What better way to start the working week than a bit of Tom Waits ranting and raving, only the way he can. Have a good week everybody.
Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?
With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.
Today I am joined by, Carol Borden, who draws out the best in comics at the, Cultural Gutter. She shares her five favourite soundtracks below.
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If I were to base this on composers I love, it would probably be very different. But then, if you asked me on another day, it would be different. Top 5 or 10 or even 20 lists and I are not good friends.
In The Mood For Love (2001) by Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi
I sigh to this soundtrack late at night. Director Wong Kar-Wai and composer/violinist Michael Galasso’s In The Mood For Love soundtrack represents how well music can work with a movie and how good a soundtrack thoughtfully combining original composition and music by other composers and artists can work with a film. Zhao Xuan’s “Hua Yang De Nian Hua” provides crackly radio nostalgia. Nat King Cole’s covers of Bebel Gilberto classics provide romantic polish to a glossy, stylish film. But what I like best about the soundtrack is the strings. Composers and bands often use saccharine sweet string arrangements, but the real power of a violin is its ability to evoke a rough, raw, yearning ache, and Michael Galasso does that so well in his original compositions and in his arrangement of “Yumeji’s Theme,” from Shigeru Umebayashi’s soundtrack for Seijun Suzuki’s Yumeji.
Night On Earth (1992) by Tom Waits
Tom Waits and Jim Jarmusch are amazing together. I probably like Jarmusch’s Down By Law better as a film, and love all the Waits songs used in that soundtrack. But Waits’ Night On Earth soundtrack fits perfectly with the film, all thumping bass, crooked horns, sad piano, acidic electric guitar and old country accordion. Waits provides different arrangements of a theme to mark the same night experienced by cab drivers in 5 different cities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. And there are variations on two songs he and Kathleen Brennan wrote for the film, “Back In The Good Old World” and “On The Other Side Of The World.” Good for listening to while driving on dark, snowy winter nights.
The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974) by David Shire
For the record, there is no other version of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three. There is only the one directed by Joseph Sargeant, starring Walter Matthau and scored by David Shire. Shire was a prolific composer of 1960s and 1970s soundtracks, but this is my favorite of his. It’s a perfect synecdoche of 1970s film soundtracks. Again, I like the variations on a theme—particularly the expanded arrangement of the opening them for the end credits. I love the squonking brass echoing street noise and the sounds of the subway, and the complex percussion scoring. Frankly, one of the best inspirations musicians have ever had is the train. I imagine that this is exactly how badass Fun City sounded like in the 1970s.
Tokyo Drifter (1966) by Hajime Kaburagi
Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter is almost more a musical than a yakuza movie. The set design is highly stylized and the color is saturated. And the film opens with protagonist Tetsuya Watari singing, “Tokyo Drifter/ Tokyo Nagaremono.” Watching the movie, it’s easy to think that’s the only song in the soundtrack as it is arranged, reprised, answered and whistled through the film and into your mind. But Chieko Matsubara sings jazzy, operatic elegies in club scenes, including a variation, “Chechez Le Vagabond” and “Furi Furi” by “group sounds” band, The Spiders. Suzuki’s movies are all notable for their jazzy soundtracks, but what makes me choose Tokyo Drifter over, say, Branded To Kill is the way one song infuses an entire film, as if the whole film is just an elaboration of it. Even Chieko Matsubara’s last song, interrupted by the final showdown, bleeds easily into “Tokyo Drifter’s” final reprise. The song itself has become iconic and you can find many interpretations online, from shamisen arrangements to Japanese Academic Punks w/Tokyo Big Beat Junky’s ska version.
Yojimbo (1961) by Masaru Sato
Yojimbo might be the most satirical and catchy as hell soundtrack I’ve ever heard. With his mix of modern and traditional instrumentation, Sato punctuates scenes, underscores the humor in Yojimbo and amplifies mood, whether in a nameless samurai’s decision to follow one path over another, hired swords working up the courage to fight or a young mother’s heartfelt, though foolishly-timed, thanks. The “Burlesque” dance number, in particular, is one of my favorite pieces in the movie for the way it presents a straightforward scene—prostitutes dancing as an enticement for the wandering ronin—and just undercuts the seriousness and slyness of the madame’s scheme. If the theme from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three captures the subway, Yojimbo’s theme really captures rambling along dirt roads. I imagine that Sato just recorded the natural soundtrack that followed Toshiro Mifune around during the whole Yojimbo shoot.
(If I were to choose one soundtrack to represent the best in soundtracks, it would be Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, which somehow feels like a chorus out of ancient Greek drama, commenting on the film. Also, “The Ecstasy of Gold” graveyard sequence makes my hair stand on end).
Carol Borden is one of the team at Cultural Gutter, a website that ‘takes trash seriously.’ The site is updated Thursday afternoon with a new article about an artistic pursuit generally considered to be beneath consideration. Carol Borden draws out the best in comics, James Schellenberg probes science-fiction, Chris Szego dallies with romance and Alex MacFadyen stares deeply into the screen.
Here’s the video clip for the song Downtown Train, sung by Tom Waits, a cut from the album Rain Dogs (1985, Island Records).
So you’re thinking, ‘What the hell’? Tom Waits, and Downtown Train have nothing to do with boxing. And if you’re talking about the song, then you are absolutely right. But it’s a great song, and I wanted to post it on P2K.
As for the boxing, well here’s a paragraph from the book, Small Change: A Life of Tom Waites by Patrick Humphries (Omnibus Press, 1989).
Determined to foist Waits on a nervous teenage audience, ‘Downtown Train’ was lifted from the album and released as a single. Propelled by the guitar of G.E. Smith (who first emerged as guitarist behind Hall and Oates in 1980 and accompanied Bob Dylan to great acclaim on his 1988 tour), the stark black and white video opened with the real ‘raging bull’ Jake La Motta moaning about Waits singing underneath his window. Waits gavottes on the rain-drenched streets, hair sticking out like the split in a horsehair sofa, spindly arms snatching at stars.
So there we have it – the boxing connection – Jake La Motta, the Raging Bull appears in this video.
Uploaded to Youtube by: silverjoo22
May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney). Accordingly, in a month long celebration, Permission to Kill will be looking back and some of the highlights – and lowlights – of boxing in film and literature – and in music too.
In 1992 the world was waiting for a new Tom Waits album. It had been five years since Frank’s Wild Years (which still remains one of my favourite albums of all time)
Not that Tom had been idle. He appeared in films as diverse as Ironweed, At Play In The Field’s of the Lord to Coppola’s Dracula. He also released a live album, Big Time, with an accompanying concert film. Then there was a strange collaboration with William S. Burrows on a theatrical project called The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets. A CD would later be released in 1993, simply entitled The Black Rider, but even hard core Waits fans found it hard going. Tom also did a soundtrack album for Jim Jarmusch’s A Night on Earth. I used to have a copy of that soundtrack, but when I was burgled in 1992, it was taken, and I have never gotten around to replace it. And there were many other projects.
So Tom was pretty busy, but as fans wanted a new album, and finally after a five year wait, we got it with Bone Machine. However, as the title would imply, it was a pretty scary collection of songs, dealing with death, suicide, murder, and suspicion.
Bone Machine is pretty much a musical apocalypse, and the first track, Earth Died Screaming sets the scene and establishes the themes prevalent on the album. The title, Earth Died Screaming suggests that it is ‘end of days’ and that end is not pretty. Musically, a discordant percussive beat sounds like bones being banged together, and Waits voice over the top sounds creepy, almost a whisper. But not a soft whisper, a croaky, guttural monotone, with a hint of a hellfire and damnation preacher’s sermon to it. Albeit, as if the sermon was being delivered by a preacher whose Church has collapsed and the stone blocks have pinned him to the floor. Trapped, he now has to meet his maker. He says, “Well hell doesn’t want you. And heaven is full. Bring me some water. Put it in that skull.”
The next track, Dirt In The Ground is a wistful lament, that has a funeral march sound to it. Once again Waits suggests that “…hell is boiling over. And heaven is full.” And what is the future of mankind, well “We’re all gonna be, yea, yea, we’re all gonna be, just dirt in the ground.”
Such A Scream. In this case ‘scream’ doesn’t mean a throaty yell of terror but a good time, as in ‘that was a scream!’ And the repeated phrase is ‘She’s such a scream’. However the ambiguity is, as to whether the ‘she’ is a woman, or a machine? Musically, the song grinds and clangs like a large steam driven industrial behemoth.
On Bone Machine, Waits adopts several vocal styles. Sometimes he sings in the familiar growl. On other occasions he croons like a bargain basement Sinatra. Then there’s his falsettos, and bullhorn diatribes. And many of the songs have combinations of these stylings. He’ll adopt one vocal style for the verse, and then another for the chorus. All Stripped Down is a great example of this, with a bullhorn intro, then a falsetto voice through the verses, and then adopting a familiar growl for the ‘All Stripped Down’ lyrical refrain over the top.
Who Are You is a ballad in a more recognisable Waits style, although guitar driven, rather than seated at a piano. The Ocean Doesn’t Me is just plain creepy. It’s a rambling monologue by man who is clearly contemplating suicide by walking into the Ocean. But seems to be leaving a part of his demise to fate. He expects to be caught up in a rip tide and get dragged out to sea, but on this particular occasion, he isn’t taken. There is no sadness or self pity in the song. It is all matter of fact – and it would appear just a matter of time – until he succeeds in killing himself, or to put it another way, the ocean takes him.
Jesus Gonna Be Here is a blues spiritual, but also another song that reinforces the theme that the world has gone to hell. A Little Rain once again sees Waits in ballad mode, and this time seated behind a piano. The number almost has a country & western feel to it, with pedal steel guitar in the background. In The Colosseum sees a return to primal skeleton dance music, such as the opener Earth Died Screaming. The percussion sounds like bones being beaten together and the melody is reminiscent of carnival music, albeit a carnival that has gone very wrong. And I guess reflects the spectacle on display in the titular Colosseum – violence as entertainment.
Goin’ Out West is the song that got all the airplay on the indie radio stations, and it’s not a bad little number either. Well, see for yourself. Here’s the video clip.
Uploaded to youtube by: uglycliche
A song with a title like Murder In The Red Barn probably needs little description. However it is not so much as a song about a murder, but the suspicion that falls on everyone after the event, up until the killer is caught. Black Wings could be about the devil, or it could be about a serial killer – or the devil as a serial killer. Musically the song is foreboding but it has a great sense of atmosphere, and the lyrics are very evocative.
Whistle down the Wind is country and western song which features Churchy piano, with some lap steel guitar lilting in the background -and later some harmonica and violin. Vaguely familiar of Tom Traubert’s Blues, Tom croons the lyrics gently, that if you consider his gravelly voice capable of crooning.
I Don’t Want To Grow Up is as close as Tom comes to pure pop – even more so than Goin’ Out West. There is a duality to the lyrics – partially from a child’s point of view – but also through Tom’s delivery, clearly about an older person refusing to accept that they are aging. It has a real sing a long quality to it, and it is not so surprising that in recent years it has become one of his most covered songs.
Let Me Get Up On It is a musical soundscape which sounds like chains being reeled in. At under a minute in length, it doesn’t really have time to draw you into the song musically, so it acts as a bit of atmosphere leading into the last song…which is:
That Feel is Tom Waits and Keith Richards hamming it up. It’s not a bad country and western style number, but it they overdo the two old soaks routine a tad. Never-the-less it’s a smooth way to go out, and after all the death, and destruction over the previous tracks, it’s nice to leave with something that, while not being uplifting, is certainly more upbeat.
I guess it would be fair to say that Bone Machine is a heavy album, and if you’re not in the mood for it, a downer! But it is unique. Sure some of the musical stylings have been recycled from Rain Dogs and Frank’s Wild Years, but here they have been twisted (and possibly tortured) into something new. A song such as Downtown Train (from Rain Dogs) would be suffocated on an album like Bone Machine. Downtown Train, even if it is about longing and loneliness, still has a glimmer of hope. The songs on Bone Machine don’t have that battered nobility. They have been beaten and lost all hope. The only future is death. Sure it’s nihilistic, but after twenty years of singing about society’s have-nots where could Waits go musically? Light pop? Not likely. The only place he could go was down. And down he went. Bone Machine is a descent into hell.
As an artist, Waits stands defiantly against prevailing trends in rock and pop music. Bone Machine was released in 1992, and try comparing it to the other popular albums and musical artists of the day; such as Nirvana’s Nevermind (released in 1991 – but topped the charts in 92), or Michael Jackson’s Dangerous (once again released in 91). 1992 was also the year of Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus – which became the first single ever to achieve triple Platinum status in Australia also the best selling single the year. Scary, I know! Waits has never been a follower, always choosing to do his own thing, and Bone Machine is a testament to his unique vision.