The Chemical Brothers and Dragon Warrior

A bit of a retroactive Separated at Birth for you today. It’s something I noticed back in April, before I had the ability to easily embed audio files. Indeed, it pre-dates this wordpress site.

This musical similarity concerns the melody of The Chemical Brothers’ My Elastic Eye from their 2002 album Come With Us and the Castle Theme from the NES classic Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest (1986) by composer Koichi Sugiyama.

First, the game music (straight from the ROM):

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Now, the Brothers:

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Sure, the tempo is faster and the arrangement is different, but what say you: happenstance, inspiration or appropriation?

Soul Coughing: They Put Coffee in the Coffee in Brazil

Back in 1998-1999, when the mp3 file trading scene really was like the wild wild west, no one really had much idea how to treat the phenomenon. Sure, labels and artists weren’t keen on infinitely duplicatable copies of their music being sent around, but there was also a free wheeling sense to see what would become of the phenomenon, even among established acts.

Take Soul Coughing. For several months during that time, the band was in the habit of putting mp3s on the now-defunct 5% Nation site soulcoughing.com. It was great; free downloads of rarities, remixes and live tracks. That party didn’t last too long though. Financial concerns got in the way, as the band wondered how this free distribution would affect any potential future albums.

Here’s the Wayback Machine’s archive of the takedown notice.

In a way, the move was prescient of the concerns of the digital distribution of music era. It is similar to the way that The Grateful Dead supplied archive.org with soundboard recordings of their live shows, only to remove them when iTunes Music Store model showed that there was money to be made.

So the files went away and were replaced by time-limited Liquid Audio files remember those?, but not before a humorous cover of The Coffee Song made it into the wild. Written by Bob Hilliard and Richard Miles and made famous be Frankie “Blue Eye” Sinatra, the song is an ode to a certain Brazilian cash crop.

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Separated at Birth: Futurama and Gli Angeli Del 2000

Songs that sound too similar to be coincidence.

This one is quite surprising because I never ever would have guessed the source. A couple years ago, while sifting through the Italian Cinema dump, I stumbled upon a track by composer Mario Molino that sounded just a wee bit familiar, like a demented, psychedelic version of a song I knew all too well.

It was the title track to a 1969 Italian film called Gli Angeli Del 2000 plot summary not available and it boggled my mind. Listen to it for yourself and tell me that it’s not uncanny. Go on, I’ll wait….

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All done? Good. Those of you who are acquainted with a device commonly known as a television (or “T.V.”) will most likely recognize some major elements to the theme song from Matt Groening’s Futurama program in that. Those of you who aren’t able to recall that theme, here’s a reminder. It’s an extended version by show composer Christopher Tyng himself.

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Remarkably similar, no?

At the time I first noticed the similarity, a discussion board (or other similar web page) told me that Gli Angeli Del 2000 was a direct and deliberate inspiration for the Futurama theme. I can’t locate that source now, but I’m going to take my memory at its word. That’s good, because no matter how much I like the theme which is a lot, that source is the only thing that’s stopping me from claiming rip off.

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Update and correction 7/19/07: In the comments below, moogaloo, corrects my above assertions. The Futurama Theme song was derived from a Pierre Henry’s Psyche Rock (1967), not the above Molino track.

I had completely forgotten about Psyche Rock, and thus confused it for Gli Angeli Del 2000, which appears to be the true rip off in this case. But now that I’ve been reminded, I recall from the commentary on one of the Futurama DVDs that the producers wanted to actually use Psyche Rock as the theme, but couldn’t get the rights. So the producers decided to “pay homage” to it instead.

For some additional coincidences, check out a universal favorite: Louie Louie by The Kingsmen (1966). You can hear the similarity in the chord progressions and the back beat.

Though The Kingsmen’s version is probably to most well known thanks to its use in Animal House, the song’s origins stretch back even further. The video below compares 3 different versions of Louie Louie by three different artists with early rock n roll and rhythm and blues flavorings:

  • Richard Berry 1957
  • Rockin Robin Roberts and The Fabulous Wailers 1961
  • Little Bill and the BlueNotes

Who would have thought that the humble Futurama theme would have such a long and illustrious pedigree?

It’s a Cool, Cool Christmas: An Indie Alternative

It's a Cool, Cool, Christmas

Thanksgiving is, of course, the beginning of the Xmas season in the United States. Everyone takes a day to spend time with loved ones and rest up a bit, giving thanks for all that is well and good in their lives. The festive among us put up Xmas trees and other holiday trimmings while the more adventurous plot how to take maximum advantage of “Black Friday” retail savings.

Everything stops for a day and the world seems to change; it will be different for the next thirty days or so. In addition to changes in decor, another environmental shift signals the start of a new season: it is now acceptable to play Xmas music.

Yes, an entire sub-genre of music that is forever relegated to irrelevance for all but four weeks of the year is suddenly thrust into the spotlight. In fact, numorous radio stations throughout the country devote all of Thanksgiving’s Day to nothing Xmas tunes as a way of ushering in the season, Some stations continue the practice through Christmas Day.

The thing is, as nice as it is to hear the songs one hasn’t heard in a year’s time, Xmas music gets old. Fast. There’s a reason it languishes in obscurity for the majority of the year… It’s repetitive; the handful of staples that one hears ad infinitum each year quickly wear out their welcomes.

That’s why I really enjoy this album: It’s a Cool, Cool Christmas.

Released in 2000, this compilation features a plethora of notable indie rock bands performing some fresh, inventive and just plain off-the-wall renditions of the classics as well as some nice original compositions, like the one below. The group is Grandaddy, the song is Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland. Yeah, it’s goofy, but it’s got a kind of silly charm.

iTunes 7 sync problems and large libraries on external drives

Update: This problem seems to have been addressed in a recent update to iTunes. The program now stops looking around 100 missing files before giving the warning dialogue. So if you’re having this problem, make sure you’re using the latest version.

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One of iTunes 7 handy new features is the “sync problems” warning. The screen pops up whenever you try to sync your iPod with your iTunes library and song/video/podcast files cannot be found. Previous versions of iTunes only let you know there was a problem; iTunes 7, however, helpfully tells you which particular files are missing.

It’s a nifty function for tracking down errant files that iTunes has somehow lost or forgotten about. or which you may have accidently deleted. But that helpfulness can cause problems in certain instances.

You see, I have a rather large iTunes library: 14,000+ songs that take up ~78GB of hard disk space. So I keep all my song files on a dedicated external hard drive, a hard drive that isn’t always turned on.

In previous versions of iTunes, if song files could not be found when attempting to sync your iPod, you would just get a warning about a single missing file, but all your recent play stats (play count, star ratings, last played) would still be updated from the iPod into the main iTunes library.

However, when doing the same thing in iTunes 7, the program begins to compile its detailed report. In my case, if the external library is not mounted on the desktop and i try to sync my iPod, iTunes then starts trying to find all 14,000+ missing song files.

The program seemingly freezes (the dreaded beachball) while it is processing all those missing files. The only options are to wait for it to finish (which takes more than an hour on my Intel iMac) or force quit (and lose any stored play count and last played data from the iPod). I found this out the hard way, twice, before I realized what was going on.

So, just a quick word of advice: if you’ve got an external library, make sure it is powered on and mounted before opening iTunes.

Radiohead – How Can You Be Sure?

This 1995 Radiohead b-side to Fake Plastic Trees helped move me from merely ‘liking’ the band’s music to falling in love with it. I’m sure it’s on few ‘top song’ lists, but it’s near the top of mine.

The song is called How Can You Be Sure? and it’s a musical wonder.

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The Weird Al Paradox

Simpsons Weird Al Yankovic

So the news recently hit that Weird Al finally has a Top 10 record after all these years. According to Billboard, that’s 73,000 copies of Straight Outta Lynwood sold. Congrats to Al; he deserves it.

It’s worth noting, though, that album sales are down overall and that nearly equal sales of 72,310 only ranked a 16 on the Billboard 200 for 1999’s Running with Scissors.

But really, that news has got me thinking. 1) about Weird Al’s sustainability, and 2) About what his sustainability says about the state of the music industry.

Weird Al’s longevity over the years is based on the simple premise that he continues to draw his inspiration from current music trends and hits. Sandwiched between his original songs about food, dysfunctional relationships and extreme bodily injuries (as well as the ever-awesome polka medleys), one is always sure to find several tracks based on the trends and ideas that define the moments his records are released.

It’s his thing; that’s what he does.

The effect of this approach is that Weird Al tends to remain relevant in the here and now, ages after his older parodies (and the songs that inspired them) have become well-worn. Frankly, it’s quite amazing that he’s been able to adapt so successfully as musical culture has changed. White and Nerdy is a far cry from My Bologna.

Underlying that ability to remain relevant, however, is ubiquity. A large portion of Weird Al’s success is wholly dependent on his audience’s familiarity with the songs and artists he parodies. In other words, Weird Al’s appeal is strongly rooted in the appeal of his sources of inspiration .

I say this as a person who has paid little attention to radio hits and the comings and goings of would-be superstars in recent years. As a result, I’ve largely not been “hip” to the so-called mainstream. But don’t construe that as being out-of-touch; there’s plenty of culture going around that doesn’t make a blip on the big corporate media radar. It’s just that Eminem and Chamillionaire mean so little to me as a connoisseur of music that Al’s recent works have fallen a little flat.*

It illustrates the nature of the music market specifically and American consumerism in general. The truth is that the market for music is fractured, and increasingly so. More and more often, people aren’t relying on a single source for their purchasing recommendations.

Audiences for different styles of music are becoming progressively more mutually exclusive. The top of the music charts has become a battle to see which fan base niche market will turn out and buy the most records in a given week. But that fan base is only a relatively small portion of all music sales (think the long tail). That’s markedly different from twenty years ago when Michael Jackson could generate massive audience appeal in a more solidified market.

That’s the line Weird Al is going to have to walk in the future. In that regard, his latest album already has one casualty from my perspective: Before researching this, I had absolutely no idea who Taylor Hicks was, and still don’t understand why he’s inspired a Weird Al parody.

I imagine many people would have a similar reaction if Al released a parody of LCD Soundsystem’s Daft Punk is Playing at My House, a song that took the indie scene by storm last year (Though that song has 41,090 listeners on Last.fm vs Hicks’ 1492).

He’s still a clever and funny guy, but to me, there’s a connection that’s missing from his lastest offerings and it’s likely to remain that way in the future. That’s ok I suppose; I’ve still got Smells Like Nirvana.

*That said, his parody of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet (Trapped in the Drive-Thru) is freakin’ spot-on.

Straight Outta Lynwood
"Weird Al" Yankovic - Straight Outta Lynwood - White & Nerdy (Parody of "Ridin'" By Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone).

Shaken and Stirred: The James Bond Project

Webomatica posts about his best and worst James Bond songs. It’s a nice list; I threw my picks into the comments, though I left out the iconic James Bond Theme. god bless John Barry for that. We disagree about Man With The Golden Gun, but to each his own.

But, really, I’d like to call some attention to another Bond-related project. Shortly before composer David Arnold took over the scoring responsibilities of the franchise, he produced a covers album featuring the famous intro songs performed by contemporary artists. In fact, this project contributed to his getting the assignment for Tomorrow Never Dies.

The disc was titled, oddly enough: Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project and honestly, overall it’s not that good.

None of the performers involved (David McAlmont, Pulp, Shara Nelson, Martin Fry, others) manage to improve upon the original versions, which leads to the question, “What the heck was the point?”

Of course, there are a couple worthwhile tracks on the album. Aimee Mann does a pretty decent rendition of Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better and UK progressive house outfit Leftfield submits an intriguingly up-tempo remix of Barry’s Space March theme.

But the real surprise on the album comes from none other than Iggy Pop. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but his version of Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time In The World is sublime. Give it a listen:

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Curiously, Bjork also recorded a song for the project (Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice), but withdrew it shortly before publication. Her version is fairly faithful to the original and basically sounds, well, like Bjork singing You Only Live Twice. It surfaced on the internet a few years ago; you can listen to it below or download an mp3 here.

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At the risk of turning this into a Ratatat blog…

…here’s the Ratatat remix of Shout Out Louds’ The Comeback. I actually listened to it last weekend, but didn’t hear anything half as interesting today, so consider it a retroactive song of the day.

This mix illustrates perfectly what I love about Ratatat’s remixing style. They’re not content to just throw a house beat behind the song, or chop it up until it’s unrecognizable. No, Mike and Evan take full possession of the original, reshaping it in their own image while not losing the core of the source material.

The Comeback – Big Slippa remix by Ratatat

Shout Out Louds - The Comeback - Single - The Comeback (Big Slippa Mix By Ratatat) big slippa remix by ratatat