by Joe Gray and Leo Wood, is a 1922 tune that epitomizes the Roaring Twenties. It has been recorded by so many artists, including the great Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his masterful jazz violinist partner Stephane Grappelli and their Quintet of the Hot Club of France [YouTube music clip]. And then there's a swinging version with Ella Fitzgerald [YouTube music clip]. But the most memorable cinematic take on this tune remains the one performed by Marilyn Monroe in the uproarious 1959 Billy Wilder comedic romp, "Some Like It Hot." The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one for "Best Costume Design, Black and White," but it got swept aside in the 1959 "Ben-Hur" onslaught. The film starred Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon donning their best drag to join an all-girl band, in an attempt to escape incognito from "Spats" Columbo (played by George Raft) and the Chicago mob, seeking to silence them for having stumbled upon the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. There are so many classic moments to this incredible film including a memorable turn by Joe E. Brown. This film earned its rightful place at the top of AFI's 100 Years, 100 Laughs and is among my all-time favorite comedies. Check out this wonderful "Runnin' Wild" YouTube moment from the film. And so ends our Annual Tribute to Film Music.

February 27, 2013

Song of the Day #1119

Song of the Day: Where Love Has Gone ("Main Title"), words and music by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, is the title track to the 1964 soaper, which starred Susan Hayward, Bette Davis, and Mike Connors (who went on to TV detective fame as "Mannix"). Walter Scharf composed the score, but this Cahn-Van Heusen song is performed over the opening credits by the great Jack Jones [YouTube link].

February 26, 2013

Song of the Day #1118

Song of the Day: 55 Days at Peking ("So Little Time [The Peking Theme]"), lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, music by Dimitri Tiomkin, is heard on the soundtrack to the 1963 historical epic, starring Charlton Heston, David Niven, and Ava Gardner. Tiomkin received Academy Award nominations for both this song and the film's score. The soundtrack features the performance of Andy Williams, who passed away on 25 September 2012 and left us memorable recordings of everything from classic melodic movie themes to classic Christmas perennials. On this date, we also remember those for whom there was "so little time," who died, twenty years ago, in the first attack on the World Trade Center. Check out Andy Williams on YouTube.

February 25, 2013

Song of the Day #1117

Song of the Day: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ("George Smiley") [YouTube link], composed by Alberto Iglesias, is the jazz-influenced main title to the 2011 film starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley. This is a pensive, chill track from the Oscar-nominated Iglesias score. Last night was anything but chill, though; Seth McFarlane had a hilarious debut as Oscar host, and the show featured wonderful tributes to movie music, including a lovely ode to Marvin Hamlisch by Barbra Streisand, a show-stopping performance of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey during a 007 celebration, and a performance by Adele, who took home a gold statuette for the newest Bond theme, "Skyfall." The 2013 Oscars are now history, but Film Music February continues till month's end.

February 24, 2013

Song of the Day #1116

Song of the Day: Skyfall ("Main Title"), words and music by Paul Epworth and Adele Adkins, who performs the song at the opening of this 2012 film, one of the best Bond songs in one of the best Bond films ever. It boasts a fine Oscar-nominated score by Thomas Newman. It has all those sexy, ominous Bond chord changes underlying its melody. And while Daniel Craig is no Sean Connery, he still is Daniel Craig, and, as 007, he faces off with a classic Bond villain in Javier Bardem. And Judi Dench is still wonderful as M and we even have a new Q in Ben Whishaw and a Moneypenny and an Aston Martin. This is a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise, which has its share of Oscar nominations. This song is also nominated in the Best Original Song category. Enjoy the Oscars. And enjoy the song [YouTube link].

February 23, 2013

Song of the Day #1115

Song of the Day: The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, music and lyrics by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, was recorded in 1967 by Georgie Fame [YouTube music link]. The tune is not heard in the 1967 film, "Bonnie and Clyde," which starred Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker and Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, the notorious Depression-era bank robbers. But the song was inspired by the film. The film score was written by Charles Strouse; the movie won Oscars for Estelle Parsons (Best Supporting Actress) and Burnett Guffey (Best Cinematography).

February 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1114

Song of the Day: This is My Affair ("I Hum a Waltz") [MySpace clip at that link], lyrics by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, is introduced in this thoroughly entertaining 1937 susupense film by the amazingly talented Barbara Stanwyck, who co-starred with Robert Taylor. The movie also starred Victor McLaglen, Brian Donlevy, Frank Conroy as President William McKinley and Sidney Blackmer as President Theodore Roosevelt. I have to admit that this is the first, and may be the last, film I've ever seen in which President McKinley figures in an undercover government operation to foil bank robbers. I saw this rare gem (which has been screened with at least five different titles) on TCM not too long ago and was astounded that I hadn't seen it before. I loved it, and also found myself humming this tune for days. Check out the film here; the melody of this charming song is used in the "Main Title" at 00:38 and Stanwyck's turn can be heard at 01:36:44, and the theme rises again at the film's conclusion at 01:38:55.

February 21, 2013

Song of the Day #1113

Song of the Day: Portrait of Jennie, music by J. Russel Robinson, lyrics by Gordon Burdge, is not heard in the film of the same name, but it was a hit for the unmistakable Nat King Cole. The 1948 film is a classic fantasy starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten (who were paired in several other films, including the 1945 classic, "Love Letters," with a screenplay by Ayn Rand). This film also includes memorable turns by Ethel Barrymore and Cecil Kellaway. Check out the Nat King Cole version and a sweet trumpet turn by jazz musician Blue Mitchell, with Junior Cook on tenor sax and Harold Mabern on piano.

February 20, 2013

Song of the Day #1112

Song of the Day: The Pink Panther ("It Had Better Be Tonight"/"Meglio Stasera"), composed by Henry Mancini, is one of my all-time favorite Mancini tunes (along with the original Pink Panther theme too). It is also known as "Meglio Stasera," with Italian lyrics by Franco Migliacci and English lyrics by the one and only Johnny Mercer. It is featured in the original 1963 "Pink Panther" flick, which starred Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, David Niven, Robert Wagner, Claudia Cardinale, and our mischievous Pink cat. Check out the original instrumental theme, the Fran Jeffries version from the film, an Ennio Morricone version with vocalist Miranda Martino, and wonderful vocal versions by Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Buddy Greco, Donna Summer and the swinging Michael Buble [YouTube links]. As far as instrumental versions, here's one great big shout out for the 12-string guitar rendition by the great jazz musician Joe Pass.

February 19, 2013

Song of the Day #1111

Song of the Day: Patton ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, is easily identifiable from those very first reverberating brass tones. It can be heard at the opening of the terrific 1970 film, in which George C. Scott gave an Oscar-winning Best Actor performance as the famous U.S. general, even if he declined to accept the gold statuette. The Oscar-nominated score is one of the best of the genre and this is one of my favorite war films.

February 18, 2013

Song of the Day #1110

Song of the Day: Where the Boys Are ("Dialectic Jazz") [YouTube film clip at that link], composed by the marvelous Pete Rugolo, is featured in the 1960 film. The film includes a score by George E. Stoll (check him out playing a Venuti-like "cross-bow" jazz violin solo along with a few other innovations!) and pop music from Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, with a hit title track sung by Connie Francis, who was the star of the movie. There's even a tune ("Have You Met Miss Fandango?") by Victor Young and Stella Unger. Rugolo composed music that was utterly sublime for one of my favorite television shows of all time, one whose 50th anniversary I will celebrate later this year: "The Fugitive." This music, however, is played to the hilarious hilt by Frank Gorshin's "Dialectic Jazz Band" in the film. (Gorshin was one great Riddler on the campy 60s "Batman" TV show.) With a title such as "Dialectic Jazz," just how on God's good earth could I possibly resist?

February 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1109

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Arrius' Party") [YouTube link], composed by the great Miklos Rozsa, is a sedate but celebratory theme, from my all-time favorite film, the 1959 epic, "Ben-Hur." Each year, on this date, since I inaugurated "My Favorite Songs," and since February has traditionally been that time of year spent in tribute to film music, I have featured a selection from this, the greatest of movie soundtracks. I saw the film again last night, as part of TCM's "31 Days of Oscar," and it remains the greatest "intimate epic" of all time, in my view. Listening to the 5-CD "Complete Soundtrack Collection" released as a part of FSM Golden Age Classics, I will forever be in love with this music. Happy 53rd birthday to me!

February 16, 2013

Song of the Day #1108

Song of the Day: Aliens ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by James Horner, opens "Aliens," the best of the sequels to the iconic 1979 film. This action-packed 1986 film was directed by James Cameron, and starred, once again, Sigourney Weaver as a kick-ass Ripley. Cameron-Horner is as distinctive a collaboration as Hitchcock-Herrmann and Spielberg-Williams. This track is from one of the best scores (and one of the best films) in the sci-fi/horror genre.

February 15, 2013

Song of the Day #1107

Song of the Day: Alien ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is one of those unforgettable science fiction-horror themes that conjures up images of an entire film and the franchise to which it gave birth. "In space, no one can hear you scream," went the advertisement. But screams were aplenty in this 1979 iconic film, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. This is one of my all-time favorite films of the genre, with a creepy score to match.

February 14, 2013

Song of the Day #1106

Song of the Day: I Love You (Je t'aime), lyrics by Harlan Thompson, music by Harry Archer, is the 1923 chestnut from the Broadway musical, "Little Jessie James." It was featured prominently in the great Billy Wilder-directed 1953 World War II POW flick, "Stalag 17" (which boasts a soundtrack by Franz Waxman). You can check out the scene, where the song can be heard for around five minutes, starting at 4:20 at this YouTube clip. At 6:08 begins an unmistakably sweet solo by the legendary jazz violinist Joe Venuti. The guy singing in the scene is Ross Bagdasarian, who, under the name David Seville, created Alvin and the Chipmunks. The song is reprised as the film scene continues here, where "Animal" finally gets to dance with "Betty Grable". "Stalag 17" is one of my all-time favorite war flicks; William Holden received a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor. What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than with these Three Little Words?

February 13, 2013

Song of the Day #1105

Song of the Day: The Bishop's Wife ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Hugo Friedhofer, is a lovely theme to match an even lovelier movie. The 1947 tale, starring Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young, is one of my all-time favorites.

February 12, 2013

Song of the Day #1104

Song of the Day: What's New Pussycat ("Main Title"), words by Hal David, lyrics by Burt Bacharach, was the delightful theme to the 1965 comedy starring Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole, and Woody Allen, in his film debut. The Academy Award title song has been covered by many artists, but my favorite remains the rendition provided by Tom Jones for the soundtrack [YouTube link].

February 11, 2013

Song of the Day #1103

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ("Dragon Flight"), composed by Alexandre Desplat, is one of the most exhilarating musical moments of the fantastic 2011 final film in the Harry Potter film franchise. Check this out on YouTube. Though Desplat's wonderful soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media" in 2012, it lost to "The King's Speech," composed by Alexandre Desplat! Last night's Grammy's had just as many surprises.

February 10, 2013

Song of the Day #1102

Song of the Day: The Enforcer ("Rooftop Chase") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Jerry Fielding, boasts an absolutely sizzling big band arrangement that simultaneously reflects and drives this energized 1976 installment in the "Dirty Harry" film franchise, starring Clint Eastwood. Check out a film montage that features this cue.

February 09, 2013

Song of the Day #1101

Song of the Day: It's You or No One, words and music by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, can be heard in the 1948 movie, "Romance on the High Seas," sung by Doris Day in her first film role. Check out the scene in the film where Doris Day sings the song for Jack Carson. And check out nice versions by Bobby Darin and jazz guitarists Joe Giglio and Carl Barry (my bro!) and jazz bassist David Shaich, live at The West End, NYC.

February 08, 2013

Song of the Day #1100

Song of the Day: War of the Worlds ("The Intersection Scene") [YouTube link], composed by birthday boy John Williams, encapsulates all the sounds of doom from a good sci-fi flick (though the 1953 film version is still my favorite).

February 07, 2013

Song of the Day #1099

Song of the Day: Blues in Hoss' Flat, composed by musician Frank Foster, is one of those infectious perennial Count Basie numbers that does not owe its origins to the movies. But there is music that achieves eternal shelf life just from a cinematic association, as we have seen with "Cinderfella" Jerry Lewis. In this instance, it's "The Errand Boy," with the irrepressible Jerry Lewis once more.

February 06, 2013

Song of the Day #1098

Song of the Day: Hi Lili Hi Lo, music by Bronislau Kaper, lyrics by Helen Deutsch, was first recorded by Dinah Shore in 1952 (YouTube clip at that link), but the song was featured in the 1953 movie "Lili," starring Leslie Caron, who performed a duet with Mel Ferrer in the film [YouTube link]. Kaper, who wrote one of my all-time favorite film songs ("Invitation"), won the Oscar for this film's soundtrack for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture." But by far, my all-time favorite instrumental of this sweet song is that performed by the trailblazing pianist Bill Evans and stupendous bassist Eddie Gomez on their incomparable duet album, "Intuition" [check out that version at this YouTube link]. That album, a Desert Island Disc if ever there were one, also features the duo's equally incomparable version of Kaper's "Invitation" [YouTube clip at that link].

February 05, 2013

Song of the Day #1097

Song of the Day: The Sugarland Express ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link] marked the first of many fruitful collaborations between composer John Williams and director Steven Spielberg. This was Spielberg's first feature film. The main theme for this 1974 film, starring Goldie Hawn, features the superb harmonica work of the stupendous Toots Thielemans. Check out a suite from the soundtrack on YouTube.

February 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1096

Song of the Day: My Week with Marilyn ("Marilyn's Theme"), composed by Alexandre Desplat, is performed brilliantly on solo piano by Lang Lang on the wonderful soundtrack (with music by Desplat and Conrad Pope) to the 2011 film. The melancholy theme is restated on the tracks "Marilyn Alone" and "Remembering Marilyn" (YouTube clips at each link). It has a mournful quality to it, but also one of innocence and depth, all qualities captured by Marilyn Monroe, played well by Michelle Williams. The former Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, gave this film a fine review on his "Mayor at the Movies," so it is only fitting to give that late Mayor a fine review for his colorful years at the helm of his beloved city. Today, he is laid to rest at Trinity Cemetery, having passed away on Friday, February 1, 2013.

February 03, 2013

Song of the Day #1095

Song of the Day: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Frank Skinner, captures both the chills and the laughs of the classic film that drops the immortal comedic duo into the horrors of the Universal monster franchise. Skinner's wonderful score for this 1948 film was given a Halloween tribute by conductor Wlliam Stromberg and the Golden State Pops Orchestra [YouTube link].

February 02, 2013

Song of the Day #1094

Song of the Day: North By Northwest ("The Station"), music by the great Bernard Herrmann, is from my favorite Hitchcock film of all time. This particular cue is on the soundtrack album (listen to it here) for a scene in which Cary Grant tries to elude the authorities and his would-be killers by escaping on the 20th Century Limited at Grand Central Station. That Station opened its doors at midnight on February 2, 1913, and is, today, celebrating its centennial. In this scene from the 1959 cinematic gem, Grant approaches the ticket window at the fabled station, shading his eyes with dark glasses. The ticket clerk, played by Ned Glass, knows he is dealing with a fugitive and asks Grant: "Is there something wrong with your eyes?" "Yes," Grant says, visibly irritated, "they're sensitive to questions." Check out the scene on YouTube, which features our Centennial Station in all its glory.

February 01, 2013

Song of the Day #1093

Song of the Day: Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head, words and music by Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, won the Oscar for Best Original Song from the Oscar-winning Best Original Score for the fun 1969 film, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. At the time, I was pissed that this song beat out one of my favorites of all time ("What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?"). But this was a #1Billboard hit by B. J. Thomas, and it's a great way to start off my annual tribute to my favorite movie music. Check out the track on YouTube.

December 30, 2012

Song of the Day #1090

Song of the Day: A Christmas Carol (aka "Scrooge"; "Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Richard Addinsell, who mixes the sounds of a traditional carol ("Hark! The Herald Angels Sing") with a grim theme of beckoning menace, foreshadowing the fate-altering tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, played in this 1951 film by the utterly superb Alastair Sim (of all the cinematic treatments of this timeless Charles Dickens tale, this one is my favorite). Addinsell wrote one of my all-time favorite popular concertos ("Warsaw Concerto"). And he's in fine form here too. There are one or two neat videos on YouTube that provide an entertaining side-by-side comparison of the various Scrooges portrayed in film over the past century or so. This concludes my mini-tribute to music from Christmas-oriented films, "in keeping with the situation" of this holiday season.

December 29, 2012

Song of the Day #1089

Song of the Day: It's a Wonderful Life ("Main Title") composed by Dmitri Tiomkin, is one of the most recognizable themes of all holiday movies. Though initially released to lukewarm reception, this 1946 Frank Capra film became a classic over the years as it was shown again and again on television especially around the holidays. It is one of my all-time favorite movies with a stupendous cast, led by Jimmy Stewart, whose character learns, through the lightness and darkness of his experiences, that his actions (like the actions of every individual) have ever-widening ripple effects on the people with whom he comes into contact (and even some people he'll never meet). And I love the Tiomkin score. You can watch the movie online on YouTube; check out the opening theme in the first minute or so.

December 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1088

Song of the Day: The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima ("Main Title" / "Miracle of the Sun"), composed by Max Steiner, opens the 1952 film, which tells the story of Lucia dos Santos, who claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917, in Portugal. Check out the film on YouTube, especially the opening minutes, where Steiner's main title is heard, and the "Miracle of the Sun" (starting around 1:35 on...). The legendary composer's score received an Academy Award nomination.

December 27, 2012

Song of the Day #1087

Song of the Day: The Song of Bernadette ("Prelude"), composed by Alfred Newman, opens the reverential 1943 film, starring Jennifer Jones, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Bernadette Soubirous, who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France. The opening theme has hints of Newman's later theme for "The Robe." Check out the film on YouTube, especially the opening minute or so, where this lovely theme is first heard. Newman won the Oscar for Best Original Score for this soundtrack.

December 26, 2012

Song of the Day #1086

Song of the Day: Miracle on 34th Street ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Cyril J. Mockridge, opens the joyous 1947 film of the same name, starring an absolutely magical Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. Gwenn won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and the film won Oscars for Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, as well. Check out a suite from the film on YouTube!

December 25, 2012

Song of the Day #1085

Song of the Day: Rise, Ye Shepherds, music by Franz Waxman, lyrics by Mack David, is a wonderfully melodic carol original to the score for the 1962 film, "Taras Bulba," starring Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis. The entire film is on YouTube here; this rare selection is at 26:17. Merry Christmas to All (on that "Norad Tracks Santa" link, check out, especially, the U.S. Air Force of Liberty's jazzy rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" when Santa hits the Northeast)!

December 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1084

Song of the Day: The Dirty Dozen ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Frank De Vol, is the percussive-heavy military theme to the memorable all-star 1967 film. Today is the last repeating date [12-12-12 12:12] of this century, and the cleanest of the 'dirty dozens' that we will see for a millennium.

October 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1079

Song of the Day: Scattin' the Blues was performed by The Divine One, Sarah Vaughan, on so many of her live concert dates. One version of it can be found in a performance with Bill Mays on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums, live at the 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival [YouTube link]. But my all-time favorite version, by far, made its television debut on the New York-area PBS affiliate, WNET-TV, on this very date in 1974, "In Performance at Wolf Trap" [mp3 link]. When I was 14 years old, I actually recorded this performance right off my television with an old Panasonic portable cassette recorder, but it is preserved in high quality audio by the absolutely indispensable Archival Television Audio, which presents the whole magnificent PBS show from Wolf Trap, starring drummer Buddy Rich and his great band doing a hard-swinging medley from "West Side Story" [check out an alternative take on YouTube, introduced by Frank Sinatra], and Sarah Vaughan, with a great trio featuring a blazing Carl Schroeder on piano (no relation to that Schroeder), a terrific bow-solo by fine bassist Frank DeLaRosa, and the combustive Jimmy Cobb on drums. For me, Sassy's pyrotechnic scatting on this performance is as good as it gets.

October 05, 2012

Song of the Day #1077

Song of the Day: Goldfinger ("Dawn Raid on Fort Knox") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by John Barry, expresses all the urgency of a classic James Bond score, from my all-time favorite 007 film, "Goldfinger." On this date, in 1962, the very first James Bond franchise flick made its debut: "Dr. No". On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Bond phenomenon, long live 007!

September 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1076

Song of the Day: Empire State of Mind features the words and music of Alexander Shuckburgh, Angela Hunte and Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic, Bert Keyes and Sylvia Robinson (a sample from their "Love on a Two-Way Street"), Alicia Keys and Shawn Corey Carter, otherwise known as Jay-Z, both of whom perform on the recording. Tonight, Jay-Z opens up eight concert dates at Brooklyn's new entertainment arena: the Barclays Center, where Jay-Z's basketball team, the newly named Brooklyn Nets, will open their season in October. Professional sports will return to Brooklyn for the first time since Dem Bums left. This is a paean to the city where Jay-Z was born. And any song with a shout out to Sinatra gets Two Thumbs Up in my book, any day. Tonight, Brooklyn gives the Empire State another jewel in its crown. Check out the official video.

September 26, 2012

Song of the Day #1075

Song of the Day: Bad, words and music by Michael Jackson, is the title track to MJ's "Bad" album, which, on this date twenty-five years ago, debuted atop the Billboard 200 album chart. The video, directed by Martin Scorsese, features choreography that is a paean to the great musical, "West Side Story." The 25th aniversary of the album's release (officially, on 31 August 1987) is being commemorated this year by "Bad 25", a special remix 3-CD re-release package, and a Spike Lee-directed documentary, which premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. The original music video was filmed at the Brooklyn subway station at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. And the track includes a hot solo by one of my all-time favorite jazz organ players, Jimmy Smith. Check out the full music video version, the short-form music video, the Kids version, the 12" remix, the David Guetta remix, the Electro Mix by Ballistic, the new Afrojack remix, featuring Pitbull and DJ Buddha, and cover versions by country artist Ray Stevens, "Weird Al" Yankovic (a "Fat" parody), the Chipmunks, and the cast from "Glee".

September 23, 2012

Song of the Day #1074

Song of the Day: Smash ("Let Me Be Your Star"), words and music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, is the central melodic motif of the NBC show, "Smash." I truly enjoyed Season One (its songs and soundtrack too) and look forward to the next season. This song was heard throughout the series, but was performed in a smashing duet in the pilot episode by Megan Hilty (as character Ivy Lynn) and Katharine McPhee (as character Karen Cartwright). Check out the single from the "Smash" cast album and a version performed by Megan Hilty on New Year's Eve with Carson Daly. The show has already received a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Best Choreography (beating another of my favorite shows: "So You Think You Can Dance") and this song is nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Music and Lyrics. Tonight is a night full of stars on the Primetime Emmy Awards.

September 22, 2012

Song of the Day #1073

Song of the Day: Smash ("Touch Me"), words and music by Ryan Tedder and Brent Kutzle (of OneRepublic), Bonnie McKee and Noel Zancanella, graced "The Coup," one of the episodes from NBC's fine musical series, "Smash." This song, sung by "American Idol" alumnus Katharine McPhee, is a really good dance track. Check out the full song, the Jody Den Broeder Radio Edit, Jump Smokers Extended Mix, and the version seen on the show.

September 21, 2012

Song of the Day #1072

Song of the Day: National Geographic ("Fanfare") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the immortal Elmer Bernstein, is one of those themes that is heard a few times before getting eternally embedded in one's brain. Da da da daaaaaaaaaaaaa da... It was once voted by Fast Company Magazine [YouTube clip at that link] as one of the most addictive sounds in all the world. Check out the abbreviated version of memory [YouTube link] that opened every "National Geographic" special of my youth (and I still get the Society's magazine).

September 20, 2012

Song of the Day #1071

Song of the Day: The 4:30 Movie ("Moving Pictures") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Joe Raposo, opened up one of the most memorable New York tri-state area film shows of the 1960s and 1970s, when local networks actually showed movies instead of talk shows during the day. I remember it when it was a 90-minute show on WABC-TV, and it would typically devote a whole week to the airing of classic genres or actors, or classic films, such as "Ben-Hur." The theme music still brings a big smile to my face.

September 19, 2012

Song of the Day #1070

Song of the Day: Chiller Theatre ("Horror Upon Horror") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Wilfred Josephs, was the opening theme music for the Saturday night WPIX-TV classic horror movie show. The theme made the hair of many New York tri-state area kids of the 1960s stand on end (including this one). The show was hosted early on by the great Zacherley before switching to the film montage of memory, with clips from such films as "Plan 9 from Outer Space," "The Cyclops," and "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman." There were other memorable "Chiller Theatre" openings, but this one was the real ... chiller.

September 18, 2012

Song of the Day #1069

Song of the Day: The World at War ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Carl Davis, opened every episode of one of my favorite TV documentary film series. The series was narrated by the great Laurence Olivier, and this music captures the sadness and struggle of war. In honor of the upcoming Emmy Awards, I begin my mini-tribute to music on television.

July 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1067

Song of the Day: McHale's Navy ("Main Theme"), composed by Axel Stordhal, is featured in the opening credits to the popular television series that ran from 1962 through 1966. The series was actually a spin-off from a one-hour episode of "ALCOA Premiere," entitled "Seven Against the Sea." I watched the hilarious series regularly in my youth. It served as my first exposure to Ernest Borgnine, who passed away at the age of 95 on 8 July 2012, a few days after the passing of another TV icon, Andy Griffith. Borgnine was one of the greatest character actors of his generation, an Oscar-winner for his role in "Marty, and a recognizable presence in such films as "From Here to Eternity," "Demetrius and the Gladiators," "Willard," "The Poseidon Adventure," and 11'09"1 September 11. Check out the opening credits to the series and tip your hat to one of the greats.

July 04, 2012

Song of the Day #1066

Song of the Day: The Andy Griffith Show ("The Fishin' Hole") features the music of Earle Hagen (who whistled the theme in the opening credits) and Herbert W. Spencer and the lyrics of Everett Sloane. Just as "The Andy Griffith Show" was a spin-off of an episode of "The Danny Thomas Show," so too did it give birth to spin-offs, including "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," "Mayberry, R.F.D.," and the TV-reunion movie, "Return to Mayberry." Andy Griffith exuded an effortless warmth in his TV performances, from his self-titled show to "Matlock." And he had terrific acting chops (check out his remarkably jarring performance in "A Face in the Crowd"). He passed away yesterday at the age of 86. This theme and the famous TV show for which it was written have become part of Americana, something all the more noteworthy on this Day of Independence. Check out the main theme on YouTube and Andy himself singing it.

June 30, 2012

Song of the Day #1065

Song of the Day: New York City Blues, words and music by Quincy Jones and Peggy Lee, first appeared on Lee's album, "Blues Cross Country." The song, with Jones' swinging arrangement, can also be found on the TV soundtrack to the short-lived series, "Pan Am." Today, one of the great NYC landmarks is celebrating its 85th birthday with 25-cent rides (though it actually opened on June 26, 1927): the rickety wooden Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island that I will never set foot on. Definitely not on my bucket list. Check out Peggy Lee's fabulous track on YouTube. Happy birthday to this Grand Roller Coaster!

June 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1061

Song of the Day: Everything's Coming Up Roses, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is from the Broadway musical, "Gypsy: A Musical Fable," based on the memoirs of American burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee. The 1959 musical featured the choreography of Jerome Robbins, and was nominated for 7 Tony Awards, winning none (the year of this tie!). But the Tony-nominated powerhouse, Ethel Merman, starred as Mama Rose, Gypsy's mom; she sings this song famously at the close of Act I. The role was played big by Rosalind Russell in the fine 1962 movie version, Angela Lansbury in a 1974 Broadway revival, Tyne Daly in a 1989 Broadway revival, Bernadette Peters in a 2003 Broadway revival, and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film for Bette Midler in the 1993 TV version. I saw the 2008 revival with an absolutely stupendous Patti LuPone as Rose; she won the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for the role. Tonight is the Tony Awards, for which everything will be coming up roses, at least for the winners! Check out versions by Ethel, Rosalind, Angela, Tyne, Bernadette, Bette, and Patti, and enjoy the show!

June 03, 2012

Song of the Day #1060

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is the title track from the 1959 Broadway musical and the 1965 Oscar-winning Best Picture. Ranked as #10 in the AFI Top 100 Songs in American Cinema, this memorable theme was performed by Mary Martin in the first Broadway production, Rebecca Luker in the Broadway revival, and Julie Andrews in the film version [YouTube links]. Check out Mary Martin's acceptance speech, upon winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. I wasn't around when the Broadway production debuted, but I did see the wonderful 1998 Broadway revival (and a terrific off-Broadway production too). And the film remains one of my all-time favorite musicals (featuring at least two other favorite songs). Amazingly, the original production is the only musical to have ever won in a tie (with "Fiorello!") for the "Best Musical" Tony category.

June 02, 2012

Song of the Day #1059

Song of the Day: Whatever Lola Wants, music by Richard Adler, lyrics by Jerry Ross, is from the 1955 Tony Award-winning "Best Musical" on Broadway: "Damn Yankees." Performed by Gwen Verdon in the musical, with the choreography of Bob Fosse, the song is the ultimate seduction by the Devil's assistant, and a musical highlight. In tribute to that other New York baseball team, the New York Mets, Three Cheers to Johan Santana, for throwing, last night, the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise, in its 50th anniversary year! Hard to believe that for a team that has had 13 pitchers who have thrown no-hitters . . . once they left the team (including such All-Stars as Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and David Cone), it took 8,020 games into the history of the franchise to finally get one No-No all for themselves! And this is coming from a Damn Yankees fan! Bravo!!! The Mets finally Got What they Wanted! Just like Lola! Check out Gwen Verdon from the 1958 film version and two classic jazz-infused versions: Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

June 01, 2012

Song of the Day #1058

Song of the Day: I'm the Greatest Star, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, is a highlight from the classic 1964 Broadway musical, "Funny Girl," which starred a young Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice. Though nominated for eight Tony Awards, the musical won none, facing a tough competitor in "Hello, Dolly!" Streisand would win an Oscar for the role in the 1968 film version. Check out the Broadway musical version, the film version, and Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel in a "Glee" cast version [YouTube links]. Today begins our tribute to songs from Broadway, in anticipation of the Tony Awards, on Sunday, June 10th.

May 24, 2012

Song of the Day #1054

Song of the Day: MacArthur Park, composed by Jimmy Webb, has been performed by many artists through the years, including one by an actor who first took it, in 1968, to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart: Richard Harris (whose endearing performance as Albus Dumbledore in the first two "Harry Potter" films is captured in that tribute clip). Check out these other renditions: Waylon Jennings; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Stan Kenton; Woody Herman; Maynard Ferguson (my favorite jazz instrumental version); "Weird Al" Yankovic (spoofed as "Jurassic Park"); and Carrie Underwood on "American Idol" in 2005 (see 4:03-4:36), who famously quipped that she hadn't the faintest idea what the lyrics were all about! [YouTube links]. And then there's the seminal dance version by Donna Summer, recorded initially as part of a nearly 18-minute disco epic: "MacArthur Park Suite" [YouTube link] and released in 1978 as a stand-alone #1 Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Dance Club Play single [YouTube link]. I used to chuckle when she let out that Snoopy-like cry, which kicked off the thumping disco beat (at 01:49 here), but her version will always rock my dance floor.

May 23, 2012

Song of the Day #1053

Song of the Day: On the Radio, music by Giorgio Moroder, lyrics by Donna Summer, was recorded in 1979 by the singer for the soundtrack to the film, "Foxes." It is also featured in two versions on the singer's third consecutive #1 double-album, "On the Radio: Greatest Hits, Volumes I & II" (1979). Check out the single version, the longer "Greatest Hits" version, the extended 12" version, and a really nice compilation of the theme as it is heard throughout the 1980 film.

May 04, 2012

Song of the Day #1046

Song of the Day: Cute, composed by Neil Hefti, is one of those familiar tracks that has been heard everywhere, thanks to the famous chart Hefti wrote for the Count Basie Orchestra, featuring the fabulous fills of drummer Sonny Payne, who was born on this date in 1926. The most memorable cinematic treatment of this tune, where one can see Music as Comedy and Comedy as Music, can be found in "Cinderfella"; watch how Jerry Lewis Does the Dishes.

April 18, 2012

Song of the Day #1043

Song of the Day: Forget Me Nots, words and music by Terri McFaddin, bassist Freddy Washington, and singer and pianist Patrice Rushen, received a Grammy nomination for "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance." This pop, R&B and dance hit from Rushen's album, "Straight from the Heart," includes a nice sax solo by Gerald Albright. The song has been covered and sampled by several artists (most famously, Will Smith for "Men in Black" [YouTube link]), but Patrice's version is tops for pure finger-poppin' pleasure. Check out her music video, the album version, the 12" dance mix, and a really jazzy live 2009 performance with guitarist Lee Ritenour at North Sea Jazz [YouTube links]. On a day when we lost "America's oldest teenager," at 82 years of age, we pause to celebrate the life of the irreplaceable Dick Clark, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who helped us embrace the promise of every new year with his New Year's Rockin' Eve specials, and who gave us countless productions and television shows, including the trailblazing "American Bandstand," on which Patrice Rushen performed this song (Season 25, Episode 29, airdate: 29 May 1982). We forget you not ... ever!

April 17, 2012

Song of the Day #1042

Song of the Day: Twilight Zone / Twilight Tone features the music of Bernard Herrmann (whose immortal "Twilight Zone" theme is used to great effect) and the words and additional music of Jay Graydon and Alan Paul, a member of The Manhattan Transfer, which scored a disco hit for this jazz-influenced vocal group. The song appears on their album, "Extensions," which includes the jazz-vocalese gem, "Birdland." Check out the original promo 12" mix and the Disconet Mix [YouTube links].

April 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1040

Song of the Day: Raise the Titanic ("Suite") [YouTube clip at that link; Nic Raine, conductor], composed by the great John Barry for the 1980 film, "Raise the Titanic," gives us a kaleidoscope of the majestic, the poignant, and the reverent. On this date, at 2:20 a.m. UTC-3 ship's time, the Titanic sunk, having struck an iceberg, en route to New York harbor. Its survivors, aboard the Carpathia, would arrive at that harbor by 18 April 1912, greeted by tens of thousands of New Yorkers (check out an interesting 1929 flick: Titanic, Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube). They may never "Raise the Titanic," but this act of "raising," of "resurrecting," is appropriately noted on a day that Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter with the phrase "Christos Anesti" ("Christ is Risen"). We raise the spirit by keeping the memory of Titanic, resurrecting its history and meaning, even in song. And so ends our 6-day tribute on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its sinking.

April 14, 2012

Song of the Day #1039

Song of the Day: Titanic: A New Musical ("In Every Age"), words and music by Maury Yeston, opened on Broadway in 1997 and went on to receive five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Check out the Broadway cast album version [YouTube link]. My favorite version of this song, however, is a jazz interpretation by guitarist Frank DiBussolo. It can be found on his really nice 1998 album, "Titanic: A New Musical" [the amazon.com link provides a small sample of the piece]. So many other Titanic music projects are available and worthy of attention: "Disasters! The Disaster Movie Music Album" and "Titanic: The Ultimate Collection," both of which offer selections from several Titanic-inspired films; the lovely Alberto Iglesias soundtrack to "La Camarera del Titanic"; and a stupendous 4-disc set, "Titanic: Collector's Anniversary Edition," featuring James Horner's magnificent Oscar-winning score to the Cameron-directed film, which includes remastered versions of the two previous "Titanic" soundtrack albums, and 2 extra discs of music from the period (not to mention great liner notes and Titanic-White Star replica luggage tickets). Tonight, ABC presents the first part of a new miniseries, "Titanic," written by Julian Fellowes, co-creator of "Downton Abbey." Another 12-part BBC miniseries is forthcoming: "Titanic: Blood and Steel." It was on this date, at 11:40 pm, UTC-3 ship's time, that Titanic struck an iceberg. In a little more than 2 hours, it would sink.

April 13, 2012

Song of the Day #1038

Song of the Day: The Unsinkable Molly Brown ("I Ain't Down Yet"), words and music by Meredith Wilson, is featured in the 1960 Broadway musical, in which the lead character was played by Tammy Grimes, who won the 1961 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress. The 1964 cinematic adaptation garnered six Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Debbie Reynolds who became the feisty Molly Brown on screen. Born Margaret, though her friends called her Maggie, she is known to history as Molly. A traveler on the Titanic, she was the quintessential strong woman and suffragist who, in Lifeboat No. 6, exhorted the crew to return to the waters of death, in search of survivors. On screen, so many have portrayed her, including: the independent, playful, and feisty Kathy Bates in the 1997 Cameron blockbuster; the ever-effervescent Thelma Ritter, who is named "Maude Young" but is clearly Molly, in the 1953 film, "Titanic"; and Cloris Leachman played her twice: as Maggie Brown in a 1950s dramatization for "Television Time" [YouTube link to that episode], and in the television movie, "S.O.S. Titanic". Molly Brown survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic. No wonder the character sings this song as a celebration of The Unsinkable. No better day to note it than on Friday the 13th, which happens to be both Good Friday for the Eastern Orthodox and Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Check out Tammy Grimes in the Broadway cast version [amazon.com sample] and, my favorite, Debbie Reynolds from the film version and (watch her inspire Titanic lifeboat survivors) [YouTube links]. You'll be singing: "Told Ya So! Told Ya So! Told Ya, Told Ya, Told Ya So!"

April 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1087

Song of the Day: Titanic ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Lennie Niehaus, opens the 1996 4-hour CBS miniseries, starring Peter Gallagher, George C. Scott, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Eva Marie Saint. The theme manages to capture the grandiosity of the ship, while allowing us to reflect upon the ominous events yet to come.

April 11, 2012

Song of the Day #1086

Song of the Day: Titanic ("Main Title") [YouTube link to the film trailer], composed by Sol Kaplan (under the musical direction of Lionel Newman), is from the 1953 American film drama starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. The film won a single Oscar, for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. On April 11, 1912, one hundred years ago today, Titanic stopped in Queenstown, Ireland before embarking on its fateful voyage to America. This fine movie begins on YouTube here, and the "Main Title" is contained therein.

April 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1085

Song of the Day: A Night to Remember ("Main Title") [not that one], composed by William Alwyn, opens the very fine 1958 British film adaptation of Walter Lord's famous book of the same name (some of the film is available on YouTube). This particular cinematic take on one of the most definitive 20th century catastrophes stars Kenneth More, who, for me, is best remembered for his role as Young Jolyon in the great BBC series, "The Forsyte Saga" (1967). One hundred years ago on this date, Titanic began its journey, leaving Southampton in England and stopping in Cherbourg Harbor, France. Today begins our own six-day tribute to the fateful maiden voyage of Titanic. Among the multitude of provocative books on the subject is one written by my colleague and very dear friend, Stephen Cox, entitled The Titanic Story: Hard Choices, Dangerous Decisions (1999). So much music and so many films have also been inspired by this tragic event, starting with a 1912 newsreel [YouTube link], featuring its own poignant piano accompaniment. Cinematic presentations by filmmakers the world over have been presented throughout this past century: even the Nazis produced a movie, portraying the disaster as the inexorable result of sinister British capitalist greed (that 1943 German "Titanic" is actually pretty good as a film; some of its frames may have been used, without credit, in the 1958 British film highlighted here). As film scores go, I will never forget the great James Horner score to my favorite "Titanic" film of all time, directed by James Cameron. The 11-Oscar Award-winning "Best Picture" has now been re-released to theaters in 3D to mark the centennial occasion. Today, however, we turn to the majestic opening of "A Night to Remember" on YouTube, as we begin our own voyage into history, film, and music.

April 03, 2012

Song of the Day #1078

Song of the Day: Days Go By, words and music by Victoria Horn and Steve Smith, is the Dirty Vegas recording that received the 2002 Grammy Award for "Best Dance Recording." The infectious track is best known for its use in a famous Mitsubishi commercial; also check out this hot mix, the Paul Oakenfold remix, the Mimosa remix, and the Jimmy Fallon MTV commercial parody [YouTube links].

April 02, 2012

Song of the Day #1077

Song of the Day: Unison, words and music by Andy Goldmark and Bruce Roberts, was first recorded in 1983 by Junior for the Tom Cruise film, "All the Right Moves." Laura Branigan and Lory Bianco also recorded versions before the song became the title track from the English-language debut album of Celine Dion. That album was released on this date in 1990. It is one of my favorite uptempo Celine Dion songs. Check out the various renditions: Junior [YouTube link], Laura Branigan [amazon.com sample], Lory Bianco, and the Celine album track, the Celine dance version (my favorite), and the Kevin Unger remix, featuring rapper Frankie Fudge [YouTube links].

March 25, 2012

Song of the Day #1069

Song of the Day: I Didn't Mean to Turn You On, words and music by Jimmy Jam (James Samuel Harris III) and Terry Lewis, was a 1984 Top Ten R&B hit by Cherrelle. The music video features an homage to the 1933 blockbuster, "King Kong" [YouTube link]. A year later, Robert Palmer recorded his own version (following a trajectory similar to "You Are in My System"). The track appears on his album, "Riptide," and in a video featuring The Girls, prominent in other Palmer solo hit videos. Check out the Palmer music video and the extended video, as well as a live "American Music Awards" performance [YouTube links]. Mariah Carey also did a version of the song for the film "Glitter" that was faithful to the original Cherrelle arrangement. The soundtrack was released on September 11, 2001 (not a good sign, apparently). Check out this "Glitter" film excerpt and the soundtrack version [YouTube links]. But I still love the original full-length version that appears on Cherrelle's self-titled album [YouTube link].

March 16, 2012

Song of the Day #1060

Song of the Day: The Typewriter, composed by Leroy Anderson, is one of those twentieth-century orchestral pieces that brings a smile to one's face. Today, it's posted in honor of the birthday of a comedic genius, Jerry Lewis, who was born on this date in 1926. If part of comedy is timing, then here is Exhibit A on the wonder of exquisite timing: Jerry Lewis performing this piece, from the 1963 film "Who's Minding the Store?" and also on the Colgate Comedy Hour. Happy Birthday to one of the greats!

March 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1059

Song of the Day: Che La Luna Mezzo Mare is an Italian folksong composed, it is said, by Paolo Citorello, but infinite variations of the song have been heard throughout the years. Growing up in the Sciabarra household, we heard the bouncy Louis Prima-Keely Smith version [YouTube link], with its funny double entendres sung in both Italian and English. Other memorable versions have been performed by Rudy Vallee, Lou Monte and Dean Martin [YouTube links]. But the most memorable cinematic take is at the wedding of the daughter of Don Vito Corleone (played by Oscar-winner, Marlon Brando) in the original Mafia Family Values Movie: "The Godfather," the Oscar-winning Best Picture, my all-time favorite gangster film, an epic crime drama directed brilliantly by Francis Ford Coppola. At the wedding, Mama Corleone (played by Morgana King) is invited to the stage to begin the verses of the classic song; an old man, not unlike many I've seen at countless Italian weddings that I've attended since childhood, gets up, and completes the verses with the kind of hilariously perverse body language that the song inspires. How appropriate to note this song today, for 40 years ago, on this date, on the Ides of March in 1972, "The Godfather" had its U.S. debut. Yes, it has a haunting Nino Rota soundtrack. But it also has a "Che La Luna" wedding scene [YouTube link].

February 29, 2012

Song of the Day #1044

Song of the Day: As Time Goes By was written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931 for the Broadway musical, "Everybody's Welcome." But it is eternally enshrined in the minds of cinema fans worldwide for its appearance in the 1942 film, "Casablanca," starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Dooley Wilson, "Sam" in the movie, plays it, and plays it again (even if "Play it Again, Sam" is never actually uttered by Bogie). Speaking of "time," this is officially Leap Year Day, when, every four years, we add a day to our calendar. And it's also the end of Film Music February, our month-long tribute to film music. Take a look at two Dooley Wilson YouTube moments here and here. And check out instrumental versions by jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and classical guitarist John Williams. Here's lookin' at you, kid.

February 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1043

Song of the Day: Planet of the Apes ("Main Title" / Various) [excellent YouTube soundtrack montage at that link] features the futuristic sounds of Jerry Goldsmith, who provides the perfect musical complement to one of the most remarkable sci-fi films, with one of the most chilling, twisted endings, in cinema history.  I loved this movie when I first saw it in 1968, and it has been a favorite ever since. And when I was 13, I remember going to the Sommer Highway Theater in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and seeing all five "ape" movies in a 1973 marathon upon the release of the fifth and final film in the original series: Planet of the..., Beneath the Planet of the..., Escape from the Planet of the..., Conquest of the Planet of the..., and Battle for the Planet of the... Apes). On that day, the Planet of the Apes franchise gave us 5 films for the price of 1. "Young man, in my day, we saw those films in a theater that was not a multiplex." God, do I sound old. One more thing about Jerry Goldsmith: he studied with Miklos Rozsa at USC. In his teens, Goldsmith recollects that it was "Spellbound" in 1945 that put him upon his life's path. That film featured two things with which he fell in love: Rozsa's Oscar-winning score and the great actress Ingrid Bergman. From that point on, he sought a career in film score composition and sought to marry Ingrid. As he put it in later years: 'One out of two wasn't bad.'

February 27, 2012

Song of the Day #1042

Song of the Day: I Fall in Love Too Easily, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, is from the 1945 film, "Anchors Away," where it was introduced by Frank Sinatra [YouTube link]. The musical director Georgie Stoll received an Oscar for the Scoring of a Musical Picture, and this song received an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Song" (losing out to Rodgers and Hammerstein's gem, "It Might As Well Be Spring"). Check out versions by Keith Jarrett and Anita O'Day. One of my favorite versions of this standard can be found on "Cloud 7" [YouTube clip at that link], an early Tony Bennett album, featuring the trailblazing jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne, who was born on this date in 1923, and served as Bennett's musical director and accompanist from 1954-1957. The trumpet solo here is by Charles Panely. (And three cheers to host Billy Crystal for some truly hilarious moments at the 84th Annual Academy Awards last night; to Meryl Streep for finally getting Oscar #3, after nearly 30 magnificent acting years since Oscar #2; and to Zach Galifianakis for the Best Zinger of the Night in presenting the Oscar for "Best Original Song," today's highlighted category.)

February 26, 2012

Song of the Day #1041

Song of the Day: Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (with CinemaScope Extension) [YouTube clip at that link] is one of the most recognizable, robust, and regal fanfares in all of cinema and it was written by the immortal Alfred Newman. There's no better way to provide a drum roll for tonight's 84th Academy Awards, hosted by the guy who has been my favorite host throughout the years: Billy Crystal. (Our Movie Music Month continues until Leap Year Day.)

February 25, 2012

Song of the Day #1040

Song of the Day: The War of the Worlds ("Main Title" / Various) [excellent YouTube soundtrack montage at that link] features a dramatic score by Leith Stevens. The movie is without a doubt my all-time favorite aliens-invading-earth film from the 1950s. This George Pal production, which was released in February 1953, was directed by Byron Haskin, and starred Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, who provided cameos as Tom Cruise's in-laws in the Steven Spielberg version of the H. G. Wells story. Dramatizations of this classic story started with the phenomenal 1938 "Mercury Theatre on the Air" radio broadcast of Orson Welles and have continued up till the present day. Nominated for three Academy Awards, the sci-fi classic won a well-deserved Oscar for special visual effects.

February 24, 2012

Song of the Day #1039

Song of the Day: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms ("Monster Does Manhattan") [sample clip at that link], composed by David Buttolph for the 1953 film, is one of the defining and most influential film soundtracks for the whole sub-genre of "Monster Movies," which feature giant monsters stomping on contemporary cities (everything from King-sized giant apes and Atomic Age-reawakened dinosaurs to mutant ants and tarantulas). This particular film's plot has a fabulous London counterpart, released in 1959: "The Giant Behemoth," with special effects by Willis O'Brien, who was a mentor to Ray Harryhausen, the special effects wizard for Beast. After the Beast wreaks havoc in Manhattan, it decides to visit Brooklyn. Fuhgeddaboudit! It comes to a violent end at the Cyclone roller coaster, in Coney Island Amusement Park. Still, a little too close for comfort, if you ask this Brooklynite.

February 23, 2012

Song of the Day #1038

Song of the Day: The Wolf Man ("Main Title" / Various) [YouTube clip at that link] features an uncredited soundtrack, which included contributions from Frank Skinner, Hans J. Salter, and Charles Previn (great-uncle of Andre). Skinner has written some of my favorite scores in this genre, which will make their way to this list before too long. The 1941 film stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot, who becomes the Wolf Man, having been bitten by the werewolf, Bela. The actor playing that role was actually named Bela: Bela Lugosi! Benicio del Toro took on the Talbot role in the 2010 remake. For an extra thrill, check out Moscow Symphony Orchestra versions of the 1941 Main Title [YouTube] and The Kill [mp3].

February 22, 2012

Song of the Day #1037

Song of the Day: The Bride of Frankenstein ("Main Title") is featured in the definitive score composed by Franz Waxman. This 1935 movie is the first and the best of the sequels to "Frankenstein." Directed by James Whale, it is one of the finest films in the Universal Monster Movie catalogue. Listen to the classic opening theme here [mp3 link].

February 21, 2012

Song of the Day #1036

Song of the Day: Frankenstein ("Main Title" / Various) [YouTube clip at that link], music by Giuseppe Becce and Bernhard Kaun, is from the soundtrack to the James Whale-directed 1931 classic Universal monster movie, starring Boris Karloff as the Monster. Today, I begin a mini-tribute within a tribute: a brief foray into my favorite "Monster Movie" soundtracks. I grew up on "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and was a regular Saturday night fan of "Chiller Theatre" and Zacherley on WPIX-TV in New York. So it's only natural to start off with one of the grand-daddies in the unnatural Universal catalogue!

February 20, 2012

Song of the Day #1035

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Main Title" / "Love Theme") features the music of John Keating and the lyrics of Richard Quine, who was the director of the 1967 film, "Hotel." The Keating soundtrack earned a Grammy Original Score nomination; on the album, the great jazz singer, Carmen McRae (YouTube clip at that link), who stars in the film, sings the love theme. The instrumental version can be heard in its entirety here; also, check out one of my all-time favorite renditions by Nancy Wilson (MySpace full-length clip at that link); it's from the 1968 album "Welcome to My Love," which was also one of my Mom's favorite albums; today, she would have been 93.

February 19, 2012

Song of the Day #1034

Song of the Day: The Children of Sanchez ("Overture"), words, music, film score written and performed by Chuck Mangione, comes from the Latin- and jazz-infused score that has a musical integrity quite apart from the fact that it's from a 1979 film, starring Anthony Quinn, that I've still yet to see! Mangione won a much-deserved Grammy Award for this album for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Listen to the 14+ minute overture on YouTube.

February 18, 2012

Song of the Day #1033

Song of the Day: Mommie Dearest ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the perennially melodious Henry Mancini, is one of the great unheralded themes from his remarkable corpus of cinematic scores. It evokes gentility and pain, a feeling of promise, and of the ominous. And the 1981 film, entertaining as ever, features one of those eminently quotable lines in film history, uttered by Faye Dunaway, playing Joan Crawford, as she speaks before the Pepsi Cola Company Board of Trustees, which tries to dispense with her upon the death of her husband, Albert Steele, who had been Chairman of the Board: "Don't fuck with me fellahs. This ain't my first time at the rodeo." The Mancini soundtrack remains among this film's hidden gems.

February 17, 2012

Song of the Day #1032

Song of the Day: Ben Hur ("The Burning Desert") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the one and only Miklos Rozsa, is from my all-time favorite film, the 1959 epic known for its colossal naval battles and chariot races, but also for its intimacy and intelligence. It's been a tradition around these parts to feature a selection from this grandest of symphonic cinematic scores every February 17th. This past year, life has sometimes felt like a struggle across a burning desert; just knowing that the sounds of redemption echo on the next horizon, that the cup of human kindness awaits in the hands of my truly blessed family and loyal friends, is enough to inspire the continuing trek across the many burning deserts to come. Happy 52nd Birthday to Me (born on the day that made me "Wednesday's Child, Full of Woe") and Three Cheers to Rozsa!

February 16, 2012

Song of the Day #1031

Song of the Day: The Robe ("Caligula's Arrival") [YouTube clip at that link] is from the stupendous Alfred Newman score to the first CinemaScope film in movie history (the last was "In Like Flint"). I remember when I first wrote 20th Century Fox many years ago: having been used to the flat-screen version shown on TV, I finally had a chance to see the "letterbox" version that was released on DVD and I was appalled at the differences. Whoever answered me from the studio insisted that it was only a difference between a "pan-and-scan" edit shown on TV and the actual CinemaScope released to theaters. No way, I protested! This wasn't a mere difference in the angle of the lens; the acting, the inflections of the words, etc., were completely different! I was vindicated when I found out later that this sprawling Biblical epic, one of my all-time favorites, was actually filmed twice: in Widescreen and in Standard "Flat" Screen versions. As far as I'm concerned, however, the best acted version remains the standard flat-screen one, which has yet to be given a glorious Blu-Ray transfer (only a side-by-side comparison can be found as a "bonus" on the Blu-Ray). In any event, this particular track, "Caligula's Arrival," captures the might of ancient Rome, if not the seeds of insanity, in the not-yet-Emperor Caligula, played with memorable flamboyance and furiosity by Jay Robinson. When I was a kid of 9 or 10 years old, so impressed was I by Robinson's portrayal (the film was played regularly on The 4:30 Movie), that I'd don an emperor's robe (usually a larger-than-life blanket), and recite, word-for-word, the character Caligula's speech at the trial of Tribune Marcellus Gallio (played by an Oscar-nominated Richard Burton). If that wasn't a sure sign of my, uh, inner, uh, Caligula, I don't know what could have been more telling! "Senators, Romans, there exists today in our Empire, and even in Rome itself, a secret party of seditionists, who call themselves Christians..." Don't get me started... I still know that speech by heart. Which is why I knew there were differences between widescreen and flat-screen versions; Robinson's inflections differ considerably in the standard version I grew to love, a version that, unfortunately, can't be found anywhere online. (I have my own copy recorded from cable many years ago, when AMC didn't have commercial interruptions!) The actual theme ("Caligula's Arrival"), highlighted today, is stated again at 01:55:43, when the trial sequence gets under way.

February 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1030

Song of the Day: The Sand Pebbles ("Jake and Shirley"), composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is featured on the evocative soundtrack to this 1966 film, one of my favorite films. Check out the lovely theme with clips of Steve McQueen and Candice Bergen and pianist Mark Northam's version as well. Back in 1969, all of 9 years old, I went to see "Che!" but "The Sand Pebbles" was the first film on a double-feature bill; so deeply affected were we by the Robert Wise-directed epic that we never stayed for the main feature. This theme was later gifted with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse ("And We Were Lovers"); it has been recorded by countless artists, all indexed with full track presentations at this phenomenal page (of particular note on that page: a tender vocal version by Jack Jones and a lovely instrumental treatment by the late, great Bud Shank). And check out The Sand Pebbles Motion Picture Website in all its glory.

February 14, 2012

Song of the Day #1029

Song of the Day: On Green Dolphin Street, lyrics by Ned Washington, music by Bronislaw Kaper, can be heard on the soundtrack to the 1947 film, "Green Dolphin Street." The song has become a jazz standard; check out these classic versions by Miles Davis (in the rare "'58 Miles," with the "Kind of Blue" sextet, featuring pianist Bill Evans and saxophonists Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane), Bill Evans and a live Evans version with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, the Gary Burton Quartet, with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Chuck Israels, and drummer Larry Bunker, Anita O'Day, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Vince Guaraldi, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, and George Benson, live at the Newport Jazz Festival with the Count Basie Orchestra. Any song that celebrates "love" and the "heart" and "nights beyond forgetting," deserves to shine on this day: Happy Valentine's Day!

February 13, 2012

Song of the Day #1028

Song of the Day: In the Heat of the Night, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, music by the multitalented composer, conductor, arranger, and producer Quincy Jones, is featured in the 1967 film, starring Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier ("They call me Mister Tibbs!"). The Quincy Jones soundtrack received a Grammy nomination for "Best Original Score from a Motion Picture or Television Show." It's a great title song, sung by the great Ray Charles (YouTube clip at that link). Check out other notable versions as well: Bill Champlin (who sang it for the TV series) and the very jazzy Nancy Wilson (from her 1968 album, "Welcome to My Love"). The Bergmans, Jones, Champlin, Charles, Wilson, even Poitier! ... all Grammy winners in their lifetimes. Last night's memorable Grammy telecast (even Betty White won a Grammy!), with its moving memorials to Whitney Houston, Etta James, and others, reminds us to celebrate the healing power of music.

February 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1027

Song of the Day: I'm Every Woman, words and music by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, was a huge hit in 1978 for Chaka Khan. A #1 R&B track, the record peaked at #21 on the pop chart. It was reprised by Whitney Houston, who performed it in the 1992 film, "The Bodyguard," in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner. The song went to #4 on the pop chart and was a #1 Dance Club Hit. The soundtrack album won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, sporting Whitney's cover of "I Will Always Love You," which went on to win "Record of the Year," while Whitney herself captured the "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female." Check out Chaka's original version here, a terrific remix from her 1989 album, "Life is a Dance," and, finally, Whitney Houston's remake, in which she gives a shout-out to Chaka as the song fades out. Tonight, tune in and see who the new winners are at the 54th Grammy Awards. And remember multiple-Grammy Award-winning singer, Whitney Houston, who passed away yesterday at the age of 48.

February 11, 2012

Song of the Day #1026

Song of the Day: Airport ("Love Theme") features the last soundtrack composed by Alfred Newman, who passed away less than a month before the film's release (and a month before his 70th St. Patrick's Day birthday in 1970). Nominated for 10 Oscars (only Helen Hayes walked away with a statuette, for "Best Supporting Actress"), the movie is credited as having initiated the 1970s "disaster film" genre, which reached its height, so-to-speak, in 1974, with "The Towering Inferno." The Oscar-nominated Newman score is highlighted by this lush love theme (YouTube link). (This particular take on the love theme is from "As You Remember Them," a Time-Life collection on vinyl that I've always treasured.)

February 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1025

Song of the Day: In Like Flint ("Where the Bad Guys Are Gals"), composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is featured in the whimsical 1967 sequel to "Our Man Flint" (1966). This was the last movie ever made in CinemaScope. This composition (which, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, became "Your Zowie Face"; listen to a sample here) has the kind of infectious melody heard throughout the film that once heard never seems to leave the psyche (and, yes, it has a similarity to another one of my favorites: "Call Me"). Check it out on YouTube here and here (along with a piece on "Spy Vogue") and in a Nelson Riddle arrangement too! And check out "The Musician's Magician" (YouTube link), a mini-"In Like Flint"-tribute to the great composer, who was born on this date in 1929.

February 09, 2012

Song of the Day #1024

Song of the Day: The Towering Inferno ("Something for Susan") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by John Williams, is an encore to our 80th birthday notice. It is a reminder that before he was John Williams, he was "Johnny Williams," a jazz pianist working in clubs around New York City. His early jazz sensibility is still evident in this intimate cue from the blockbuster 1974 Irwin Allen disaster flick. Check out YouTube to see the romantic scene between Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway, caressed by the sweet music of the Maestro.

February 07, 2012

Song of the Day #1022

Song of the Day: Jurassic Park ("Journey to the Island"), composed by the living legend that is John Williams, contains some of the most majestic themes in the corpus of this great composer, who, tomorrow, turns 80 years old. The composer earned Oscar nominations for two of his scores this year; he now surpasses the mighty Alfred Newman for the all-time most music nominations (47 and counting...) in the history of the Academy Awards. This dino-mite 1993 film is one of my all-time favorite "monster movies" centering on the unintended consequences of human action. And it was another in a string of terrific collaborations between Williams and director Steven Spielberg. Check out this YouTube moment.

February 06, 2012

Song of the Day #1021

Song of the Day: The Verdict ("The Bottom") [sample clip at that link], composed by Johnny Mandel, captures perfectly the mind-set of Frank Galvin, a seemingly washed-up attorney, who has one last chance to take on a big case, one last chance for personal redemption. The character is played by the Oscar-nominated Paul Newman, in what was, arguably, his greatest performance as an actor. The acclaimed director Sidney Lumet, who passed away in April 2011, said this of Newman's work in the 1982 film: "The slightest gesture, the slightest look, deep riches pour out." Amen. (Oh, and This Verdict Is In and It's Not 'The Bottom' but the Very Top!: The New York Giants Win the Super Bowl!! Bravo!!!)

February 05, 2012

Song of the Day #1020

Song of the Day: Heaven Can Wait features the Oscar-nominated score of composer Dave Grusin. It's one of my favorite cinema comedies (actually an adaptation of Harry Segall's 1938 play of the same name, and a remake of the 1941 film, "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"). But it's also a movie whose final sequences take place at the Super Bowl. And that's where the New York Giants are today, facing off with their arch football rivals, the New England Patriots, whom Big Blue beat at the 2007 Super Bowl. (Okay, okay, I'll give handsome Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady 1/2 of 1 point, just for admitting to a "man-crush" on New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.) But I say: One Mo' Time! Go Eli Manning! Go Giants! And Go Grusin for capturing so many moods in his kaleidoscopic main theme from this 1978 film (YouTube clip at that link).

February 04, 2012

Song of the Day #1019

Song of the Day: Goldfinger ("Into Miami") [YouTube clip at that link] is the sexy, jazzy second track from the stupendous John Barry score to my absolutely all-time favorite 007 flick, starring the one and only Sean Connery as James Bond.

February 03, 2012

Song of the Day #1018

Song of the Day: It's Just Begun, words and music by Jimmy Castor, Johnny L. Pruitt, and Gerry Thomas, is one of the most famous tracks recorded by The Jimmy Castor Bunch. It is featured during a sizzling breakdance sequence (YouTube link) in the 1983 smash hit film "Flashdance." This entertaining movie sported a robust soundtrack of hit singles. And yet, this track never appeared on the soundtrack album! The track actually predates the movie; it first appeared in 1972 as the title track to the second album released by The Jimmy Castor Bunch. Castor passed away in January 2012. But his music lives on; this song, in particular, has been sampled countless times by hip hop artists. Check out the gloriously funky original on YouTube.

February 02, 2012

Song of the Day #1017

Song of the Day: Horror Hotel (in the U.K., known as "The City of the Dead") features the music of two composers: Douglas Gamley, who wrote the spooky themes, and Kenneth V. Jones, who composed the jazz music heard throughout. This 1960 film stars a superb Christopher Lee and a terrifically terrifying Patricia Jessel, who plays the witch, Elizabeth Selwyn, burned at the stake in Whitewood, Massachusetts on March 3, 1692 (coincident with the Salem Witch Hunts), but still living as Mrs. Newless (a play on Selwyn, spoken backwards), the owner of the Raven's Inn. It's one of my all-time favorite horror movies. Some have compared it to "Psycho," in terms of structure, but the films were released months apart (Hotel actually started shooting in 1959, a month before filming began on "Psycho"), and this Hotel is no derivative. The version released in the U.S. is slightly shorter than the U.K. original; the U.S. edit can be viewed here. The creepy Main Title by Gamley can be heard at 00:01-01:24; some of the best Jones jazz can be heard at 31:21-33:04 (my favorite at 32:49). The first human sacrifice in the movie takes place on Candlemas Eve: at the hour of "13" (the stroke of midnight, when February 1st becomes February 2nd), the bells in the churchyard ring 13 times. At which point, poor Nan Barlow (played by Venetia Stevenson) is ritually slaughtered. That makes today, uh, gulp, "Candlemas"; I say: Happy Groundhog Day (a big shout out to Staten Island Chuck and Punxsutawney Phil)!

February 01, 2012

Song of the Day #1016

Song of the Day: All About Eve ("Main Title") [sample at that link] opens composer Alfred Newman's Oscar-nominated score for the iconic 1950 film, which was nominated for a then-record 14 Academy Awards (tied in 1997 by "Titanic"). The film won a total of 6 Oscars, including Best Picture. It boasts an outstanding cast, led by the incomparable (and Oscar-nominated Best Actress) Bette Davis, who utters that famous line: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night" (#9 on the list of the American Film Institute's all-time movie quotations). And a special nod to Oscar-nominated Supporting Actress Thelma Ritter, who, as Birdie, just can't believe the life story being spun by Eve (Oscar-nominated Supporting Actress Anne Baxter): "Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." (And check out the Live Lux Radio Theater version of the story!) Today begins my Annual Tribute to Cinema Songs, Scores and Other Compositions featured in film, a traditional Film Music February en route to the 84th Academy Awards.

November 03, 2011

Song of the Day #1009

Song of the Day: See The USA in Your Chevrolet, words and music by Leon Corday and Leon Carr, is one of the most memorable commercial jingles, highlighted today on the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet, a classic American car. Check out the equally classic Dinah Shore commercial!

October 18, 2011

Song of the Day #1007

Song of the Day: West Side Story ("Dance at the Gym"), music by the incomparable Leonard Bernstein, can be heard in the score to the Oscar-wnning blockbuster film adaptation of the great Broadway musical. The film was released to theaters 50 years ago today. This particular composition was a highlight from a stupendous New York Philharmonic performance of the grand soundtrack in sync with the grand film, which took place at Avery Fisher Hall last month. What a poetically appropriate tribute, since the movie's opening sequence was filmed on the streets where Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts now stands, and Bernstein himself was the Philharmonic's long-time music director. The film soundtrack, boasting Bernstein's music and the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, spent 54 weeks at #1. Enjoy this YouTube moment of this classic dance sequence, Latin rhythms and instrumentation conjoined to the steamy choreography of the great Jerome Robbins.

September 18, 2011

Song of the Day #1004

Song of the Day: I Am A Paleontologist, words and music by Danny Weinkauf of the Brooklyn-based band, They Might Be Giants, is my nod to current TV commercial fare, which hasn't lost its knack for using catchy tunes. The original full-length track can be found on the band's album, Here Comes Science, but it has gotten its biggest airplay, I suspect, from this TV commercial for Payless Shoesource (clip at that link). The original music video, with its animated dinosaur bones, is a lot of fun. I don't know if Payless is a sponsor of tonight's Primetime Emmy Awards, but they get Thumbs (Halluces?) Up as our annual mini-TV-oriented-music tribute draws to a close.

September 17, 2011

Song of the Day #1003

Song of the Day: ILGWU (Look for the Union Label) (YouTube link), music by Malcolm Dodds, lyrics by Paula Green, gave us the best television commercial song from an American labor union, in my humble opinion, even if it was parodied occasionally. My enjoyment of the song was most likely colored by the fact that my mom worked in the garment industry her whole life; it appeals to the proletarian in all of us.

September 16, 2011

Song of the Day #1002

Song of the Day: Chock Full o'Nuts gave us a classic commercial jingle, one based on "That Heavenly Feeling," by Bernie Wayne and Bruce Silbert. The original lyrics to the jingle boasted: "Better coffee a Rockefeller's money can't buy," but when then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller took offense, the lyrics were changed to: "Better coffee a millionaire's money can't buy" (YouTube link). Today, however, inflation has taken its toll, and the lyrics have been adjusted accordingly: "Better coffee a billionaire's money can't buy" (two contemporary versions at the "jingle" link). The original version was sung by Page Black, wife of Chock Full o'Nuts founder, William Black.

September 15, 2011

Song of the Day #1001

Song of the Day: Nestle's Quik, aside from being one of my favorite childhood powdered ingredients for great (cold or hot) chocolate milk, inspired one of the classic television commercial jingles, featuring ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson, puppet Danny O'Day and Farfel, the utterly adorable hound dog.  As we gear up for this year's 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards, now is a good time to salute some of my favorite TV commercial jingles. This one was big in the 1950s and 1960s: N-E-S-T-L-E-S, with Farfel and this updating too.

August 11, 2011

Melanie, You Can Dance

I'm a great fan of "So You Think You Can Dance," and am absolutely elated to see that Melanie Moore has been named "America's Favorite Dancer."

She was my favorite too! From the start of the season! Brava! (And three cheers to the show's creator, executive producer, and regular judge, Nigel Lythgoe, for telling some of these folks where to go!)

July 04, 2011

Song of the Day #987

Song of the Day: The Yankee Doodle Boy (also known as Yankee Doodle Dandy), composed by George M. Cohan, made its first splash in the 1904 Broadway musical, Little Johnny Jones. For me, nobody performs it like the magnificent James Cagney (who won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Cohan) from the great 1942 Hollywood musical, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Take a look at YouTube, and Have a Great Independence Day!

June 29, 2011

Song of the Day #986

Song of the Day: The Day the Earth Stood Still ("Prelude") [YouTube clip of opening credits at that link] was composed by the immortal New York-born Bernard Herrmann, the centenary of whose birth we celebrate today. The score for this classic science fiction film was remarkable for its revolutionary use of the theremin. Viva Herrmann!

June 27, 2011

Song of the Day #984

Song of the Day: Perry Mason ("Park Avenue Beat") [YouTube clip at that link] was composed by Fred Steiner, who passed away on 23 June 2011. This was the iconic theme song for the famous television series, featuring Raymond Burr in the title role.

June 26, 2011

Song of the Day #983

Song of the Day: Pocketful of Miracles ("Title Song"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, received a "Best Original Song" Academy Award nomination in 1961. The song was featured in the utterly hilarious 1961 film, starring the great Bette Davis, Glenn Ford, and the magnificent Peter Falk (who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his hyper-comedic turn as Joy Boy). Whatever role he played (including the classic Lieutenant Columbo), Falk entertained as if it were "Christmas Every Day." Sadly, he passed away on 23 June 2011. Take a look at the opening credits choral version of this song (YouTube video at that link) and one by Francis Albert Sinatra (another YouTube link), who, it is said, was originally slated to play Dave the Dude, prior to the casting of Glenn Ford.

March 23, 2011

Song of the Day #979

Song of the Day: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the great Alex North, opens the 1966 film featuring tour de force performances from each of its actors: Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner), and Elizabeth Taylor, who won a much-deserved Best Actress Oscar, and who passed away today at the age of 79.

February 27, 2011

Song of the Day #977

Song of the Day: The Social Network ("In Motion") [YouTube link] is a dark ambient track composed by Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and Atticus Ross. It can be heard on the Golden Globe-winning soundtrack for this provocative 2010 film. The soundtrack has also been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score. Check out the 83rd Annual Academy Awards tonight to see all the winners. And so concludes this year's tribute to Movie Music!

February 20, 2011

Song of the Day #976

Song of the Day: Spartacus ("Hopeful Preparations"/"Vesuvius Camp") [audio clip at that link] is featured in the Alex North soundtrack masterpiece from the inspiring and thrilling 1960 film, starring Kirk Douglas in the title role. This particular track is part of a new and absolutely stupendous deluxe CD soundtrack released by Varese Sarabande, in centenary celebration of North (who was born on 4 December 1910). The deluxe set also includes a poignant CD featuring timeless interpretations of the classic love theme, with artists as diverse as Bill Evans and Carlos Santana.

February 18, 2011

Song of the Day #975

Song of the Day: Ride 'Em Cowboy ("I'll Remember April"), music by Gene de Paul, lyrics by Patricia Johnston and Don Raye, was first heard in the hilarious 1942 Abbott and Costello film, "Ride 'Em Cowboy," where it was performed by Dick Foran (YouTube film clip at that link). Other classic renditions have been performed by the very Sassy Swinging Scatting Sarah Vaughan (YouTube link) and the late, great pianist George Shearing (YouTube link), who just passed away on Valentine's Day. (And while I could have posted this in, uh, April, this great song makes my list in Movie Music February, with temperatures reaching the very April-ish 60s in snow-weary New York City!)

February 17, 2011

Song of the Day #974

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Roman March" or "Marcia Romana") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the master's grandest marches from the grandest of all epics. Continuing Movie Music Month, this one's for me (on my 51st birthday)!

February 14, 2011

Song of the Day #973

Song of the Day: Midnight Cowboy ("Main Theme"), written by the late great John Barry, won a 1970 Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition. The 1969 film remains the only "X-rated" flick to ever win an Oscar for Best Picture. Check out YouTube for the soundtrack version, featuring harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans. See also a live version, featuring Toots with the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by John Williams.

February 13, 2011

Song of the Day #972

Song of the Day: The Graduate ("Mrs. Robinson"), words and music by Paul Simon, first appeared in an early version in this 1967 film, which starred Anne Bancroft as the older Mrs. in question, and Dustin Hoffman as the younger Benjamin Braddock, whom she seduces. The complete version of the song debuted on the Simon & Garfunkel album, Bookends. The record won a Grammy Award in 1969 for "Record of the Year." And any record that mentions Yankee great Joe DiMaggio gets extra points. In celebration of movie music this month, and in recognition of the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards, which air tonight, check out YouTube.

February 08, 2011

Song of the Day #971

Song of the Day: The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better," Main Title), music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, was recorded by Carly Simon and was the theme song for the 1977 Roger Moore Bond flick. Check out the YouTube clip featuring the opening credit sequence.

February 07, 2011

Song of the Day #970

Song of the Day: Live and Let Die ("Main Title"), words and music by Linda McCartney and Paul McCartney, who recorded it for the group Wings, is the title theme song for the first Roger Moore 007 flick (former Beatles producer George Martin composed most of the soundtrack). The film was not one of my favorite Bond entries, and I'm a diehard Sean Connery fan, but this rocking, rousing track was a big hit for Paul McCartney and Wings (as heard in the opening film credits) and was also covered in 1991 by Guns 'n Roses (YouTube links).

February 05, 2011

Song of the Day #969

Song of the Day: Diamonds Are Forever ("Main Title"), lyrics by Don Black, music by John Barry, is featured in the 007 film of the same name, starring the greatest Bond, James Bond: Sean Connery. This was the second Bond theme performed with gusto by singer Shirley Bassey (YouTube link).

February 04, 2011

Song of the Day #968

Song of the Day: You Only Live Twice ("Main Title"), words by Leslie Bricusse, music by John Barry, is the title song, which manages to be both catchy and lush, featured in the fifth 007 franchise film. On YouTube, check out the original Nancy Sinatra version, and a few surprising covers by Bjork and Coldplay.

February 03, 2011

Song of the Day #967

Song of the Day: From Russia with Love, composed by Lionel Bart, is the title track to the second Sean Connery 007 flick. This splendid theme features the memorable vocals of Matt Monro (YouTube link).

February 02, 2011

Song of the Day #966

Song of the Day: Dr. No ("James Bond Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Monty Norman (though authorship has always been a source of controversy), is the signature James Bond theme, first featured in this premier 007 franchise film and heard in virtually all of the "official" Bond films thereafter. It boasts a classic, jazzy John Barry arrangement (another YouTube link).

February 01, 2011

Song of the Day #965

Song of the Day #965: Thunderball ("Main Title"), words by Don Black, music by five-time Oscar winner John Barry, is the title track to one of the classic James Bond films. In honor of the late, great John Barry, check out YouTube, featuring the powerful vocals of Tom Jones. No better time to kick off our Our Annual Movie Music Tribute Series than to feature this Barry gem.

June 13, 2010

Song of the Day #952

Song of the Day: More Than You Know, music by Vincent Youmans, lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu, debuted in the Broadway musical "Great Day" and it has been recorded by countless artists. I enjoyed a version performed by Barbra Streisand, who sang it in the film "Funny Lady." Listen to audio clips of Streisand and jazz greats Anita O'Day and Dave Brubeck and take a look at a YouTube clip featuring Judy Garland. And tonight, celebrate the legacy that is Broadway and watch the Tony Awards!

March 07, 2010

Song of the Day #951

Song of the Day: It's Easy to Say, composed by the magnificent Henry Mancini, with lyrics by Robert Wells, is featured in the 1979 film "10," where it is performed hauntingly and lovingly on piano by Dudley Moore and by Julie Andrews and Moore as well (full-length movie versions at those links). One of my all-time favorite Mancini compositions, take a look at a live version with Mancini and Moore and another played by the composer himself. The Academy Award-nominated song was performed on the 1980 telecast by Moore and singer Helen Reddy. And so ends my annual mini-movie music tribute.

March 06, 2010

Song of the Day #950

Song of the Day: Wives and Lovers, a classic Burt Bacharach-Hal David hit, is one of the great "exploitation" songs in film history. Paramount Pictures asked the gents to write a promotional song that shared the title of the 1963 movie, even though the song is never actually heard in the film. Check out the great Grammy-winning waltz-time version by swinging, singing immortal Jack Jones (YouTube clip at that link) and the Jack Jones disco version with the sexy jazz sax solo, as well as wonderful versions by Nancy Wilson, Julie London, Connie Francis, Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, jazz saxophone great Stan Getz, and one of my all-time favorite jazz guitar versions by the legendary Joe Pass playing a 12-stringer.

March 05, 2010

Song of the Day #949

Song of the Day: Can't Fight the Moonlight, written by Diane Warren, is featured in the film "Coyote Ugly." Today begins my mini-tribute to film music, in anticipation of the 82nd Academy Awards to be broadcast this Sunday, March 7, 2010. Performed by LeAnn Rimes, it's a peppy track that's been remixed fabulously for the dance floor as well; check out various versions, including this YouTube moment, this remix and this one too.

September 21, 2009

Song of the Day #943

Song of the Day: One Step Beyond ("Fear"/"Weird"), composed by Harry Lubin, was the haunting theme music to an equally haunting TV series. Hosted by the elegant John Newland, the series offered dramatizations of real-life tales of the unexplained. These themes were among the spookiest in TV history and this show remains one of my favorite all-time TV series (one of the least typical episodes is the rarely seen docu-style, "The Sacred Mushroom," which is on YouTube; check out parts 1, 2, and 3, the last of which includes the theme music at the end). One day beyond last night's Emmy Awards, which kicked off the new television season officially, listen to audio clips from Lubin's soundtrack and from the ever-popular Ventures.

May 19, 2009

American Idol 2009 Finale

I haven't written on the 2009 "American Idol" season, but I've been watching, and look forward to the final installments tonight and tomorrow. Here's an interesting piece by Stephen Holden in today's Times.

March 31, 2009

Maurice Jarre, RIP

One of the all-time great film score composers, Maurice Jarre, passed away on Saturday, March 28, 2009. His memorable scoring (most notably, for me, his magnificent work on "Lawrence of Arabia") lives on.

February 24, 2009

Ben-Hur: Still Grand

My friend Don Hauptman reminds me that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of "Ben-Hur," the "Best Picture" of 1959 ... part of its then-unprecedented 11 Oscars. The NY Times has a nice video tribute to the film here. It's still my favorite film.

P.S. - The 50th anniversary of the release of "Ben-Hur" comes on November 18, 1959, the date that the movie premiered at Loew's Theater in NYC. The Oscar ceremony for 1959 films took place on April 4, 1960.

February 22, 2009

Song of the Day #937

Song of the Day: That's Entertainment, music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Howard Dietz, was first featured in the 1953 movie musical, "The Band Wagon," and was also prominently heard in the 1974 MGM compilation film of the same name. As you get ready to watch the Oscars tonight, take a look at this wonderful Judy Garland YouTube tribute, spotlighting this iconic Hollywood song. So concludes our 2009 movie music tribute.

February 21, 2009

Song of the Day #936

Song of the Day: The Untouchables ("Death Theme") [audio clip at that link], composed by Ennio Morricone, is a portrait of melancholy. Listen to an alternative audio clip from a wonderful tribute album by Yo Yo Ma.

February 20, 2009

Song of the Day #935

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("Main Title") [audio clip at that link], composed by James Newton Howard, is from the 1993 motion picture, starring Harrison Ford. One of my all-time favorite TV themes is the one by Peter Rugolo for the magnificent original David Janssen series. I love listening to this soundtrack as well, just as much as I enjoy watching this film ... over and over again.

February 19, 2009

Song of the Day #934

Song of the Day: Independence Day ("Firestorm") [audio clip at that link], composed by David Arnold, is a dramatic selection from one of my favorite sci-fi films.

February 18, 2009

Song of the Day #933

Song of the Day: Midnight Express ("The Chase") [audio clip at that link], composed by Giorgio Moroder, is a pulsating dance classic from the 1978 Oscar-winning Best Original Score to a harrowing tale of injustice.

February 17, 2009

Song of the Day #932

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Fertility Dance") [audio clip at that link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, offers a rousing start to our Annual Movie Music Tribute, in anticipation of the 81st Academy Awards. The tribute also begins on the occasion of my 49th birthday... so... uh... happy birthday to me!

September 28, 2008

Paul Newman, RIP

Paul Newman, an iconic American actor, and humanitarian, passed away on Friday, September 26, 2008. I loved many of his films, and list two of them---"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Verdict"---among my all-time favorite movies. His performance in the latter film especially is one of my all-time favorites by an actor. Newman's spoken words, and sighs, were brilliantly delivered, but what he said with his tired blue eyes and even bluer facial expressions spoke volumes. It was a terrific performance, in my view... probably the finest of his career.

Thank goodness for film, which will keep him eternally alive for all of us to see.

September 24, 2008

Song of the Day #919

Song of the Day: Maria, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is a classic tune from the great Broadway and film musical, "West Side Story." Bernstein would have turned 90 on August 25, 2008; tonight, tonight, WNYC radio begins a 13-day tribute to the master. This timeless song has been performed by everybody from Maynard Ferguson to Johnny Mathis (YouTube clips at those links). Take a look also at this YouTube clip from the Oscar-winning 1961 film. Celebrate the Maestro!

September 22, 2008

Song of the Day #918

Song of the Day: Falling in Love with Love is a sweet song from the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart musical, "The Boys from Syracuse." How apropos to be falling today... with the arrival of Fall (the Autumnal Equinox comes at 11:44 EDT). Listen to an audio clip of a Tony Bennett swing version and check out YouTube moments with Allan Jones (from the 1940 film version), Frank Sinatra (and in a swing arrangement too), Vic Damone, Sarah Vaughan with Benny Carter, and Bernadette Peters (when the song was revived for the 1997 Disney TV version of "Cinderella").

September 21, 2008

Song of the Day #917

Song of the Day: Dragnet is credited to Miklos Rozsa (from whom the "dum-de-dum-dum" theme was drawn, first heard in "The Killers") and Walter Schumann. Known also as "Danger Ahead" and the "Dragnet March," the theme was a hit for the Ray Anthony Orchestra (YouTube clip at that link) in 1953 and for Stan Freberg thereafter (in a comedic take as "St. George and the Dragonet," YouTube clip at that link). And so concludes our 2008 TV Theme Tribute. Tonight, enjoy the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards!

September 20, 2008

Song of the Day #916

Song of the Day: Looney Toons ("The Merry Go-Round Broke Down") (YouTube clip at that link), composed by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin, is a true companion to the "Merrie Melodies" theme. This theme opened up some of my favorite cartoon shorts of all time, which included such greats as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester and Tweety.

September 19, 2008

Song of the Day #915

Song of the Day: Merrie Melodies, composed by Charles Tobias, Murray Mechner, and Eddie Cantor, was a variation on the song "Merrily We Roll Along." This theme opened up a series of hilarious Warner Brothers cartoons. Look and listen to one of these cartoons at YouTube. And check out additional audio clips from these animated classics.

September 18, 2008

Song of the Day #914

Song of the Day: The Jetsons, music and lyrics by William Hanna, Joseph Barbera and Hoyt Curtin, was the percussive, jazzy theme to one of my favorite prime-time cartoons as a kid. Check it out on YouTube.

September 17, 2008

Song of the Day #913

Song of the Day: Love, American Style, music by Charles Fox, lyrics by Arnold Margolin, is the theme to a late 60s-early 70s TV anthology series that I watched and enjoyed as a kid. A pilot episode of "Happy Days" was first seen as a segment on this series. Check out the opening theme at YouTube.

September 16, 2008

Song of the Day #912

Song of the Day: Underdog, composed by W. Watts Biggers, is the theme to the celebrated TV cartoon, which I watched religiously as a kid. I have yet to see the 2007 movie version, but it looks very cute. Check out a YouTube clip with the full theme.

September 15, 2008

Song of the Day #911

Song of the Day: The Greatest American Hero ("Believe It Or Not"), music by Mike Post, lyrics by Stephen Geyer, was a huge 1981 hit for Joey Scarbury, from a TV series that I never really watched. But, growing up, I confess... I really liked the theme. Check out the full-song on YouTube, with clips from the TV series.

September 14, 2008

Song of the Day #910

Song of the Day: The X-Files ("Materia Primoris," Main Title) (audio clip at that link), composed by Mark Snow, evokes all the mystery and tension of that show in its prime... one of my all-time favorites. Check out this midi too! And so today begins our Annual Tribute to TV Themes.

August 13, 2008

Song of the Day #903

Song of the Day: Shaft ("Theme from") features the music and lyrics of Isaac Hayes, who passed away on August 10, 2008. Written for the 1971 film of the same name, the song won an Oscar for Hayes, a soul music pioneer. One of the most hilarious moments in Oscar history, was seeing, or not seeing, Isaac Hayes, during a 2000 Academy Awards performance, in which the dry ice effect covered him in smoke. Host Billy Crystal quipped: "How do you lose Isaac Hayes?" Check out a YouTube "Shaft" video clip, and additional audio clips from this classic soundtrack album.

June 16, 2008

Song of the Day #897

Song of the Day: Everything's Coming Up Roses, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is one of the highlights of "Gypsy," suggested by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee. This is one of the great American musicals and Patti LuPone as Mama Rose gives the performance of a lifetime in today's Broadway revival, for which she won a much-deserved Tony Award last night (and brought down Radio City too with a terrific performance of this song!). Listen to an audio clip of LuPone, as well as renditions by Ethel Merman from the original 1959 Broadway production, Annie Ross, Rosalind Russell from the 1962 film version, Angela Lansbury from the 1970s revival,Tyne Daly from the 1989 Broadway revival, Bette Midler from the 1993 TV production, and Bernadette Peters from the 2003 revival.

June 15, 2008

Happy 60th Birthday, WPIX-TV

WPIX-TV, Channel 11 in New York City, celebrates its 60th birthday today. It was on this day in 1948 that the station began transmitting. This is a station that I grew up watching: Officer Joe Bolton, Jack McCarthy, Chuck McCann, "The Three Stooges," "Superman," the "Little Rascals," Bozo the Clown, Popeye, Sheri Lewis and Lamb Chop, and, of course, "The Honeymooners." And let's not forget the seasonal favorites: "March of the Wooden Soldiers" for Thanksgiving, the Yule Log for Christmas Eve, and, from the Spring to the Fall for many, many years, the home of Yankee baseball... with the classic musings of Phil Rizzuto.

Happy Birthday, WPIX!

Song of the Day #896

Song of the Day: How Long Has This Been Going On?, composed by George and Ira Gershwin, is from the 1927 Broadway musical, "Funny Face," which starred the great Fred Astaire. Tonight the 62nd Annual Tony Awards celebrate the best of today's Broadway; this song helps us to remember the grand tradition of the Great White Way. Listen to audio clips of renditions by Boz Scaggs, Doc Severinsen and the "Tonight" Show band, Joe Pass, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, and, one of my all-time favorites, Sarah Vaughan.

June 14, 2008

Tim Russert, RIP

There have been countless obituaries of Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," who passed away on Friday, June 13, 2008, at the age of 58. There is not much I can add to what has been said about him, but I sure did enjoy many of his Q&As on "Meet the Press," which I have watched on a weekly basis for many years. He will be missed.

June 07, 2008

No Brown Crown, No Jim McKay

I guess we were spoiled back in the 1970s; in 1973, I saw Secretariat, the greatest of them all, in my opinion, take the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Seattle Slew followed in 1977, and Affirmed beat out Alydar in three successive thrilling races to take the Crown in 1978.

But Da' Tara beat Big Brown in his bid to be the first horse to take the Triple Crown in 30 years. Having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Big Brown came up short at New York's Belmont.

I sometimes wonder if we'll ever see another Triple Crown winner!

On a much sadder note, it is perhaps ironic that on this day, another great voice of sports broadcasting was silenced: Jim McKay, who passed away at the age of 86. I will always remember his stints at the "Wide World of Sports" and his remarkable reporting from the tragic Munich Olympics. He will be missed by sports fans the world over.

May 30, 2008

Martin, Pollack, Korman: RIP

What a week for passings. Among them: Dick Martin of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," which made me laugh when I was a kid; director Sydney Pollack, whose films, such as "Tootsie," I so enjoyed; and now, Harvey Korman, whose stint on "The Carol Burnett Show" was legendary.

May 29, 2008

Song of the Day #894

Song of the Day: The Andy Griffith Show ("The Fishin' Hole") (audio clip at that link) was composed by the late great Earle Hagen, who passed away at the age of 88 on May 26, 2008. It's a charming TV theme written by a guy who gave us such great tunes as "Harlem Nocturne." Listen also to an audio clip featuring Andy Griffith himself!

May 23, 2008

American Idol 2008: Postscript

As a follow-up to my last post, check out two different views of the "American Idol" finale, one from Stephen Holden at the NY Times and the other from Jim Farber at the NY Daily News.

As most observers know, both contestants end up "winning" in the end. As Chris Daughtry has shown, one does not have to be the actual winner in order to win big... in award-winning albums and sales. Both Davids have the promise of wonderful careers ahead of them. But congratulations to David Cook, who won the 97-million vote finale by 12 million votes over David Archuleta.

Now that the competition is over, I'm turning my attention to the next Fox competition, one of my favorites: So You Think You Can Dance.

May 20, 2008

American Idol 2008: A David Will Win!

Don't ask me; I have no clue who will win tonight's "American Idol" finale. But it's David Cook vs. David Archuleta. Cook's take on "Billie Jean" remains, for me, the most memorable of the performances among either finalist. But I think Archuleta's young teen following might just put him in the winner's circle. We'll soon see!

May 01, 2008

Song of the Day #892

Song of the Day: Schindler's List ("Main Theme") (audio clip at that link), composed by John Williams, is from the shattering 1993 Oscar-winning score for Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning film. To mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, this track features the magnificent violinist Itzhak Perlman. Take a look at a fantastic YouTube video clip of Perlman, with John Williams. And check out the other John Williams (the great classical guitarist) playing John Williams.

April 27, 2008

Song of the Day #891

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("The Miracle") [audio clip at that link], music by Miklos Rozsa, is a restatement of the central theme from this magnificent soundtrack, with hallelujah chorus bringing the film to a triumphant finale. A Happy Easter to all my Eastern Orthodox friends and family! Christos Anesti! (from St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona, via Into the Light).

April 19, 2008

Song of the Day #890

Song of the Day: Exodus ("Main Theme"), music by Ernest Gold, with lyrics added later by Pat Boone, is from the 1960 film, directed by Otto Preminger. It's a great theme to mark the arrival at sundown of Passover, the prelude to an exodus led by Moses out of Egypt. Listen to audio clips of this cinema theme from the original soundtrack, the Pat Boone vocal rendition, Percy Faith, a very cool Dizzy Gillespie, and the absolutely classic piano-and-orchestra rendition of Ferrante and Teicher.

April 18, 2008

Song of the Day #889

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("The Galley") was composed by birthday boy Miklos Rozsa for a classic scene, the rowing of the galley slaves, in this 11-Oscar-winning masterpiece. The perfect wedding between cinematic scoring and film, this composition takes us from "battle speed" to "attack speed" to "ramming speed" in thrilling fashion. It is Rozsa's music that directs the pace here as much as the great director William Wyler. Check out the scene on YouTube, where Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius and Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur, Galley Slave No. 41, match wits. And check out the YouTube Red Bull Spoof.

April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston, RIP

This morning I learned that legendary actor Charlton Heston passed away on Saturday, April 5, 2008, at the age of 84, in his Beverly Hills home. The cause of death has not yet been announced, but after a bout with prostate cancer, Heston had publicly acknowledged the onset of Alzheimer's disease in 2002.

Heston was well-known for such larger-than-life epic roles as Moses, El Cid, and Michelangelo, and for his Oscar-winning nod in the 1959 masterpiece, "Ben-Hur," which is still my favorite movie. Heston's passing saddens me personally; from the time of my childhood, I was inspired by his heroic screen portraits. So enamored was I of his performance as Judah Ben-Hur that I went to see him in-person when I was 10 years old when he made an appearance at my local movie house, the Highway Theatre. His film, "The Hawaiians," had just opened there and he'd shown up to promote it to a huge Brooklyn audience. I couldn't believe how red his hair was and was ecstatic that he'd mentioned "Ben-Hur" in his little talk.

Of course, much has been made of Heston's conservative politics, especially his Second Amendment "absolutism," as president of the National Rifle Association. He famously held a rifle over his head and challenged Democratic presidential nominee, Al Gore, to pry it "from my cold, dead hands." But, like his conservative pal Ronald Reagan, his own political positions were varied over a long activist career, as he traveled from the Democratic Party to the GOP. Like Reagan, he served as head of the Screen Actors Guild. And there is some irony in the fact that he passed away a day after the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination; Heston was a vocal opponent of racism and walked with King in the historic 1963 civil rights March on Washington. He was also opposed to the Vietnam War.

Regardless of his politics, it is Heston's film career that I remember today. Some critics have derided him as both stiff and over-the-top. But I think he hit many more nuanced notes than critics have acknowledged in the creation of his own cinematic symphony. Yes, he'll be remembered as the only one who could truly fill the sandals of Moses, who could stand on an extravagant Cecil B. DeMille set, and hold a staff above the waters to part the Red Sea (in what is still one of the most eye-popping special effects in Hollywood history). He portrayed presidents, cowboys, and even John the Baptist. He embodied the driven artist as Michelangelo in "The Agony and the Ecstasy." He starred in classic film noirs ("Touch of Evil") and sci-fi classics too (as the cynical George Taylor in "Planet of the Apes" and "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," or opposite Edward G. Robinson in "Soylent Green," or as "The Omega Man"). But even his understated roles offered something of poignance ("Will Penny") and principle (on the small screen, in the short-lived "Dynasty" spinoff, "The Colbys").

What I will remember of Heston's portrayal of "Ben-Hur," however, is not just the square-jawed ruggedness of his character. It was the humanity that he brought to the role, an ability to rise above the magnificent spectacle of ferocious naval battles, epic chariot races, and Passion plays, and to provide a deep personal sense of the character's nearly fatal inner conflicts. Beyond the words he speaks, he says more about pain, loss, and anger-driven hate, faith, hope, and redemptive love, through his eyes and his facial expressions. It was a performance for which he well deserved his Best Actor Oscar.

Heston died; but he will continue to "row well, and live" in the extraordinary films he has left behind.

April 05, 2008

Bette Davis Centennial

If she were alive today, she'd probably be bitching that TCM had declared this the year of the Joan Crawford Centennial, when Joan was clearly the older one.

Well, today marks the centenniel of Bette Davis' birth, and what a Grande Dame she was. Among her classic films listed in "My Favorite Films": "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" and "The Virgin Queen," wherein she played Elizabeth R, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?," "All About Eve," "Pocketful of Miracles," and ... well, the list goes on and on and on.

And for the record, TCM is running a classic Bette Davis film festival on this day, with such movies as "The Cabin In The Cotton" (1932), "The Petrified Forest" (1936), "The Corn Is Green" (1945), "The Bride Came C.O.D." (1941), "The Letter" (1940), "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" (1939), "Now, Voyager" (1942), "All About Eve" (1950), "Dark Victory" (1939), the hilarious "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961), and her two Oscar turns: "Jezebel" (1938) and "Dangerous" (1935). And they'll also air "Stardust: The Bette Davis Story," a 2005 documentary.

Join in the fun... tune in... and celebrate the extraordinary talent that was Bette Davis.

April 02, 2008

Song of the Day #887

Song of the Day: Dirty Boots, words, music, and performance by Sonic Youth, is featured on the band's album, "Goo." There are a few hilarious comments in the film "Juno" about Sonic Youth (which has exhibited a fascination for Karen Carpenter and Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce"). Check out the music video on YouTube and a YouTube live performance too, and the full album line-up (with audio samples).

March 24, 2008

Joan Crawford Centennial (!?)

I know that in the light of "Mommie Dearest," some tend to forget that Joan Crawford had an extraordinary film career. According to Turner Classic Movies, yesterday marked the centennial of her birth (though even TCM mentions 1904 as her birth year, while Wikipedia puts it at 1905). Still, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to recognize some of those films for which I remember her, everything from "Mildred Pierce," for which Crawford won an Oscar, to "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

March 22, 2008

Paul Scofield, RIP

I just learned that actor Paul Scofield passed away on Wednesday, March 19, 2008.

I loved his performance in "A Man for All Seasons," one of my favorite films.

March 13, 2008

Song of the Day #883

Song of the Day: T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia) was composed by legendary Philly soul producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, who, this week, received the "Ahmet Ertegun Award," at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Recorded by M.F.S.B. (featuring the Three Degrees), this song was introduced as the theme to television's "Soul Train." Listen to an audio clip of this classic dance anthem here and take a ride on the Soul Train at YouTube.

March 11, 2008

American Idol 2008: The Top 12

The Top 12 on "American Idol" begin their live competitions tonight on Fox.

I have a few early favorites, myself... but thought this article in the NY Times was an interesting summation of the pop phenomenon (Hat Tip, Aeon!).

February 24, 2008

Song of the Day #878

Song of the Day: Hooray for Hollywood, music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, made its debut in the 1937 movie "Hollywood Hotel." The original film rendition featured Johnnie Davis, Francis Langford, and the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Listen to audio clips of renditions by a swinging Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Sinatra, and Doris Day (and Doris on YouTube too). There's also a YouTube video montage featuring the original rendition! As our annual Movie Music Tribute concludes, don't forget to check out the 80th Annual Oscars tonight!

February 23, 2008

Song of the Day #877

Song of the Day: Superman ("Prelude and Main Title March") (audio clip at that link), composed by John Williams, is a rousing, heroic cinematic theme. It should be noted that Film Score Monthly has just issued an 8-CD Boxed Set of all the music from the various incarnations of the series.

February 22, 2008

Song of the Day #876

Song of the Day: King Kong ("Tooth and Claw") (audio clip at that link), composed by James Newton Howard, is a highlight from the 2005 version of the iconic Big Ape tale, directed by Peter Jackson.

February 21, 2008

Song of the Day #875

Song of the Day: Raiders of the Lost Ark ("The Raiders March") (audio clip at that link), composed by John Williams, evokes all the adventure of the Indiana Jones movies. The adventure begins again in May 2008, with "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (trailer and full-length audio clip at that link). And take a look at a YouTube celebration of the "Indiana Jones" films and of John Williams conducting a live orchestral version of this classic theme.

February 20, 2008

Space Times Square Online

Back in November, I mentioned "Space Times Square," a short film by my pal Barry Vacker. Barry tells me that the film has now been posted at Google Video and on YouTube as well (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Of course, the digital quality of the film has been degraded in the online transfer, but there it is... for your viewing pleasure!

Song of the Day #874

Song of the Day: The Russia House ("Katya"/"Alone in the World"), composed by Jerry Goldsmith, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is featured in both instrumental and vocal versions on the soundtrack album. The vocal version is sung by Patti Austin (audio clips to instrumental and vocal originals at that link). Perfect for the night of the full snow moon lunar eclipse, this is a lush, romantic composition. Listen to audio clips of the love theme recorded by the Jazz at the Movies Band and a haunting version by my sister-in-law, jazz vocalist Joanne Barry (complete recording at that link). That vocal rendition is a highlight from the album "Embraceable You" (yes, that's my Blondie on the cover of the CD); Joanne is accompanied by jazz guitarists Carl Barry (my brother) and Jack Wilkins (guest soloist).

February 19, 2008

Song of the Day #873

Song of the Day: Body Heat ("Main Title") (soundtrack album audio clip at that link) is a bluesy, jazzy, steamy composition by the great John Barry. Listen to an audio clip of a rendition by the "Jazz at the Movies Band."

February 18, 2008

Song of the Day #872

Song of the Day: The Empire Strikes Back ("Imperial March, Darth Vader's Theme"), composed by John Williams, is one of the best cinematic marches ever written. From one of the best movies in the "Star Wars" franchise, this one conjures up images of the Dark Side, heavy breathing and all! Listen to an additional audio clip here.

February 17, 2008

Song of the Day #871

Song of the Day: Ben Hur ("Victory Parade, Parts 1 & 2") (audio clip at that link), composed by Miklos Rozsa, kicks off our annual film music tribute, which will take us right up to the 80th Annual Academy Awards. And as is also traditional around here, the Movie Music begins on my birthday (I turn 48 today!) with a selection from my favorite film score from my favorite movie written by my favorite film score composer. This regal composition is one of Rozsa's best.

February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider, RIP

A very sad passing: Roy Scheider, 75, died yesterday after many years of illness.

"Jaws" remains one of my favorite movies of all time, and a lot of that had to do with Roy Scheider's performance. One of his lines from that movie, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," was voted #35 in the American Film Institute's "100 Years, 100 Quotes," surveying some of the best movie lines of all time.

I loved Scheider in so many other movies too, including "All that Jazz."

RIP

Entertaining Grammy Awards Show

The 50th Annual Grammy Awards were televised last night, and I was delighted to see Herbie Hancock take "Best Album of the Year" for "River:The Joni Letters" (he also won in the "Best Contemporary Jazz Album" category). The last jazz album to win in this category was among my favorite albums of all time: "Getz/Gilberto" (1965) (though jazz-influenced albums have won many times since then, including projects by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, and Quincy Jones).

Among the other multiple award winners: Amy Winehouse (5), Kanye West (4), Justin Timberlake (2) for "Love Stoned" (Best Dance Recording) and "What Goes Around... Comes Around" (Male Pop Vocal Performance); Chaka Khan (2), and the late Michael Brecker (2). Even Barak Obama won a Grammy ("Best Spoken Word Album"). So we have a couple of Grammy winners now vying for the Democratic nomination (Hillary Clinton won previously in the same category for "It Takes a Village").

Some of the performance highlights of the night: Ol' Blue Eyes (who appeared miraculously) alongside Alicia Keys in the opening number; Rihanna doing "Don't Stop the Music" during a reunion of The Time; an impromptu "That Old Black Magic" duet with Kid Rock and Keely Smith; Herbie Hancock and classical pianist Lang Lang doing "Rhapsody in Blue"; tributes to Luciano Pavarotti and the Beatles (the expected Michael Jackson tribute didn't happen); and an absolutely sizzling, tear-the-roof-off-the-house "Proud Mary" duet with Tina Turner and Beyonce.

I truly enjoyed the pairings of "old" and "new" throughout the broadcast.

February 05, 2008

The Philosophy of TV Noir, The Fugitive, and Barry Morse

A sad note to report this morning: Barry Morse, who played the obsessive Lt. Philip Gerard in the classic 60s television show, The Fugitive, passed away on Saturday, February 2, at the age of 89 (hat tip to my pal, Aeon Skoble). I loved Morse in the series; his portrayal of the character could have been one-dimensional, but it evolved wonderfully over the course of that remarkable television show. (And will somebody please tell me why the character was renamed Sam Gerard in the action-packed film version?)

I should note for the benefit of fans of the original television series, starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, the DVD releases continue. Season 1, Volume 1 was released in August of 2007; Volume 2 is due out on February 26. I loved everything about this series... from its acting and morality-play plots to its classic score, it is one of the finest television series ever made.

While I'm on the topic of The Fugitive, you can read about that series and other great examples of "TV Noir" in an absolutely spectacular new anthology, edited by Steven M. Sanders and Aeon J. Skoble, entitled The Philosophy of TV Noir.

The Philosophy of TV Noir

The book is part of the University Press of Kentucky's "Philosophy of Popular Culture" series. I provided a blurb for it (which appears on the back book jacket), so I might as well reproduce that here, because it sums up my thoughts precisely:

Given the centrality of television as an organ of popular culture, this book is profoundly important to understanding the legacy of film noir. This anthology is a natural, necessary, and brilliant addition to the series.

The book includes chapters on Dragnet, The Naked City, Secret Agent, Miami Vice, 24, The Sopranos, CSI, The X-Files, The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, and, my favorite chapter, the one written by Aeon himself: "Action and Integrity in The Fugitive" (disclaimer: yeah, he gives me an acknowledgment in his notes, but this is no 'quid quo pro'... the essay is terrific!).

Pick up this book! Get the DVDs!

And remember Barry Morse...

Noted at L&P.

January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger, 1979-2008

Shocking news from New York City today: The young actor, Heath Ledger, was found dead in his SoHo apartment in Manhattan, in an apparent prescription drug overdose.

He's due to be seen as the Joker in the upcoming Batman flick, "The Dark Knight," a film I was really looking forward to seeing. A resident of Brooklyn for a while with Michelle Williams and their baby daughter, Ledger is perhaps best remembered for his Oscar-nominated heartbreaking role in "Brokeback Mountain."

Ledger was only 28 years old. How very sad.

January 16, 2008

American Idol 2008 Begins

"American Idol" began last night with a 2-hour premiere ... at an advantage in the TV ratings game, because the Writers' Strike has kept so many shows off the air.

It was a typical "AI" beginning: some good talent, some nightmares, lots of fun, as always. Looking forward to an entertaining season ...

December 06, 2007

Song of the Day #836

Song of the Day: Stayin' Alive, written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, was a huge #1 hit for them, as the Bee Gees. It was the opening theme of a movie that encapsulated so much about the disco era: "Saturday Night Fever." When I first saw the film on the big screen in 1977, I found it a bit depressing in its depiction of the tragic lives of so many of its characters. The film and even its Broadway incarnation provided more than a few moments of both reflection ... and entertainment. And while I've mentioned other cuts from the famous soundtrack, including "Open Sesame," "Night on Disco Mountain," and "A Fifth of Beethoven," none is more identified with the film than this one. It even shows up again in the film's sequel of the same title. And it has been spoofed countless times ("Now you can tell by the way I wear my pants / that I'm a man / Can't take no chance"...). Today begins a 9-day tribute to the soundtrack of "Saturday Night Fever," still one of the biggest-selling, and most influential, albums of all time. The film celebrates the 30th anniversary of its debut on December 14, 2007. Many covers of this song have been recorded, but it's always best to begin at the beginning. Listen to an audio clip of this track by the Bee Gees.

November 05, 2007

Good Luck, David Bianculli

David Bianculli, whose insightful columns for the New York Daily News I've long read with interest and enjoyment, is moving on to cyberspace and National Public Radio.

Take a look at his final column here. Best of luck to you! Thanks for many years of "Extra" special reading!

Space Times Square

My friend and colleague, Barry Vacker, has written and directed a new short film, Space Times Square, which was shot entirely from the streets of Times Square, New York. It's an entertaining and enjoyable odyssey with stunning cinematography (for which Barry was also partially responsible) and electronic music that will engage your senses, and thought-provoking philosophical touches that will engage your mind. My hearty congratulations to my pal for a job well done (and remember me when you get the Oscar nomination for "Best Documentary, Short Subject"). Loved it!

The film is narrated by Jamie Lee, and is punctuated by various epigrams from the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Marshall McLuhan, Camille Paglia, William Gibson, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Jean Baudrillard, and Brian Greene. For those familiar with Barry's use of epigrams in various essays, it'll make you feel as if you're reading one of his articles, accompanied by striking visuals and an ambient electronic score.

The sights and sounds of Times Square are featured in a 24-minute trip through an "expanding material universe" and an "expanding media universe," an adventure in "real space and cyber space." As the film synopsis puts it:

Filmed entirely from the streets of Times Square, Space Times Square is a meditative journey through the mediated cosmos of Times Square. Drawing from Jean-Paul Sartre and Marshall McLuhan, the film theorizes Times Square as a microcosm of the electronic big bang -- an expanding media cosmos of voids and nothingnesses, image and information, entertainment and inquisition, iPod people and hive-minds, flash mobs and flat-screens, black holes and vanishing points. Times Square is a galaxy in the global media cosmos, where the circuits of cyberspace converge with the constellations of outer space. Written and directed by Barry Vacker, the film is accompanied by poetic narration and an original musical score by New York musician Brett Sroka.

The film gets its first public screening this week in Philadelphia at the 2007 International Digital Media Arts Conference (iDMAa), which takes place from November 7th through November 10th, 2007. During the four-day conference, the documentary will be screened with several other films each hour as part of an exhibition of digital artworks and films called "Beyond Boundaries, iDEAS 07." It takes place at the Fuel Collection art gallery at 249 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (215-592-8400), on Thursday and Friday, November 8-9, 11:00 am - 7:00 pm, and on Friday, November 9, 7:30 am - 9:00 pm (for more on the schedule, see here).

You can take a look at the film's hi-resolution trailer at the website or a low-resolution trailer on Youtube.

Enjoy!

October 31, 2007

Song of the Day #829

Song of the Day: Tubular Bells, written and performed by Mike Oldfield, is a composition that has been most identified with one of the spookiest movies ever made: "The Exorcist." Listen to an audio clip here (specifically Part One). And take a look at this YouTube remix. And then, pop "The Exorcist" into your DVD player and have a Scary, Happy Halloween.

October 19, 2007

Passings

Changes happening... some permanent... let me note a few:

o Deborah Kerr, whom I loved in such movies as "The King and I," "An Affair to Remember," and "Quo Vadis," passed away on Tuesday, October 16, 2007.

o Joey Bishop, whose humor made me chuckle in the 1960s and 1970s, passed away on Wednesday, October 17, 2007; he was the last surviving member of Hollywood's famed "Rat Pack."

o Laissez Faire Books is closing its doors after 36 years in business. I will always be enormously thankful to LFB for carrying my various books and monographs through the years. My very best wishes to everybody connected to LFB for providing liberty lovers with one of the most important sources of libertarian literature in the world.

o And, finally, I note the passing of the Joe Torre Era of Yankees Baseball. I still think that the Yankees greatest weakness is their starting pitching (and their long relief), not their manager. It's the pitching (or lack thereof) that has led to early exits from the postseason for several years running now. The organization is going a long way toward correcting its pitching weakness by re-investing in a long-depleted farm system. The rebuilding may take a few years, but I'm confident it will be for the best. Losing Manager Joe Torre, however, is not for the best, and I will miss his steady hand and stabilizing influence. Thanks, Joe, for a great run!

October 02, 2007

Miss Moneypenny, RIP

My goodness! Lois Maxwell, the actress who played "Miss Moneypenny" in 14 James Bond flicks, has passed away at the age of 80. She was a staple in those films... and I always enjoyed her open flirting with 007.

September 16, 2007

Song of the Day #824

Song of the Day: Jeopardy (Think Music), composed by the late, great Merv Griffin, is one of the most recognizable TV themes of all time, and one of my favorites too! Listen to an audio clip here. With tonight's showing of the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, we conclude our third annual mini-tribute to TV Themes!

September 15, 2007

Song of the Day #823

Song of the Day: The Flintstones features the words and music of Hoyt Curtin, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna. The show was inspired by another one of my all-time favorites: "The Honeymooners." Listen to an audio clip of the TV theme here.

September 14, 2007

Song of the Day #822

Song of the Day: American Bandstand (Bandstand Boogie) features the music of Charles Albertine, Les Elgart, Larry Elgart, and Bob Horn and the lyrics of Bruce Howard Sussman and Barry Manilow. Listen to audio clips by Les Elgart and His Orchestra and Barry Manilow.

September 13, 2007

Song of the Day #821

Song of the Day: Brian's Song ("The Hands of Time"), music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, was the main theme from the poignant television movie of the same name, starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. Listen to audio clips of versions by Sarah Vaughan and Michel Legrand.

September 12, 2007

Song of the Day #820

Song of the Day: Secret Agent Man, words and music by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri, was performed by Johnny Rivers, whose version hit #3 in 1966. Today kicks off the 2007 mini-tribute to TV Themes. Listen to audio clips from Johnny Rivers and The Ventures.

August 22, 2007

So You Think You Can Dance III

Notablog readers know that I'm a fan of two Fox-produced talent shows: "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance."

With my relatively new DVR... yes, I have finally graduated from the Video Tape Generation... I am a bit behind in all my viewing. But I finally did see the finale of the third season of "So You Think You Can Dance," and offer my congratulations to Sabra. I really thought Danny was going to take the prize, but Sabra became the first woman to win the competition.

I was elated that the last show highlighted my favorite choreographed piece of the season: Lacey and Neil doing the Mia Michaels' choreographed routine to Billy Porter's "Time." It blew me away, again. Michaels is actually nominated for an Emmy for what was one of my favorite routines from Season II: "Calling You."

I hope to see "Time" performed when the tour comes to the New York metropolitan area.

Anyway, it was a great season... the best yet in terms of the level of talent. Can't wait to see Season IV.

August 20, 2007

New York Movies and "The Fugitive"

I'm so behind in my reading of the New York Daily News that I just discovered that Elizabeth Weitzman referred to me in a recent column of hers, which continues a series of enlightening articles she's been writing on people's "favorite, [New York-] city-centric films." I've really enjoyed her series. Readers can check out that series of articles here, here, here, here, here, and here.

As for my all-time favorite films, which have used New York City as a backdrop, here's a brief list (in no particular order):

"King Kong" (the classic 1933 and also Peter Jackson's remake)
"North By Northwest" (a Cary Grant-Alfred Hitchcock tour de force)
"Angels with Dirty Faces" (James Cagney at his best)
"The Godfather" (I and II) (the greatest Mafia Movie Masterpieces of all time, in my view)
"Dog Day Afternoon" (dramatizing a bank robbery that took place in my neighborhood)
"Pride of the Yankees" (probably my favorite baseball movie of all time, about the great Lou Gehrig)
"West Side Story" (one of my favorite Movie Musicals of all time)
"Funny Girl" (another favorite musical, which takes us from vaudeville to the Ziegfeld Follies)
"An Affair to Remember" (Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in a romance atop the Empire State Building)
"Rear Window" (claustrophobic Jimmy Stewart-Hitchcock classic)
"Miracle on 34th Street" (among my favorite Christmas films of all time)
"Malcolm X" (from Harlem to Mecca, a sprawling epic)
"Independence Day" (great sci-fi special effects)
"The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (great monster movie)
"Saturday Night Fever" (Travolta struttin' his stuff in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn)

Last week, Weitzman asked readers to send in their favorite New York-centric comedies, and I sent her a note that included the following list:

o "Barefoot in the Park"... hilarious ... and NY'ers recognize the reality of small apartments and long walk-ups.
o Two absolutely classic Cary Grant vehicles: "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" and "Arsenic and Old Lace" ... the first, a perennial favorite contrasting the confines of that small apartment (again) and the confines of a different sort posed by an ever-growing nightmare in the suburbs! And the second: Well, Hallowe'en in Brooklyn, NY is just dark comedy at its best!
o Finally, "Pocketful of Miracles" and "Arthur" ... both featuring classic performances, great cast, and hilarious---and poignant---moments.
I'm sure you'll hear from those who like other ticklers, like "Ghostbusters" ... but wanted to make sure some of the above were mentioned too!

I discovered that Weitzman mentioned my note to her in her column on Friday, August 17, 2007. She writes:

"I'm sure you'll hear from those who like 'Ghostbusters,'" offers Chris Sciabarra, before putting in a word for "Barefoot in the Park."

Notablog readers who have other favorite New York-centric films... I'd love to hear from you.

Finally, as an aside, I should mention that in another column, Weitzman reports on "the most exciting news," which I've known about for a while, thanks to a good friend: David Janssen's immortal television role as Dr. Richard Kimble is finally brought to DVD with the release of Volume One, Season One of "The Fugitive." I've received the set as a gift and can't wait to see the newly restored existential drama. It is among my very favorite series of all time. I urge readers who have not seen this classic television show to see it!

August 14, 2007

Merv and The Scooter

Over the past two days, two of the most memorable personalities of my youth passed away. Yesterday, I found out about the passing of Merv Griffin, who is known best today as the producer of long-running game shows, such as Wheel of Fortune and, my favorite, Jeopardy. But my fondest memory of the affable Griffin is as the syndicated television talk show host who always gave us great entertainment, like that night back in the late 1970s when Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme scatted their way through "Lady Be Good" and other jazz standards.

This afternoon, I heard about the loss of the great Hall of Fame Yankee shortstop, Phil Rizzuto. I wasn't around when Rizzuto played shortstop for the Yankees, but his voice was a staple on radio and television for those of us who followed the Yankees from the 1960s through the 1990s. Nothing was more hilarious than listening to his color commentary during a game. His classic stories, his shout-out "happy birthday" wishes to various fans, his love of the cannoli provided us with a diet of gut-busting riotous moments on any given summer night (check out the book, O Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto, for some of Rizzuto's 'poetry').

I'll miss Merv and the Scooter. Rest in peace.

June 29, 2007

Joel Siegel, RIP

Beloved film critic, Joel Siegel, passed away today at the age of 63, after a battle with colon and lung cancer. I remember him as one of the members of the WABC-TV "Eyewitness News" team. He went on to regular appearances on "Good Morning America" and always gave us a thrill with his pre-Oscar telecasts.

I will truly miss his presence on television; he made me laugh and often touched me with his insight.

May 09, 2007

American Idol 2007: And Then There Were ...

Three? After tonight, there will indeed only be three left.

So...

Any predictions? Will the American Idol be Blake? Lakisha? Melinda? Jordin?

Your thoughts and predictions are welcome...

March 26, 2007

American Idol 2007: The Top Ten

By now, I'm sure "American Idol" fans have a number of favorites; I've liked selections from Melinda, Lakisha, Jordin, Blake, Chris R. ... and a couple of others too.

But like many people, I've cringed watching Sanjaya, who has now assured his place on the AI national tour. It appears he's getting a lot of help from people who are hoping a "Vote for the Worst" will undermine any legitimacy the show might have.

Should be interesting to see how far such a vote will take him...

March 13, 2007

Song of the Day #798

Song of the Day: You're Gonna Hear From Me, words and music by Dory Previn and Andre Previn, is from the 1965 film "Inside Daisy Clover." Listen to audio clips from renditions by Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, and, my favorite, Nancy Wilson.

February 25, 2007

Song of the Day #796

Song of the Day: The Untouchables ("The Strength of the Righteous") is the main title to the 1987 film, composed by Ennio Morricone, who will be honored this evening at the 79th Annual Academy Awards with a long overdue Lifetime Achievement Award. The score to this film was nominated for a 1987 Academy Award for Best Original Score. Listen to an audio clip here. And so comes to an end our 2007 Film Music Tribute.

February 24, 2007

Song of the Day #795

Song of the Day: The Adventures of Robin Hood ("Duel, Victory, and Epilogue"), composed by the great Erich Korngold, is from one of the finest motion picture soundtracks of all time, winner of the 1938 Oscar for Best Original Score. From the rousing Errol Flynn swashbuckling adventure, listen to an audio clip here.

February 23, 2007

Song of the Day #794

Song of the Day: Cheek to Cheek, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, is featured in the classic Fred Astaire film, "Top Hat." It received a 1935 Oscar nomination in the "Best Song" category. Listen to audio clips of renditions by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and of course, from the original film, Fred Astaire. My favorite jazz rendition of this song is by alto sax player Phil Woods, "Live from the Showboat," an album that won the 1977 Grammy for "Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Group" (unfortunately no audio clip is available).

February 22, 2007

Song of the Day #793

Song of the Day: Let's Hear it for Me is a John Kander and Fred Ebb gem sung in grand style by Barbra Streisand from the film "Funny Lady," the 1975 sequel to "Funny Girl. Listen to an audio clip from the original soundtrack here.

February 21, 2007

American Idol 2007: The Top 24

Okay, so I have yet to watch this week's installments, but at least I know who the Top 24 are.

I'm very ambivalent... these folks have a lot to prove. In fact, my impression is that they may have gotten rid of a few people who should not have bit the dust.

What are your thoughts?

Song of the Day #792

Song of the Day: King of Wishful Thinking features the words and music of Martin Page, and Peter Cox and Richard Drummie of Go West. This hit song, an ode to heartbreak, was featured on the soundtrack for "Pretty Woman" (audio clip at that link).

February 20, 2007

Song of the Day #791

Song of the Day: Star Wars ("Main Theme"), composed by John Williams, is from the classic soundtrack that won the 1977 Oscar for Best Original Score. Listen to an audio clip of this famous theme here.

February 19, 2007

Song of the Day #790

Song of the Day: Singin' in the Rain, music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed, was first heard in the "Hollywood Revue of 1929," but was immortalized in the 1952 film by Gene Kelly. That film, with its classic screenplay by the late great Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is one of Hollywood's grand musicals. Listen to an audio clip from the film here.

February 18, 2007

Song of the Day #789

Song of the Day: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, was the 1955 Oscar winner for Best Song from the film of the same title. Listen to audio clips from the Four Aces, Frank Sinatra, and Barry Manilow.

February 17, 2007

Song of the Day #788

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Homecoming"), composed by the great Miklos Rozsa, opens my annual film music tribute, which will extend through Oscar Day, February 25, 2007. This year, I will feature a mix of cues and songs from the movies. Today also happens to be my birthday; as in 2005 and 2006, I choose a track from my favorite film score of all time. Listen to an audio clip here.

January 15, 2007

American Idol 2007

As readers of Notablog no doubt know, I'm a big fan of "American Idol," which begins its 2007 season tomorrow, January 16th. (In fact, for me, with the premiere of "24" and "AI" this week, it's like the new TV season has just begun! Virtually all of the new shows I started watching this Fall are now history... but the old ones keep chuggin' along...)

A really nice article on AI appears in today's New York Daily News. Written by David Hinckley, "Why 'Idol' Outshines Its Rivals" brings attention to what I think is the essence of the series: It's a talent show! And it's part of a long tradition that stretches back to the Golden Days of Radio and TV; it may not match the track record of Amateur Night at the Apollo, but it's clearly an aspect of a larger talent show tapestry:

At its core, "American Idol" is really no more than a slick version of the Major Bowes and Ted Mack amateur hours of the 1930s, whose alumni include the likes of Frank Sinatra. Moreover, if "Idol" lasts 100 years, it's unlikely to produce anything close to the roster of winners Apollo Theater amateur nights have been delivering since 1934 - artists like James Brown, Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight and Luther Vandross. However much fun it is to hear Simon Cowell turn snarky, chasing tuneless singers back home was even more entertaining at the Apollo, where Porto Rico ran on stage in funny suits firing a starter's pistol.
No matter. "Idol" has become the most lucrative amateur night of them all, brilliantly promoting and marketing itself into a package far richer than the sum of its components.

So, I'll be watching tomorrow night; first, however, I've got to get back to watching last night's recording of Jack Bauer's explosive new adventures...

January 10, 2007

More on Jack Sullivan and Film Scores

This morning, I came across an article entitled "Conversations with John Williams," by author Jack Sullivan, whose book Hitchcock's Music I mentioned in my post on "Hitchcock and the Art of the Score." The article is published in the current Chronicle of Higher Education, which means you'll need a subscription in order to read it. For those who don't have a subscription, here's a little bit about the essay.

Sullivan tells us that John Williams, "Hollywood's premier composer," echoes the arguments of "[h]is predecessors Erich Korngold and [Bernard] Herrmann," who believed "that film music helped keep classical alive..." Williams "is convinced this phenomenon is now truer than ever."

"Purists will not like that," he admits, and he himself is emotionally torn. "As musicians, we don't like to think we need visual aids to project music. It should be able to engage us aurally and intellectually without a visual distraction. I'm painfully aware of that problem, but as you and I have discussed before, we are visual addicts, stimulated by computer or movie screens. People have their eyes glued to something all the time. For that generation, it's hard to listen to Beethoven and be completely engaged in a way that we would prefer them to be. But I think to ignore that fact is to ignore a reality that is with us; the audiovisual coupling as expressed in film music is something that is really with us to stay because of the way we live."

Sullivan reminds us of what I'd call the "snob factor" among some classical music buffs, concerning film score composing:

The classical intelligentsia once openly ridiculed film composing, using it as an instant metaphor for anything shallow or sentimental and scoffing at concert composers who wrote for the movies on the side. Stravinsky panned Rachmaninoff's symphonic works as "grandiose film music." Otto Klemperer, upon hearing that Korngold was writing for Hollywood, sneered that Korngold "had always composed for Warner Brothers, he just didn't realize it." Current critics tend to be more accepting of the field, but they practice a curious doublethink, one that is often unconscious. "Sounds like movie music" is still a common way to dismiss a new concert work, even among reviewers ostensibly friendly to the genre. ...
The stakes are high, for film music is uniquely situated to disseminate symphonic culture at the moment many commentators worry about that culture's impending collapse. In Williams's view, our multinational age presents an opportunity for classical music to reposition itself and for young composers to find an audience. "For better or worse, the audience for film music, even in an unconscious way, is multinational and enormous. If there is such a thing as global music, it's probably coming from film, where it's less attached to one particular vernacular. As a unified art form, a successful film, if it has a score that people will embrace, really can, in the atmosphere we live in today, reach across those boundaries. Film music can therefore be very important even to the history and development of the art form of music itself."

Sullivan makes important points, I think, about the significance of film scores. "Common sense should tell us that the divide between film music and classical is artificial, as silly as the schism between symphony and opera." Williams is among those composers who have kept symphonic music alive, the kind of music that features a "grand, Romantic, sweeping style..." That style was sure on display the first time I saw Williams conduct the New York Philharmonic, back in February 2004, and again in April 2005 (in an appearance at Lincoln Center that featured special guest violinist Itzhak Perlman), and yet again in May 2006.

I like the fact that Sullivan focuses on Williams's vast talent as both a composer and arranger ("he orchestrates his own scores, every note and instrument, down to the last string harmonic or harp glissando, working with pencil and paper"). Williams was deeply influenced by composers as varied as Haydn (his favorite), Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartók, as well as Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The latter influence really shows, I think, in Williams's score for "Catch Me if You Can," pieces of which were performed brilliantly at the May 2006 Avery Fisher Hall concert I attended.

In any event, having argued for the musical integrity of film scores many times in the past (see here, for example), I really enjoyed this Williams interview, and, as I said the other day, I'm looking forward to reading Sullivan's book when I have the time.

January 08, 2007

Hitchcock and the Art of the Score

There is a really good article in today's NY Times, a book review by Edward Rothstein entitled "Hitchcock, Thrilling the Ears as Well as the Eyes." In it, Rothstein reviews Jack Sullivan's new book, Hitchcock's Music (Yale University Press). Having chosen quite a few "Song of the Day" tracks from Hitchcock films, written by great composers such as Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rozsa, I have always celebrated soundtracks not only for the role they play in cinematic integration, but also as works that transcend the medium. (My celebration of film score music resumes in mid-February, with my usual "Ben-Hur" citation, in anticipation of the Academy Awards broadcast on February 25th.) So the new book sounds very intriguing.

Rothstein writes:

Bernard Herrmann, for example, who created the scores for "Psycho," "North by Northwest" and some of Hitchcock's other masterpieces, said there were only "a handful of directors like Hitchcock who really know the score and fully realize the importance of its relationship to a film." But it was more than that. For Hitchcock music was not merely an accompaniment. It was a focus. And it didn't just reveal something about the characters who sang the score's songs or moved under its canopy of sound; music could seem to be a character itself. ... Music has as much a role to play in [Hitchcock's] films as any of the characters. It might charm them or be used by them. But it also can reveal more than they know, offering secrets or promising salvation. Hitchcock's music has such an independent life, it also seeps through film’s strict boundaries: Something that seems to be a score turns out to be a radio playing off screen ("Rear Window"); music that starts as part of a film score is heard again in the humming of a hero (in "Foreign Correspondent"). "I have the feeling I am an orchestra conductor," Hitchcock once told Francois Truffaut. He also compared film to opera.
Hitchcock, without ever drawing a line between the popular and high arts, explored his chosen genre with a firm belief about the powers of music. Music can provide an archetype for Hitchcockian suspense. Music can hint at more than it says; it can unfold with both rigorous logic and heightened drama; and despite all expectations it can shock with its revelations.

Excellent observations; I look forward to picking up Sullivan's new book and reading it.

Also noted at the Rozsa Forum.

December 19, 2006

Joseph Barbera and Chris Hayward, RIP

I grew up on a steady diet of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, among other favorites, including "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons," "Yogi Bear," "Jonny Quest," and "Huckleberry Hound."

So when I found out about the passing of Joseph Barbera, I paused for a moment to recall all the joy his wonderful animation brought me.

And this passing comes after the recent passing of Chris Hayward, a writer responsible for many of the characters on "Rocky and Bullwinkle," among other timeless TV shows (hat tip to David Beito).

Cross-posted to L&P.

December 18, 2006

Justin and Andy on SNL

Justin Timberlake was featured on "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend, as both the host and the musical guest. I loved him when he first appeared on the show back in 2003, and he was just as terrific this time around.

One hilarious "digital short" was aired, with Justin and Andy Samberg. For those who enjoyed the "Lazy Sunday" clip last December, the new one, "Dick in a Box," will provide a few laughs. Check it out on YouTube.

Update: Jon posts the uncensored, unedited version, which also happens to feature audio and video that is more, uh, NSYNC. Watch it here.

September 15, 2006

Song of the Day #728

Song of the Day: Sherry, words and music by Bob Gaudio, was recorded by The Four Seasons and became a #1 Hit on this date in 1962 (it was a #1 R&B hit too). And so begins our 10-day tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which, of course, will also coincide with a change from one season to another. Listen here to an audio clip of this nostalgic hit. Having seen the Tony-winning Best Musical of 2006, "Jersey Boys," I can say that the moments leading up to the performance of this song in that production, and the performance itself, moved me to tears. It's a wonderful pop song in a wonderfully entertaining and poignant musical.

August 19, 2006

The Film Noir Music Project

As readers of my website are aware, I have been a long-time fan of film noir, film music, and jazz (check out "My Favorite Things"). And it's no coincidence that so many film noir soundtracks draw from jazz and jazz-inspired music, which lends itself to the genre's themes of seduction, melancholy, and menace.

All the more reason for me to recommend highly a wonderful CD featuring guitarist Bob Sneider and vibraphonist Joe Locke, not to mention the tasteful improvisations of trumpeter John Sneider, tenor saxman Grant Stewart, pianist Paul Hoffman, bassist Phil Flanigan, and drummer Mike Melito. The CD is called "Fallen Angel," a by-product of the Bob Sneider and Joe Locke Film Noir Project. (I couldn't find any sample audio clips on the web, but you can order it from Amazon.com and CD Universe, among other online retailers.)

The track that hooked me into purchasing the CD was the group's rendition of "Chinatown," the theme by the great Jerry Goldsmith. I am a huge fan of both the film and the soundtrack (the love theme among my favorites). I heard it on WBGO-FM, and wasted no time in picking up the whole album. That track is still my favorite on the CD, but fans of noir will have a field day checking out the many interpretations of other classic themes.

I have a backlog of music to listen to, and hope to post many more recommendations in the coming weeks.

Comments welcome.

August 17, 2006

So You Think You Can Dance II

I really enjoyed the second season of "So You Think You Can Dance," and certainly agree that the winner, Benji Schwimmer, was a terrific performer. I confess that I was a bit disappointed that my own favorite, Travis Wall, who was more the "artist" in his contemporary dance interpretations, came in second. But the tour should be fun.

The show featured an array of choreographed routines, in solo, duet, and group settings, which encompassed everything from hip hop and jazz to mambo and swing. There were many highlights, including a dance coupling of Benji and Travis, who were, ironically, the last two standing!

Anyway, I enjoyed last year's installment of the show, and thought that this was another very fine season of summer entertainment, provided by the people who bring us "American Idol." That show begins again in January 2007; they just held auditions in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where thousands of potential contestants lined up in the heat.

Comments welcome.

August 09, 2006

This and That

After a month on summer hiatus, Notablog returns.

I have no clue what shape the blog will take at this point. While I am truly inspired by those who have the time to blog daily, and to blog with substance on such a regular basis, I have found that due to my own very personal circumstances and to my own professional commitments and responsibilities, it is virtually impossible to keep up with regular blogging or to post daily on the significant developments in the world today. Suffice it to say, while Notablog returns, and while I will resume my "Song of the Day" feature this weekend (and don't be surprised if this becomes a "Song of the Week" feature in time), I am still working diligently on many projects that demand my attention.

I should note that the Summer of 2006, which is a little more than half over, has been a productive one thus far. Aside from enjoying the sun and the sea and the lighting of the Coney Island Parachute Jump (Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower), I've been hard at work. I've completed three entries for the International Encyclopedia of Political Science and another entry for the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (more information on these entries will follow in the coming months). In addition to continuing my editing of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I've also completed a piece for the forthcoming Ed Younkins-edited anthology, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which will be published next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication. My contribution is entitled: "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism."

On the subject of Ayn Rand, I have written a brief essay for the September 2006 issue of Liberty magazine. It's part of a special feature entitled "Ten Great Books of Liberty." My entry focuses on Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.

While I've been on hiatus, it came to my attention that I was memed by Nick Manley. The meme has considerable overlap with a blog entry I wrote on those works that had a significant effect on my intellectual development.

Much of that development has been influenced by dialectics, the art of context-keeping. But dialectics has taken various forms tnroughout intellectual history, and the Marxian dialectic is, of course, one of them. A new film, entitled "Half Nelson," apparently delves into the subject. I may not see the movie until it reaches DVD status, but it looks like it might be entertaining.

Marxian dialectics has interested me for many years, going back to my dissertation and to the publication of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Author Kevin M. Brien has published a second edition of his fine work, Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom, which addresses criticisms I made of his first edition back in the Fall 1988 issue of Critical Review. I hope to discuss Brien's rejoinder in the coming weeks.

In the next few weeks, I will also publish an exclusive Notablog installment of my annual feature, "Remembering the World Trade Center." This year's installment is particularly important; it comes on the fifth anniversary of that awful tragedy and it marks the first time that I will take readers inside the WTC. My interview subject was on the 89th floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck. That he survived to tell this harrowing story is a blessing to those of us who will never forget September 11, 2001. This was the most difficult interview I have ever conducted, but I trust that readers will agree with me that it is among the most important contributions to my annual series.

So stay tuned to Notablog. The music starts up again this weekend, and will include a 12-day tribute to Tony Bennett (who turned 80 on August 3rd), the return of my annual tribute to TV themes, and a September spotlight on The Four Seasons (loved "Jersey Boys").

Comments are open. Welcome back.

May 23, 2006

So... Who Will Win "American Idol"?

I haven't the foggiest. I don't know. I just don't know.

I think Taylor may have won the night by a slim margin... but then again, I'm just not sure. And who knows who the audience will vote for!? I don't think there will be a huge "injustice" either way... but I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Taylor Hicks or Katharine McPhee???

Comments welcome.

May 17, 2006

American Idol in the Stretch

As readers of Notablog know, I'm a long-time viewer of "American Idol" (see here, here, here, and here).

Well, last night was the showdown between the final three contestants. For me, Katharine McPhee earned her way into the final installment (to be aired next week) just on the strength of her rendition of "Over the Rainbow." She even sang the rarely heard introduction!

The problem, for me, is that I genuinely like the other two contestants as well: Taylor Hicks and Elliott Yamin. I think the latter has a nice soul presence, and the former is utterly fearless in his performances. If I were a betting man, I'd say it will be Hicks and McPhee in the final installment, but the voting has been known to surprise.

Tonight, we'll see who moves on! Stay tuned...

Comments welcome.

April 18, 2006

Jason Dixon Interviews Me

Today, I publish a Notablog exclusive: An interview of me conducted by Jason Dixon. The interview was conducted in late 2005-early 2006, but is finally seeing the light of day here at Notablog.

Check it out:

An Interview Conducted by Jason Dixon

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P.

April 08, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

I have watched with some fascination over the last few days, various storieson "ABC World News Tonight," "Good Morning America," and "Nightline," and today, I read this Elaine Pagels articleall on the subject of the so-called "Gospel of Judas." Once thought lost, the ancient papyrus made its way to the National Geographic, which airs a special on the book tomorrow night.

I am not a theologian, but I have always been a "student" of religion, an interest that goes far beyond my political stance on the separation of church and state, and on the corrupting influences of various forms of fundamentalism on cultural life. Perhaps some of this comes from the fact that I am the grandson of a man who was the founder of the first Greek Orthodox church in Brooklyn, New York. (His name was Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, but he died 7 years before I was born.) The Greek Orthodox certainly know how to put on a ceremony; many of their services are ripe with symbolism and aesthetic beauty. That family upbringing certainly fueled my own interests in grappling with many of these issues.

I have read the Old and New Testaments from cover to cover, and many of the so-called "heretical" Christian gospels of which Pagels speaks in her article. As I said, this hardly makes me an expert in Judeo-Christian religious matters, but the story of Judas Iscariot is one that has always puzzled me.

I know there are many conflicting and contradictory passages in the Bible, and my interest here is not in debating the pros or the cons of theism or atheism or any other -ism. What interests me is how this new "Gospel of Judas" is providing another look at a scorned character in the Christian corpus. Dante placed him on the ninth circle of hell, with Lucifer. It appears that the new gospel projects a Judas who was Jesus's best friend, one who was asked by Jesus to betray him so that the scripture could be fulfilled, so that the Son of Man might be delivered to those who would crucify him, leading to his death, and subsequent Resurrection.

But I don't think this message is entirely lost in the four main Gospels. At the Last Supper, Jesus certainly seems to know that Judas is going to betray him, even if we are left with very little information regarding Judas's motivations, beyond the "thirty pieces of silver." So I've often asked myself: If Judas is needed to tell the story of the Passion, and if his betrayal is predetermined by a divine plan, why on earth, or heaven, should he be condemned to the ninth circle of hell? Without him, there is no betrayal, no crucifixion, no resurrection. He is an essential part of the story, fulfilling a role that is necessarydare I say, "internally related"to the whole Christian drama.

In the past, I've asked some theologians why Judas should be condemned for doing what he was "supposed to do." In my own book of ethics, of course, there are no predetermined plans. There is only human choicecontextualized choice, for sure, but choice nonetheless. Some of my religious friends have claimed that Judas suffers that eternal damnation for committing suicide. But surely Jesus would have known that a guilty conscience would have driven his once beloved apostle to hang himself. When he said, from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he didn't add the proviso: "Except for Judas..."

I know, I know, this must all be a Trickster postmodernist plot to invert heroes and villains, taking us "beyond good and evil."

But I'm truly fascinated by all of this, and I'll be watching the National Geographic special, or at least recording itwhile I watch a key episode of "The West Wing," marking the passing of beloved actor John Spencer, who played the character Leo McGarry, and who, last we saw, was awaiting the results of Election Day in the great Santos-Vinick Presidential race. (For those who don't know: McGarry is the Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic Santos ticket.)

And for those of you who are also interested in religious films, this week offers lots of old and new treats, including a new two-part miniseries of "The Ten Commandments" airing on Monday and Tuesday, and the re-airing of DeMille's classic 1956 version on Saturday, April 10th. Check your local ABC listings.

Comments welcome.

March 15, 2006

Song of the Day #576

Song of the Day: I Just Called to Say I Love You was never one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs. I know it's a 1984 Oscar winner for Best Song from the film "The Woman in Red" (audio clip of the original recording at that link). But I never thought it was all that much like ... Stevie! (And it was really nice seeing a Wonder-themed show on "American Idol" last night, even if the performances weren't always top notch.) Then, one day, I heard a remarkable rendition by Diane Schurr with Herbie Hancock (audio clip at that link), and was knocked out. Listen also to an audio clip of a similar arrangement with Herbie Hancock and Raul Midon (with Stevie on harmonica).

March 08, 2006

Meme of Four

Steven Horwitz has tagged me for the "Meme-of-Four" (dammit indeed!)

Okay, here goes.

Four jobs I've had:
1. Bookkeeper
2. Assistant Orientation Director
3. Mobile Disc Jockey
4. Editor

Four movies I can watch over and over again:
1. Ben-Hur (1959)
2. Titanic (1997)
3. King Kong (1933)
4. War of the Worlds (1953)

Four places I've lived:
1. Brooklyn (West 5th Street)
2. Brooklyn (West 4th Street)
3. Brooklyn (West 9th Street)
4. Brooklyn (Dahill Road)
(Yeah, I have traveled a lot around this neighborhood...)

Four TV shows I love:
1. The Honeymooners
2. The Twilight Zone
3. The Fugitive
4. One Step Beyond

Four highly regarded and recommended TV shows I havent seen (much of):
1. The Sopranos
2. Battlestar Galactica
3. Law & Order (any of them)
4. CSI (any of them)

Four places Ive vacationed:
1. Phoenix, Arizona
2. Miami, Florida
3. Los Angeles, California
4. Peconic, Long Island

Four of my favorite dishes (only 4?!):
1. Pizza
2. Lasagna
3. Veal cutlet parmigiana
4. Spare ribs
(I could go on and on...)

Four sites I visit daily:
1. Bloglines (hehe)
2. Liberty & Power Group Blog
3. Once Upon a Time
4. Mises Economics Blog

Four places Id rather be right now:
1. Hawaii (on a beach)
2. Las Vegas (by a pool)
3. Athens (sightseeing)
4. Rome (sightseeing)

Four albums I can't live without (today anyway):
1. "Ben-Hur" (soundtrack, Miklos Rozsa composer)
2. "For Django" (Joe Pass)
3. "Embraceable You" (Carl and Joanne Barry, my brother and sister-in-law)
4. "Boss Guitar" (Wes Montgomery)

Four new bloggers I'm tagging:
1. Sunni Maravillosa
2. Chip Gibbons
3. Sheldon Richman
4. Nick Manley

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

February 01, 2006

Gay Films Breaking America's Back!

It appears that a lot of people are very upset because this year's crop of "Best Picture" and other Oscar nominees are too blue for Red State America. Admittedly, I have only seen two of the "Best Picture" nominated films so far"Crash" and "Brokeback Mountain," which has inspired this ongoing lengthy thread at Notablog. As for "Crash": I thought it was a very provocative film in its examination of the dynamics of racial prejudice, and, unless we are going to start defining "bigotry" as an American value, I am at a bit of a loss as to why anyone would view it as "un-American."

This evening, however, I learned more about fundamentalist objections to the Oscars while watching "ABC World News Tonight."

Christian conservatives are telling us again that Hollywood is "out of touch" with mainstream America. Blah. Blah. Blah. But with "Brokeback Mountain" now nominated for eight Oscars, and "Capote" nominated for five Oscars, and "Transamerica" nominated for two Oscars, it appears Sexual Perverts Are Taking Over!!! Beware the Effects on Impressionable Youths!

Ironically, many Christian conservatives have written glowing reviews of "Brokeback Mountain"some saying that the film is a finely crafted piece of celluloid, "brilliant" and "moving," in many ways. But that is what makes the film so dangerous. It's precisely the kind of effective tool that will corrupt the morals of this Christian nation! It cannot be tolerated because it is so obviously a part of the "Gay Agenda."

Mind you, it's not exactly as if "gay" themes have never been portrayed in Hollywood films (see this "Gays in Movies" timeline at ABC). It's just that some of today's celluloid queers are ... RANCH HANDS!!! Of all the nerve!!!

Well, people "in Peoria" are just fed up! And they are voting with their wallets; "the summer comedy 'Wedding Crashers'," it has been noted, "has done more box-office business" than all five of the "Best Picture" nominees combined.

Halleluah!

Still, as the ABC report notes: "There seem to be dueling impulses in Hollywood right now. More gay-themed movies than ever were nominated for Oscars. But the movie studios have increasingly been courting Christians with films such as 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and 'The Passion of the Christ.'" Yeah. How about that?

I am, quite frankly, so sick and tired of hearing about all this crap. If Christian conservatives are pissed off because a couple of "gay-themed" films "broke" through into the mainstream marketplace, clearly nobody is compelling them at gun point to go see those films. And, likewise, nobody is compelling gays to go see the newest film installment of the "Left Behind" series.

Indeed, I'm amused that some Christian conservatives are screaming bloody hell over the use of "propaganda" in film. Pot. Kettle. Black. For a survey of how well the new crop of Christian fundamentalists have used various media for their own ideological purposes, see my article "Caught Up in the Rapture."

And I don't want to hear that I just have a prejudice against "Christian-themed" films. Hogwash. My favorite film is still "Ben-Hur," but that never stopped me from having an eclectic cinematic palette.

Comments welcome.

January 26, 2006

Not-a-Blog-ing

I've often told friends and correspondents that I am not a blogger. I am a writer and an editor who happens to blog occasionally. Even the name of this blog was born of a belief that it was "Not A Blog," though it has quite clearly evolved into one. It was for that reason that I altered the name of the blog subtly, some time ago, closing the spaces in its title and proclaiming it "Notablog."

I know there are many bloggers out there who comment on the events of the day ... sometimes on the events of the hour ... quite regularly. But I must admit that this sort of thing never truly interested me. How many times can I fulminate over this or that trend in domestic politics or foreign policy? How many times can I express my disgust with the Bush administration, while having equal animosity toward its Democratic "opponents"? How many times can I repeat the mantra that cultural change is a precursor to fundamental political change and that, for example, when you embrace democracy without certain cultural preconditions, you get majoritarian results in the Middle East that empower and legitimize theocratic, fundamentalist, and/or militant forces?

And so on, and so on ...

Though I don't post daily discussions on fiery political topics and substantive philosophical and ideological issues, I just don't see the usefulness of repeating myself over and over and over again about the same stuff day-in, day-out. And if I did, I'd get no other work done!

So, in its place, you get a "Song of the Day," that has run daily since September 1, 2004, except when I dimmed the lights for three days after my dog Blondie's passing. Yeah, you still get my thoughts on radical politics and my occasional fulminations, you still get articles and announcements, but, to paraphrase Emma Goldman: If I can't dance or sing, I want no part of the revolution.

Though I love engagement and participating in dialogue, I am curiously autocratic where my "Songs of the Day" are concerned: I continue the policy of closing those selections to all discussion because my choices are not up for debate. Yes, I can enjoy discussing the historical background of a song and the virtues or vices of a particular rendition, or even a particular artist or composer, and I do welcome private notes from Notablog readers on such topics. But I think it would be terribly counterproductive and awfully time-consuming to engage in a constant public reaffirmation of my musical tastes, which are quite eclectic, as Notablog readers regularly note. (They match my intellectual tastes, which are equally eclectic, since I've learned from the left, right, and center...) So, if you don't like my songs, or a particular song, fine. Get your own blog and make your own list! :)

In the meanwhile, if you don't see any non-Song entry posted on a given day, be sure to check out the lively comments pages. For example, the discussion of "Brokeback Mountain" continues, and should pick up steam as we enter Oscar season. I welcome additional comments on this and on any other subject open to reader input.

I should also state that I get lots of private email and I do answer every letter I receive. It may take me time, but I get to every note. And many of those emails are worthy of longer blog posts. But I treat private correspondence as personal, and unless I ask permission, readers won't see their private thoughts on public display here.

Occasionally, however, I get an email whose topic might benefit readers more generally. I hope to publish a few of these correspondences soon enough, including one later today on Rand studies.

So, for now, I just want to thank all of you for your loyal readership and your continuing personal support.

Comments welcome.

January 20, 2006

"Ben-Hur" on "Jeopardy"

Readers of Notablog know that I'm a fan of both the film "Ben-Hur" and the game show "Jeopardy." So my heart skipped a beat when I turned on "Jeopardy" at 6 pm (Satellite TV provides both a 6 pm and 7 pm slot for the show) and saw a whole "double Jeopardy" category devoted to the 1959 film.

I'm very easy to please.

And, yes, I knew all the answers... phrased properly in the form of a question, of course.

Update: I videotaped the category, but missed the first question, which, I believe, was pretty much the clue I use below. By popular demand ... any takers? (The clues give away a lot of info...)

1. He got an Oscar in the title role. [$400]
2. The role of Ben-Hur was reportedly turned down by Rock Hudson and this "Hud", son. [$800]
3. The film cutting ratio of this action sequence is over 260-1; for every 260' of film shot, 1' was used. [$1200]
4. Surely you know this "Airplane" star screen-tested for the role of Messala (& don't call him Shirley). [$1600]
5. This author of "Burr" & "Lincoln" did uncredited screenwriting for "Ben-Hur". [$2000]

Comments welcome.

December 26, 2005

No More Reunion

I don't watch that many regular TV series, though I am getting ready for the January return of "American Idol" (which is just a dressed-up talent show that I'm a sucker for) and "24" (which I love).

It's very hard getting into new TV shows when we live in a culture that seems to value instant gratification, rather than building viewer loyalty through carefully constructed plots. In the age of the so-called "reality" show, good storytelling is becoming a rare commodity. New shows are on a very short leash. They have to perform brilliantly in the ratings or risk being cut after a few episodes. Unfortunately, we may never know how good some stories are; how can we knowwhen the best of such stories are written so as to build to a climax over the course of a season?

Take the show "Reunion" on FOX. Or should I say: Formerly on Fox. The show, which sought to solve a murder mystery over the course of a season documenting 20 years in the lives of its central characters, has now been cancelled. According to Virginia Rohan of the Beacon Journal, the final 9 episodes of the season, which would have revealed the killer, will not be filmed, let alone summarized, for the benefit of viewers. "Over one season, Reunion was to span from 1986 to 2006, but ratings for this critically acclaimed show were dismal." So, after filming its 13th installment, the show is now history.

Taking its cue from "24," the series sought to plot not a 24-hour day, but a mystery of 20 years, with each episode taking us to the events of a different year, starting in 1986 and moving forward, chronologically, to the current day. Clever use of flashback made for interesting storylines and character development.

When Fox announced its lineup in May, the network boasted that [Renuion] "marks a groundbreaking concept in series television as it chronicles the lives of a group of six friends over the course of 20 yearsall in just one season," adding that the series would "build toward answering two important questions raised in episode one: Which of the friends is dead? And how did that death occur?"

The latter question will forever be a mystery, apparently.

Fox had asked the producers to expedite the big revelation, but Reunion creator Jon Harmon Feldman explained why he could not: "The events of Samantha's murder are partially reliant on characters we haven't yet metand events we haven't yet seen." In a telephone interview, he elaborated. "The story was arced out over 20 years, and there was no way to tie it up so quickly," Feldman said as Reunion was wrapping production on its next-to-last episode. "I don't know what the plan is. We're going to finish our first order of 13 episodes, and see what we can do, if anything."

So Feldman was criticized by the Fox people because he dared to suggest that a story may actually take a little time to develop, especially if one is to aim for things like integration and coherence.

As for fans of the show: We're screwed. Some are demanding to know the answer to the mystery, even if the producers simply announce it or post it to a website. Some would prefer a TV movie that wraps it up. Neither conclusion is likely.

But there may be even worse consequences to this whole sorry saga:

Some people, who set aside an hour every Thursday to watch Reunion, may be loath to ever again invest in a serialized drama, especially if they haven't experienced successful examples, such as Desperate Housewives, Lost and Prison Break. It's small wonder that network television is overrun with procedural dramas.

Indeed. But this is the kind of TV atmosphere that would have murdered most of the great serials in TV history. A great drama like "The Fugitive," for example, would probably never have made it out of development. And if it did, in fact, debut on TV, we would have had to have fast-forwarded to the identity of the One-Armed Man by Episode 3; to hell with the dramatic morality tale that the series would become!

All the more reason for today's viewers to count their blessings when they do come upon a successful serialized drama.

So... bring on "24"!

Comments welcome.

December 14, 2005

Heart-Broke-back Mountain

I had the occasion to see the film "Brokeback Mountain," which, yesterday, received seven Golden Globe nominations. The Ang Lee-directed film, which has become known in certain circles as the "gay cowboy movie," stars Heath Ledger, who received a nomination for Best Actor in a Drama, and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as the nominated Michelle Williams (of "Dawson's Creek" fame).

I don't like to say much about movies for fear of including too many spoilers, so I will just say this: The film is heartbreaking. It is a testament to the damage that is done to human lives by self-alienation, repression, and fear, internalized homophobia and the pressure to conform to certain "roles" in society. It can be tender, sad, and funny. The performances are superb; the cinematography is gorgeous; the minimalist score is effective; the nature-backdrop is awe-inspiring.

Right-wing scare mongers notwithstanding, the intimate scenes are not all that explicit (though the first sexually charged scene between the two main characters does have a Roarkian-Fountainhead quality about it... viewers will know what I mean when they see it). I suspect some people will always be upset at the thought of two guys kissing, or even touching. And still others will be upset because this film is not simply about two cowboys rolling in the hay, but two men who have a romantic-love connection.

I do wonder if the PR guys were scared for Ledger and Gyllenhaal, however; is it a coincidence that Ledger has a "Casanova" film coming out on Christmas day and that Gyllenhaal is featured in the recently released military-themed "Jarhead"? It's almost as if some "handlers" in the actors' camps said: "Let's make sure we get a few 'macho' flicks out there at the same time to counteract any misimpressions Americans might get about these two handsome gents."

In any event, the actors are both terrific in "Brokeback Mountain": I strongly recommend the film.

Comments welcome.

December 04, 2005

Antiwar Masters of Horror

I've long been a fan of so-called "horror" films, in addition to sci-fi and fantasy.

Unfortunately, the Showtime series "Masters of Horror," thus far, has been a bit of a disappointment to me; it's a mix of schlock and gore, with just a few thrills thrown in for good measure. I prefer horror to have a purpose, maybe a bit of "Twilight Zone"-like morality play at work. At the very least, it should be suspenseful, rather than predictable.

I did enjoy Friday night's episode, "Homecoming," directed by Joe Dante, which made a few biting political points. For me, the funniest right-wing caricature was played by Thea Gill, who was a "skank"-like right-wing pundit, curiously comparable to Ann Coulter. It was quite a change for Gill, who portrayed the mild-mannered Lindsay in "Queer as Folk."

The Dante-directed "Homecoming" gives us a zombie tale, in which fallen soldiers come back from the dead to right the wrongs of a Presidential administration that involved them in a no-win war. No spoilers here; if you haven't caught the episode, check it out.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

November 28, 2005

Song of the Day #470

Song of the Day: Touch, words and music by Pharrel Williams of the Neptunes, is performed to smoldering perfection by Omarion (video clip available at that site). I was first turned on to the track when I saw it performed, in dance, on the hot Summer 2005 Fox talent show, "So You Think You Can Dance," which gave its top award to its most versatile dancer: Nick Lazzarini. Listen to an audio clip of the song here.

November 23, 2005

Ted Koppel Signs Off

I watched the last broadcast of "Nightline" to feature anchor Ted Koppel; it was a tender walk down memory lane as it highlighted his famed interviews with Morrie Schwartz (of Tuesdays with Morrie).

I didn't always agree with Koppel, but I'm going to miss his presence on late-night TV. At his best, he could be a tough interviewer. I'm not really looking forward to the new "Nightline" incarnation, which will feature, among others, Martin Bashir (who conducted that infamous Living with Michael Jackson interview).

But I'll give it a chance.

With Jennings, Brokaw, and Rather gone, and with Koppel leaving the late-night stage as well, I really do feel as if an era of TV news has come to pass. But even if these gents had stuck around, it is clear that the "Old Guard" is old for a reason: It is being challenged every day by the "democratization" of news gathering and commentary on cable, satellite, and the Internet.

The good thing about this ongoing process is that there is far more critical commentary on current events now available for the layperson to read or watch. But it also means that each reader needs to be ever-more diligent in weighing the quality of the ever-growing quantity of material out there.

Comments welcome.

November 03, 2005

My Favorite "War of the Worlds"

I just got a copy of the "Special Collector's Edition" DVD of "The War of the Worlds" (1953). It's the one starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson (both of whom had cameos in the Spielberg-directed remake this past summer). It's really terrific: a classic 1950s sci-fi film, with some wonderful special features on the DVD, including commentary by the principal actors, film director Joe Dante, and film historians Bob Burns and Bill Warren. A "making of" documentary and a piece on H. G. Wells are also included, along with the original theatrical trailer. And there is an added treat: the famous Orson Welles "Mercury Theatre on the Air" radio broadcast. If you've never heard that broadcast (and I first did, many years ago), I highly recommend it.

Those of you who have seen this classic Technicolor George Pal production, directed by Byron Haskin, will really appreciate this hilarious send-up "in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies." Hat tip to Aeon Skoble... I'm still laughing.

Comments welcome.

October 21, 2005

Aquaman, Serenity, and Utopia

Things are still moving in slo-mo around here, but I took the opportunity, while convalescing, to tape and watch last night's "Smallville" episode.

Readers of Notablog should know that, since childhood, I've been a fan of Aquaman. I know, I know. What can I say? I'm, uh, different.

The folks at "Entourage" were having a field-day with an Aquaman sub-plot.

But last night, the folks at "Smallville" delivered a more serious treatment: Aquaman made a guest appearance on the show and it was fun.

While I've been a long-time fan of Aquaman, I can't say the same for either "Firefly" or "Serenity": I've never seen a single episode of the former, and have yet to see the latter. Many people I know have been raving about it, so maybe someday. (I'm long familiar with actor Nathan Fillion, however; he played the character "Joey" on "One Life to Live" for a while.)

Not being familiar with "Serenity," I nevertheless enjoyed this article by my pal, Ari Armstrong. And any guy who connects certain themes in the movie with Sciabarra's work on utopianism in Marx, Hayek, and Utopia has obviously endeared himself to me for life.

Read Ari's article in its entirety.

Comments welcome.

October 01, 2005

The Great Ones

David Bianculli of the NY Daily News has a wonderful column today on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of two shows: "The Honeymooners" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." It was 50 years ago today that Jackie Gleason's TV sitcom, "The Honeymooners," made its debut for its only season of stand-alone shows, the so-called "classic 39" episodes, now out on DVD. (Imagine that! A TV season that went 39 weeks!!!) Yes, Ralph Kramden's adventures began years before in the "Cavalcade of Stars," and continued thereafter on Gleason's own variety show. But the "classic 39" are, in my view, still the very best.

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," which premiered 50 years ago on the same TV network as Gleason's wonderful series: CBS. It too was a classic in its own right, and included many episodes directed by the Master himself.

Bianculli's retrospective is worth a good read: "Golden Oldies Hit 50th: Let's Salute Gleason & Hitchcock."

Comments welcome.

September 14, 2005

The O.C. and Reunion

Last week, I taped episode 1 of the third season of "The O.C." and the very first episode of "Reunion," both Fox-TV shows.

Now... no comments from the Peanut Gallery about how worthless these shows are. Some of us actually like a little mindless entertainment on occasion. And my life certainly won't be over if I don't get to see these episodes.

But, tonight, when I went to use the same video tape on which the shows were recorded, I discovered that the tape had been eaten by the VCR. Tomorrow night, Fox airs the second episodes of both of these series; it would be nice to actually see the first episodes before venturing into the second episodes.

So, I'm wondering... do any of my readers have video copies of last week's episodes of "The O.C." and "Reunion"?

Comments welcome, but please contact me offlist and I'll arrange to compensate for video and shipping charges; I'm at chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu

Thanks a million...

The Comic Book Geek Revolutionaries

Okay, I'm not a total Comic Book Geek; I did score 82% "comic pure," which does not make me a Comic Book Geek by any stretch of the imagination. But clearly, there is still 18% "comic corruption" in my soul. And when that impure aspect of my characterlet's call it my "Comic Book Geek Self" (CBGS)does a mind meld with my "Scholar Self," I end up producing such essays as this one.

I sometimes wonder how many radical libertarians began as Comic Book Geeks. I know a few myself who have long struggled with their CBGS's; such gents have only encouraged me in my Comic Corruption. Well. Actually. These gents don't struggle at all with their CBGS's. They completely embrace their Inner Geek. Some more flamboyantly than others. When a guy like Roderick Long devotes a whole webpage to Anarky, it's one thing. But when a guy like Aeon Skoble writes more than a few articles and even edits a book on an animated television program (i.e., The Simpsons... i.e., a cartoon!), one must take notice.

If one were to measure one's revolutionary quotient by the presence of an Inner Geek, however, Aeon might be called Our Fearless Leader. His interests extend from comics to comedic artists, but underlying all of this is a profound appreciation of the important link between philosophy and popular culture. He has written pieces on Seinfeld, Forrest Gump, and The Lord of the Rings; he even wrote a superb Spring 2003 paper for the American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, entitled "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-Bashing in the Comic Book World." He's straight and "Married With Children," however. Not that there's anything wrong with that! He has a wonderful family, a great wife, and two adorable daughters (see those pics at the bottom of his links page). And he certainly has his priorities straight: He's a Yankees fan and has even written a piece on baseball and philosophy! And, by now, he's probably blushing reading all this praise.

As it happens, I recently got him to inscribe a copy of a new book entitled Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way, edited by Tom Morris and Matt Morris. Aeon has a fine essay in the anthology entitled "Superhero Revisionism in Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns." He argues that these two graphic novels, the first written by Alan Moore, the second by Frank Miller, "invite us to completely rethink our conception of the superhero, and ... to reconsider some of the fundamental moral principles that have traditionally underwritten our appreciation of superheroes."

Many sophisticated elements of comics today that we now take as givensthe way they raise questions of justice and vengeance, their exploration of the ethics of vigilantism, and their depiction of ambivalent and even hostile reactions toward superheroes from the general public as well as from governmentare largely traceable to these works.

What follows is a discussion that references everything from Death Wish, the 1974 film with Charles Bronson, to Friedrich Nietzsche. The article motivated me to finally read Watchmen from cover-to-cover before I even attempted to digest Aeon's points. I found Alan Moore's graphic novel, featuring the character Rorschach, quite provocative on many levels. I agree with Aeon when he writes:

One of Moore's epigraphs is the famous aphorism penned by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you." ... Moore and Miller are asking us to look into the abyss, and then to use it as a mirror for seeing ourselves more clearly.

Aeon points out further:

The superhero's most fundamental attitude seems to be that, contrary to Locke, it's everyone's right, if not duty, to fight crime, and to do whatever we can to seek justice for ourselves and for our communities. Spider-Man famously realized that "with great power comes great responsibility," but [Moore's character] Rorschach shows us that the "power" to fight crime is largely a matter of will, or choice, which seems to create a greater responsibility for all of us.

Aeon suggests that Moore puts his finger on certain troubles inherent in the "Superhero" mind-set:

There are many important ways in which we can be led by Watchmen to rethink the superhero concept: Could anyone ever be trusted to occupy the position of a watchman over the world? In the effort "to save the world," or most of the world, could a person in the position of a superhero be tempted to do what is in itself actually and deeply evil, so that good may result? Is the Olympian perspective, whereby a person places himself above all others as a judge concerning how and whether they should live, a good and sensible perspective for initiating action in a world of uncertainty? That is to say, could anyone whose power, knowledge, and position might incline them to be grandiosely concerned about "the world" be trusted to do the right thing for individuals in the world? Or is the savior mindset inherently dangerous for any human being to adopt?

I found these questions to be significant especially in the light of my earlier reading of a book recommended to me by Joe Maurone: John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett's work, The Myth of the American Superhero, which deals with certain quasi-"fascist" elements at the base of the "American Monomyth" (discussions of the Lawrence-Jewett book can be found here).

Aeon rightly attaches crucial importance to these issues:

Questioning the concept of the superhero ultimately involves questioning ourselves. And the main question is not whether we as ordinary people would be prepared to do what a superhero might have to do under the most extraordinary circumstances, but rather whether we are in fact prepared to do whatever we can do in ordinary ways to make the world such that it doesn't require extraordinary salvation from a superhero acting outside the bounds of what we might otherwise think is morally acceptable. Against the backdrop of some bleak and nihilistic statements about meaning in the universe and in life, Alan Moore seems to be making the classic existentialist move of throwing the responsibility of meaning and justice onto us all, and showing us what can result if we abdicate that responsibility, leaving it to a few, or to any one person who would usurp the right to decide for the rest of us how we are to be protected and kept safe.

All excellent points.

It's interesting to me that Aeon focuses on this tension between taking individual self-responsibility and abdicating that responsibility to perceived superiors. It might be said that the same tension exists in the dynamics that propel social change. Whereas it might be true that the Philosopher Kings and Queens have a way of establishing broad and influential intellectual movements in historytheir ideas slowly filtering through many different levels of social discourse, including popular cultureit is also true that popular culture itself has a way of altering consciousness and fueling broad-based social change.

Indeed, one might say that there is a reciprocal connection between the forms of popular culture (films, TV shows, comic books, etc.) and the "consciousness-raising" necessary to all social change. As Aeon puts it in his Spring 2003 paper, "all social problems depend for their successful resolution on grassroots-level changes in peoples thinking, a shift in general perception from the bottom up, as opposed to edicts from the top down. ... Comic books both reflect trends in social change and help foster social change."

This doesn't mean that a Watchmen movie is going to usher in a political and social revolution; but it does mean that the forms of popular culture can have an important effect on social and political attitudes ... and realities.

Like I said: We "Comic Book Geeks" are revolutionaries at heart.

In any event, pick up one, or all, of the books in which Aeon's terrific work is featured. You won't be disappointed.

Update: Praise God! Aeon has finally posted (as a PDF) his APA article, "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-bashing in the Comic Book World."

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.

September 13, 2005

Ben-Hur: A Tale of A Great DVD Collection

Readers of Notablog are certainly familiar with my life-long love of the 1959 film version of "Ben-Hur," as expressed in essays such as this one.

As I mentioned here back in May, a 4-DVD collector's edition of the great William Wyler-directed film has just been released today. The digital restoration and sound have made this one remarkable release. There are many wonderful extras, commentary by film historians, a music-only track showcasing the immortal Miklos Rozsa score, trailers, newsreels, screen tests, Academy Award Ceremony highlights, several fabulous documentaries, including a brand new one entitled "Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema." And on top of all this, you get the magnificent 1925 original silent version, starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, with its Carl Davis orchestral score.

This is an utterly superb collection. Do not miss it. I am awestruck by this DVD's clarity and quality. And I'm still in love with every aspect of this great epic (and I told the Miklos Rozsa Society Forum the same thing).

Also: Check out the Cool Warner Brothers Promo Site!

Comments welcome... but don't waste time! Go get the DVD collection now!

July 20, 2005

The Forsyte Saga

Stan Rozenfeld gives a good review to one of my favorite all-time TV series: the original "Forsyte Saga" (a 1967 BBC production). Check out his review here. I left a brief comment here.

Comments welcome, but drop by Stan's Live Journal.

June 03, 2005

Aquaman's Entourage

I don't watch the HBO series "Entourage," but I took an interest in David Bianculli's comments this morning in his 3-star review of the second season's premiere episode. Bianculli writes:

As the second season begins, Ari is trying to persuade Vince to accept the studio's offer to star in a new comic-book action franchise blockbuster, based on the DC Comics character Aquaman. Vince is wary of being typecastbut Ari, pleading his case while sitting courtside with the boys at a Lakers game, points across the arena and says, "There's the Joker! There's Batman! There's Spider-Man! They're all typecastas rich guys!" We don't see Jack Nicholson, Tobey Maguire or whichever Batman Ari is pointing outbut the scene does play out on the Lakers' floor seats. ... For the gorgeous (and often naked) women and freebies to keep coming, Vince and his friends shortly will have to make certain sacrificesincluding, perhaps, starring as Aquaman. It sounds like fun, and the second season of "Entourage" certainly starts out that way.

Now, I hope I'm misreading this... but is Bianculli actually suggesting that "starring as Aquaman" is a "sacrifice," in the "conventional" sense of doing something of a lesser value in order to achieve something of a higher value?

Well, of all the nerve!

I suppose this means that I must finally bust open the closet doors and admit it to the hearing of the world. Growing up... my favorite superhero ... was ...

Aquaman.

And I mean the original Aquaman! (Okay... the Alex Ross depiction is cool too...)

Go ahead. LAUGH. Laugh all you want! But he was. It probably had something to do with the blond hair (I love blonds) or maybe because I was born an Aquarian. Whatever the reason... I picked a superhero to like that almost everybody else disses. And clearly the dissing continues till this day.

It's time to stop feeling like a fish out of water, fellow fans! Aquaman Admirers of the World, Unite!

Comments welcome. But be afraid. Be very afraid.

May 31, 2005

Fear and the Sith Sense

Every so often, they let me out of this joint to go see a film or maybe a ballgame. Yesterday, it was time for a movie.

Having seen all previous five films in the "Star Wars" franchise, my natural curiosity to see the final film has been sparked even more by all the discussions I've read. Commentary by Technomaget, Ari Armstrong, Scott Horton, Anthony Gregory, Thomas A. Firey, Joe Maurone, and Ed Hudgins, to name a few, has been thought-provoking.

I don't want to argue about the relative merits of these commentaries. I just want to say that I genuinely enjoyed the film, despite the many mixed messages contained therein.

It helped that I chose to make the viewing of this film a grand entertainment experience. We went to the Ziegfeld Theater, which stands a few hundred feet from the original Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan. Understand that this is a theater; it's not some mutliplex with rooms no bigger than your living room. This theater has over 1100 seats and a real balcony! It features red velvet carpets and walls, crystal adorned chandeliers and relics from the Ziegfeld Follies, from the days of Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice. All in all: a wonderful environment in which to witness a cinematic spectacle. The last time I was there was in the early 1970s when Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 epic, "The Ten Commandments," was re-released. I remember it well; we entered the theater to the soundtrack music composed by Elmer Bernstein, and sat in awe of the opening of the Red Sea.

The presentation of "Revenge of the Sith" was no different in form: We entered the theater to the triumphant soundtrack music composed by John Williams. And when the film began, the digital sound and picture were nearly overwhelming in their sharp clarity.

It's easy to fall in love with the dazzling special effects and cinematography, the terrific film editing, and that Williams score, which is relentless, playing like an instrumental opera as cinematic subtext, intensifying our emotions and the images on screen. As Anthony Tommasini puts it:

The whole "Star Wars" epic has been likened to Wagner's "Ring" cycle. In the earlier films Mr. Williams certainly adopted the Wagnerian technique of using identifying themes (leitmotifs) to mark the appearances of specific characters, symbols and plot lines ... In the new film, when Anakin is on the brink of becoming Darth Vader, you know what's coming, and it comes: the treading "Darth Vader" theme, as much a trademark of the "Star Wars" enterprise as Han Solo action figures. But in general, Mr. Williams uses the leitmotif technique with greater subtlety here. Hints of themes thread through the scorein inner voices, in wayward bass lines.

This is one of Williams's grandest, most accomplished scores. As an aside, I actually purchased the soundtrack before seeing the film, and was deeply impressed as well by the second "bonus" DVD disc, which I recommend highly. It is entitled "A Musical Journey" and features 17 "music videos," actually a series of montages that roughly follow the chronological arc of the story from Episode I, "The Phantom Menace" to Episode VI, "Return of the Jedi." It's a glorious primer for the "Star Wars" fan, a nice way of viewing the whole mythic story through music. And it's narrated by Ian McDiarmid, who once again plays the deliciously evil Emperor Palpatine.

But the heart of a film is not its special effects or its score; it is its script and its acting, and on these points, this film has problems not unlike some of the others in the series. Many critics have commented rightfully on the passages of "wooden" dialogue, and some have found Hayden Christensen lacking in his portrayal of the full range of emotions that the role of Anakin Skywalker would seem to demand. He's okay in the role, but there is an angst and a moral confusion that exist in the continuum between a smile and a scowl that seems missing (quite different from his more nuanced performances in such films as "Life as a House").

Nevertheless, I did find the story absorbing. Whatever problems Lucas has as a philosopher, there is enough in his film about the deterioration of principles in the act of "protecting" them that is of interest. For those of us who are especially concerned about the alleged trade-off between "freedom" and "security," in which an augmentation of the latter is often used as a pretext for the protection, and destruction, of the former, there are many lessons illustrated on screen.

A lot has been made of the fact that Obi-wan Kenobi, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, utters the baffling line that "Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes." But the evil Emperor Palpatine accuses the Jedi of being just as "dogmatic" in their absolutes. So, from where I sit, it's a wash.

Even more has been made of Yoda's Zen-like advice to Anakin to resist the fear of loss, which is the path to the Dark Side. Of course, it is easier for Yoda to talk about forsaking the fear of loss, since he knows that in death, there is new life to come.

Still, there is something to be said about accepting both death and loss as part of life's natural cycle; it is not loss per se that is the problem. It is the fear of loss that often motivates people to forsake their values in an attempt to keep alive something that is threatened, or withering away. It's like that in love too, hence the old adage: "If you love somebody, set them free. If they come back, they're yours. If they don't, they never were."

I take Yoda's dissertation on loss to be something similar to that. And the insight that fear is at the base of the basest of human vices is a good one. This is something that I once wrote about on the Atlantis discussion list: "Star Wars' Yoda and Rand on Fear." In that post, reflecting on "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," I wrote:

Every so often, a few kernels of philosophic truth come blaring forth from the dens of pop culture, and "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," like other films in the George Lucas series, is no exception. Discussing whether young Anakin Skywalker (who shall become Darth Vader) is an appropriate subject for Jedi training, Yoda senses that the boy is filled with fear and even if he proves to be the "chosen one," there are too many unresolved contradictions and questions within his soul. "Fear," says Yoda, "is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to Suffering."
I thought this especially interesting since in previous posts we have discussed how fear is the "enemy within" (as the Rush lyricist Neil Peart expressed in three songs, the so-called "Fear" trilogy). Ayn Rand has had a lot to say about "fear"---in fact, I conclude the final chapter of my book, AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, with a passage from THE FOUNTAINHEAD that has long been my favorite, and that centers on this very issue. It is a passage that other writers (such as Slavoj Zizek) have greatly appreciated. As Roark stands before a jury of his peers, ready to provide a defense of himself, Rand writes:
"He stood by the steps of the witness stand. The audience looked at him. They felt he had no chance. They could drop the nameless resentment, the sense of insecurity which he aroused in most people. And so, for the first time, they could see him as he was: a man totally innocent of fear. The fear of which they thought was not the normal kind, not a response to a tangible danger, but the chronic, unconfessed fear in which they all lived. They remembered the misery of the moments when, in loneliness, a man thinks of the bright words he could have said, but had not found, and hates those who robbed him of his courage. The misery of knowing how strong and able one is in one's own mind, the radiant picture never to be made real. Dreams? Self-delusion? Or a murdered reality, unborn, killed by that corroding emotion without name - fear - need - dependence - hatred? Roark stood before them as each man stands in the innocence of his own mind. But Roark stood like that before a hostile crowd - and they knew suddenly that no hatred was possible to him. For the flash of an instant, they grasped the manner of his consciousness. Each asked himself: do I need anyone's approval? - does it matter? - am I tied? And for that instant, each man was free - free enough to feel benevolence for every other man in the room."
I think Rand and Yoda ... recognize a great truth: the reciprocally reinforcing relationship between fear, anger, hatred, dependency, malevolence, and suffering. It is only by facing the root of fear and triumphing over it that one can begin to express the best within oneself.

Ironically, I had the occasion to revisit this theme of "fear" in my reading of James Valliant's new book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. Valliant reproduces whole sections of Rand's private journals, those notes she made when she was grappling with the painful collapse of her relationship with Nathaniel Branden. At one point, Rand places in quotes the comment: "Fear is the antonym of thought," and she recognizes that a person who is "totally motivated by fear ... is not motivated by the 'love of values.'" The only motivation for those who fear is "the desire to escape from fear" (see page 347 of the book).

In the end, whatever murky Yoda-isms Lucas ascribes to, I think he's put his finger on something very important. The whole epic can now be viewed from another angle, which does not obscure the clear line between good and evil as much as it captures the process by which good is lost, and by which it might be regained. "There's still good in him," says the dying Padme of Anakin Skywalker. And so the epic franchise becomes a tale of Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, who began as the "Chosen One," only to embrace the Dark Side out of fear, only to find redemption out of the courage to face the best that still lurked deep within him.

Be that as it may, Yoda still kicks ass as a Master Jedi and, like in the last film, "Episode II: Attack of the Clones," it's still worth the price of admission just to see him in action. And once you hear that deep breathing from Darth Vader, you'll know you've come full circle. Quite a Ring, indeed.

Comments welcome. Noted also at L&P in the comments section to Sheldon Richman's "Crisis, Leviathan, and the Revenge of the Sith" and Technomaget's Live Journal.

May 27, 2005

"Ben-Hur": A Tale of a New DVD Release

Readers know from this essay that I've long considered "Ben-Hur" to be my favorite film of all time. Some months ago, I was contacted by those involved in the production of a new mega DVD release coming out in September 2005. I gave them a lot of information for their Collector's Edition, but I doubt I'll make the credits. :)

In any event, a very nice press release comes to me via film historian and producer Bruce Crawford. Bruce was interviewed for the new documentary, and another pal of mine, film historian T. Gene Hatcher, offers commentary. Check out information on the new "Four Disc Collector's Edition" here. It will even include the 1925 silent version!

Comments welcome.

Update: I mentioned this at the Miklos Rozsa Forum as well.

The Serenity of Total Freedom

I know absolutely nothing about "Serenity," an upcoming film... though I've seen a lot of chit-chat about it in the blogosphere. But today I got a chance to read Ari Armstrong's essay at Colorado Freedom Report, "Jewel Staite Brings Serenity to Colorado." Armstrong makes fun use of the tri-level dialectical model of analysis I explore in my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. It's almost enough to make me go see the movie!

Comments welcome.

May 26, 2005

And the Winners Are...

I am talking about two winners, actually: The winner of Jeopardy's "Ultimate Tournament of Champions" and the winner of the "American Idol" competition. And for the benefit of those who have Tivo'ed or taped these programs, I offer my comments in the extended entry.

Continue reading "And the Winners Are..." »

May 24, 2005

Classic TV: "24" and "The Fugitive"

I am really not going to say too much about "24" because I have too many friends who have yet to see the finale. However, even they should stop reading now. Spoiler Alert! I just wanted to share one or two thoughts ...

Continue reading "Classic TV: "24" and "The Fugitive"" »

May 20, 2005

American Idol Smackdown

With previous posts here and here on "American Idol," I'm obviously a fan. After a season of controversy on the show, D-Day is next Wednesday. Will it be Bo Bice or Carrie Underwood? My vote is for Bo, though I don't actually vote. Well, I mean, I try to vote, but I never quite get through because of endless busy signals. Either way, it would be nice to see the coronation of a rock-influenced Idol for a change; Bice's vocals remind me a bit of the classic sound of Blood, Sweat, and Tears.

There's only one finale I'm more interested in than "American Idol." That's "24." And, no, I'm not a shill for Fox.

Comments welcome.

April 14, 2005

American Idol Under Assault

Stephen Holden says some accurate things about "American Idol" in his review of Barbara Cook's show at the Cafe Carlyle. But some of it is a bit over the top.

I mention this in response to Aeon Skoble's self-outing at L&P as an "AI" viewer: "Problems with Democracy."

Comments welcome.

March 14, 2005

Idle American Idol

Okay, I admit it. "American Idol" is one of those shows that I watch regularly. I enjoy it. It comes from a grand talent show tradition that includes everything from "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" to "Star Search" to "It's Showtime at the Apollo."

I've already got a few favorites among the Top 12 Contestants, who begin their all-out competition tomorrow night on FOX. And one of those favorites was Mario Vasquez, who dropped out last night for "personal reasons," and was on "Good Day New York" this morning to talk about it.

Oy. Lord help him, because now the media will be sniffing around big-time to identify those "personal reasons," looking for the next Frenchie Davis or Corey Clark or Donnie Williams controversy.

In any event, you can check out more Mario news on his fan site here.

Comments welcome.

March 06, 2005

The Notebook

Last night, I saw a movie on DVD that really touched me. I'm sure some critics would pan it as a syrupy, cliched, old-fashioned tearjerker. So be it. I loved it. With fine performances by a cast that includes James Garner and Gena Rowlands, a sensitive score, and lovely cinematography, "The Notebook" is one of the most poignant love stories I've ever seen. I recommend it to all unreconstructed romantics and have added it to My Favorite Films.

February 17, 2005

Song of the Day #176

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Prelude") [audio clip at that link], music by Miklos Rozsa, announces the main theme from what is probably my favorite film score, composed by one of my favorite composers, for my favorite movie, the 1959 film version of the General Lew Wallace novel, starring Oscar-winner Charlton Heston in the title role. What better way to celebrate my own birthday than with my favorites?