Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lost's 4... 8... 15 Best Songs

So, Lost has wrapped up, once and for all, leaving a gaping hole where my Tuesday night used to be (or Thursday night, or Wednesday night …). But before letting go and walking toward the big, white light outside of St. Eloise’s cathedral, I wanted to pay tribute to the music of this challenging, but ultimately rewarding piece of work.

I know, I know. This is a blog about movies and music, and Lost was on the tee-vee. Well, yes, but it was also among the most cinematic shows ever made for television, starting with the giant plane crash site from the two-hour pilot. And I would argue that Michael Giacchino’s somber, rhythmic and altogether epic score helped elevate the series to filmic levels.

Of course Lost’s excellent, yet sparing, use of pop music helped, too. The series even invented a few rock bands, most notably Charlie Pace’s one-hit wonder, Drive Shaft – although the Dharma folks would make a case for the hippie groove of Geronimo Jackson.

Some tunes barely registered (it wasn’t until I checked out that I remembered that “Carrie Anne” underscored young Charlie’s pool scene and “Dream Police” was playing when Hurley purchased his “I (Heart) My Shih Tzu” shirt) but many others were the soundtrack to key turning points in Lost.

Here are my 15 favorites from six seasons:

“You All Everybody,” Drive Shaft (Seasons 1, 2, 3, 6)

Armed with lyrics ripped from an episode of Donahue, Charlie and Liam Pace’s fictional Britpop band conquered the world, at least temporarily. The loose re-write of Oasis’ “Rock n Roll Star” is the only song to be featured in four or more seasons of Lost, having been sung by Charlie, played by the whole band, reworked for a diaper commercial and heard on the radio. Its nonsense lyrics (“acting like you’re stupid people / wearing your ’spensive clothes”) were given actual meaning in the final season, when they commented on Desmond before his sideways world awakening.

“I Shall Not Walk Alone,” The Blind Boys of Alabama (Season 1)

This one sticks out because it’s one of the few examples of Lost employing a song without giving it an onscreen source (i.e. the Swan’s turntable, Hurley’s Discman). But it’s a stirring use of a soulful song, playing as Sayid sets off to walk the beach and Sawyer wrestles with his ever-present past. The lyrics also spoke one of the show’s central themes: “Live together, die alone.”

“Make Your Own Kind of Music,” Mama Cass (Seasons 2, 3)

The trick to the opening of Lost’s second season was that it fooled us flashback-minded viewers into thinking we were way in the past. And this Mama Cass gem helped pull the wool over our eyes. Turns out we were in the present-day Swan station with Desmond, following his morning routine (hit the button, put on some Mama Cass, pour some coffee, inject some phony medicine, etc.). Then the hatch blew, the record screeched to a halt and Desmond became an integral character in the storyline.

“Moonlight Serenade,” Glenn Miller Orchestra (Seasons 2, 3)

In a music-rich season, this slinky Glenn Miller tune might barely register. But, heard by Hurley and Sayid on the Arrow’s radio, it signified elements of time travel that wouldn’t become clear until way later in Season 5. Yes, the tortured torturer and lottery winner were actually hearing a broadcast from the ’40s, just like the guy in the “Static” episode of The Twilight Zone. The Miller reference also is apropos because the bandleader went missing during a flight from Britain to Paris in 1944, and neither his body nor plane were ever discovered. So, somewhere in time, Glenn Miller might be battling a smoke monster.

“Walkin’ After Midnight,” Patsy Cline (Seasons 2, 3)

If some of the Kate-centric episodes became a drag over the course of the series, at least you always knew you were going to hear some Patsy Cline. “What Kate Did” – one of the better Kate hours – was the first to feature this song, played on the Swan’s turntable while she attends to an injured Sawyer. It showed up twice more, including on the radio of a tow truck.

“He’s Evil,” The Kinks (Season 2)

Sung a cappellla on the island by Charlie (to an unappreciative Jin) before turning up as background music in brother Liam’s apartment, this ’74 Kinks boogie-rocker could refer to the duplicitous nature of a dozen Lost characters. In the Pace brothers storyline, it certainly could fits with Liam, who always was willing to lead big brother Charlie to temptation.

“Catch a Falling Star,” Perry Como (Seasons 2, 5, 6)

Lost’s Blue Velvet moment. The show took this innocuous Como hit, tied it to Aaron and Claire (first heard on the airplane mobile), then turned it on its head during the final season. In “Sundown,” captive Claire rocks back and forth, mumbling it to herself in her Silence of the Lambs hole. Then, an even spookier version of the song underscores the aftermath of the temple attack. It’s the soundtrack for slo-mo, dead-eyed zombie Sayid. Shudder.

“Pushin’ Too Hard,” The Seeds (Season 2)

If memory serves, this ’60s nugget was a Locke pick for the Swan stereo in Season 2. It offered a simple commentary on what the castaways were doing to “Henry Gale” (Ben). No matter how hard they pushed, he wasn’t going to give in … just keep eating his cereal. We found out in subsequent seasons how Ben’s frequent beatings only seemed to empower him.

“Downtown,” Petula Clark (Season 3)

Another season opener, another strange character, another unfamiliar place, another fabulous musical sequence. This time, a vintage pop hit is juxtaposed against Juliet’s obvious sadness and frustration with being stuck on the island. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. We were simply watching a sad woman trying to cheer herself up and burning the muffins anyway. A book club and a plane crash soon followed.

“Shambala,” Three Dog Night (Season 3)

You can argue with the “Hurley fixing the van” storyline in “Tricia Tanaka is Dead,” but the second he gets that Dharma van to turn over is one of the most celebratory scenes in the series. By way of the rumble of a VW engine and the howls of Three Dog Night, Hurley has washed away his troubles and made his own luck. What a gleeful moment. Later, we learn about the van and “Roger Workman.” Turns out that Ben chose the Three Dog Night 8-track tape as the perfect accompaniment for killing his dad. That moment … a little less gleeful. Well, not for Ben.

“Gouge Away,” The Pixies, and “Scentless Apprentice,” Nirvana (Seasons 3, 4)

The soundtrack to angry, lost, weirdy-beardy Jack. And what perfect choices these are – rage-filled for sure, but also smart and clever with buried melodies. Jack’s not dead (like “Jeremy Bentham”); his soul’s just covered in muck. But he can still sniff out the right trail, even if he’s been rubbing a bad charm with holy fingers.

“Shotgun Willie,” Willie Nelson (Season 5)

One last season opener in the “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and “Downtown” molds. Our introduction to the real Dr. Pierre Chang (and ’70s Dharmaville) is vintage Willie Nelson, as Chang takes care of the baby and gets ready for work. Of course, the skipping record also foreshadowed the time-travel craziness to come.

“Ride Captain Ride,” The Blues Image (Season 5)

OK, so this one’s a bit of a throwaway, but I can’t think of a better soundtrack choice than this, as we watch our heroes become one with the ’70s and the hippie-dippy vibe of Dharmaville. Namaste.

“Search and Destroy,” Iggy & The Stooges (Season 6)

Pop music was in short supply in Lost’s final season (what with The Answers, and all), but we got a little bit of Raw Power when Smokey recruited the bandit. Even without the lyrics, it’s a good tune for a whirling dervish of black smoke. Plus, in the end, Smokey sorta turned out to be a “runaway son

Friday, May 14, 2010

Guess Which Movie – May 14

And now it’s time to play the party-game craze that continues to bring music and film fans to their knees: Guess! Which! Movie!

OK, people, here’s a reminder of how to play: I’m going to play five songs for you that are all included in a certain film. The song choices go (approximately) from less-associated to more-associated with that movie.

Example: If Pulp Fiction was the answer, the song choices might start with “Lonesome Town” in the No. 1 spot and end with “Misirlou” at No. 5.

A YouTube clip (without footage from the film) follows each selection, in case you don’t know the tune by name. Don’t scroll too fast, or you might cheat yourself out of a higher score. And we wouldn’t want that.

Comments, debate and discussion are always welcome. And, remember, no wagering.
Here we go – let’s see how many songs it will take you to Guess! Which! Movie!

5. “Take on Me,” a-ha

4. “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel

3. “Rudie Can’t Fail,” The Clash

2. “Let My Love Open the Door (E.Cola mix),” Pete Townshend

1. “Blister in the Sun,” Violent Femmes

And the answer is …

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

John Cusack’s been in his share of movies with great soundtracks, and this 1997 romantic-action-comedy is no exception. Centered around a high school reunion, Grosse Pointe Blank featured mostly period tunes from the early to mid-’80s. Among them: “Absolute Beginners” by The Jam, “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, “99 Luftballons” by Nena, and “Mirror in the Bathroom” by The Beat (the score for a brutal fight scene in a high school hallway). One of the big exceptions to the ’80s rule was “Live and Let Die” by Guns N’ Roses (recorded in 1991), which accompanied the moment Cusack’s character finds his childhood home has been replaced by a convenience mart.

In addition to contributing two Clash songs to the film (“Rudie” and a cover of “Armagideon Time”), Joe Strummer composed the score, some of which can be heard as “War Cry” on Grosse Pointe Blank Soundtrack: Vol. 2. That’s right; the movie got to have a second soundtrack compilation. If only every fantastic music movie got that treatment (Almost Famous, anybody?).

Maybe being a professional killer has its advantages.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Guess Which Movie?

And now it’s time to play the party-game craze that’s sweeping the nation: Guess! Which! Movie!?

All right, contestants, here are the rules. I’m going to play five songs for you that are all included in a certain film. The song choices go (roughly) from less-associated to more-associated with that movie.

For instance, if Pulp Fiction was the answer we were looking for, the song choices might start with “Lonesome Town” in the No. 1 spot and end with “Misirlou” at No. 5.

A YouTube clip (without footage from the film) follows each selection, in case you can’t quite recall the tune. To avoid cheating and accidentally seeing the next song on the list, please – scroll carefully.

Comments, debate and discussion are welcomed at the end of the post. And, as always, no wagering.

Now – how many songs will it take you to Guess! Which! Movie!?

5. “If 6 Was 9,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience

4. “Let’s Turkey Trot,” Little Eva

3. “The Weight,” The Band

2. “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” The Byrds

1. “Born to Be Wild,” Steppenwolf

And the answer is ...

Easy Rider (1969)

Featuring one of the best-known rock and roll soundtracks of all time, Easy Rider threw its arms around the counter-cutlture, which meant including some of the best music of the era. In addition to the above songs, the movie also includes Steppenwolf's "The Pusher," The Electric Prunes' "Kyrie Eliason," and Roger McGuinn's cover of Bob Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)."

A little trivia: Although Little Eva's "Let's Turkey Trot" and The Band's "The Weight" was featured in the movie, it didn't make it onto the soundtrack album because of rights issues. The Little Eva song was simply left off, but ABC-Dunhill Records comissioned a cover version of "The Weight" by band named Smith.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm Sorry, Did I Break Your Concentration?

Whenever I’m asked to name my favorite movie, I’m always ready with my default answer: Pulp Fiction.

The truth is that – as with any “favorite” thing – it’s changing all the time. Miller’s Crossing on Monday, The Third Man on Thursday, Duck Soup on Saturday. It depends on my mood, on the day, on the weather (given the current flooding here in Nashville, O Brother, Where Art Thou? would be a fine choice).

But Pulp Fiction is my ready, steady go-to for one reason: It’s the movie that changed my life.
The impression that Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough movie left on me is incalculable. It is THE film that made me, as an eighth-grader, curious about the inner-workings, the structure and the crafting of movies – and as a result, all of entertainment. It was so vibrant, it made me want to write about, discuss and investigate the arts.

Pulp Fiction’s vibrancy can be credited to any number of things – but for me, it always comes back to the music. It’s funny that a movie with characters which never sing – but do sing-along to Urge Overkill and the Statler Brothers – might as well be a musical.

Just like the best stage musicals, every single song on that soundtrack adds its own commentary to what is happening to the players. The lyrics might not be advancing the plot, but the tunes establish and enhance the mood. Even the instrumentals, heck, especially the instrumentals, display for you what certain characters are feeling, whether it’s Vincent Vega’s “madman” heroin high (“Bullwinkle Part II” by The Centurians) or Marsellus Wallace’s pawn shop basement low (“Comanche” by The Revels).

Speaking of “Comanche,” I don’t know that I’ve ever repeatedly enjoyed a song with such an uncomfortable connotation. Well, there is Pete Townshend’s “Rough Boys” …

Back to Pulp – what film of the past 50 years has as iconic an opening title sequence? Nothing since Bernard Herman’s foreboding Psycho strains has cut as deep as Dick Dale’s “Misirlou.” All revved-up surf guitar, clackety-clack drums, blurting sax, cool-as-cucumber trumpet, drizzling piano, and cathartic hollerin’, “Misirlou” is violent, exciting, romantic, surprising and visceral. It’s the perfect two-minute representation of the Pulp Fiction hitman experience.

Pulp might not really be a musical, but it does feature a dance sequence, expertly tied to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” Lighthearted, but not lightweight, “You Never Can Tell” is as much about young love as it is about loving being young, like most of Berry’s best works. It’s a song that is about a moment. It’s not the entirety of a relationship, just the beginning of marital bliss. So, it’s just right for the dance between Mrs. Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega, who have become a couple just for one night, for one dinner, for one entry into the World Famous Jack Rabbit Slim’s Twist Contest. In their normal lives they are the boss’s wife and the boss’s employee, but as they do the Batman, the funky monkey and everything else, they are a couple.

You can paraphrase what Vincent says earlier in the film about foot massages and apply it to dancing: Dances all mean something. We act like they don’t, but they do, and that’s what’s so f--king cool about them. There’s a sensuous thing going on where you don’t talk about it, but you know it, she knows it.

C’est la vie, say the old folks.

One parting thought about Pulp Fiction and its music – there are very few soundtracks that cause me to relive the entire movie when I listen to them, and most of them are orchestral scores by Carter Burwell, Danny Elfman or John Williams. Even though the songs aren’t chronologically arranged on my CD, even though my original version of the soundtrack doesn’t include Link Wray’s “Rumble,” even though the album is 41 minutes and the movie is 154, the power of these scene/song combinations is strong enough to send me on that lurid, exhilarating journey all over again.

If the trip isn’t life-altering on each subsequent journey, at least it’s a surfboard-busting boogie every time.