Savouring the Beautiful Spring Weather with The Rippingtons’ “Sahara”

The weather here in Japan is still on a roller coaster. The days are either sweltering hot, cold with rain, windy, or sunny. Recently, the weather has been delightful. This fantastic weather means I can enjoy the pleasant spring air while listening to exhilarating pieces like today’s selection.

Sahara has two meanings in the dictionary: (a) a desert in North Africa that extends from the Atlantic to the Nile valley and (b) any arid waste. The Rippingtons’ “Sahara” doesn’t feel like a tune that fits the description of parched, barren land. Instead, it’s the exact opposite as “Sahara” is a refreshing piece that lets you indulge in the delightful weather of April.

The song starts off mellowly with Russ Freeman strumming an acoustic guitar riff that takes the lead. The bass supplies the supporting notes here and there. Meanwhile, Tony Morales and Steve Reid perform drums (mostly hi-hat) and percussion (primarily maracas and maybe a wooden block). The real action comes at the chorus. It starts off with a trombone prelude. Then, the piece suddenly changes moods as it’s loud and lively compared to the mellow verses. The chorus is exhilarating as the saxophone, performed by Jeff Kashiwa, quenches the need for an explosive climax. It also entices the listener with its sultry melody. The finale comes after a few more exchanges between verses and chorus. Instruments continue as they fade into silence. This way of ending the song makes the listener wonder what would happen if the piece carried on.

I can’t find much information on how and why this song was written in the way it was. I would call this piece more of an oasis in the desert. It relaxes, allures, and quenches the listener’s musical soul. A true exhilarating tune for spring.

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Blast From the Past: Misfits of Sciences

misfits

Happy April, Readers! Hope that the weather is getting warmer where you are at! Indeed, it has been beautiful here in central Japan. I been passing the time by enjoying the spring weather, watching cherry blossoms spring to life beside my apartment’s window, writing, and also watching obscure 80s’ American TV shows like The Charmings, Starman, Out of This World, and others.  (All thanks to Wikipedia and Youtube!)

I have never really heard of Misfits of Science before I stumble on a Youtube video that showcased theme songs from “bizarre” 80s’ shows. Since I was born three years after the show’s premiere., all I know about the show is that: Courtney Cox starred in it, who would later star in the 90s’ staple TV show Friends, a charming Dean Paul Martin, and it sort-of piggybacks on the success of Ghostbusters as both share a mutual theme of “weird science” You could also say that “Misfits” is the distant cousin of Fantastic Four or even X-Men when you think about “beings” having strange superpowers.

For those who don’t remember this lost 80s’ show, “Misfit” premiered in the fall of 1985 on NBC. It only ran for sixteen episodes as it was canceled due to low ratings. It wasn’t the show’s fault though; it was competing against the mega-successful, ratings dominant Dallas during the same time slot.

Why am I writing about a TV show on a music blog? Am I forgetting my bearings? Let me talk about the theme song because sometimes the songs themselves are worthy to talk about.

The theme song for Misfits of Science was composed by Basil Poledouris, a Greek-American composer who created music for various TV shows and movies like Conan the Barbarian, RoboCop, and Free Willy. He also wrote music for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the theme’s performer is a singer-songwriter named Karen Lawrence. Since the 70s, Lawrence has been featured as the lead singer for L.A. Jets, 1994, Karen Lawrence and the Pinz, and Blue by Nature while singing back vocals for Aerosmith and Jeff Beck. She released her only album, entitled Rip and Tear, in 1986 under the label Revolver.

The theme song is entirely an HI-NRG rock tune. There are some spots where the song slows down, especially at the pre-chorus where the BPM clocks in the lower 200s, compared to the verses’ BPM of around 225. But, it isn’t solely about the BPM that defines its sound. You can hear it in the instrumentation. The composer used a combination of electric guitars, electronic keyboards, bell-like tones, a drum kit, and a synthesizer. I feel like this song could be in the minor key to give it an edgy sound, but I could be mistaken.

I think the aspect I love about this song is the upbeat tempo, the edginess, and the “weirdness” factor that goes between the pre-chorus and chorus. You can hear it between 3:24 – 3:28 where a dissonant chord resolves into a consonant one, maybe into a half-cadence. The “weird” key, rock structure works perfectly for the show as the theme is “weird science”. But, the chorus adds a nice touch to the song as it changes directions and tries to resolve the song’s rock, edgy tension with a positive and relaxed melody.

Lastly, I think Karen Lawrence’s vocals are a perfect fit for this as her tone has that edgy, hard-rock tone to it that brings a balance to the song.

It is a shame that Misfits of Science only lasted half a season as the theme song is splendid. I might be biased as others have labeled this show as “awful,” but I love this theme song.  It reflects a perfect combination of vocals and instrumentation in the vein of the edgy, HI-NRG hard rock that was found prominent in the mid-80s. You can listen below and tell me what you think! 😀

 

Sade’s “Flower Of The Universe”

2018 is shaping up to be a fantastic year of brilliant movies. “Black Panther”, “A Wrinkle in Time”, “Konya, Romansu Gekijo de”, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” are just a few of this year’s cinematic gems that have been released or expected to be released. And with great movies come excellent soundtracks. Perhaps, the soundtrack for “A Wrinkle in Time” might be a masterpiece this year. All thanks to Sade’s “Flower Of The Universe”.

An article from the National Public Radio segment “All Songs Considered” recently popped on my Facebook timeline in which the author described Sade’s newest piece as “stunning”.  I would have to agree with the author’s single word review. The song is stunning but also breathtaking, eloquent, and bare.

The underlying motif of “Flower Of The Universe” starts off the song with Sade’s humming a rich, warm-sounding melody. Sade’s vocals are the main instruments in this piece as they control the mood, action, and climax. She is only supported by an acoustic guitar and piano. Yet, that doesn’t make the song sound boring at all. Sade’s unique voice attracts the audience’s attention and quenches their desires to listen to the end.
The first time I listened to this song was on my way back from a class on a warm evening here in Nagoya. Words cannot describe how beautiful, soothing, and pleasant having the two elements combined. It was awe-inspiring. Maybe I am into the music a little too much. However, it would be a great track to listen to during your evening commute, waking up in the morning, or even now.
“Flower Of The Universe” is a beautiful, breath-taking piece that shows its beauty through Sade’s vocal and bareness. Give it a listen and tell me what you think.

Is Ralph Tresvant Right? Can Money Really Not Buy You Love?

ralph-tresvant-money-1

 

This September has been filled with a bunch of rainy days. Rather than going out in a downpour, I kept to myself indoors with some activities like sleeping, studying, listening to music, and watching a ton of movies and TV shows. During this weekend, I was able to watch the new “Eight Days a Week”, “New Jacket City”, and “Mo’ Money”. These movies shared one common theme together. And, that was music.

I always wanted to watch “New Jacket City” and “Mo’ Money” as their soundtracks included a few of my favorite artists like Johnny Gill, Janet Jackson, Ralph Tresvant, Christopher Williams, and others. The songs appearing on these soundtracks were heavily influenced by a popular genre of the late 80’s and early 90s called New Jack Swing, which I really love as it perfectly blends together different musical elements.

Ralph Tresvant started his music career in the early 80s as a member of the “boys next door” R&B group New Edition. Labeled as the new Jackson 5,  Tresvant was only 13 years old when the group released their first album entitled Candy Girl. The album’s lead single reached #1 on various music charts. The group released more hits as the group grew up by changing their sound from sweet, innocent R&B to adult-oriented new jack swing. The group initially broke up in 1990 to let the members pursue their own solo careers. However, they continue to reunite from time to time for special occasions, TV shows, and concerts.

Billed as one of the leading vocalists for the group, Tresvant was all too ready to go solo when New Edition dissolved. There were rumors in the late 80s about the musician wanting to make his own music. However, the ambitions didn’t come into fruition until the success of Bobby Brown’s New Jack Swing-fused album Don’t Be Cruel in 1988 and the wildly popular New Edition album Heart Break. Knowing what to do, the musician released his self-titled album in 1990 with huge success. The album was #1 on the R&B charts and spawn a couple of hits. His follow-up album didn’t meet the same success as it reached #24 on the charts. 

“Money Can’t Buy You Love” was the fourth and last Top 10 single for the New Jack Swing singer. The song was in the 1992 Wayans Brother film Mo’ Money. The movie itself was critically panned by movie critics and actually bombed at the box office. On the contrary, the soundtrack fared better as it reached #6 on the Billboard 200 chart.

The soundtrack features a variety of splendid songs by Johnny Gill, Color Me Badd, Janet Jackson, Luther Vandross, and other well-known artists. Adam Greenberg  from AllMusic.com gave a spot-on analysis of the soundtrack as it “is a perfect blend for a fan of the early-’90s R&B sound. Yet, the praises do fall short to a weak point with Greenberg mentioning that the soundtrack “doesn’t really meet the same standard as music of later years”.[1]

Tresvant’s tune is a true embodiment of the new jack swing style as it features elements of rap, hip-hop, jazz, R&B, funk, electronica, and a bit of dance. The song starts with the singer’s smooth vocals singing “Can’t Buy You” while a slick rap is placed over. The song leads into the first chorus which is my favorite part. The chorus is the meat of the song’s sandwich as it is well-crafted with an SP-1200 providing the hip-hop styled MIDI sequences, the beautiful electronic piano bits here and there, and Tresvant’s smooth background vocals (which are heaven-sent and sooooooooooo smooth that it is so wonderful).

The lyrics are pretty satisfying as there is a strong message behind them. They were originally written with the idea of the movie’s theme of “money can’t buy can’t buy love” in mind Nevertheless, I feel like the message can apply to everyone and how they live their lives. Haven’t ever you thought about the issue deeply before? Is money REALLY THAT important in buying someone’s love and affection?

“Money Can’t Buy You Love”  is a wonderful example of what new jack swing was in the 90’s. It’s smooth, slick, meaningful, and catchy. The song might make you want to listen to it over and over. Or, just sing the lyrics out loud at random moments like walking to work. I know I have.

 


Sources

[1]  Greenberg, Adam. “Original Soundtrack Mo’ Money.” AllMusic.com. N.p., 2016. Web. (http://www.allmusic.com/album/mo-money-mw0000079784)

Achieving the Dream Within the Olympics

1984olympicscover

Another round of the Summer Olympics has come and go. Legions of countries sent their finest athletes to Rio de Janerio to see who would come on top. Athletes trained for years and years to try to perfect that one moment of their lives. Capturing Gold.

Many around the world have watched various portions of the Games, cheering on their national treasures to excel and take the prized metal. Viewership peaked sharply when the opening and closing ceremonies. Dance, art, and music interpret the host city’s purpose and histories during these ceremonies. At the same time, each athlete enters the stadium and greeted by a thunderous applause from the millions attending.

Many of the world’s brightest music and movie stars perform in front of the world audience during these events. Some even come out of retire to sing one more time, like The Spice Girls. with their most anticipated reunion at the 2012 London Olympics.

However, there is one important piece of the Olympic puzzle that sometimes go unnoticed during the hype. That would be the soundtrack. This collection infuses the spirit of the Games with music through its rhythms, beats, notes, and words. One of the best representation is the soundtrack for 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

By the time of the album’s release, Christopher Cross was no stranger to the world’s attention. The singer-songwriter became an instant success when he released his self-titled album in 1979. Scoring several top 20 singles, Cross also walked away with five Grammys the following year. His follow-up album, “Another Page”, was yet another success that included various hits.

Cross’ career was never the same after the Summer Olympics as the musician couldn’t successfully gain a strong fan base with the new MTV generation. Cross continued to release albums with small success throughout the years. The latest album he released was “Secret Ladder” in 2014.

Christopher Cross was such an influential musician during the late 70s and early 80s that most Americans have listened to at least one of his songs during their lifetime. Even though he wasn’t very prominent in my generation, I grew up listening to his songs like “Ride Like a Wind” and “Sailing” as my parents loved listening to music from their youth.

Cross is a well-crafted musician as he has a smooth singing style, catchy tunes, and writes lyrics that is relatable to anyone. Because of his talents, Cross was able to successfully create “A Chance of Heaven” as a catchy and pleasing tune that could inspire anyone, athletic or not. The evidence is in the song as it starts off with a worried mood. This could be a motif for an athlete who has fully concerned everything on winning. However, with help from the lyrics, the mood lightens and becomes fully positive during the chorus as Cross reassures that there is always one more chance at everything.

The musician never falters as he amazingly arranged this song with electronic instruments like a blazing electronic guitar, synthesizer, and drum kits. Cross doesn’t use these instruments heavy most of the time. He uses them instead in a light way to create a dreamlike, calming atmosphere. His voice also portrays this light tone very well throughout the verses.

“A Chance of Heaven” is a magnificent piece for the Summer Olympics. Cross used the music and the lyrics triumphantly to paint a delightful musical picture of one’s ambition at getting gold during the Games. It’s not over the top and heavy but instead light and laid back as it’s mood tries to present the theme vigorously.

 

Please check out the 1984 Summer Olympics soundtrack too. It has wonderful pieces from John Williams, Quincy Jones, Toto, Loverboy, Bob James, and others.

 

 

 

Surviving With Adventure in Modern Living

Combonation

WordPress had reminded me that it has been 22 days since I last posted  Sorry for the long hiatus. I been super busy with work observations, ups and downs, and etc. I also have been catching up on sorting the massive stockpile of music that I inherited from other blogs and auction sites. I still got a lot to get through but I don’t mind taking a break to blog about a song I recently found buried deep in this pile.

Usually every morning, I play iTunes on shuffle mode while I get ready for work. And on a normal weekday morning, I discovered Combonation. Yes, it’s not spelled wrong (although that is what Google and every other site thinks as they try to search for Randy Crawford’s “Combination” album instead). Not much is know about this 80’s band, except that it had around five members; drummer Billy Thomas, percussionist Randy Foote, vocalist and keyboardist Mark Hart, bass guitarist Randy Moors. and guitarist Steve Dudas, The band released their only album, a self-titled record, in 1984. It was produced by Ted Templeman who oversaw Van Halen’s releases.

The members went off to do their own stuff after the album’s release. Mark Hart went on to release two albums in the new millennium while performing in bands like Supertramp and Crowded House. Steve Dudas played guitar alongside Ringo Starr on tours and albums. It is unknown what Thomas, Foote, and Moors did after Combonation as there isn’t a lot of information on the internet about them.

“Adventure in Modern Living” is the second track off the album. It’s upbeat while a bit strange. You can tell that this was influenced by art rock artists like Kate Bush by the various techniques used in the song. You can hear that the bass is really prominent throughout, even more important than the guitar, when it switches back and forth from supporting the lead singer to having it’s own solo moments like during the bridge. Another art rock-like theme going on throughout the song is the use of a mandolin sound on the keyboard. It reminds me of how Kate Bush used the same instrument in the song “Babooshka”.

The lyrics may be a bit strange to some. The opening lines goes something like this: “A bird calls, a bear stalls, and gorillas grumbles. A city wakes, a mountain shakes, and an island crumbles.” However, I feel like it was the style of time; to display the simplicity of life through the music and lyrics.

If you enjoy any of the art rock acts of the 1980s, I am sure that you would like “Adventure in Modern Living”. I looooooooooove the art-rock aspect of the tune. I also like the vocal slides that the singer uses during the pre-chorus of “We are the audience”. It’s so awesome.

Choosing the Right Key to My Heart with Choice

kazaam-soundtrack

Hey, hey, do you remember Kazaam?

That horrible movie that featured basketball legend Shaq?

You probably have at least seen it once if you a child of the 90s. I remember watching this bizarre film on videotape when my mom bought me every kid movie tape out there.

Nooooow, do you remember this movie?

What?  You want the painful memories to stop?

Don’t worry, we won’t be talking about the movie, which will turn twenty years old next month. Instead, we will briefly talk about a song from it’s soundtrack, which features a mixture of R&B, hip-hop, and pop. It had songs from well-known artists like Spinderella (from Salt ‘n’ Pepa), Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (from TLC), and Nathan Morris (from Boyz II Men). But, it also spotlighted up and coming artists like Backstreet Boys, Usher, and P!nk who were just scratching the surface of the music world at the time of Kazaam’s soundtrack release.

One of the groups featured on this album was the girl group Choice. The group was made up of three girls from the suburbs of Philadelphia; Stephanie Galligan, Alecia Moore, and Chrissy Conway. The R&B-flavored group recorded songs and sent them to various record companies in order to get a deal. One person who noticed the group’s music and talents was L.A. Reid, who signed Choice on his own record label LaFace Records. He flew the girls down to Atlanta to record their debut album. During this time, one of their recorded songs, “Key of My Heart”, appeared on the Kazaam soundtrack.

However, Choice’s debut album never saw a physical release as the group disbanded before anything could be released. One of the possible reasons behind the breakup was the LA Reid gave Alecia a hard choice, go home or go solo, as he thought she was too talented to be in Choice.[1] And so she did, changing her name to P!nk and releasing her two time platinum-hit debut record “Can’t Take Me Home” in 2000. The edgy, in your face singer has had a successful career since her debut as the artist has dabbled in various musical genres from R&B to rock and beyond.

While P!nk was doing her thing, Chrissy Conway went onto join a Christian pop girl group called ZOEgirl from 1999 to 2006 and COLMANblue from 2008 to 2010. Meanwhile, Stephanie Galligan left the music business after the breakup.[2]

You probably wouldn’t notice P!nk’s vocals when you first listen “Key to My Heart”. The song features vocals that is completely different then P!nk’s powerful, brazen vocals that you typically hear in such songs like “Just Like Fire” and “Get This Party Started”. Instead, it features a mellow tone from the then-young singer to fit in with the mid-tempo flow.

The song is pretty soothing with the light tones from the members’ tone, a great flow, and a laid-back mood. It’s a basic 90s’ mid-tempo R&B that is a bit generic as you could hear the synthesizer, those types of vocals run, and the prominent woodblock mixed with snaps backbeat that you could find in any smooth R&B jams during the same time (see SWV, Allure, and others). However, it’s a pretty decent tune that doesn’t really bore anyone. It’s a great listen while you are relaxing on this beautiful Sunday.


Sources:

[1] Behind the Music. Perf. P!nk. VH1, 1999.

[2] Ali, Rahsheeda. “Solo Artists Who Got Their Starts In Now-Forgotten Bands.”VH1. 2014. Web. 05 June 2016. <http://www.vh1.com/news/53694/solo-artists-forgotten-bands/&gt;