No Stairway? Denied?!

Well, not anymore! Led Zeppelin fans rejoice for there is hope shining like a candle at the end of a very, very long tunnel. Now you ask how this could be? John Bonham and John Paul Jones have been residing in the hallowed halls of Rock ‘n’ Roll Valhalla for decades now. And Jimmy Page and Robert Plant dashed the hopes of fans everywhere when they abandoned their last collaboration in 2009 and since have been focusing on solo projects that often stray far from their rocking roots. So how can a devoted Led Zep fan aspire for something more? Has hell frozen over? Have the laws of time and space been irrevocably altered? (Cue Peter Venkman!) Hardly! But Led Zep fans from back in the day may not believe their ears when they hear this little track.

What song could possibly have gotten my classic rock-obsessed mind into such a tizzy? Well my friends, I am referring to the surprisingly epic song entitled Little Black Submarines. What’s that you say, you can’t place it? Well, I can assure you that you will not find it on any Led Zeppelin bootleg recording and it has not been languishing on a shelf somewhere deep within the BBC vaults for the past 30 years. No, this song is from a little American rhythm and blues revivalist duo known as The Black Keys. Now you might be confused as to how anyone could manage to get these two bands mixed-up. Sure they do share some of the same blues and folk influences and they both employ masterful instrumentality, finely honed lyrics, and a production standard that screams quality. Yet there is some distance between the two of them, from their subject matter to their style, as well as their stage presence . But if an old devotee happened to push play on this track unwittingly, they’d swear it was everybody’s favorite blues rock Brits circa 1971. Don’t believe me? Well, first let’s start with a refresher for those of you lacking in your music education.

Now I don’t know if Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney consciously set out to make their Stairway to Heaven, but this is essentially what they have accomplished with Little Black Submarines. The words of the tragic singer who asks to be reconnected with his (lost?) lover border on the fantastical and the complicated circular style in which the lyrics are delivered belies their simplicity. Sure, they may lack the Tolkien-esque mysticism of Led Zep’s best known track, but they do come pretty darn close. And the stark contrast created between Auerbach’s soft-voiced intro–accompanied only by acoustic guitar–and the grandeur of the full-force percussion and roaring riffs of the climax easily matches the majestic transformation that takes Stairway from a whisper to a howl over the course of its 8 minute length. The only thing missing is Plant’s unmistakable wail at the finale, although this is somewhat alleviated by the addition of three female back-up singers. But unlike Stairway, Submarines benefits from the missing weight of Led Zep’s formidable pedigree and at the much more manageable length of just over 4 minutes, the song has the ability to become more accessible to a general audience. And the best part is that The Black Keys pay such beautiful tribute to these gods of rock without losing their own identity in the process. At no time does the song feel forced or overblown.

In the end Little Black Submarines stands as a beautiful song, a fitting tribute, and something that fans of Led Zeppelin can fearlessly play in guitar stores everywhere.

Best guest star in a music video

There is a long history of big name movie stars randomly showing up in music videos, usually years before they have made their reputations. It’s literally gotten so prevalent that you almost can’t watch VH1 these days without running into familiar faces. Some famous examples include Alicia Silverstone in Cryin’ by Aerosmith, Courtney Cox in Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springsteen, and Hugh Laurie in Walking on Broken Glass by Annie Lennox. Haven’t seen these videos? Have you been living under a rock for the last 15 years? Any way, in each case a huge artist or band just happens to cast a great, if relatively unknown, actor for their video. Hindsight is 20/20 and eventually, often years later, someone digs up a copy of the video and starts yelling at the tv screen, “I know that person!”

It is less common for the opposite scenario to happen. But it does happen. And my favorite example has got to be Elijah Wood’s appearance in Dance Floor by The Apples in Stereo.  The album, Travellers in Space and Time, was released in 2010, years after Elijah Wood became a household name for portraying Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. For all that I happen to love The Apples in Stereo for both their quirkiness and their ability to make truly happy music and I honestly believe that they are a wonderfully talented band, their reputation pales against that of Wood. So how did they get him to appear in their video? Why, he’s a fan! That’s how! After what may one day become an infamous meeting between Wood and Apples frontman, Robert Schneider, at SXSW in 2003, led to Wood signing the band to his label, Simian Records, in 2006.  He also went on to direct the video for Energy on the album New Magnetic Wonder.

In Dance Floor, Wood pulls off an amazing performance and shows off a little-known (at least to me) talent for physical comedy. He is utterly adorable and invariably makes me want to smile and pat him on the head. The song is catchy as all get out, blending smart hooks with subtle auto-tuned backing vocals. It is happy and up-beat, but with a strong undercurrent of uncertainty. Schneider asks, “Where are we to go when our world is so confusing?” It is a message equally appealing to the angsty 14-year-old and the disillusioned 30-year-old alike. But Wood’s endearing performance proves the perfect bridge between the peppiness of the music and the sometimes dark lyrics.

And that is why he gets my vote for best guest star in a music video!

Do you have a favorite cameo in a music video?

The Award for the Best Song in a TV Show…

Ok, I admit it. I’m taking things a bit easy this week with the blog. Last week’s post was massive compared to my usual inane chatterings on music. Between research, writing, and revision (lots of revision), I lost the lion’s share of a weekend. I shut myself away with my ear phones blaring 60’s music on repeat for hours. It was literally like I was back in grad school working on a major paper! This isn’t meant to sound whiny or anything. I worked really hard on my little treatise and I’m very proud of it. But I must say that it’s been a bit of a crazy week around here, what with major spring cleaning (long overdue, I can assure you), dead mice (and panic!), and today a freaking earthquake! So instead of another editorial on developing music trends or a casual walk down my musical memory lane, I thought I’d give you a little treat.

Placement of music in film is very important and a song can easily make or break a scene. I know I could write a term paper on the subject (and let’s face it folks, someday I probably will), but tonight I’m just going to give you one good example of a well placed song. Fans of the Cartoon Network show Symbionic Titan may already be familiar with this one, but how can you go wrong with a huge robot locked in battle with a towering alien monster set to Space Age Love Song by A Flock of Seagulls? Well in my opinion, you simply can’t. So enjoy!

And because I love this song and just can’t resist, here’s the original music video from 1982! The hair is classic!

What is your favorite epic music scene from a movie or tv show? Is there a song that absolutely ruined a scene?

The Coolest New Thing in the World!

In an attempt to achieve some sort of consistency, I’m going to try to start cranking out regular posts on Tuesdays. This will give me the whole weekend to try to think up something interesting and leave then Monday for editing. If it works really well, I might up the ante to 2 entries a week. But that’s only if I start to get ambitious. As I’ve said before, it’s not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of sitting my but in a chair and typing them out.

I came up with this brilliant Tuesday plan today… only to realize that, in fact, today is Tuesday. I’m amazing, aren’t I? So instead of making you wait a whole week to be subjected to one of my lovely little essays, I decided instead to point you in the direction of… THE COOLEST NEW THING IN THE WORLD!!!

Friends and readers probably already know that I am a fan of Ok Go. They have a new album out called Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, which has some amazing songs on it. The album is named after General A.J. Pleasonton’s The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky, published in 1876. As if that isn’t random enough, the album art is filled with a wide array of color-coded charts, graphs, and patterns which compare the song lyrics to a passage from that book. They compare things like sentence length, syllables, and words common to both texts. It is a level of geek that few bands ever embrace and it makes me love them just a little bit more!

But that is not the coolest new thing in the world. And it is not the actual songs on the record (although they are really great and highly recommended by yours truly). No, the coolest new thing in the world is their video for All Is Not Lost. Now Ok Go is already known for their quirky videos (treadmills, anyone?) and their attempts to be interactive with their audiences. But they have truly taken things to a higher plane this time.

In a collaborative project with Pilobolus Dance Theater, director Trish Sie, and Google (that’s right, you read that), the video uses an experimental format called HTML 5. It runs in your web browser (unsurprisingly, they recommend you use Google Chrome for best results) and can be accessed at http://www.allisnotlo.st. The video lives up to the band’s reputation and the song is beautiful, infinitely hopeful with a rumbling baseline I haven’t been able to get of my head for weeks now. But the best part, the thing that elevates the video and makes it a totally new experience, is this: You get to enter in your own message at the beginning and it will show up at the end! When I heard about this I was skeptical and thought, “Yeah right, it’s probably just some little programming script that spits what you write back at you in a silly font.” Boy, was I wrong! It is something else entirely. But you’ve got to see it to understand.

So here are your instructions: follow the link I stuck above, enter your message, press play, and prepare to be blown away. It is worth it! (If you don’t have Google Chrome on your computer, you can download it for free at http://www.google.com/chrome.) Go! You won’t regret it, I promise.

Ok, if you really don’t want to download Chrome, here is the static video. Still a beautiful song and a neat video, but not the same.

And for those of you not sure, here’s a little behind the scenes video to whet your appetite:

And that, my friends, is THE COOLEST NEW THING IN THE WORLD!!!

The award for creative music video, Part 1

There are a ton of music videos floating out there in the media. And most of them follow pretty basic lines. Band plays, someone sings or raps, pretty girls dance, and so on and so forth. There are entire genres and experimentation is not dead by any means. But sometimes it seems like if you’ve seen one video, you’ve seen them all.

This is not the case with a band like the Black Keys. Really liking these guys lately. Great voice, high production values, and bending genres while playing on the nostalgia of the 1960s and rhythm and blues. Also, they have really amusing videos! Their video for Howlin’ For You is one of the most creative videos I’ve seen in a while. The entire video is presented as a movie trailer, with famous actors popping up left and right–Shaun White, Tricia Helfer, Corbin Bernsen, Sean Patrick Flanery, among others. The whole presentation smacks of Quentin Tarantino and the Kill Bill movies, although he isn’t actually involved. There’s sex, violence, explosions, and a healthy dose of cheese. The song is mainly background for dialogue and fight scenes and is constantly being interrupted. The band doesn’t even show up until near the end and never plays a note. It wins my award for most creative video.

If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s your chance!