Archive for January, 2011

TV Themes: The Big Bang Theory

January 31st, 2011 11 comments

It is difficult to reconcile the notion that the quite wonderful sitcom The Big Bang Theory comes from the same people who inflict upon the viewing public the hilarity-bereft smugfest that is Two And A Half Men. Both are Chuck Lorre shows, as was the utterly appalling Dharma And Greg, the slightly more tolerable Grace Under Fire (the title of which unforgivably punned on the protagonist”s name), and the mostly pretty smart Cybill, which featured the wonderful Christine Baranski, who in turn has a most welcome recurring guest spot on The Big Bang Theory.

The set-up for The Big Bang Theory, if it needs to be explained, involves two physics geniuses (Sheldon and Leonard), one of them evidently touched by some kind of autism and extreme OCD, their two fellow “nerd” friends, and the entirely ordinary aspiring actress with generous cleavage in the adjacent apartment (one might call it “Four Half Men”). Much of it is as derivative as Sheldon characterises Leonard”s research. We have the short straightman with dark curly hair and his socially inept flatmate who says inappropriate things living in the same building as blonde female company. Why, it”s Cousin Larry and Balki from the unlamented Perfect Strangers all over again! It even has that show”s laugh track (or is it a studio audience conditioned to laugh at anything, no matter how unfunny?).

What sets The Big Bang Theory apart from the legacy of traditional sitcoms which it draws from is the whip-smart dialogue and, above all, the character of Sheldon (and arguably that of diminutive Howard Wolowitz, whose sartorial style and Beatles hairstyle seems to manically draw from the Swinging Sixtiesm, and whose mother seems to be related to Estelle Costanza)). But it”s Sheldon”s show, and therefore Jim Parsons”. Parsons takes off the obnoxious edges of what really is an insufferable individual by investing his evidently gentle personality and melodious and precise elocution in his character. Rather than being an annoying and intolerable type, Parsons” Sheldon is almost cute in his deployment of pompous condescension (which is really a defence against a world which he doesn”t quite understand).  Alas, there are incongruous passages when Sheldon regresses into an inconsistent state of childhood, such as when he returns from Disneyland wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. It is here that the show appeals to sitcom denominators which one might have hoped to be extinct, at least in more discerning comedies such as this.

And therein resides the quibble with the mostly brilliant scriptwriting (and a set design which takes care to ensure that the formulae on whiteboards are correct science): consistency is sometimes traded for a quick gag. It”s an unwelcome throwback to the traditional sitcoms which preceded The Big Bang Theory ““ such as the criminally mirthless Perfect Strangers. But these are minor objections and easily forgivable when so much of the show is so delightful. The show deserves highest praise alone for the invention of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, a soundfile I have prepared below.

Sheldon, by the way, has a most excellent collection of t-shirts. I would kill (not literally, of course) to have the TV test-card t-shirt pictured right. There is also a splendid t-shirt showing the evolution of man, from primate to robot.

The Big Bang Theory“s theme song is suitably quirky, by the masters of quirk: Canada”s Barenaked Ladies. In about half a minute it outlines the evolutionary history of the world: “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,” the theme explains, “then nearly 14 billion years ago expansion started. The Earth began to cool, the autotrophs began to drool, Neanderthals developed tools, we built a wall (we built the pyramids). Math, science, history, unravelling the mysteries that all started with the big bang!” In 2007, a longer single version (still only 1:45 long) was released.

Another Barenaked Ladies song, Be My Yoko Ono, appears in the show”s second season, when Sheldon has an overbearing groupie (the John and Yoko gag is repeated in the current season, the fourth, when Sheldon has a likeminded female sidekick). Apparently Yoko once was asked whether she liked the song, which mocks her singing. She said she did, but preferred the band”s If I Had $1,000,000. It is indeed the better of the two songs, though the Barenaked Ladies” grand opus surely is Brian Wilson.

Theme from The Big Bang Theory
Barenaked Ladies ““ Big Bang Theory (full version)
Barenaked Ladies ““ You Can Be My Yoko Ono
The Big Bang Theory – Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock



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A History of Country Vol. 7: 1952-53

January 27th, 2011 11 comments

In this segment we briefly turn our focus on some of the individuals featured on this mix and the 1950/51 compilation. Pictured on the cover is the 1952 Cadillac in which Hank Williams died of heart failure on New Year”s Day 1953, aged 30 (though he always looked much older than that). His was the first of a series of young celebrity deaths that created legends for all times. Read more…

Covered with Soul Vol. 5

January 20th, 2011 4 comments

The fifth instalment in the Covered With Soul series departs from the custom of the previous four which featured mostly covers of non-soul originals. This mix consists of soul covers of soul songs.

One would imagine that soul covers of soul songs would be more frequent than those of non-soul tracks in the genre”s repertoire of the late 1960s and “70s, but I”ve found that this is not necessarily so, at least not as far as reasonably well-known tracks are concerned, and if one ignores the Motown custom of its roster all recording the same songs.

Two song titles included here will at first sight seem unfamiliar: The Rance Allen Group“s Just My Salvation reworks The Temptation”s Just My Imagination, giving it a gospel spin. Change Of Pace change their relationship with the soldiers in Vietnam from that in Freda Payne”s Bring The Boys Home. The buddies of the Change Of Pace title are depicted on the cover of the album, though the rest of the LP is standard soul fare, including a Christmas song I neglected to include on the soul Christmas mixes.

David Ruffin“s version of I Want You Back appeared on an album that was completed in 1971 but remained unreleased until 2004, because Motown saw no commercial promise in it. It”s a pity, because it”s a fine album. Don”t feel too sorry for the former Temptations man; he was not a great man ““ but what a singer!

One performer on this set also provides the original for a song covered here.  The wonderful Marlena Shaw covers Roberta Flack”s Feel Like Makin” Love and provided the original for California Soul, covered here by Brenda & the Tabulations.

Mike James Kirkland is not very well known, though his song Hang On In There (from the same album as Baby I Need Your Loving) was covered last year by John Legend and The Roots. The marvellous Lyn Collins, former backing singer for James Brown, also deserves to be better known. She sang my favourite version of Don”t Make Me Over (featured here in a cover by the likewise superb Barbara Jean English), which featured on my Bacharach mix a couple of years ago.

Philly Soul singer Barbara Mason specialised in cheating songs, and with her cover of Billy Paul”s Me And Mrs Jones she takes on one of the greatest songs of that kind. Billy”s version is unclear whether the two people actually consummate their love; in her eight-minute version Mason ends up coming face-to-face with Mrs Jones (not the one Billy met with; the wife of her Mr Jones), and we learn that she and Mr Jones did have sex, including the intimate noises Mr Jones makes!

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R.

1. David Ruffin – I Want You Back (1971)
2. Mike James Kirkland – Baby I Need Your Loving (1972)
3. Ronnie Dyson – Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely (1973)
4. Betty Wright – Ain’t No Sunshine (1972)
5. Dee Dee Sharp Gamble – Ooh Child (1977)
6. Lyn Collins – Never Gonna Give You Up (1972)
7. Rotary Connection – Respect (1969)
8. Change Of Pace – Bring My Buddies Back (1971)
9. The Rance Allen Group – Just My Salvation (1970)
10. Ernie Hines – A Change Is Gonna Come (1972)
11. Hank Ballard – Slip Away (1969)
12. The Delfonics – A Lover’s Concerto (1968)
13. Brenda & the Tabulations – California Soul (1970)
14. Marlena Shaw – Feel Like Makin’ Love (1975)
15. Sidney Joe Qualls – If You Don’t Know Me By Now (1974)
16. Barbara Mason – Me & Mr. Jones (1973)
17. Maxine Nightingale – Reasons (1975)
18. The Soul Children – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (1978)
19. Zulema – Wanna Be Where You Are (1972)
20. Barbara Jean English – Don’t Make Me Over (1972)
21. Jean Wells – I’ll Drown In My Own Tears (1968)
22. Blossoms – Grandma’s Hands (1972)


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Intros Quiz – 1966 edition

January 17th, 2011 6 comments

Here we begin another new five-yearly cycle of intros quizzes, starting with 45 years ago: 1966. Next month we”ll skip to 1971, then 1976 and so on.

As always, twenty intros to hit songs from that year of 5-7 seconds in length. All were single releases and/or hits that year. I will not enter into a debate whether #5 is in fact U2’s 1988 hit Angel Of Harlem. I presume the artists of #5 travelled into the future to steal U2’s riff, then beamed thenselves back to 1966 and made hay off The Edge’s inventive genius. Shameful though it is, it does not make #5 a U2 song.

The answers will be posted in the comments section by Thursday. If the pesky number 20 bugs you, go to the Contact Me tab above for the answers, or  better, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, click here.

Intros Quiz ““ 1966 edition


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A History of Country Vol. 6: Before Rock & Roll – 1950-51

January 12th, 2011 6 comments

After a hiatus of a few months we return to the history of country music. In the last narrative instalment (Volume 4) we noted the rise of female country singers; some of them will feature in this mix, which covers the years 1950-51, and its follow-up, 1952-53. In the course of the 1950s we will also review country’s contribution to rock & roll, and discuss some of the artists featured. What follows then is a brief overview of country music in the 1950s.

Country had always been a diverse genre. New forms emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Bluegrass took country back to its rural roots, with a sound based primarily on the interplay of string instruments “” banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin. The pioneer of bluegrass was Bill Monroe, a big fellow with a small mandolin, who in 1939 had formed a band called the Blue Grass Boys. The line-up kept changing, with the most consequential incarnation, in 1946/47, including the hitherto unknown Lester Flatt and Earl Sruggs, who soon would form their own band, have a massive hit with the instrumental Foggy Mountain Breakdown (revived later as a theme for the film Bonnie And Clyde), and enjoy long careers together and separately. Bluegrass has never become mainstream. Various revivals and dedicated musicianship have kept the sub-genre alive; it is possibly more popular now than it ever was, thanks to the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack  and the efforts of singers such as Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton. Read more…

In Memoriam – November/December 2010

January 5th, 2011 8 comments

The Grim Reaper took things easy in November ““ so much so that there was no pressing need for an update “” but he could barely stop himself once he got into the swing of things in the fnal month of 2010 (and, alas, has not wasted time getting going in 2011).

A couple of artists fell victim to violent crime: New Orleans rapper Magnolia $horty died in an apparent drive-by shooting (as for the lyrics of her song…oh my), and jazz rock drummer Billy Maddox was shot dead in a burglary in Austin, Texas.

Also desperately sad was the suicide of Barclay James Harvest’s Woolly Wolstenholme. The prog-rocker apparently had gone through mental suffering for a long time. In 1976 he and his band released a most affecting song titled Suicide (which calls to mind Sailing); my choice of it to mark Wolstenholme’s death is not intended to be ironic.

Australian rock singer James Freud also took his own life, apparently giving up his battle against alcoholism. The anguish of those who commit suicide is unimaginable to those of us who have not been on that edge. It’s not the coward’s way out, as the cliché would have it, for it takes immense courage to go through with suicide. Nor is it selfish, because surely their pain overrides all other considerations.

The Grim Reaper launched an onslaught on the world of R&B in late December, claming on successive days Sweet Inspiration Myrna Smith, Dorothy Jones of the Cookies, Bernard Wilson of Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, and Teena Marie.

On a personal level, I was sad to learn of the not unexpected death of Cape Town jazz maestro Tony Schilder, who provided me with many hours of top notch jazz entertainment. Tony was an immensely talented musician and a true gentleman. I marked his death over at Star Maker Machine. The guitar solo on the featured song, incidentally, is by Jonathan Butler.

Talking of jazz men, James Moody also passed away; fans of Aretha Franklin, George Benson and Amy Whitehouse will be familiar with the vocal takes on his mood.

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