I have had a week in Center Parcs with family enjoying the mixed delights of the swimming pool, pizza making sessions, hijacked bowling, an ever so slightly Psychoville children’s entertainer and the ever present black hole sucking away all of the money on pleasant but heavily marked up to the point of criminality restaurants and food (shades of Black Books).
While I’ve been away and learning the futility of trying to enforce normal bedtime routines I’ve not been reading as much this week (so no Blogs of the Week).
So what this is is a heavily musical post about the week before Center Parcs where I could explore all manner of sonic diversions and trips to memory lane rather than having to endure the technicolour purgatory of the ‘Hot Dog Dance’ for nearly a week.
This isn’t a post about hated things (saving that for the long promised and delayed Max and Ruby post), it’s one of wonder, memory, discovery, riffs and stories about cogs and top hats and goggles.
Toejam and Earl
Fresh from writing Childish Things I wanted to explore some of the soundtracks of the games I used to play. This is because they are tunes that kick off good memories of either the experience or the people that I played them with and the tunes are still good and stand alone.
This is from a wonderfully odd game from the 1990s where much of the game is spent wandering around eating junk food, opening random presents and avoiding the boogeyman, chickens with mortars and the temptation to hula.
It’s one of the few games I could play with my sister and it has a great funk soundtrack (despite the dated hip hop references). The soundtrack is around half an hour in total and instantly makes me smile.
Reading the comments I saw that the music was heavily influenced by Herbie Hancock.
They were very right. The first track I listened to was a clear inspiration for the Toejam and Earl soundtrack. Sadly for my Cubs it then lead to oooh…three hours of listening to jazz funk odyssey action. This made watching kids TV both weird and infinitely better as the generic sounds of Paw Patrol (and yes, Max and Ruby) were drowned out by cowbell and jazz flute.
Fun as that was it did get a bit too much so it was time then to retreat back to less challenging material and return to some fun game soundtracks. It’s all the fun of playing the game without actually having to do it again!
Another funky game soundtrack that makes me smile, this was an obvious choice.
This is just the menu theme! The full soundtrack is available but doesn’t truly capture the full magic. The game involves being a blob of paint restoring the colour to the world turned grey by the games baddies. What the soundtrack does is respond to your playing. Each colour adds a different musical instrument accent to the background track. The soundtrack then builds as you play and the level becomes a fantastical swirl of colour and sound.
The closest you can get to that without actually playing the game is this New Orleans style stomp of this track starting as a funeral march until it builds into something more joyful.
Naturally this game soundtrack is heavily influenced by legendary funk bands and some tracks are pretty much new versions of The Meters tracks.
Much like the Herbie Hancock link finding the full discography of The Meters swallowed a good few hours making the wash, feed, repeat cycle of Sunday less wearying.
It also lead me on to gems like this. Cow bell and wah-wah guitar gave a 70s cop show feel to my cubs racing around the house chasing each other on imaginary bear hunts.
It can’t be all about me though. Some concessions have to be made for more cub-friendly tunes (so definitely no NSFW Faith No More) but I still get dibs on the digital jukebox so no badly animated, charmless nursery rhymes. Nope.
I’m a great fan of the Putamayo CDs and their collections of world music. Their playground selections are particularly good as they feature real songs played well (no winsome stage school All-American(TM) pups here) in a way that is fun, without being patronising or horribly worthy. Also jazz Spiderman never fails.
Such perkiness can never last and thanks to Random Musings dark flash fiction Jump I could return to normal programming.
This grinding gothic behemoth of track took over my internal jukebox for a whole week. Random Musing did apologise for this but there was no need. I love these types of tracks. Her post on theme of Jump featured a deceptively simple tale of someone whispering an unhelpful suggestion to someone on the edge.
Interestingly the comments that followed all seem to paint the person as a sadist or sociopath ignoring the more terrifying possibility that the person saying jump wasn’t some monster but someone like them. Someone taken by a moment of madness, never thinking that the person may take their suggestion seriously.
The Rammstein song above takes a different approach on a similar theme. For non-German speakers (or those that don’t have the stomach or desire for 5 minutes of sludge) here is the full translation.
After this brief diversion, back to the cubs!
The cubs were given the opportunity to ask for any type of music they wanted. They demanded pirate songs and a quick search found an amazing collection of pirate themed tracks. Tucked within this selection were a number of great tracks from an Australian band Brillig.
This track caught their attention and they cheerfully swayed along with us as we raised imaginary glasses to the Old Captain. They also loved this jaunty murder ballad. They spun around with each other chanting “Pirate Ship! Pirate Ship”.
The song’s chorus stuck in my head so much I found my self singing ‘we dance all day upon the rolling wave / we dance all day on your grave’ at work. As well as jaunty songs of murder at sea there is also this stately tale of desolation at sea.
From pirates to airship pirates!
Steam Powered Giraffe
Along with great pirate tunes I found a listing below for steam punk music. I knew that steam punk was a book genre taking the cues from Jules Verne to apply science fiction to the Victorian ages telling tales of clockwork automatons, airships and sometimes magic .
What I didn’t know was that it’s also a musical genre of its own to go with all the cosplay and stories. I found a treasure trove of fantastic songs and bands. I loved the Firefly inspired Swords for Hire riffage, the murder plot of The Clockmaker’s Apprentice, Wild Western tales from Cog is Dead and the theatrics and polka metal of Abney Park’s Throw them Overboard but the clear winner was Steam Powered Giraffe.
This got the cubs bouncing at the dinner table and demanding to dance with us.
“1,2, 3 LA DA DA DA DA!”
They also have fantastic cover versions of Daft Punk and Rhianna.
All these waltz timey and dishevelled, shambolic shanties and dark tales made me go to the master of all such arts. Time spent with Tom is rarely time wasted. As well as an imaginative lyricist and experimental musician he is a fantastic story teller and entertainer.
This clip demonstrates not only his musicianship but his effortless patter.
He is also capable of terrifying angry tracks like Hell Broke Luce. Some of the gravitas is lost when it’s Cookie Monster singing though.
Manic Street Preachers
It’s my blog and as such it is inevitable that the Manics would have to feature somewhere.
The slightly embarrassing thing is that even though I am a diehard fan and this was my first CD back in 1996 I completely forgot that I had bought tickets for the 20th Anniversary show at the Royal Albert Hall where I first saw them in 1997.
I’d forgotten how much I love this album. I’ve listened to The Holy Bible more times than is strictly healthy but this is a fine album too. It inspired me to learn guitar (and play a comically unsuitable Les Paul copy rather than a lighter Strat), I bought the famously terrible guitar tab book and then when I first discovered the internet got a friend to print all the online tabs available so I could learn the other album tracks and b-sides. The songs and the b-sides were a near constant companion during a harrowing time and still are.
I have a spare ticket for the 16th if any of my readers fancy going.
No musical blog for the last few weeks could ignore the death of Prince. I first discovered Prince from the Batman soundtrack. Much, much later I listened to 1999. I was aware of the legends around his musicianship, how he could pick up any instrument and play it straight away but I never really got it.
I was shocked by the news and naturally Twitter quickly responded with links to the best bits. The clip below came recommended with the usual ‘epic’ superlatives. I like The Beatles (I do not love them) and I like While My Guitar Gently Weeps but it’s a bit dirgey and ploddy.
I kept watching the unedifying spectacle of ageing rockers plod their way through for about 3 minutes whilst they made the most ridiculous ‘point-of-no-return’ faces (ahem) while playing the signture licks (see 2:01 for the full horror). Prince is barely there aside from some glimpses of his red hat. That all changes at 3:31.
If you’re going to make silly faces while playing guitar then your playing needs to justify it. Prince absolutely dominates the performance with a virtuoso display that wipes away the memory of the po-faced minutes that preceded it. He does with style and humour.
After that I had to find more Prince tracks and probably will do so for a while.
BONUS Island Living 365 content
Queens of the Stone Age
Like Clockwork ranks as one of my favourite albums. It blends all my favourite parts of music into one complete experience. It’s an exercise in catharsis, fear, loss, lust and fantastic riffs and melodies.
This slithering snake of a song channels the funk of Prince and features some great lines.
As well as sleaze, Queens of the Stone Age cover more personal themes. This Bowie style number features a line that much like Caldey can absolutely floor me
“To be vulnerable / is needed most of all / if you intend to truly fall apart”
The last few days have been those sort of days where I have been shaken to the core by watching my children play with teddy bears and the abject terror I felt when one of the cubs climbed up and started to play with the candle holder by resting it on the boys’ urn.
Then it becomes the sort of time that demands a song like this:
“Feelings, raw & exposed when I’m out of control / Pieces were stolen from me or dare I say given away”
Never one to end well here’s my final track. I only dimly remember seeing a brief article about Johnny Dowd in the eye-opening (and sadly short lived) magazine Careless Talk Costs Lives (the same magazine that introduced me to The Paper Chase). I had a look on YouTube and found this very odd track.
The mix of country lyrics with menacing bubbling bass line (even with its Death Egg Zone shadows) coupled with some unhinged and inspired playing is a horrible mess that shouldn’t work. At one point it turns into Pinocchio and even Johnny appears to not know why but goes with it. I watched it at first with morbid curiosity and then again with fascination. It’s the sort of thing I play when angrily working out frustrations on a guitar by attacking the fretboard with any combination of horrible notes and sounds.
How about you?
If you have enjoyed the tracks you can find them on my YouTube playlist (along with bonus Queens of The Stone Age).
If you have your own recommendations on what gets you or your children dancing please list them in your comments! Have you managed to sway them away from bland nursery rhymes and bad theme tunes?