Saturday, August 30, 2014

50 Great Classical Waltzes - Waltz Music from the last 150 years

Nothing like lazing at home on a Sunday afternoon with beautiful classical waltz music playing gently in the background.

Your mind is taken to the grand ballrooms of mid 19th century European capitals, with all the airs and graces of the times.

Here I have tried to put together a list of 50 of the greatest classical waltzes. I ended up with 49 - so please do tell me the one waltz I must have that I missed!

A huge number of these from one composer - Johann Strauss II, part of that great Austrian family of musicians.

My personal favorite waltzes include the Blue Danube, Skaters Waltz, Merry Widow and anything by Tchaikovsky or Brahms.

I can't explain it, but I have found recently that I work much more effectively from a home office with classical music on in the background. Just seems to get my mind focused on the job at hand and keeps me in good spirits.

Waltz No 1 In E Flat Major 'Grande Valse Brillante'  Op 18 Chopin, Frederic 1831
Lorelei Rhein Klange Op 154 Strauss I, Johann 1843
Radetzky March Op 228 Strauss I, Johann 1848
Annen Polka Op 117 Strauss II, Johann 1852
Tritsch Tratsch Polka Op 214 Strauss II, Johann 1858
Faust, Act V Ballet Gounod, Charles 1859
Accelerations Waltz Op 234 Strauss II, Johann 1860
La Paloma Iradier, Sebastian 1863
Morgenblatter (Morning Journals) Waltz Op 279 Strauss II, Johann 1863
Dorfschwalben Aus Osterreich (Village Swallows From Austria) Op 164 Strauss, Josef 1864
Waltz In A Major Op 39 No 15 Brahms, Johannes 1865
Blue Danube Waltz Op 314 Strauss II, Johann 1866
Artists Life 'Kunstlerleben' Op 316 Strauss II, Johann 1867
Spharenklange (Music Of The Spheres) Op 235 Strauss, Josef 1868
Tales From The Vienna Woods Waltz Op 325 Strauss II, Johann 1868
Thunder And Lightning Polka Op 324 Strauss II, Johann 1868
Hungarian Dance No 1 In G Minor Allegro Molto WoO 1 Brahms, Johannes 1869
Hungarian Dance No 4 In F Sharp Minor Poco Sustenuto Vivace WoO 1 Brahms, Johannes 1869
Hungarian Dance No 5 In G Minor Allegro Vivace WoO 1 Brahms, Johannes 1869
Hungarian Dance No 6 In D Major Vivace WoO 1 Brahms, Johannes 1869
Wine Women And Song Waltz Op 333 Strauss II, Johann 1869
Coppelia, Waltz Of The Golden Hours (Valse Des Heures) Delibes, Leo 1870
Vienna Blood Waltz Op 354 Strauss II, Johann 1873
Where The Lemons Blossom Waltz Op 364 Strauss II, Johann 1874
Swan Lake, Act 1 No 2 Waltz Op 20 Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 1876
Sylvia, Act 1 Valse Lente Delibes, Leo 1876
Eugene Onegin, Act 2 No 13 Waltz Op 24 Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 1879
Waltz No 1 Op 54 Dvorak, Antonin 1879
Roses From The South Op 388 Strauss II, Johann 1880
Serenade For Strings In C Major 2nd Mvt Waltz Op 48 Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 1880
The Tales Of Hoffmann, Barcarolle Violin Version Offenbach, Jacques 1880
Danube Waves Ivanovici, Ion 1880
The Skaters Waltz Op 183 Waldteufel, Emile 1882
Voices Of Spring Waltz Op 410 Strauss II, Johann 1882
Sobra Las Olas (Over The Waves) Orchestral Version Rosas, Juventino 1884
Emperor Waltz (Kaizer Waltzer) Op 437 Strauss II, Johann 1889
Sleeping Beauty, Act 1 No 6 Garland Waltz (Grande Valse Villageoise) Op 66 Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 1890
Nutcracker Suite, 3rd Mvt Waltz Of The Flowers Op 71a Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 1892
La Boheme, Musetta's Waltz Puccini, Giacomo 1896
Gold And Silver (Gold Und Silber) Waltz Op 79 Lehar, Franz 1902
The Merry Widow (Die Lustige Witwe), Act 3 Waltz Lehar, Franz 1905
Count Of Luxembourg, Waltz Ballet Lehar, Franz 1909
Der Rosenkavalier, Waltz Sequence No 2 Op 59 Strauss, Richard 1911
The Gipsy Princess (Das Csardasfurstin), Tanzen Möcht' Ich Kalman, Emmerich 1915
White Horse Inn My Love Song Must Be A Waltz Stolz, Robert 1930
Masquerade Suite 1st Mvt Waltz Khachaturian, Aram 1944
Suite For Variety Orchestra 7th Mvt Waltz No 2  Shostakovich, Dmitri 1956
Edelweiss Rodgers, Richard 1959
My Sweet And Tender Beast Waltz Doga, Eugene 1978

Monday, December 31, 2012

Music from Wales

Wales is a country that is joined in a political union with the UK and is on the Western fringes of the island of Great Britain. Wales has a long Celtic history, a very distinct culture, its own language and a population of 3 million people (about the same population as Iowa or Mississippi in an area a little smaller than New Jersey). 

Most of Wales is wild, mountainous and sparsely populated – nearly all the people are concentrated in the industrial South Welsh valleys that surround the cities of Cardiff, Newport, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Llanelli and Swansea, and with another group of people close to the English border in North-East Wales around Wrexham. Smaller towns scattered around coastal Wales include Rhyl, Bangor, Caernafon and Aberystwyth (if only Scrabble allowed place names!).

Music has played a central role in Welsh traditions and society for centuries. 

The country is often referred to as ‘The Land of Song’ for the importance and joy that music plays in the fabric of being Welsh. All Celtic cultures are infused with a passion for music. 

In Wales, there has been a musical competition - the national Eistedfford - since the mid 12th century. In more recent times, every large village established a Welsh Male Voice Choir and likely a Brass Band as well. And at every large gathering of Welsh people, especially at national Rugby games, the entire crowd will, in union, sing Welsh anthems like “Men of Harlech”, “Bread of Heaven" or the Welsh national anthem of "Land of my Fathers"– a stirring sound that is hugely emotional. 

Check out this video that translates the song, then use youtube to find the crowd singing along at Cardiff Arms Park before a game:

In the twentieth century, Wales has produced a large number of classical, operatic and theatrical soloists of international reputation, including Ben Davies, Geraint Evans, Robert Tear, Bryn Terfel, Gwyneth Jones, Ivor Novello, Rebecca Evans and Helen Watts, as well as composers such as Alun Hoddinott, William Mathias and Karl Jenkins (whose “Armed Man” classical work is superb). 

From the 1980s onwards, crossover artists such as Katherine Jenkins, Charlotte Church and Aled Jones began to come to the fore. The Welsh National Opera, established in 1946, and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, launched in 1983, together with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales have attracted attention to Wales's growing reputation as a centre of excellence in the classical genre.

I have Welsh roots in my family. My mother was proudly Welsh, from the Valleys. From an early age I spent time visiting what seemed like a huge number of relatives in Wales, and even lived there for a short time. In 1966 I went to school in Abercarn, which was very close to the Aberfan disaster which happened around that time (where a coal spoil tip slid down a mountain onto a school, killing over 100 children).

There is an amazing amount of popular musical talent from Wales. Not just soloists and bands, but also individuals in famous groups (e.g. John Cale of The Velvet Underground, Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, Julian Cope of Teardrop Explodes, Andy Scott of Sweet, Roger Glover of Deep Purple and Rainbow and so on).

I have put together this playlist of one song from each Welsh act over the decades. Starting with the legends of Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey in the 60s, onto the 70s (Budgie was the first band I saw live at Sussex University in 1972) and 80s and more recent bands such as Manic Street Preachers and the Stereophonics.

For my video selection I’ve chosen the Stereophonics hit, "Dakota", which is a bit of a cheat but gives me the chance to have two tracks from one of my all time favourite acts, since I have also included their hit  "Maybe Tomorrow" in the list below!

Amen Corner – Bend Me, Shape Me
Mary Hopkins – Those Were The Days
Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger
Tom Jones – Delilah 

Andy Fairweather Low – Wide Eyed And Legless
Badfinger – Come And Get It
Bonnie Tyler – It’s A Heartache
Budgie - Breadfan
Dave Edmunds – Girl Talk
Man – Spunk Rock
Racing Cars – They Shoot Horses Don’t They

Alarm – Rain In The Summertime
Gene Loves Jezebel - Desire
Shakin’ Stevens – This Old House
Tigertailz - Heaven
World Party – Ship Of Fools

Catatonia – Mulder And Scully
Donna Lewis – I Love You Always Forever
Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – Patio Song
Hybrid – If I Survive
Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness
Sasha (DJ) – Expander
Super Furry Animals – Something 4 The Weekend

Automatic – Monster
Blackout – Murder In The Make Believe Bathroom
Bullet for my Valentine – Bittersweet Memories
Duffy – Mercy
Feeder – Just The Way I Feel
Funeral for a Friend – Into Oblivion
Jem – They
Kids In Glass Houses – Youngblood (Let It Out)
Lost Prophets – Last Train Home
Marina & the Diamonds – Primadonna
Stereophonics – Maybe Tomorrow

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best Twin Guitar (Dual Leads At Same Time) Music

I’ve had a lot of fun putting this playlist together, with one of my all-time favourite niche genres of music: Twin lead electric guitars playing in harmony or counterpoint with each other in a rock song. 

During the years 1973-1978 I saw Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy several times live in concert at the Brighton Dome. Those concerts were simply phenomenal, and are the reasons why this niche genre is still one of my favourites to this day.

Having the same instruments playing in harmony or counterpoint with each other is a fundamental component of most classical music, but is surprisingly rare in popular music for electric guitars. It is not easy to do, but when done well I love it.

I set myself a number of rules when putting this list of 100 songs together:

Rule number one is that each song had to have at least one harmonised or contrapuntal theme where the obvious musical point is the presence of both lead guitarists at the same time.  

This playlist is about dual guitars, not guitar duels. To illustrate what I mean, listen to the 1966 recording of the Lennon-composed Beatles track “And Your Bird Can Sing” where McCartney and Harrison perform a two guitar harmonised introduction and solo. That is in the playlist. Contrasted to that is one of the Beatles last ever recordings in 1969 of “Carry That Weight” where each guitarist of McCartney, Harrison and Lennon (in that order) each takes turns playing a part of the solo. That is not in the playlist.

My second rule is that each song had to involve two guitars, not one guitar using special effects such as a delayed echo or an octave divider. This rules out most early 60s hits from the instrumental bands of the Shadows, Ventures and Tornados. But I did allow studio overdubs of one guitarist playing both lead parts – which meant Deep Purple (Ritchie Blackmore), Prince, early Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd (David Gilmour), Elton John's backing band (Davey Johnstone) and Boston (Barry Goudreau) are included.  

Rule number three was to make sure the length of the harmonisation or counterpoint guitar phase was more than just a few brief seconds. Many songs have small interludes or breaks that have an element of guitar harmonisation or counterpoint. Steely Dan tunes are full of them. Jimmy Page overdubbed brief harmonised breaks or solos for Led Zeppelin – a great example is the solo in “Ramble On” - too short to make the playlist. I have tried to include songs where the dual guitar is the main element of the entire track.

The fourth rule was to try to stick to rhythmic and melodic guitar rock tunes. This meant I decided not to include a lot of experimental (Television, Fripp, Sonic Youth, King Crimson, Steve Reich), jamming bands (Grateful Dead, Umphrey’s McGee, Phish) and guitar virtuoso showcase (think Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, later Jeff Beck or Dream Theater) tracks. And I just don’t like any song which is screamed or shouted instead of sung. So this rule excluded a massive number of dual guitar tracks from more recent heavy metal and associated sub-genres (thrash, death, metalcore, etc.).

There are plenty of bands with more than one lead guitarist. There are several with three. Blue Oyster Cult are famous for having five on stage at one time. Despite this, finding tracks that comply with my four rules was not easy. It is surprising to see no mention here of bands such as the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith, both of which have had two guitarists who can play lead over the years, but who never seemed to play lead at the same time.

Many of the top vocal harmonisation acts are siblings or close relatives (Everly Brothers, Bee Gees, Beach Boys).  But this doesn’t seem to hold up so well with guitars. Johnny and Edgar Winter never really played dual leads together. Despite the names of the bands, the Allman Brothers and Doobie Brothers lead guitarists over the years were never related. Martin Turner and Ted Turner were founding members of Wishbone Ash, but were not related, and in any case Martin plays bass guitar.

However, the (rather obscure) Dutch band Cargo did feature brothers on lead, and from Australia Tommy and Phil Emmanuel perform superb dual guitar sets, mostly using acoustic but sometimes with electric guitars too.

Where did dual twin lead electric guitars start?  

Les Paul, the pioneer of the solid body electric guitar as well as a number of recording techniques, was overdubbing harmonised guitars on some of his material as early as the late 1940s. You can see the interplay between Les and his wife Mary Ford, also on guitar, on some great youtube videos from their TV shows around 1954/5. Check out tracks like "Nola", parts of their hit "Vaya Con Dios" and the bizarre "Lover" recorded in 1947 where Les overdubs 8 guitars at various speeds as a way of demonstrating his new multilayer magnetic tape recording capabilities.

As mentioned before, the Beatles were recording this style in 1966, and live on the road at that same time the Yardbirds were also stunning audiences with twin leads. In their case, for a short time, those guitarists were none other than Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page! I have included the track ‘Stroll On’ (which is really a slight change from their previously recorded cover of “Train Kept A-Rollin’”) recorded for the 1966 movie ‘Blow Up’ where both Page and Beck try to outplay each other.

But it was in the late 1960s that the genre really took shape, with the Allman Brothers band in the USA and Fleetwood Mac (with Peter Green) and Wishbone Ash in the UK. 

Listen to Wishbone Ash material from 1969/1970– tracks such as “Phoenix”, “Blind Eye” and “Handy” (the section between 1:40 and 4:40 is sublime) and I am not sure twin leads has ever been done as well before or since. And with their album “Argus” released in 1972, Wishbone Ash reached perhaps the pinnacle of this genre. I must have played that album hundreds of times over the years.

Around that same time, the very best blues guitarist from the UK collaborated with perhaps the best slide guitarist in the USA, with the Derek & the Dominos album full of great twin guitar tracks performed by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman.

Wishbone Ash inspired Thin Lizzy who took this genre to a new, rockier place. And in turn they both inspired Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and so on to just about every heavy metal band since.

While in the USA, the Allman Brothers inspired the Southern Rock genre with bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws, Charlie Daniels Band, Little Feat, Molly Hatchet, Black Oak Arkansas and dozens more where two lead guitars is a staple element. 

This playlist is best listened to with headphones on, that way you can really pick out the two guitars and the interplay between them

For my video to accompany this playlist, I have chosen “Wishbone Ash - Throw Down The Sword”, the last track from their “Argus” album. This song starts with a haunting dual harmonised guitar introduction and finishes with simply incredible twin guitar counterpoint solos from Ted Turner and Andy Powell.

1966 The Beatles - And Your Bird Can Sing
1966 The Yardbirds - Stroll On
1967 Buffalo Springfield - Bluebird
1967 Jeff Beck - Hi-Ho Silver Lining
1969 Allman Brothers Band - Black Hearted Woman
1969 Johnny Winter - Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
1969 Quicksilver Messenger Service - Mona
1969 Allman Brothers Band - Whipping Post
1969 Delaney & Bonnie with Eric Clapton - Comin' Home
1969 Fleetwood Mac - Oh Well
1970 Wishbone Ash - Blind Eye
1970 Wishbone Ash - Handy
1970 Allman Brothers Band - In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
1970 Wishbone Ash - Phoenix
1970 Wishbone Ash - Queen Of Torture
1970 Allman Brothers Band - Revival
1970 Velvet Underground - Sweet Jane
1970 Derek & the Dominos - Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
1970 Fleetwood Mac - Green Manalishi
1971 Wishbone Ash - Jail Bait
1971 Crosby Stills Nash and Young - Southern Man Live
1972 Allman Brothers Band - Blue Sky
1972 Cargo - Cross Talking
1972 Doobie Brothers - Disciple
1972 Doobie Brothers - Don't Start Me To Talkin'
1972 Eric Clapton - Let It Rain
1972 Steely Dan - Midnight Cruiser
1972 Doobie Brothers - Rockin' Down The Highway
1972 Wishbone Ash - Throw Down The Sword
1972 Wishbone Ash - Time Was
1972 Derek & the Dominos - Bell Bottom Blues
1972 Deep Purple - Highway Star
1972 Derek & the Dominos - Layla
1972 Thin Lizzy - Whisky In The Jar
1973 Alice Cooper - Billion Dollar Babies
1973 Steely Dan - Bodhisattva
1973 Little Feat - Dixie Chicken
1973 Fleetwood Mac - For Your Love
1973 Alice Cooper - Halo Of Flies
1973 Black Oak Arkansas - Jim Dandy
1973 Fleetwood Mac - Miles Away
1973 Wishbone Ash - Sorrel
1973 Doobie Brothers - South City Midnight Lady
1973 Edgar Winter Group - Free Ride
1973 Lynyrd Skynyrd - I Ain't The One
1973 Allman Brothers Band - Jessica
1973 Allman Brothers Band - Ramblin' Man
1973 Steely Dan - Reelin' In The Years
1974 Deep Purple - Burn
1974 Wishbone Ash - F.U.B.B.
1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd - I Need You
1974 Deep Purple - Mistreated
1974 Charlie Daniels Band - No Place To Go
1974 Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Not Fragile
1974 Thin Lizzy - Still In Love With You
1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd - Free Bird
1974 Elton John - Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)
1975 The Outlaws - Green Grass And High Tides
1975 Thin Lizzy - Suicide
1976 Thin Lizzy - Cowboy Song
1976 Thin Lizzy - Emerald
1976 Boston - Hitch A Ride
1976 Boston - Rock And Roll Band
1976 Lynyrd Skynyrd - That Smell
1976 Thin Lizzy - The Boys Are Back In Town
1976 Kansas - Carry On Wayward Son
1976 Thin Lizzy - Don't Believe A Word
1976 Blue Oyster Cult - Don't Fear The Reaper
1976 Orleans - Still The One
1977 Thin Lizzy - Bad Reputation
1977 Pink Floyd - Dogs
1977 Outlaws - Hurry Sundown
1977 Boston - Peace Of Mind
1977 Thin Lizzy - Southbond
1977 Eagles - Hotel California
1977 Eagles - Life In The Fast Lane
1977 Sanford Townsend Band - Smoke From A Distant Fire
1978 The Scorpions - We'll Burn The Sky
1978 Atlanta Rhythm Section - Imaginary Lover
1979 Thin Lizzy - Black Rose
1979 UFO - Doctor Doctor
1979 April Wine - Roller
1979 Thin Lizzy - Do Anything You Want To Do
1979 Molly Hatchet - Flirtin' With Disaster
1979 Thin Lizzy - Waiting For An Alibi
1981 Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak
1981 Judas Priest - Heading Out To The Highway
1981 April Wine - Sign Of The Gypsy Queen
1982 Iron Maiden - Hallowed Be Thy Name
1982 The Scorpions - No One Like You
1982 Iron Maiden - Run To The Hills
1984 Prince - Computer Blue
1987 Def Leppard - Hysteria
1988 The Church - Reptile
1989 Dickey Betts Band - Duane's Tune
1991 Guns N' Roses - You Could Be Mine
1998 311 - Beautiful Disaster
2000 Jimmie Van Zant Band - Southern Comfort
2004 The Darkness - Love Is Only A Feeling
2007 Wilco - Impossible Germany
2008 Avenged Sevenfold - Afterlife

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Music from Manchester, England

The metropolitan county of ‘Greater Manchester’ includes the city of Manchester but also the surrounding towns and suburbs that make up the conurbation of over 2.6 million people (roughly the same as greater Denver or Pittsburgh) in the North of England. Some of those towns and suburbs include Wigan, Stockport, Bolton, Altrincham, Clayton, Heywood, Middleton, Oldham, Ramsbottom, Rochdale, Trafford, Salford, Prestwich, Sale and Whalley Range.

Greater Manchester is an important industrial, commercial, educational and cultural hub, having the third largest concentration of people in the UK (after London and the West Midlands). 

During the 1950s through 1980s the city went through a tough ‘post-industrial’ phase, but in recent decades has undergone a huge transformation and resurgence. There are some bleak spots in Manchester, but also some of the richest suburbs in the country. The weather is usually dreadful – cool or cold, normally with rain. The people are famous for their strong accents and their passion for football (soccer) with the current two best sides in the English Premier League of Manchester United and Manchester City fighting it out across town from each other.

There is such a huge quantity and quality of music from this city. I have highlighted most of the popular musical artists that call (or have called) Manchester home since the 1960s and limited myself to just one song from each act.

It was in the early 60s that popular music exploded in the UK. One website documents the 60s music scene in Manchester, and lists several hundred bands and acts active in that decade. Surely this means that almost every kid in the city was learning their three chords?

And the Manchester kids had inspiration. During the ‘British Invasion’ of the US charts in the mid 60s, there was a time when the top 3 consecutive number one hits were all by bands from Manchester! In 1965 Freddie and the Dreamers spent two weeks at the top with "I'm Telling You Now" (April 10–24), followed by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders with one week at the top with "Game of Love" (April 24-May 1), and finally Herman's Hermits with "Mrs Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter", a further three weeks at number one (May 1–22), for a total of six weeks of Mancunian success in the USA.

What is it about music and Manchester? Is there something in the water? Why have so many amazing individual artists and bands come from this one reasonable sized city in the North of England?

There are plenty of theories, and here are just a few of them:

After the success of Merseyside acts in the early 1960s, especially The Beatles, the natural competition between these two great close neighbour cities took hold – just as it still does today with football. It is only a 45 minute drive from central Manchester to central Liverpool (a distance of only 35 miles or 56km).

Once a few Manchester acts hit the big time it seemed like an easy road to money, fame, travel, girls and escape. As a kid in Manchester in the 1960s you were faced with the choice of working hard all your life with very little chance of real social advancement, or learning a few chords and maybe achieving global fortune. 

Success builds on success, and momentum builds. Once a band breaks up, each member goes on to help form new acts (10cc are responsible for quite a few Manchester bands, and are partly formed themselves from the Mindbenders). Every band inspired others. Oasis was formed partly after time spent as roadies for Inspiral Carpets.  

Over the years, an entire supporting infrastructure for popular music took shape in Manchester. Record labels, recording studios, trend spotters, artist development, engineers, live music venues, radio stations and TV studios. Manchester’s popular musical 'scene' is second to none.

The famous BBC weekly music show ‘Top of the Pops’ was recorded here for many years, some of Europe’s best live music venues are located here and the club scene has been a trendsetter for decades. The movie ’24 Hour Party People’ documented the incredible impact that one club – the Hacienda – had on Manchester’s music culture with the emergence of many new popular music acts, a phase in the late 1980s/early 1990s where the city was so ‘hot right now’ that the term ‘Madchester’ was coined to describe it all.

An entire music genre (‘Northern Soul’) took shape in the clubs in Greater Manchester, while many new forms of dance and electronic music first appeared in the UK through the Manchester night scene.

All of these factors certainly played a part. But the culture of the city has always been very musical, with a rich input of immigrants, especially from Ireland with celtic music in their bones (The Smiths and Oasis have Irish roots).  

Take all of this, and mix it with some of the earliest blues and R&B festivals and visiting US acts in the UK in the early 1960s, and all the ingredients were in place.

Some of my favourite music is from Manchester acts; The godfather of the blues in the UK, John Mayall. 10cc’s unusual set of hits in the 1970s. Early punk and the incredible Joy Division in the 1970s. The Smiths, Oasis, New Order, Stone Roses, Simply Red, Elbow, Doves and Badly Drawn Boy. But I am a huge Richard Ashcroft fan and consider the Verve’s 1997 album ‘Urban Hymns’ to be one of the best albums ever. So I have chosen "Rolling People", a track from that album as my video selection for this blog.

So, here is a 'one song per artist' playlist for the "Rock 'n' Goal" capital of the world!

Bee Gees (born in Manchester, then as kids emigrated to Brisbane, Australia) - Spicks & Specks
Freddie & the Dreamers - You Were Made For Me
Herman’s Hermits - I'm Into Something Good
Hollies - Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress
John Mayall (just outside Manchester in Macclesfield) - Steppin' Out
Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders - Groovy Kind Of Love
(note: Davy Jones of The Monkees was also from Manchester)

10CC - I'm Not In Love
Barclay James Harvest - Mockingbird
Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love
Elkie Brooks - Pearl's A Singer
The Fall - Totally Wired
Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
Sweet Sensation - Sad Sweet Dreamer
Van Der Graaf Generator - Theme One

Chameleons - Second Skin
Happy Mondays - Loose Fit
Limahl (frontman for Kajagoogoo) - Never Ending Story
Morrissey - Suedehead
New Order - True Faith
Pete Shelley - Homosapien
Simply Red - It's Only Love
The Smiths - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
The Stone Roses - Love Spreads (Zeppelin much?)
Swing Out Sister - Breakout
Wax (half came from 10cc) - Right Between The Eyes
When In Rome - I Promise

808 State - Pacific 202
Black Grape - Get Higher
Booth & the Bad Girl - I Believe
Chemical Brothers (from Southern England, but formed CB in Manchester) - Star Guitar
David Gray - This Years Love
Electronic - Disappointed (no, not the Pet Shop Boys)
Ian Brown (Stone Roses frontman) - F.E.A.R.
Inspiral Carpets - Two World's Collide
James - Born Of Frustration
Jay Kay (raised in Manchester, formed Jamiroquai in London) - Canned Heat
Lamb - Gorecki
Lisa Stansfield - All Around The World
N-Trance - Set You Free
Oasis - Little By Little
Oceansize - Music For A Nurse
Railway Children - Every Beat Of The Heart
Take That - Back For Good
Verve - Bitter Sweet Symphony

Badly Drawn Boy - Born Again
Beady Eye - The Roller
Cherry Ghost - People Help The People
Courteeners - Take Over The World
Delphic - This Momentary
Doves (just outside Greater Manchester, from Wilmslow, Cheshire) - Pounding
Elbow - Fugitive Motel
I Am Kloot - Northern Skies
Kelly Llorenna - Tell It To My Heart
Longcut - A Quiet Life
Longview (formed in Manchester) - Further
Nine Black Alps - Unsatisfied
Richard Ashcroft (from Verve, of course) - A Song For The Lovers
RPA & the United Nations of Sound - Are You Ready?
Sarah Whatmore - When I Lost You
Shayne Ward - Breathless
Starsailor - Four To The Floor
Simon Webbe - No Worries
The Ting Tings - Shut Up And Let Me Go

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Great Synthesizer Instrumental Chart Hits

I was 19 years old for most of 1978 – the year when synth instrumentals were very popular. You had acts like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Alan Parsons Project, Jeff Wayne, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, ELP and Giorgio Moroder at the peak of their output – all around the same time. And then there were movies too – such as Bilitis (sigh!).

It could be argued that the first real ‘electronic’ instrumental hit was way back in 1963 – when some engineers in the BBC studios came up with the theme to Dr. Who. It is amazing how good this track still sounds today.

There followed a gap for several years, but then a series of one-hit wonders in the early 70s were followed by the zenith of synthesizer instrumentals in the late 70s. I can recall seeing progressive rock acts like Yes, Genesis, Camel and Pink Floyd at this time, with long synth solos from artists such as Rick Wakeman.

Of course, practically the entire music of the 1980s was synth-based (a definition of any new-wave band was to have a synth player and a sax), but instrumental synth hits were quite rare. Then, in the mid 80s, off the back of a smash movie and hit TV show, there were perhaps the two most popular synth hits ever with ‘Axel F – Harold Faltermeyer’ from Beverly Hills Cop and ‘Miami Vice Theme – Jan Hammer’.

There were other great synth instrumental tracks from popular movies in the 80s too – ‘Chariots Of Fire Theme – Vangelis’ and ‘Love On A Real Train – Tangerine Dream’ (from Tom Cruise’s breakout movie Risky Business).

From the late 80s onwards, the best place to find synth instrumentals seems to be the themes of TV shows (Hill Street Blues, NCIS, X Files to name a few).

When did synth instrumentals stop and trance, electronic dance and all the variations of electronica start? Somewhere around 1990 it seems. I have included a few electronic songs since then, ones that were important in some way or whose sound was similar to the synth hits of the 70s.

As I put this playlist of 50 synth instrumentals together, I have tried to avoid any songs with lyrics. This meant not including some terrific synth-based music (such as ‘ Living On Video – Trans-X’ from 1985). It also got tricky sometimes, does Gregorian Chanting mean lyrics? I decided it didn’t, which meant I could include ‘Sadeness – Enigma’ in this list.

For my video selection, I have chosen Tangerine Dream’s Love On A Real Train, a brilliant track and it always reminds me of the scene in Risky Business.

1963 Dr. Who Theme (Original) - BBC Sound Engineers
1972 Joy - Apollo 100
1972 Outa-Space - Billy Preston
1972 Popcorn - Hot Butter
1973 Also Sprach Zarathustra - Deodato
1973 Frankenstein - Edgar Winter Group
1973 On The Run - Pink Floyd
1973 Pepper Box - Peppers
1975 Autobahn - Kraftwerk
1976 A Fifth Of Beethoven - Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band
1976 Oxygene (Part 2) - Jean Michel Jarre
1976 Oxygene (Part 4) - Jean Michel Jarre
1976 Pulstar - Vangelis
1977 Bilitis - Francis Lai
1977 Dervish D. - Vangelis
1977 Fanfare For The Common Man - Emerson Lake & Palmer
1977 I Robot - Alan Parsons Project
1977 Magic Fly - Space
1978 Chase - Giorgio Moroder
1978 Equinoxe (Part 5) - Jean Michel Jarre
1978 Hyper Gamma Spaces - Alan Parsons Project
1978 The Eve Of The War - Jeff Wayne
1978 The Robots - Kraftwerk
1979 Lucifer - Alan Parsons Project
1981 Chariots Of Fire - Vangelis
1981 Hill Street Blues Theme - Mike Post
1982 Mammagamma - Alan Parsons Project
1982 Sirius - Alan Parsons Project
1983 Love On A Real Train - Tangerine Dream
1983 Rock It - Herbie Hancock
1983 Tour De France - Kraftwerk
1984 Axel F - Harold Faltermeyer
1984 Rainforest - Paul Hardcastle
1985 Moments In Love - Art Of Noise
1986 Peter Gunn Theme - Art Of Noise
1986 The Wizard - Paul Hardcastle
1987 Miami Vice Theme - Jan Hammer
1987 Crockett's Theme - Jan Hammer
1988 Rain Man Theme - Hans Zimmer
1990 Sadeness - Enigma
1990 Twin Peaks Theme - Angelo Badalamenti
1991 Go - Moby
1993 X Files Theme - Mark Snow
1994 Dark And Long - Underworld
1995 Children - Robert Miles
1996 Insomnia - Faithless
1996 Mission Impossible Theme - Lalo Schifrin
1997 Oxygene (Part 8) - Jean Michel Jarre
2002 NCIS Theme - Numeriklab
2002 Take Me With You - Cosmos

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Best of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus......a man so famous you don’t even need to finish his name.

Born into a musical family in 1756, Mozart, under the management of his rather dominant father, was performing for European royalty at 5 and composing serious works at the precocious age of 7. By age 9, Mozart was already composing his Symphony No 5 - Beethoven was 35 years old (older than Mozart was when he died) before he got around to his fifth symphony! As early as 17 years old, Mozart composed his Symphony No. 25 which is one of his best works and well known as the introduction to the movie ‘Amadeus’.

He had an amazing ability to recall music he had heard, writing down every note of a lengthy concert after just one listen. He also mimicked all the famous composers of the time and those that came before him (such as J.S. Bach) as an entertainment to his close circle of friends.

He led a rather unsettled life, never really finding the security of a permanent job, and often found himself heavily in debt, relying on friends (many of whom were fellow freemasons) to keep him solvent. His rather adolescent behaviour and humour as an adult has led to him being compared to Michael Jackson, someone else whose Father stole their childhood. He was also very sickly from an early age, which some say resulted in stunted growth, since he was always a very small man.

Beethoven started composing just as Mozart’s short life came to an end. He travelled to Vienna to learn from Mozart, but it is not clear that they ever met.
Mozart was a versatile and prolific composer. He composed for every major genre, including symphony, opera, the solo concerto, chamber music and the piano sonata. He almost single-handedly developed and popularized the Classical piano concerto - the twelve written in Vienna between 1784-1786 are generally regarded as masterpieces. He wrote a great deal of religious music, including large-scale masses, but also dances, divertimenti, serenades, and other forms of secular light entertainment.

Some of his operas are still very popular today, including The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte and The Magic Flute. Who can forget the terrific scene in ‘Shawshank Redemption’ where the Sull’aria from The Marriage of Figaro blasts out over the prison speakers?

Mozart died from a fever at a tragically young age (35), just as his output of compositions was at its peak. It is unlikely the world will ever again witness the sheer genius of incredible music from one person as was Mozart during the decade of the 1780s. Who knows what masterpieces of music Mozart would have recorded if he had lived a normal age.

Mozart’s music can be easily identified through the use of the Kochel catalogue number system, where each piece has a K number in more or less chronological order. Just about anything past K 300 (up until his last work at K 626) is considered today to be a masterpiece.

To know more about Mozart, the academy-award winning movie ‘Amadeus’ is the best place to start.

I have chosen the Overture from The Marriage of Figaro as the video for Mozart.

1773 Exsultate Jubilate Motet For Soprano & Orchestra 3rd Mvt Allegro Alleluia K 165
1773 Symphony No 25 In G Minor 1st Mvt Allegro Con Brio K 183
1775 Violin Concerto No 3 In G Major 1st Mvt Allegro K 216
1778 Piano Sonata No 8 In A Minor 1st Mvt Allegro Maestoso K 310
1781 Idomeneo, Act 2 Fuor Del Mar Ho Un Mar In Seno K 366
1781 Serenade No 10 For Winds In B Flat Major 3rd Mvt Adagio K 361
1781 Variations On 'Ah Vous Dirai-je Maman' K 265
1782 Abduction From The Seraglio (Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail), Overture K 384
1782 Serenade No 12 For Winds In C Minor 1st Mvt Allegro K 388
1782 Symphony No 35 In D Major 4th Mvt Presto 'Haffner' K 385
1783 Piano Sonata No 10 In C Major 2nd Mvt Andante Cantabile K 330
1783 Piano Sonata No 11 In A Major 3rd Mvt Rondo Alla Turca K 331
1784 Piano Concerto No 16 In D Major 1st Mvt Allegro Assai K 451
1784 Piano Concerto No 19 In F Major 3rd Mvt Allegro Assai K 459
1784 Quintet For Piano & Winds In E Flat Major 2nd Mvt Larghetto K 452
1785 Horn Concerto No 3 In E Flat Major 2nd Mvt Romance Larghetto K 447
1785 Piano Concerto No 20 In D Minor 2nd Mvt Romanze K 466
1785 Piano Concerto No 20 In D Minor 3rd Mvt Allegro Assai K 466
1785 Piano Concerto No 21 In C Major 2nd Mvt Andante K 467
1785 Piano Concerto No 23 In A Major 2nd Mvt Adagio K488
1785 String Quartet No 19 In C Major 'Dissonance' 1st Mvt Adagio Allegro K 465
1786 Horn Concerto No 4 In E Flat Major 3rd Mvt Rondo Allegro Vivace  K 495
1786 Marriage Of Figaro, Non Piu Andrai K 492
1786 Marriage Of Figaro, Overture K 492
1786 Marriage Of Figaro, Sull'aria K 492
1786 Marriage Of Figaro, Voi Che Sapete (w Cecilia Bartoli) K 492
1786 Piano Concerto No 24 In C Minor 1st Mvt Allegro K 491
1786 Piano Concerto No 25 In C Major 1st Mvt Allegro K 503
1787 Divertimento For 2 Horns & Strings In F Major 'A Musical Joke' 4th Mvt Presto Sonata Rondo K 522
1787 Don Giovanni, Act 2 Deh Vieni Alla Finestra K 527
1787 Don Giovanni, Overture  K 527
1787 Rondo For Piano No 3 In A Minor Anadante K 511
1787 Serenade For Strings No 13 In G Major 1st Mvt Allegro 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' K 525
1787 Serenade For Strings No 13 In G Major 2nd Mvt Romanze Andante 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' K 525
1787 Serenade For Strings No 13 In G Major 4th Mvt Rondo Allegro 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' K 525
1787 String Quintet No 3 In C Major 1st Mvt Allegro K 515
1788 Divertimento For String Trio In E Flat Major 1st Mvt Allegro K 563
1788 Divertimento For String Trio In E Flat Major 6th Mvt Allegro Sonata Rondo K 563
1788 Piano Concerto No 27 In B Flat Major 2nd Mvt Larghetto K 595
1788 Piano Sonata No 16 In C Major 1st Mvt Allegro 'For Beginners' K 545
1788 Symphony No 39 In E Flat Major 4th Mvt Allegro K 543
1788 Symphony No 40 In G Minor 1st Mvt Molto Allegro K 550
1788 Symphony No 41 In C Major 4th Mvt Molto Allegro 'Jupiter' K 551
1789 Piano Sonata No 18 In D Major 1st Mvt Allegro K 576
1789 Quintet For Clarinet And Strings In A Major 1st Mvt Allegro K 581
1790 Cosi Fan Tutte, Overture K 588
1791 Concerto For Clarinet And Orchestra In A Major 2nd Mvt Adagio K 622
1791 Fantasia In F Minor 2nd Mvt Andante Tempo Primo Wind Quintet Version K 608
1791 La Clemenza Di Tito, Overture K 621
1791 Magic Flute, Der Holle Rache (Queen Of The Night) Aria K 620
1791 Magic Flute, Der Vogelfanger Bin Ich Ja K 620
1791 Magic Flute, Dies Bildnis Ist Bezaubernd Schon K 620
1791 Magic Flute, Overture K 620
1791 Requiem Mass In D Minor Dies Irae K 626
1791 Requiem Mass In D Minor Lacrimosa K 626

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Best of Johann Sebastian Bach

Before Johann Sebastian Bach there was....silence?

Of course that is not true, but it is a testament to the music genius and profligate output of J.S. Bach that he is considered in many ways the father of music. With more than 1,100 attributed works spanning a wide repertoire of styles, instruments and forms, J.S Bach defined the templates used in music composition that are still used to this day.

I love the quote attributed to the team headed by  Carl Sagan that were responsible for the content on the ‘golden record’ sent into space with the Voyager spacecraft to represent the achievements of the human race in case the craft was found by intelligent life. They would have liked to have made the entire record of Bach music, but thought better of it as that would be ‘too much like bragging’.

Bach is the first of the ‘big three’ classical composers of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Every musician who has ever lived since the early 18th century owes a debt to Bach, whose music has been used in countless TV shows, movies, commercials and as the basis for a surprising number of tunes by contemporary artists (including The Toys,  Jethro Tull, Paul Simon, Procol Harum, Apollo 100, The Beach Boys, Jem and many others).

He remains as relevant today as ever. As I write this blog, there are commercials on TV for a series of break-dance concerts around Australia sponsored by Red Bull set to the famous ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ music of J.S. Bach (widely regarded as one of the most important musical works in history and a huge leap in the teaching of music at the time).

J.S. Bach was born into a musical family in Eisenach, now about as close to the centre of modern Germany as you can get. Taught by his father and uncles, J.S. Bach went on to be the musical director to several prominent aristocratic dynasties across Germany. 

During his lifetime he was a highly regarded organist, but his compositions were not so well known. He was a devoutly religious man whose music was mostly designed to be heard in religious services. However, he served a Calvanist family for a period of time who did not use elaborate music in their religious devotions, and so we now have a great collection of secular works he composed during this time as well.

We need to use his initials as there are so many members of the Bach family, both before and after Johann Sebastian, who composed music. Bach married twice, four children survived his first marriage and six his second, with most going on to become musicians and composers themselves. There is even a moderately famous painter grandson with exactly the same name.

A unique numbering system has been developed to identify all of J.S. Bach’s music, using BWV (Bach Werke Verzeichnis or Works Catalogue) numbers. 

J.S. Bach lived from 1685 until 1750, with my selection covering music composed between 1705 and 1735. That is just a short burst of 30 years of over 1000 works of music legend.

Bach composed prior to the development of the piano, guitar  and other modern instruments. My own personal preference is for the piano over the harpsichord, but others will have their own tastes. I have pointed out in the playlist below where I have chosen a particular instrument to interpret some of Bach's work.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any revealing movie or documentary on J.S. Bach to recommend (unlike Mozart and Beethoven). There are a few movies, but they are really no more than long music videos. 

The best way to get to know J.S. Bach is to lay back and listen to the music. It really doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are or where you are, more of this selection will be familiar to you than you suspect.

I've chosen 'Air on a G String' as the video for this blog, as a stunningly haunting composition that is instantly recognisable.

1705 Fugue In G Minor 'The Little' BWV 578
1707 Toccata And Fugue In D Minor BWV 565
1713 Cantata No 208 9th Mvt Aria 'Sheep May Safely Graze' Flute Version BWV 208
1717 Lute Suite In E Minor 5th Mvt Bourree Guitar Version BWV 996
1717 Violin Concerto In E Major 3rd Mvt Allegro Asai BWV 1042
1718 Two Part Invention For Keyboard No 1 In C Major Piano Version BWV 772
1718 Two Part Invention For Keyboard No 8 In F Major Piano Version BWV 779
1719 Cello Suite No 1 In G Major 1st Mvt Prelude BWV 1007
1721 Brandenburg Concerto No 2 In F Major 3rd Mvt 3 Allegro Assai BWV 1047
1721 Brandenburg Concerto No 3 In G Major 1st Mvt Allegro Moderato BWV 1048
1721 Brandenburg Concerto No 5 In D Major 1st Mvt Allegro BWV 1050
1722 Violin Partita No 2 In D Minor 5th Mvt Ciaccona Piano Version BWV 1004
1722 Well Tempered Clavier Prelude & Fugue For Keyboard No 1 In C Major Piano Version BWV 846
1723 Cantata No 147 10th Mvt Chorale 'Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring' BWV 147
1723 Cantata No 147 10th Mvt 'Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring' Trumpet Version BWV 147
1723 Orchestral Suite No 1 In C Major 7th Mvt Passepied BWV 1066
1723 Orchestral Suite No 3 In D Major 2nd Mvt ' Air On A G String' BWV 1068
1724 Chorale Prelude 'Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland' Orchestral Version BWV 659
1724 Chorale Prelude 'Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns Die Stimme (Sleeepers Awake)' Cello Version BWV 645
1724 Concerto For Two Harpsichords In C Minor 2nd Mvt Adagio Violin And Oboe Version BWV 1060
1725 Orchestral Suite No 2 In B Minor 7th Mvt Badinerie BWV 1067
1727 Violin Concerto In A Minor 1st Mvt Allegro Moderato BWV 1041
1727 Violin Concerto In A Minor 3rd Mvt Allegro Assai BWV 1041
1728 Concerto For Harpsichord No 5 In F Minor 2nd Mvt Largo Piano Version BWV 1056
1729 Cantata No 156 1st Mvt Sinfonia Arioso 'I Am Standing With One Foot In The Grave' Trumpet Version BWV 156
1730 Concerto For Two Violins In D Minor 2nd Mvt Largo Ma Non Tanto BWV 1043
1733 Magnificat In D Major 1st Mvt Coro BWV 243
1735 Italian Concerto For Keyboard In F Major 3rd Mvt Presto Piano Version BWV 971