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Posts Tagged ‘music’

Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things, Part 4: Sukiyaki, a few ways

Posted by crowbiz on July 20, 2009

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I have no musical abilities.  I have never received any training whatsoever and cannot read music nor play an instrument, but I can pick out a simple tune by figuring out the notes.  Sheer persistence will not spirit me to Carnegie Hall any time soon.  My biggest claim to fame is that I figured out the famous segments from Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” – for my son’s sake – and an assortment of other clunky note-after-note arrangements of songs no one would want to hear anyway.  For a short time in my adult life I had a flea market accordian, and as far as a lot of people are concerned, the less said about it the better.  My two songs were “Beer Barrel Polka,” naturally, and a hard-to-detect version of “Wipe Out.”  I’ve been threatening a midlife  drum lesson crisis; the family is rightfully worried yet ambivalent; they know drumming would serve as a general stress/rage outlet which they’d be forced to endure, but it would also mean I’d be less likely to take out my frustrations directly on them.  Life is all about trade-offs.

Singing, however, seems like something I could tackle.  Everyone can sing.  Not well, but everyone technically can do it.  And so I do.  Since the boys were babies, I’ve been singing out loud without embarrassment, as infants and toddlers are very receptive to Nat King Cole standards and other gems.  Now that they’re old enough to be embarrassed by and for me, I’ve upped the mortifaction potential by trying a few songs in foreign languages.  My version of “Sur Les Quais du Vieux Paris” is decent, what with my passing toddler-level French and a lot of gusto.

Next is one I’ve been wishing to master for years:  “Sukiyaki.”  The most famous version was done by Kyu Sakamoto, who saw it become a hit in 1963.  It’s a charmingly mournful song with its xylophone melody (? I told you I have no musical knowledge) and whistling interlude.  Here’s some sort of pre-video version of it that is equal parts dreary, cute, and puzzling.  Though I hardly have to point it out, notice the requisite Godzilla-like lip-asynching.  For a love song, it’s also creepy how Sakamoto dreamily runs his hands along a bunch of filthy 55-gallon industrial drums and walks through what may be chemical run-off puddles.

Unfortunately, this song has been covered many times, and every cover I’ve uncovered is dreck.  Worst are the versions that use the “Sukiyaki” melody with invented English lyrics.  The disco group A Taste Of Honey did a 70s version.  Yep, there’s a rap version.  Most pitiful was a country version I unearthed by a Hank Billy Wayne Bobby Pickens, Jr. or some such.  Why bother?  Aren’t there more important things to do – find a cure for cancer, mow a lawn somewhere?

Even sadder than the misguided covers is Kyu Sakamoto’s untimely death in the deadliest single airplane disaster in history in 1985, in which over 500 people perished.  Adding to this sadness is that as a 21-year-old college swingle, I knew about Sakamoto, “Sukiyaki,” and the crash at the time.  I knew the death count and that there had been a few survivors, including a couple of children.  This blog category isn’t called “corny” for nothing.

So far, I’ve covered a bit of the good, the bad and the ugly.  Now get ready for some awesome.  In my search for lyrics, I found one cover of “Sukiyaki” that, if you have human blood in your veins, should knock your socks off.  Forget the honky-tonk burlesque instrumentation.  Overlook his Nordic-patterned sweater and shocking resemblance to Buddy Hackett.  If this guy isn’t one of the most honest and spirited things you’ve seen online in a long while, then you’re a fool and you should just go back to watching farting dogs, snap dancing and William Hung for your unexamined kicks.  When he stops “la la la”-ing and sits quietly looking dead at you, then adjusts his glasses, you’ll know.

As for my own never-to-be-recorded “Sukiyaki,” progress is going nicely.  Phonetically, I find it very easy to handle and it’s mostly a matter of memory, but in a couple days I ought to have it nailed.  Karaoke night is waiting.

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Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things: Part 2

Posted by crowbiz on May 12, 2009

Today’s recommendation:  AM radio stations that play musicRock-n-roll Radio

The enormous warning that I’ll throw up front is that I do NOT mean any stations doing talk radio.  Talk radio should properly induce dry heaves in any sentient being.  Furthermore, those programs are common and I regard them as I do so many tattoos on so many college students, since they share many of the same properties;  they are enjoyed by the less independently thinking masses, are almost never original, are typically not well-executed, often reflect amateurish taste, and do not age well.

Back to the music.

Who actually listens to the radio at all?  In this age of extremely portable and convenient music technology and highly idiosyncratic musical preferences, radio listenership should by all estimates be dead by tomorrow afternoon. Sure, we can find a few reasons you might run into radio now and then:  the workplace where everyone must agree on a common auditory denominator, or the retail location that is too cheap to buy into a demographically specialized playlist for its clientele.  House painters and roofing crews usually employ one.  But otherwise, why the hell would anyone tune in to hear songs programmed by someone else interspliced with what must be the world’s most annoying form of advertising?

Serendipity.  Control can be overrated.  Don’t you get sick of being master of your universe every moment?   It’s exhausting.  You spend 12 minutes dictating the exact specifications of your morning coffee to the barista-du-jour, agonize over paint swatches, choose from 84 varieties of deodorant (good god, what if you make the wrong choice?), and organize your iPod into dozens of moment-specific playlists (“Dinner with Close Friends Mix” versus “Dinner with People We’ve Known For Less Than a Year Mix” versus “Driving Home from Work on Thursday Mix” versus “Ball-Scratching Beer Blast Mix”…  OK, so a little separation is alright…)  Can’t you %&*#  loosen the grip here and there?   Give it up, turn on the AM – if you can find a radio – and see what happens.

Note that I mean only AM radio, because it’s the last hold-out of any independence on the air.  The FM band is almost entirely corporately-owned by a few media giants.  Dismiss it and move on.  Some AM stations are still locally owned and produced, which makes them the airwave equivalent of local cable access television stations.  Saying they are not slick is laughably unnecessary, and that lack of sophistication is a perfect antidote to a culture that has made irony a religion.  The advertisements that are produced in-house are paragons of earnesty.  A recent one I’ve heard is an announcer-narrated recitation of a local restaurant’s sub and take-out menu, peppered with stock phrases like “truly satisfying” and “great value.”  Behind the narration is the instrumental part of the “Laverne and Shirley” theme song.  It made me want to eat there.

Another joy of AM is that you can discover ethnic programs, sometimes in the native language.  Polonia hour, the Native American beat, the Portuguese program…. dial around and explore, my friend.  Adding to the effect is the tinny, unpredictable quality of AM transmission, particularly for the smaller, independent stations.  Having to shift your radio around to get better reception shows your commitment.

As far as the music you may find, well, that’s best left for you to discover.  Below is a sample of what recently transpired over the course of an hour cobbled from a couple stations I visit now and then.  These are in no particular order, which is the point:

“Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra

“Muleskinner Blues” by The Fendermen

“Trains and Boats and Planes” by Dionne Warwick

“Bongo Rock” by Preston Epps

“At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)” by the El Dorados

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

“When The Red, Red Robin Comes a-Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along” by Al Jolson

“Tammy” by Debbie Reynolds

“Brown Eyed Handsome Man” by Chuck Berry

Rather than view this as an embarrassing indictment of my musical tastes, I see it as a showcase of the possible.  You could spend hours scouring your digital trove and not come up with that mix, though it’s extremely unlikely you’d have any of the raw material in the first place.  It’s a gamble – you’re not supposed to know if you’re going to like what’s coming.  If you can’t give that a go, then you deserve to waste hours of your life making espresso decisions.

A few AM stations available in the Western New York region to check out:

1400 Solid Gold Soul (does not stream – link is just to the website)

1440 WJJL (does not stream; priceless, and perhaps the last of its breed anywhere)

AM740 (streams; out of Toronto; was good before being taken over by corporate interests, but what the heck; has some good specialty programs such as the 40+ year running “A Little Breath of Scotland”… come on!  Beware – lots of mattress and hearing aid ads) 

Toronto has many specialty and ethnic stations, but they are difficult to pull in, so best wishes.

If you have any other suggestions, add them in comments.  The world needs more AM.

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