Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Hooked on Beatles

March 19th, 2012
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Last weekend we went for a movie screening of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, shown as part of New York International Children’s Film Festival. Lifelong Beatles fan that I am, I have never actually seen the movie in its entirety before, so it was a treat (followed up by a nice dinner with friends at an Upper East Side eatery).

I actually do not think Yellow Submarine is a kids movie – there aren’t that many general-audience jokes or visuals in it, the songs from the eponymous album that all get an airing during the film are all centered around adult concepts (All Together Now is a notable exception; even All You Need Is Love can hardly leave a proper impression on a small kid beyond the title line refrain, IMHO), and some flashing imagery may be disturbing even for adults.

Nonetheless, my 11-year-old daughter after watching the movie is suddenly completely hooked on the Beatles. She had me put my entire digitized collection of the Fab Four songs onto her iPod and, according to her, is currently listening to nothing else.

I find her mostly unprompted affection for the band quite amazing. Considering that they disbanded more than 40 years ago – the music was way too different then.

On the other hand, therein probably lies the perfect explanation. The music kids listen to today can hardly stand any comparison to The Beatles.

A reason for me to smile.

Movies, Music


November 23rd, 2011

One of those songs that I cannot get out of my head for days once someone plants it there. Maybe, if I pass it on to someone…


A New Year’s song performed by Becky

January 2nd, 2011
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My Russian-speaking audience will enjoy this impromptu performance by Becky of the well-known New Year’s song, which she literally learned in an hour or so prior to going to her New Year’s party. Those of you who do not speak Russian may still be able to appreciate the fact that Becky started playing guitar only a few months ago.

Family Album, Music

Four chords

April 29th, 2010
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I think I’d do really well as a blogger if all I did was to borrow content from Exler. So here it is, two appropriations in a row.

This is Axis of Awesome with an awesome demonstration that a huge number of modern hits are written with only the same four chords.

That makes me happy. I kinda play guitar that way…

Warning: Three or four occurrences of the f-word. Nothing excessive, but not safe for small children.


Being cool

March 1st, 2010

I am getting into a car to go pick up my teenage daughter and a couple of her friends from a trip to the mall. Because I’ve been volunteered to deliver those kids to their homes, and because one of them lives as far as is geographically possible from us while still technically residing in the same township, I am looking at 45-50 minutes of total driving. I want to have some music playing while I’m driving, and not of the kind that kids these days prefer.

My little problem: I don’t want to embarrass my kid. I want to be a cool Dad. And yet, 90% of music on my iPod is in languages other than English and hardly any is in genres that teenagers would appreciate. The rest falls into the “oldies” category, with a good chance of appearing too dated to the kids.

My only safe choice seems to be in going with my 50-song Beatles playlist. The Beatles are kinda undissable; even if the other kids don’t like it, I can’t imagine them giving my daughter hard time about her old man being a Beatles’ fan.

At some point after the kids get in the car, Hello Goodbye comes up in the shuffle. Suddenly, they all start singing along from the backseat1. Becky notices my apparent surprise of that and remarks: “See, Daddy, my friends are cool!”

If they are cool singing to it, I must be cool playing it.

Whew! Aced it!

1 It came up in a conversation afterwards that the teens know the song mostly because of Jonas Brothers’ cover, but they all agreed that they hated that and that the original version was much much better…


YouTube’d memories: Waltz from “Beware the automobile”

January 26th, 2010

I have been wounding down this recurring feature on my blog, for lack of material. Unless I get a sudden flashback to some remarkable piece, I can no longer think of a non-Russian song or performer that holds a special place in my memories. And I do not feel much enthusiasm for pulling in Russian songs into the series. I guess about 50 entries in a feature is a pretty good run.

For a finale, though, I will use a Russian exhibit. Not a song, though, but rather the theme from one of my favorite old Soviet movies. As far as melodies go, this one is undoubtedly my most favorite melody of all time, bar none. I can’t exactly explain why but I literally get goose bumps when it reaches crescendo somewhere around two minutes in.


YouTube’d memories: Hafanana

December 28th, 2009
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Sometimes, the most insignificant of memories lodge themselves in one’s brain…

I must have been four or five when I overheard my Mom and her girlfriends discussing comparative qualities of foreign singers who appeared on the Soviet state TV. I cannot recall anything from that conversation except the consensus that nobody moved onstage quite like Afric Simone did. Which was true on a number of levels, if you consider that a flamboyant display on Soviet TV in that day and age could only come from a representative of an “exotic” country.

That bit somehow stayed with me forever, and the song for which Simone was famous in the USSR – Hafanana – is one of my oldest childhood musical “foreign” recollections.

Natasha, at some point in middle school, actually learned the words to it as part of some “peoples’ friendship” project…


A Russian musical treasure exhibit

December 8th, 2009

My tastes as far as Russian music is concerned more or less calcified at the point of my emigration. Whatever I liked then, I like now. New acts that sprouted in the last two decades – not so much.

There is a show on Russian TV that purports to select the best of all of the songs written throughout the history of the USSR and Russia. The show is called “National Treasure” (in a nice twist, the first two letters of each of the two words comprising its name in Russian – Достояние Республики – are actually the first two notes in an octave), and each of its episodes examines the musical heritage of a given decade. Two sets of judges – “younger” generation and “older” generation; the demarcation seems to be around the age of 32-33, so I would definitely belong to the latter – vote on each of the presented songs. Three songs with the most votes from each decade progress on to the future program finale.

The judges are all celebrities of one kind or another and they are also asked to openly opine on every number prior to voting. A couple of people produce thoughtful – or hilarious – remarks, but most of the conversation is given to ardent butt-kissing, especially when the performer has a high enough pedigree to only be dealt with as if he or she were royalty. There are some harsh, and even rude, put-downs on rare occasions for some lesser lights, but it is mostly “Fantastic! Super! Amazing! Genius! You are my favorite singer!” and all that. Entertaining enough, I suppose.

The songs themselves is what matters to me. I know enough of Soviet musical heritage from before I was born and practically everything that’s ever been on radio or TV in the 70’s and 80’s to find every tune familiar and to be genuinely pleased when a song I count among my favorites gets high marks from the judging panels.

And then we come to the installment dealing with the songs from the 90’s.

To say that I do not know any of those songs is incorrect – most of them were or still are on the playlists in Russian restaurants in Brooklyn. To say that any of the songs can have a pretense of being considered for anything more than a fleeting note is a gross understatement – but then, I realize that you can’t just skip a decade altogether in this format. Several of the songs were legitimate hits in their time and possibly left a bigger imprint in the history of Russian music than I can imagine from my remote perch. But were I on that panel, I might just leave my ballot blank.

And then, there was this gem, which I’ve never heard before. (This is the original 90’s video.)

My American readers hopefully will not make a mistake to think that this song is sung in Russian. Or, in any language, for that matter. The words – of which there aren’t many – are pure gibberish.

During the performance of this number, I said to Natasha: “I can’t imagine that anyone from the ‘older’ generation would vote for it”. The tune may be catchy enough, and the number itself may have a sort of “pioneering” impact in the ex-Soviet society, but could this be something that people identify with or have fond memories associated with or simply enjoy singing themselves1?

And what do you know!? Both panels, the older one and the younger one, heaped unqualified praise on the group and its frontman, with one jury member, a respected poet in his 70’s, recalling that he once labelled the guy “the new Tchaikovsky” and this song was the proof.


The song got enough votes to become a finalist. Indeed, a Russian musical **national** treasure.

1 Ok, I suppose I can imagine myself repeatedly croaking “Ramamba Haru Mamburu” in a deranged shower moment, but I wouldn’t be proud of my choice. I’m sure.

Music, Russia

Musical hits 40’s-90’s

November 23rd, 2009
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I thought this was a really nice compilation of musical hits from 1940’s to 1990’s, so I figured I’d post a link here. It’s a Russian LiveJournal blog post, but the list is heavier on Western music rather than Russian. Those of my readers who are interested in rare insights into the Russian soul that I happen to stumble into, may view this as an exploration of which past Western acts are considered classics by the modern Russian society. I’d be interested in any reactions.

Don’t worry about the text on the main blog page. Just click any year near the top – the listing will be in proper Latin alphabet for non-Russian compositions. Each item is linked to a YouTube clip, by the way.

Via Exler.


YouTube’d memories: Hands Up

November 20th, 2009

The other day, my teenager and I got into one of nowadays frequent verbal exchanges that end with her effectively telling me to mind my own business, since she is grown up and all that and is capable of going through life without her old man trying to teach her at every opportunity…

With a heavy dose of sentimentality – not at all common for yours truly, believe me, – I thought back to the time when she was a little girl, wholly dependent on her parents and not giving them a single reason for worry. Those happy days have been well commemorated in the movie that I made for Becky’s 10th birthday.

Among the scenes in that movie is one where a 4-year-old Becky tentatively dances to Ottawan’s “Hands Up” in our erstwhile Brooklyn apartment. Despite the fact that this song holds a firm place in the “pantheon” of Western musical acts of my youth, it is now mostly associated in my mind with my daughter’s dancing.

By the way, the popularity of this song in the former USSR is well illustrated by the fact that the best YouTube clip of it is that from a concert in Kremlin, some 20+ years after the song first came out.

That actually reminds me: I need to start working on Kimmy’s 10th-birthday movie. She’s been asking about it for at least 5 years now.


YouTube’d memories: One Night in Bangkok

November 3rd, 2009

This song is one of “signature” pieces of my DJ days in high school.

As I noted elsewhere, I’ve been an unwilling dancer for my entire life, so it was only natural that I became a “designated DJ” at some point. Everybody else wanted to be on the floor…

I was also the resident komsomol leader, and therefore could be trusted with the tricky issue of which songs to select to play.

Our school discotheques were highly-regulated affairs: Western decadence in the shape of break-dancing and such was strictly disallowed; playlists had to be approved by the school administration. I’m pretty sure that their rule of thumb was: If the particular foreign artist had made appearance on national TV, they received a pass. Otherwise, don’t even ask, there are so many good Soviet songs to choose from…

Now, One Night in Bangkok was written by Andersson/Ulvaeus of ABBA fame, but of course it sounded nothing like ABBA. This alien to socialist art rap, this rhythm that immediately brings to mind that abominable break-dancing clownade! The vice-principal in charge of approving my playlist was positively scandalized upon hearing the song during the dance. Have I, God forbid, lied to her about the authorship?

In pre-internet days, when 95% of our music came via pirated channels on privately-recorded audio tapes, finding a legitimate proof of authorship for any given song was no mean feat. Somebody upstream from me on the tape-dubbing chain must have propagated the knowledge that the song was from the musical Chess, authored by the ABBA creative duo, but it was recorded on the tape as a stand-alone number among other songs by unrelated performers; I don’t think I’ve ever heard one other song from that musical. And anyway, there were few worse ways to torpedo the chances of a song than to admit that it played on the “rotting” Broadway.

Thankfully, I was considered extremely trustworthy by the school authorities. And ABBA did enjoy the highest clearance in the Soviet censorship machine. I had to be my most convincing in inventing the magazine articles where I had read about the song origin, substituting the authors’ experimentation with new popular styles instead of a Broadway play. The vice-principal believed me. The song found a steady place in our rotation – and those who could found ways to perform their break-dancing routines to it despite all prohibitions…

I have not heard this number in over twenty years.



YouTube’d memories: Toda

October 2nd, 2009

When my Uncle was emigrating a couple of years ahead of us, he left me a handful of cassette tapes for my new shiny tape recorder (which he himself had bought for me in New York on his voyage there several months prior). Among those tapes was an album of pop songs in Hebrew by someone named Benji1.

I became quite enchanted with the 35-minute tape and the 10 songs on it, regularly featuring it in my playing rotation. My exposure to Hebrew was practically nil at the time (it is very close to non-existent even today) and I had no idea what the lyrics were about. But something about the melodies and the sound kept drawing me in.

Toda was my favorite. The title means simply “Thank you”. With time I learned the lyrics to recognize that the repeating first lines of each verse (Toda al kol ma shebarata, Toda al ma sheli natata) have clear undertones of worship, but the rest of the song poetically recounts blue skies, friends, flowing songs, child’s laughter and other heart-warming things to be thankful for in life. In 1989, I knew nothing of the lyrics. Which did not preclude me from memorising the vocals and singing it out occasionally. Years later, I was pleasantly surprised how close my “interpretation” came to the real Hebrew text…

The video of the song that I found on YouTube is by a more-easily-searchable Haim Moshe.

1 I always assumed that he was an Israeli pop star, but I cannot locate an Israeli singer named Benji on the web. Benjamin Disraeli comes up instead…


YouTube’d memories: Friends in Low Places

August 27th, 2009
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Ok, still no time – or fodder – for regular blogging, so how about going back to an old recurring feature…

I mentioned somewhere that I went through a period of being much into country music in my 20’s. That coincided with the peak of fame for Garth Brooks, and there were quite a few numbers of his that I liked. I do not care for country music nowadays, but songs such as this one still have some inexplicable attraction for me. It came up in my iPod shuffle the other day, and I found myself singing along. In the middle of New York City commuter crowd, no less…


There are not many Brooks’ clips available in YouTube. Please excuse German advertizing in this one.


YouTube’d memories: Voyage Voyage

July 11th, 2009
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Another one of those huge Euro-hits of the late 80’s that were so popular in our discotheques. And another one of one-song performers for me…

The song obviously speaks to my wanderer inclinations. You could guess that even if your knowledge of French does not go far beyond the title…

Sergej Minaev (who was introduced in the Careless Whisper post) was sure to produce his own number to the same music, this time actually maintaining the theme.


YouTube’d memories: Caribbean Blue

June 16th, 2009
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Half a year or so into my American immigrant life, I earned enough money through a couple of small jobs to splurge on my very own CD-playing boombox. Lured in by the infamous “12 CDs for the price of 1” offer, I then joined BMG Music Service (which I accidentally learned is ceasing operation this month) with the aim of building up my music collection.

I bought a lot of dreck through that service (remember, this was before the era of peer-to-peer internet sharing, so I had little opportunity to “try before buy”). Some albums and performers aligned with this or that fleeting “phase” in my musical affinities. Others were recommended by enthusiastic friends whose tastes not always ran parallel to mine. Yet others were of “one hit track plus thirteen crappy ones” variety, where I just had to have that hit track.

I eventually offloaded dozens of barely-used CDs to second-hand music shops for $2 a piece. That’s several hundred dollars of money down the drain…

Buying an album of Enya was one of those “recommended by a friend” purchases. Not even a close friend, as it were, but one of my fellow counselors at the summer day camp. Whom I don’t think I saw ever again or cared to keep in touch with after the camp had ended.

I never managed to get into Enya’s New Age sound and probably never listened to that album more than a couple of times. But Caribbean Blue somehow stuck out, and it is now one of the few musical “survivors” from that period of my life. I have it in my iPod library, and when it comes up in shuffle mode, I normally don’t skip through it.

I like the video a lot, too.


YouTube’d memories: King of the Road

May 25th, 2009

I haven’t heard this song in ages and suddenly recognized the tune in a McDonald’s commercial, of all places. The Proclaimers‘ cover of the Roger Miller hit is one of my most vivid recollections of the time we started to get regularly exposed to the Western music acts via a weekly MTV hit-parade (I already mentioned it in the past).

In 1989 or so, the only words from the lyrics that my knowledge of English allowed me to clearly identify beyond those in the title were “no phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes”, which, in the absence of registering the stuff about trailers for rent and old worn out suits, sounded glamorously vagabond. But mostly, I just liked the sound of the song, that jazzy country crossover, especially the last portion, with only the bass and the finger snapping for music.

One other clear recollection from those MTV viewings is this ditty by London Beat. Beats me – hey, a pun! – why I remember that one so well.


YouTube’d memories: Crazy For You

May 19th, 2009

Continuing with musical genres other than pop or rock (the last installment was classical waltz, remember?), another frank admission: I am very partial to stage musical. In years living in or near the New York City, I’ve seen probably fewer musicals than my natural inclination suggests, but still a fair share. We went to a handful of performances in London as well, as recorded elsewhere in this blog, again not as frequent as we might have wanted, for reasons not exactly clear to anyone.

In any case, the very first musical on Broadway that we felt flush enough to spend money buying tickets for was Gershwins’ Crazy For You. Its run on stage ended in pre-YouTube times, so I was able to find only a single clip of a Broadway-cast number, performed at the Tony Awards in 1993. In all honesty, I have a very blurry recollection of our experience the night we saw it, but I am pretty sure that this guy, Harry Groener, was the one playing the role of Bobby, and I remember the sense of delight enveloping me as soon as the first notes of the opening number sounded. A guy in black-tie, a line of leggy girls in cabaret get-ups, tap dancing, breezy music, mmm…


YouTube’d memories: Strauss’ waltz

May 8th, 2009
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I like classical music. Johann Strauss is one of my favorite composers. This entry was meant to be filed under “Musical Tiramisu” series – my disposition always improves upon hearing a few notes of a Strauss’ waltz.

But there is a clear mental picture that often pops into my head when I’m listening to a waltz.

The waltz was an essential part of graduation ceremony for generations of Soviet high-school students. I can name quite a few popular songs of different eras that make a direct association between waltz and the end of one’s school years1.

Different schools did it differently, but for my graduation, several pupils were “volunteered” to dance on the stage of the assembly hall. Somehow, I was one of those designated to dance. Yep, yours truly, a fervent non-dancer. Must have been the combination of being one of the very few boys in the top tier of academic performance (in some ways, being selected was somewhat akin to being a valedictorian) and being not very hung up on exuding coolness (hey, I was popular, I had a steady girlfriend, I once performed in front of the whole school in a full matryoshka get-up – a bit of ballroom dancing could not subtract from my stature).

We did not practice to the sounds of Strauss, but rather to whatever recordings we had of the Soviet pop-scene waltzes. And the actual performance has long been overshadowed in my memory by the graduation night (see #22 at this link). But somehow whenever my ear catches one of Strauss’ divine melodies, I always vividly recall my then dance partner and me practicing our steps and twirls in an empty school highway.

I still consider myself a pretty serviceable waltz dancer, even though I had no more than a couple of occasions to perform the feat since that graduation night.

Because this entry is not focused on a specific song, I had a wealth of clips to choose from. I decided on a relatively short one – it is set to one waltz that I am most likely to start humming to myself (although the dance here is considerably more elaborate than what I normally associate with waltzing).


1 In Russian language, you are no longer “in school” after you leave high school and go on to a higher-education establishment. The correct designation after that is в институте (“in an institute”) or в университете (“in a university”). At least, that is how it was in my times.


YouTube’d memories: Pardonnez-moi ce Caprice d’Enfant

April 29th, 2009

The intro to this song always wakes up some deeply buried associations with my childhood – it was used as a theme for a popular TV program (which one, I can no longer recall) back in the 70’s in the USSR.

No less importantly, hearing Mireille Mathieu reminds me of vinyl records and turntables that played a big part in our lives well into the 80’s. We did not have a huge collection of records at home, as I recall, but many of the albums that we did have ended up shaping many of my musical affections. Mathieu’s compilation – she was and still is tremendously popular in Russia – was always one of my favorites.

The lady has the most remarkable voice.



Musical Tiramisu: Stumblin’ In

April 7th, 2009

No specific memories here, just one of my old favorites.

Wikipedia suggests that in 1978 this song rose to the US Top 10, so it might not be totally obscure to my American-born readers, even though Chris Norman and Smokie were primarily superstars in Europe, and Suzy Quatro, an American, was, at best, a B-list performer even across the pond.