On the 7th Day of Christmas… “Silent Nightclub” — Richard Cheese (album review)

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Richard Cheese may not be a household name, though after this review you’ll likely plow through his entire discography quicker than a one horse open sleigh. A comedic singer, he performs lounge and swing style takes on top 40 hits. Hitting play sucks you into a portal, transporting listeners into a Vegas cocktail bar complete with martini and halfway unbuttoned silk shirt.

Amid Cheese’s extensive catalog is an aptly titled Silent Nightclub. As the name suggests, the album is an amalgamation of “holiday” hits. A quick glance at the tracklist and the brow furrows in confusion. Only five of the 15 total songs are traditional Christmas tunes. The other 10 are mainly pop hits which slightly relate to the holidays. And most of the time the connection is more of a stretch than the Grinch shimmying down a narrow brick chimney. Cheese opens with Dead Kennedys’ punk anthem “Holiday in Cambodia,” presumably because it contains the word holiday. He does however, use jingle bells and a Christmas melody to provide a festive ambiance.

Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” follows up “Holiday in Cambodia,” a hilarious reference to the Virgin Mary. Conservative religious folks may be offended, but one listen to the disc and it’s obvious Cheese isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Cleverly, he includes “Like a Virgin” and unless you’re quick to ponder the non-commercial aspects of Christmas, the reason for inclusion may pass you by like Santa skipping the naughty kid on your block. Cheese also includes “Ice, Ice Baby,” “Imagine,” “Naughty Girl,” “The Trees,” “I Melt With You,” and finishes on an appropriate note with “Holidae Inn.” His choices are undeniably unique for a Christmas CD, and you’ll be gnawing the candy cane in your martini in no time.

Amusingly, though predictably, even the holiday tracks aren’t exactly straightforward. The version of “Jingle Bells” on Silent Nightclub features animal noises rather than the actual lyrics. This album by no means seeks to replace the original versions of your holiday favorites. “Last Xmas” is actually only 18 seconds long, and Cheese explains the shortened Wham cover by proclaiming “…that song sucks.” Sorry Wham fans. Take your problem up with Richie. As the sole original track “Christmas In Las Vegas” paints an entertaining portrait of Vegas with a twist. Rudolph bets on red and the Wise Men roll sevens. Cheese exploits both Christmas and Las Vegas clichés, stuffing both into a witty stocking.

Silent Nightclub serves up a hearty, creative dose of mildly, though carefully and astutely selected tracks. Additionally, Cheese’s mock-serious, sleazy delivery packs a ramshackle sled of laughs. Try not to keep from bursting into fits of giggles while the artist woof-woof-woofs in tune to “Jingle Bells,” double-times through “Christmastime is Here,” or jollily bounces down John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Just like spiking eggnog spices up the holiday merriment, Richard Cheese’s Silent Nightclub is sure to get the Christmas party popping.

On the 10th Day of Christmas… “Silver Bells of Christmas” — Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney (Review)

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A few years ago while ambling about the aisles of Big Lots I uncovered Silver Bells of Christmas in a bargain bin of CDs. Noticing the album was a Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney collaboration at the traditional Big Lots low price, I picked up a copy. If you’ve seen the classic holiday film “White Christmas,” you’ll realize this isn’t the first Crosby/Clooney tag team.

Upon first listen I was struck by the raw audio quality. As a vinyl fan, I actually appreciated the rough pops and hisses. Granted, my Roxio Easy LP to MP3 kit delivers much richer vinyl transfers, but then again Silver Bells of Christmas was a dollar. My second reaction was surprise. Although the cover art advertises “With Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney,” there’s only one song featuring the two musicians together. Interestingly, it is the title and opening track “Silver Bells.” Of the remaining nine songs, six are Bing solos leaving Rosemary only three.

What sets Silver Bells of Christmas apart from other Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney releases is the raw audio. Complete with the flaws of a rough transfer, this CD mimics an old-timey feel. As soon as you push play you’ll be transported in front of a wood-paneled gramophone. Sure, you might have other iterations of these songs, but the versions found on this release, particularly the initial song, are worth the price of the disc alone. Undoubtedly the greatest track is “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Bing delivers a jazzy rendition complete with a slam-bam finish as the crooner would say. He truly goes to town, hollering: “whoa Rudolph, what a shiner/brightens up the whole darn sky/whoa Rudolph, looks like a miner, prancing across the sky.” Then he proceeds to drop a dose of scat, ending with “whoa diddy, abadoodeeda, abadoodoodadeedee (rough approximation).” After listening to this, it should come as no shock that ol’ Bing partook of the green stuff. And no, I’m not referring to Christmas trees…

From the Amazon store, it seems like you can cop this album at a Big Lots price online. Audiophiles might want to skip out, but if you aren’t bothered by the tinny quality, this is a great addition to the Christmas collection. You can’t go wrong with the B-sides of Bing and Rosemary. Heck, it’s worth the money just to hear Bing lackadaisically scatting his way through “Rudolph.” Maybe he should have voiced the Claymation snowman rather than Burl Ives…

Halloween Playlist: Spooky and Groovy

With Halloween just a week away, everyone’s bustling about preparing costumes, stocking their Netflix queues with ‘80s slasher flicks, and gulping down fistfuls of candy corn. If you’re throwing a Halloween party, you’ll want to set the mood with a festive playlist. Sure, you can always tune into Pandora’s seasonal station, but there are some hidden gems out there. Like that one house when you were a kid that gave out King Size Hershey’s Bars. So check out my recommended Halloween playlist below:

10. “The Monster Mash”: Originally recorded by Bobby Boris Pickett, there are approximately a bajillion iterations of this recognizable tune. Switch things up a bit and opt for a cover. The Misfits have a few awesome punk versions. Quite appropriately Smashing Pumpkins played the track live. Bruce Springsteen apparently began mashing at a Halloween gig in 2012. And of course you can’t go wrong with the Alvin and the Chipmunks tune.

9. “Don’t Fear the Reaper”: Although this Blue Oyster Cult smash hit might fool you with the Reaper, the most frightening aspect of the song is the obnoxious use of cowbell. Some have been known to depart into the great beyond on account of too much cowbell. Don’t fear though, this is a sure way to get the party going.

8. “Superstition”: Stevie Wonder’s jazzy song often slips under the Halloween radar. Our Autumnal holiday is synonymous with superstition. Black cats, pumpkins, witches, and other sinister figures abound in department store aisles and front yards. If that correlation isn’t enough, the funky bass line makes this a worthy inclusion. Just be warned, “Superstition” will be your earworm for roughly a month after.

7. “Ghostbusters”: The movie is a classic, largely due to the chemistry between Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd. However, the titular track of the same name is just as essential a component of Halloween as its film counterpart. Christmas might own the raidowaves due to mere numbers, but no Halloween is complete without the annual thudding of “Ghostbusters” through your speakers. Although Ray Parker Jr. is a bit of a one hit wonder, his one hit is pretty damn catchy.

6. “Werewolves of London”: Hollywood appears to have forgotten about werewolves. Now it seems vampires are the in-crowd. There hasn’t been a good werewolf film since An American Werewolf in London. That being said, Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” (no relation to the film), compensates for a lack of werewolves on screen. The upbeat piano riff, kooky lyrics involving Chinese eateries, and Zevon howling during the hook make this a Halloween playlist necessity. Just don’t get it confused with the bastardized Kid Rock abomination, “All Summer Long.”

5. “This is Halloween”: Although The Nightmare Before Christmas doesn’t sound obviously Halloween related, remember the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Or a movie for that matter. One look at Tim Burton’s cover and you’ll likely guess correctly that there may be some spooky elements. And how can you not play “This is Halloween” on…Halloween…?

4. “A Nightmare On My Street”: For some reason this insanely catchy tune featuring the beloved Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff gets no play. Based off the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, the old school hip hop song even samples the main theme from the film series. Classic story-telling rap and the Nightmare on Elm Street sample make this a real Halloween banger. Seriously, it ranks up there with the Fresh Prince theme song.

3. “Do the Freddy”: I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you were not familiar with “Do the Freddie,” a Freddie and the Dreamers track. It came out when songs with associated dances were popular, and fails miserably in competing with “The Twist.” Freddy Krueger of  A Nightmare on Elm Street acclaim has a cover version primarily consisting of 80s synth, an energetic female vocalist, and a cackling Freddy Krueger in the background. There are some specially-themed lyrics as well. Whether or not you enjoy the franchise you’ll undoubtedly be doing the Freddy before the music stops.

2. “Halloween/Halloween II”: You can argue a case for almost any Misfits song in a Halloween playlist. Hell, you could basically play exclusively Misfits songs, a tactic I’ve considered before. But if you don’t want to bust out the boxed set, “Halloween” and “Halloween II” are necessary components of a successful holiday. And as I mentioned earlier, they do a damn good “Monster Mash.”

1. “Thriller”: Just as no music collection is complete without the album “Thriller,” Halloween cannot transpire without hearing the titular track. There was a zany music video, a dance we all know at least a few moves from, and Vincent Price’s over-the-top narration and maniacal chortle. While Michael Jackson’s definitive version is much beloved, consider checking out the Easy Star All-Stars reggae interpretation. In fact, the whole “Thrillah” album by the All-Stars infuses a classic entry in the musical canon with a unique feel.

Honorable mentions: Theme songs. I left these off primarily because, considering the girth of horror and slasher flicks, I could have whipped up a list of movie tunes alone. Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street are notable in this last category.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to share below. Enjoy the playlist as well as Halloween!

Freelancing

Hello faithful Pophiss followers! Thank you very much for your loyal readership. I’ve recently begun writing freelance movie reviews over at Examiner.com. Check out my profile and articles below. Don’t forget to subscribe and follow me on Twitter. Thanks again, and stay tuned for another Pophiss review soon!

 

http://www.examiner.com/movies-in-durham/mitchell-moe-long

 

@mitchellclong

Various Artists: Jackie Brown Soundtrack

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There are a few constants about Quentin Tarantino: his movies are violent and convoluted, he likes to work with Sam Jack, and his soundtracks tend to be pretty fantastic.

Most of you have seen Tarantino’s classic film “Pulp Fiction.” If you haven’t drop what you are doing, go watch it, and then finish reading this post. Another Samuel L. Jackson-Tarantino combination, “Jackie Brown” is equally, if not more, amazing. I won’t provide any spoilers, I’ll just say it is a solid, convincing throwback to 70’s Blaxploitation films. Besides a fantastic performance by Jackson, “Jackie Brown” features a star-studded cast of Pam Grier, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, and Bridget Fonda.

Released in 1997, Tarantino pays homage to 70’s Blaxploitation films with the plot as well as the music. There was no accompanying score to the film, only a soundtrack which featured songs played throughout the movie. Like the film, the soundtrack opens with “Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack. The track was actually taken from a Blaxploitation film of the same name, a movie for which Womack originally composed the song. An upbeat, soulful song, it describes street crime and the hardships of life. “Across 110th Street” acts as the theme song, playing both during the film’s open and close.

Another track prominently featured in the movie is “Strawberry Letter 23” by Brothers Johnson. Again, this is a funky track which induces head-bobbing and finger-snapping. The Delfonics make frequent appearances when Max Cherry, a bail bondsman, purchases one of their tapes at a local music store. Tarantino accordingly plays “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time” several times. Fitting with the mood of the album, it is a crooning 70’s ballad. Unlike many of the other tracks it is a little slower and more pensive than the poppy Bobby Womack and Brothers Johnson tunes.

While most of the songs are funk and soul-infused pieces, there is an appearance by Johnny Cash. His song “Tennessee Stud” crops up in usual Cash fashion. A twangy ballad, Cash delivers a story over minimalist instrumentation: his acoustic guitar.

Music aside, there are a few bits of dialogue mixed in. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand them. If you haven’t, or if you don’t remember the film, never fear: the movie samples don’t reveal any key plot elements. Besides, you can just skip them. The album is available on iTunes, Amazon, and free streaming on Grooveshark. This is one of my favorite movie soundtracks, and a worthy inclusion in any music collection. And the film is pretty darn good too.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: F♯ A♯ ∞

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I uncovered this album after watching one of my favorite films, the zombie thriller “28 Days Later.” If you’ve seen the movie think back to the haunting scene of Jim walking around an abandoned, ravaged London. What made that scene particularly enjoyable was the song that played while Jim ran about the city searching for a sign of life.

The track used turned out to be “East Hastings” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. While the film only uses a snippet, the entire song is almost 18 minutes long. Consisting of a mere three songs, F♯ A♯ ∞ (or “F Sharp A Sharp Infinity) still comes in at over an hour long. The first track is just over 16 minutes, the second is not quite 18, and the final song clocks in at nearly 30 minutes. After listening to just a sample of “East Hastings,” I was inspired to download the whole album.Luckily, it did not disappoint.

F♯ A♯ ∞ is more akin to a movie than a collection of songs. Largely instrumental, the tracks feature snippets of speech. I say speech rather than lyrics because the vocals are spoken, not sung, and although there is not a clear plot, they invoke a post-apocalyptic storyline. “Dead Flag Blues,” the first track, sets the tone for the rest of the album. The song begins with a man saying “The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel/And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides/And a dark wind blows/The government is corrupt/And we’re on so many drugs/With the radio on and the curtains drawn.” I think you get the point. The message of decay is pretty clear. Instrumentally, the track expands and elaborates the portrait painted by the opening speech. Musically, the album evolves with distinct movements within each song. During “Dead Flag Blues,” there is one section which sounds almost like distant trains, but soon it switches to a twangy Western theme which brings to mind a handful of Clint Eastwood flicks.

“East Hastings” follows up with a preacher talking amid sounds of traffic, and a melody of bagpipes. The preacher fades and the song oozes into life. It starts pretty slow and warbling, but gradually picks up adding layers of instrumentation and around the 9 minute mark reaches a crescendo. When it does calm down the music assumes a plinky sound that changes to a siren noise and eventually builds up to emulate a fly buzzing.

Rounding off the album is the half hour “Providence.” Like the previous tracks it too features some post-apocalyptic words. Again it is somber and reflects the tone of the album. I strongly suggest, as I have for several other albums I’ve reviewed, that you give it a full listen in one sitting. It is best to avoid multi-tasking while checking this one out as I think the atmospheric words and music require you to zone out and imagine some sort of corresponding story. F♯ A♯ ∞ is available for purchase from iTunes and Amazon, as well as free streaming on Grooveshark.