Sunday, November 29, 2015

Listening Journal, Week 6

Week 6 listening may have been the most diverse grouping of music that we have had for this course. In order to better compare and contrast different music, I have grouped similar-styled music together. The first three songs are rocks songs.  All three tell stories through the lyrics.  Crocodile Rock, performed by Elton John, brings back a 1950's jukebox type of feel through the chord progressions as well as the instrumentation.  The song lyrics even mention the 1950's hit, Rockin' Around the Clock and how the couple in the song were singing Crocodile Rock.  The hook of this song is the point where the singer is singing "la la la".  While this song is quite short, the next two songs are much longer.  Hotel California, performed by the Eagles, is a much more laid back tempo, which uses the same chords throughout.  The song, like Stairway to Heaven, begins with a lengthy instrumental introduction.  There are many verses in Hotel California (I counted 10).  I especially find it interesting that the band uses the guitar to tell the story as well, including the ending of the story.  Stairway to Heaven, performed by Led Zeppelin, uses the instrumental interludes to connect different sections of the song.  Our text indicates that the instrumental sections are labeled as "x".  The song gains intensity by speeding up the tempo as well as thickening the instrumentation.  The piece ends with a vocal solo unaccompanied.  

The next two songs are both forms of Latin music.  I listed to Oye Como Va, performed by Santana and Pedro Navaja, performed by Willie Colon and Ruben Blades.  Both songs have grooves established toward the beginning.  Oye Como Va eases its way into a groove by starting with keyboards and bass, followed by drums and guiro.  Oye Como Va is sung in unison by the band, which is the only vocals of the song.  Most of the music features the guitar and one moment where there is an improvised organ solo.  Pedro Navaja has many sound effects in the background.  Like Oye Como Va, there is a lot of material that is played multiple times.  This song has many key changes and also adds trombones about half way through.  My favorite part is the quote of "Maria" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.  

I listened to two country songs this week.  These songs have very different tempos, but use much of the same instrumentation.  Thank God I'm a Country Boy, performed by John Denver, begins with hand claps and the soloist.  The fiddle, bass, and piano join the soloist after the first verse and the tambourine is added later.  The lyrics are very rhythmic and have a lot of syncopation as well as rhyming.  There are several spots where the music holds, just before the singer sings the title.  Poncho and Lefty, sung by Townes Van Zandt, begins with just him and an acoustic guitar.  The verses all differ slightly.  Verse two adds a fiddle, and verse three reports the last part of the chord progression.  The piece slows down and ends abruptly.  

The next three tunes are all performed by African-American artists.  These three styles are different from each other.  There are similarities:  Each song has an established beat that works for dancing.  Each song is very rhythmically entertaining either through the lyrics, the accompanying rhythm, or both.  Superstition, by Stevie Wonder, is one of my favorite all-time songs.  The song starts with the drum set and is join by an electric guitar solo.  Wonder sings the title right away.  Each verse sounds the same, however, the instrumental interludes and accompaniments change through the addition of the the brass and saxophones.  As the piece ends, the instruments play pieces of material that were introduced earlier in the song.  Love to Love You Baby, performed by Donna Summer, is a very long song that has many sexual overtones.  The beat is established immediately and never changes tempo.  The guitar plays a funk riff that is heard throughout and the vocal part is very short and is certainly the hook to the entire song.  There was a lot down with layering and voice-over.  Like most dance music, the song is very repetitive in order to keep the dancing going for awhile.  The Message, performed by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, is a story about what it is like to live in the inner city.  Like most rap, the lyrics rhyme a lot and contain a lot of syncopated rhythms.  The accompaniment is drums and keyboards.  It is amazing how far rap has come since it's early days in the 1970's and 1980's.

The final song that was included in my listening does not really fit with the above music.  I suppose this is fitting since it is considered punk rock and was designed to not fit in.  Like a lot of alternative music, the vocal sounds whiny and tends to sound frustrated, especially as the song progresses.  While most music, including much of the music listed above, uses the title of the song as a hook, Psycho Killer, performed by the Talking Heads, does not.  The hook of the song is actually the repeated "Fa fa fa fa fa . . . " in the chorus of the song.  Toward the end of the song, the instruments end the tune with an array of dissonant chords as well as balance in the right speaker to the left.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Listening Journal, Week 5

This week's listening excerpts come from the 1960's, which was highlighted by the "British Invasion", folk music, and music of the Beach Boys.  The first song that I listened to was Be My Baby, performed by the Ronnettes.  This is sung by a soloist with back up singers.  The song is set in the standard verse-refrain form.  The soloist's voice has that raspy quality to it that is appealing to the listener.  The only aspect of this song that is out of the ordinary is a that the drum beat in the intro also happens between the chorus repeats.  My Girl, performed by The Temptations has a few noteworthy qualities.  As the song progresses, additional instruments and features, such as trumpet fanfares, add in to maintain the listener's interest.  The verses of the song is performed by the soloist, while the chorus is a performance of the group in harmony.  There is also an orchestral interlude between the second and third versus.  The piece eventually fades out during the final chorus.

I listened to four songs performed by the Beatles.  Please, Please Me starts with a short introduction that also reoccurs between verses.  The beginning of each verse is sung by a duet.  Half way through the verse is the words, "Come On," which is sung in the call and response style.  There is a bridge in the middle of the song.  The piece ends with a short coda.  A Hard Day's Night is set up in the same form as Please Please Me.  The song's introduction is a just one chord, followed by the first verse. Like Please Please Me, the bridge happens toward the middle of the song.  Unlike Please Please Me, the bridge repeats itself between the 2nd and third verse.  There is also a featured guitar solo during the first part of verse 3, followed by the remainder of verse 3.  The song ends with a short coda.

Yesterday is a solo feature of Paul McCartney.  Like the previous two songs, there are verses with a bridge toward the middle of the song.  There is no introduction to this song as McCartney sings the first verse immediately.  The final piece, Elanor Rigby, is completely different than the other tunes. There is an introduction with all of the voices with a small string ensemble.  The recording of the song is very effective as the first half of versus are recorded on one side (my right ear).  "All the lonely people," is heard in both ears.  There is a lot of rhyming in the lyrics as well as syncopated rhythms against the quarter notes in the strings.  The song ends with five notes in the string ensemble.
Good Vibrations, performed by the Beach Boys, is by far the most complicated song of this week's listening.  There is so much to it, that it is difficult to catch everything without listening to it many times. The instruments are different than anything that we have heard to this point.  The most unique of these instruments is the Tannerin, which is a version of the theremin.  See the article below.  Also used is an organ, sleigh bells, and different types of drums.  There are also some different recording effects.  At the D section, the music has an echo quality to it, making the music sound dreamlike. There group sings alongside a pre-recorded portion, resulting in a layered effect.  The form, which is listed in the text is unlike anything that I have listened to for this class.  It is almost like there are two songs in one as, beginning at the C section, the tune completely changes.

Unique instrument heard on Good Vibrations

The last three songs are completely different from each other.  Respect, performed by Aretha Franklin, is a great showcase of her vocal ability.  The chord structure is very simple.  Two chords per section of the verse.  There is an instrumental break, which features a tenor saxophone solo.  Finally, the only time the listener hears the word "respect" is at the end of the song.  The word is spelled and magnified by the fact that Franklin is singing by herself with "hits" in the band.  Like a Rolling Stone, by Bob Dylan, is unique because of how Dylan's timing and rhyming of the lyrics work together.  Each time the chorus of the song occurs, it is longer in duration than previously.  Dylan also plays the harmonica along with the guitar.  Finally, Crossroads, performed by Cream is a fantastic showcase of Eric Clapton's guitar skill.  The song is set in a 12-bar blues, with a driving rock beat.  Clapton's solo with the drumset almost sounds like a duet more than a solo.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Listening Journal, Week 4

This week's listening focuses on the transition from the swing era into rock.  It also focuses on the increased popularity of country music.  As with previous entries, I tried to choose songs that varied from one another in order to offer the reader an idea of what was popular in this era (post WWI through the 1950's).

The first song that I listened to was Nancy, performed by a young Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra's voice is so pure at this young age.  It seems like it takes very little effort to accomplish the nuances (vibrato, large intervals are two examples) that he achieves in this song.  The melody is accompanied by what sounds like a large orchestra.  Mambo No. 5, by Perez Prado, sounded very familiar to me.  I confused it with No. 8, which is used at the beginning of one of my favorite movies, Office Space. Offbeats are very prevalent in this piece as you hear them throughout the band.  The saxophones often play very staccato, which would be strange in most songs, but fits the style perfectly here.  The musicians in the band actually sing toward what is mostly an instrumental piece.

Choo Choo Chi' Boogie sounds like a song that would be found in the swing era.  However, the raspy sound of the tenor saxophone solo is too "dirty" for the swing era.  This song is very much in the 12 bar blues form.  This piece is certainly swinging, but more like a shuffle in my mind than the style of swing from the early 1940's.  Hound Dog, performed by Big Mama Thornton, is the first song that I listened to where I felt like there was a big difference in style (compared to the previous songs).  I am accustomed to hearing Elvis Presley's performance of this song, but found Thornton's rendition to be pleasingly different.  An electric guitar is used throughout the song and there is clapping during the offbeats.  The tempo is more laid back than Presley's version and Thornton's voice is much more "dirty" than Presley's.  While this piece uses the 12 bar blues, the bass guitar tends to change the chord one beat later than what I expect to hear in the blues.

Looking at country music, I first listened to Bill Monroe's It's Mighty Dark to Travel.  This song is what I would classify as classic Bluegrass music.  The instrumentation, solos, chord progressions, and lyrics fit this type of music perfectly.  Monroe has a very distinct southern or Appalachian dialect.  Hank Williams Hey Good Lookin' seems much closer to a typical country song.  The rhythm section creates the classic "oom pah" feel.  I like the opening electric guitar solo and feel myself wanting to hear more fiddle, as it seems to be used more as an afterthought in this song.   Maybellene is classified as a rock song, but seems almost country to me because of the similar oom pah feel.  This song uses the 12 bar blues during the chorus, but stays on one chord during verses.  I thought that was interesting as well as the fade out at the end, which reminds me of 1980's songs.

Long Tall Sally was a very energetic piece, sung by Little Richard.  He starts off by himself with the band doing "hits" on certain beats. Once the first four measures are completed, the band jumps into a 12 bar blues played straight (not swung).  The tenor saxophone solo is a high point, which is accompanied by the piano playing straight eighth notes.  Little Richard's voice is all over the place in terms of range as he makes this piece very exciting to listen to.  Don't Be Cruel, sung by Elvis Presley, is a much more laid back sounding piece.  Like much of the above-listed songs, Don't Be Cruel uses the 12 bar blues, with swung rhythms.  The back-up singers harmonize with their "Bops" and "Ooohs".  The song ends with a chord played by the electric guitar.  Charlie Brown, by the Coasters, seems to be from a few years earlier, maybe due to the harmonizing of the singers.  This piece is in blues form (not swung), and highlights the phrase, "Why's everybody always pickin' on me?"  This is the most memorable part, and probably would be the "hook" of the song.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Songshare Project

This is a presentation featuring the song, Moves Like Jagger by Maroon 5 with Christina Aguilera.  Why was this song so popular?  I believe that there are several key points:

  1. The song written with a "less is more" approach.  The chord structure is simple in that it stays with two chords almost the entire song. The lyrics are easy to remember with the rhyming. The hook is provided immediately.
  2. As the song progresses, new elements are added to keep the song fresh to the listener. 
  3. Collaborating two big names is almost a sure winner.  
The presentation was done using Zaption.  I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Listening Journal, Week 3

This week's listening journal focused on the time period beginning with the Great Depression (1929) and ending with the conclusion of World War II (1945).  Through this time period, there were great advancements in jazz, including blues, country blues, swing, cowboy swing, and a few other styles.  Listed below are songs that I chose to write about, which come from a long list of literature choices from this era.  I tried to select songs that differ from each other.

St. Louis Blues is an interesting piece in that it has all of the heart and soul of modern day blues (in terms of lyrics).  However, the piece lacks the swing and style of today's blues music. Louis Armstrong's trumpet playing is such a unique style with the wide and quickly moving vibrato.  The accompanying organ is very odd sounding, but works in that it does not cover the vocalist.  As the piece progresses, the mood changes and picks up momentum with the quarter note harmonies.  The Tom Rushen Blues is much different sounding than the St. Louis Blues, mainly because of it's folksy style. The rhythm is very straight forward (no swing).  The guitar playing by Charlie Patton is very different sounding, both in style and in timbre, making me wonder what kind of guitar he was using.  I also found it interesting through the reading that Patton used encoding, much like slaves would in the 19th century.  Robert Johnson's guitar techniques in Cross Road Blues are certainly groundbreaking in that it sounds like something a blues artist would play today.  I especially like the way he used a glissando technique. 

Jimmie Rodgers' performance of the Blue Yodel No. 2 reminds me of some of Hank Willams Sr.'s music.  Rodgers' way of moving to falsetto is seamless.  He makes it sound so easy and effortless. I found it interesting that Rodgers would throw in an extra beat here and there.  It breaks the monotony of hearing the same rhythm over and over. 

As we enter the swing era, I begin with  Wrappin' it Up by Fletcher Henderson.  This song is odd in that it moves back and forth between a swing style and straight style.  While there are solos in the trumpet, alto saxophone, and clarinet, most of the song is ensemble playing.  It is a very enjoyable piece to listen to, but certainly a transition song leading into the swing era.  Taking a Chance on Love is performed by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, but features the vocalist (Helen Forest) more so than Goodman.  This piece is in the swing style all the way through, but is slower than Wrappin' It Up. I have always enjoyed Goodman's use of vibrato, which is quite challenging to perfect on a clarinet.  Count' Basie's One O'Clock Jump defines the boogie woogie style from the beginning with the left hand piano playing (repetitive notes and rhythms),  The piece changes key as the tenor saxophone begins it's solo.  I like the use of tremolos in the piano, which substitute for the instrument's inability to use vibrato.  The trombone solo mimics this technique with a lip trill during the solo.  

In the Mood is a song that I have heard the most and also performed the most from the swing era.  It is a fun piece to play, while it is certainly repetitive.  I can speak from personal experience that the solos were written out and not improvised.  I like Miller's use of the full ensemble for the majority of the piece.  The vocal solo at the beginning of Paper Doll is absolutely stunning.  The voice is so pure and sweet sounding.  Even more impressive is the way that the other voices blend with the soloist later in the song.  The harmonies remind me of that of a barbershop quartet.  The tempo change in the middle of the song is a nice surprise to the listener. 

New San Antonio Rise is a song that does not match up with any previously listed piece.  For lack of a better word, I find the song hokey.  It sounds like something that one might hear at a sing-along from the 1950's or 1960's.  The "hi-ho" at the beginning is odd and does not seem to fit with the song.  Like One O'Clock Jump, the piece changes key right before the main theme of the song.         

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Listening Journal, Week 2

I really enjoyed the listening exercises this week. Several of these songs were familiar to me prior to listening.  This week's listening focused on early jazz, ragtime, and crooners.

Castle House Rag was very typical of most ragtime.  It is quick in tempo, includes a great deal of syncopation, and included quite a few instruments.  It is interesting to me that there was not a whole lot of low voiced instruments used in recordings, due to the fact that the low sounds would cause the needle to jump on a phonograph.  This fact makes many pieces, including this one sound shrill in quality.  Speaking of quality, the musicianship is very good with the recording (James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra).  However, the quality of the recording, or quality of the music instruments, or both makes the group sound very out of tune, causing it to be difficult to listen to at times.  The Tiger Rag is a piece that I have heard before, having heard the Canadian Brass perform it multiple times live.  The recording that I listened to of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band had an amazing clarinets player.

The Dipper Mouth Blues reminds me of my short visit to New Orleans a few years ago.  On that visit, I took a riverboat cruise that had a Dixieland band playing.  I enjoyed the use of all of the instrumental soloists in this song.  I am unsure as to whether any improvisation was happening.  It sounds like the band was on the cusp of wanting to swing this music.  The beginning of the East St. Louis Toodle-Oo is intriguing as it is very mysterious sounding in the minor key.  The trumpet soloist is fantastic, using several plunger techniques and growling.  There is a lot more solo playing in this piece than in the previously mentioned.  The piece eventually steers toward more section playing.

The crooners were very interesting to me in that they all had very distinct and different styles.  My Blue Heaven is a piece that I have heard many times, but not performed by Gene Austin.  His voice is so light, and vibrato is subtle.  The cello is a great instrument to use at the beginning of the song as it sets up Austin's singing style to perfection.  The bird sounds are somewhat startling as they did not really sound like birds at all.  Maybe he should have used the bird sounds that you can hear in Respighi's Pines of Rome instead.  Al Jolson's style is a complete opposite of Gene Austin's.  Like Blue Heaven, April Showers opens with the string family.  Jolson's voice is very intense and more dramatic than Austin's.  He sounds more throaty and has a wider vibrato.

How Deep is the Ocean was my least favorite song in the listening.  I felt like the piece lacked a hook and I found myself drifting to other thoughts outside of listening.  Bing Crosby is my favorite crooner and he demonstrates a style that is right in the middle of the previously mentioned crooners.  Crosby can be bold, but also sensitive in his approach to this song.  I Got Rhythm is one of my favorite Gershwin pieces and Ethyl Merman has the perfect voice for it in that she is very direct and brings the piece to life.  Below is a great interview that Merman gave toward the end of her life.  It's very interesting to listen to her experiences.