Friday, July 29, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: The Wondermints, "The Party"

Don't do anything stupid. Under the table, her machine gun leg is also pointed at you.
Song: "The Party" by the L.A. power pop band The Wondermints
Released: 1996
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: For the Henry Mancini tribute album Shots in the Dark, which is best known for featuring a Scream-era Rose McGowan on its artwork, The Wondermints covered Mancini's psychedelia-lite main theme from The Party, the mostly improvised 1968 Blake Edwards comedy that thumbs its nose at Hollywood douches and SoCal stuffed shirts. (They didn't call anyone "douches" back then, so what did they say instead? "Hey, don't be such an un-groovy female sanitary napkin!"?)

Somewhere, Bjork is jotting this down as an idea for a new hat to wear.
(Photo source: DVD Beaver)
Although I really like the brilliantly directed silent movie-style slapstick in The Party, especially any set piece involving the practically mute waiter who gets himself plastered (Steve Franken, cousin of Sen. Al Franken), I can't get past Peter Sellers' aggravating brownface act (even though his docile Indian outsider character was written to be one of the few sympathetic and likable people in the movie, it's still brownface). The late Edwards was full of odd contradictions as a filmmaker. For instance, he'll emasculate Asians in one movie (either in Breakfast at Tiffany's or, to a lesser extent, in The Party) but then give an Asian American a pretty progressive role for its time in another (James Hong's dramatic role as a surgeon wrongly accused of murder in 1972's The Carey Treatment, a much-maligned but interesting and Roy Budd-scored whodunit that Edwards disowned after directing it for MGM).

This is like that scene in Titanic where the band continues to play while the ship goes down, only much more groovy.
(Photo source: Nanó Wallenius)
The 1996 Shots in the Dark take on "The Party," which is slightly updated with '90s production trickery and opens with a clip of the film's most quoted line, is a faithful rendition of one of Mancini's most underappreciated themes. In '96, Brian Wilson's future backing band was about to get some recognition the following year for its Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery song "Austin Powers."

All the other "Rome, Italian Style" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, "Her Hollow Ways"
Parodi/Fair, "James Bond Theme (GoldenEye Trailer Version)"
Goldfrapp, "Lovely Head"
The John Gregory Orchestra, "The Avengers"

Here we see Claudine Longet and Peter Sellers inventing the first of those nightclubs where clubbers and ravers dance around in Mr. Bubble soap.
This is the final "'Rome, Italian Style' Track of the Day" post. The "Rome, Italian Style" block on A Fistful of Soundtracks airs Mondays through Thursdays from 11am to noon.

Drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper

At AMC Theatres, get Coked up, but in a good way, not a 'getting a nosebleed and waking up with a pair of dead hookers in your bed' kind of way.
I used to occasionally make Coca-Cola floats (Coke topped with scoops of vanilla ice cream) for myself as a kid, so when AMC Theatres added $6 Coke floats to their concession stands this summer, I couldn't pass it up and had to get myself one at a screening of actor-turned-documentarian Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.

A drink I was nostalgic for was perfect for a pretty good (although some have found it to be problematic) rapumentary where I experienced a similar kind of nostalgia--for People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. (Those three albums were like my high school soundtrack, and to relive them on the big screen and to be treated to stories about the making of those hip-hop masterpieces is an experience I enjoyed more than any of the blockbusters that have been released this summer. Sorry, well-done Captain America adaptation.)

One of the best scenes in Beats, Rhymes and Life is Lakers fan Phife explaining why he often wears a Lakers jersey in Knicks-worshiping New York and doesn't give a shit. Phife may be short, but he's got massive balls.
"Scenario," the classic Low End Theory joint that was such a breakthrough for guest rapper and then-Leaders of the New School member Busta Rhymes, is absent from the film. According to Rapaport, its absence is due to those dreaded clearance issues.

'Things go better with coke'? Not always. Go YouTube 'Mark McGrath on The Wendy Williams Show.'
I never buy a beverage when I watch a movie because they often make me leave the screening room in the middle of the movie to rush over to the bathroom, and I don't like having to miss a few minutes of the feature presentation, but AMC's Coke float is worth snapping up--even though I did end up having to hold it during the entire "And then it all came crashing down" half of Beats, Rhymes & Life. I'm glad these Coke floats are available only for a limited time because having too much of them is a bad thing. Just ask the diabetic Phife. But in a heat wave that's as terrible as this summer's, a Coke float hits the spot.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, "Her Hollow Ways"

Daniele Luppi spent five years making the Rome album with Danger Mouse--the producer, not the cartoon character. Part of me wishes it was actually Danger Mouse the cartoon character who was producing tracks for Gorillaz and DOOM, which would make more sense because Gorillaz is a cartoon band and DOOM dresses like a character from some ironic Adult Swim cartoon about supervillains in suburbia.
Song: "Her Hollow Ways" by Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Released: 2011
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: This lush instrumental from Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi's Rome album sounds so much like a theme from some late '60s or early '70s Italian drama about either star-crossed lovers or a sexually repressed housewife who masturbates in the bathtub a lot that you can practically see opening credits in white like "Musica composta, orchestrata e diretta da Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi" as you hear it.

Some YouTuber took "Her Hollow Ways" and added it to a slideshow of vintage photos of elegant '50s and '60s ladies from Life magazine's Web archives for some reason. It kind of works.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Parodi/Fair, "James Bond Theme (GoldenEye Trailer Version)"

Here are composers Starr Parodi and Jeff Eden Fair. The name 'Starr Parodi' sounds like the title of some BBC sketch comedy show where British comedians attempt to do impressions of American celebrities and can barely hide their British accents.
Song: "James Bond Theme (GoldenEye Trailer Version)" by Parodi/Fair
Released: 2002 (it was recorded in 1995)
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: The "Rome, Italian Style" block focuses on how musicians outside the film and TV music world interpret '60s and '70s film and TV music. Former Arsenio Hall Show band keyboardist Starr Parodi and her husband Jeff Eden Fair, whose film and TV scoring work as a duo has included the mid-'90s United Artists logo music and the Lifetime cop show The Division, are hardly outsiders, but their arrangement of "The James Bond Theme" from 1962's Dr. No is my favorite cover of that theme that never appeared in a Bond film.

On this date in 1963, "The James Bond Theme" (composed by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry) entered the American pop charts. It captured the danger and allure of Bond's universe so well that every Eon Productions Bond film since Dr. No has featured it, and every non-Eon Bond film that doesn't feature it is, musically, kind of dickless without it--like Never Say Never Again or The Rock, which I like to think of as a sequel to the Sean Connery 007 installments because Connery was clearly playing Bond again, despite being named "John Mason,"(*) a safe-enough name choice to keep the Ian Fleming estate's lawyers away.

'Bond... James Bond. And I'm not just the President of the Hair Club for Men. I'm also a client.'
(*) If one likes to think of the name Bond as a mantle that's assumed by many different male MI6 agents instead of Bond being the same orphaned bachelor (and later, widower) from 1962 to 2002 despite five different faces, heights and accents(**), then that was a great way to explain why MI6 replaced the anonymous Scotsman who assumed the Bond identity from 1962 to 1967 and then briefly again in 1971: the U.S. government imprisoned his arse.

(**) Maybe Bond is really a Time Lord. All those STDs he picked up must have caused him to regenerate four times.

Sean Bean is wondering how he's gonna die in this, the 5,003rd Sean Bean project in which he plays someone who buys the farm.
In 1995, United Artists recruited Parodi and Fair to do an updated version of "The James Bond Theme" for the GoldenEye teaser trailer, months before filming was completed on Pierce Brosnan's first movie as 007, which was also the first movie in which Eon enlisted Martin Campbell, the New Zealand-born director of the classic British miniseries Edge of Darkness, to rescue the hit-or-miss 007 film series from one of many periods of creative (and this time, also legally related) doldrums.

"We were in a unique and exciting situation because we had been given the assignment of bringing the Bond theme into the 90's," recalled Parodi and Fair on their official site. "Fortunately we were given lots of artistic freedom because the picture of the GoldenEye Teaser was to be edited to our music arrangement. We wanted to give the theme a sense of mystery and tension that would break out with tons of energy that suits the action that Bond films deliver."

The duo succeeded. Their nifty, trip-hop-influenced take on "The James Bond Theme," which constantly changes tempos, announced so effectively to the world during the GoldenEye teaser trailer that Bond was back in action again. It recaptures the danger and allure of Bond's universe in a way that Marvin Hamlisch's fun(***) but not-as-alluring "Bond '77" cover from The Spy Who Loved Me doesn't. Maybe it's due to the trip-hop sound, which is better suited for 007 than the disco sound of "Bond '77" because trip-hop is so influenced by Barry's spy movie scores, and artists from that genre are so fond of sampling those scores too, which is what Parodi and Fair did with the original 1962 recording of "The James Bond Theme" in their teaser trailer music.

(***) It's mostly because of the cowbells.

In 2002, it was nice to finally be able to have on disc the teaser trailer music, which became a staple of MGM/UA's trailers and ads for the Brosnan films. The trailer music made its CD debut on the Best of Bond... James Bond compilation, which Capitol released to mark the film series' 40th anniversary. At that time, the series was stuck in yet another creative rut (Brosnan's films did well at the box office but were becoming increasingly slipshod, script-wise). It wasn't able to come out of this rut until Eon enlisted Campbell again to helm what ended up being the best--and least juvenile--Bond film in decades. Mr. Bond, you have a nasty habit of surviving.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Goldfrapp, "Lovely Head"

I don't think this image is what I had in mind when I first saw the title 'Lovely Head.'
Song: "Lovely Head" by Goldfrapp
Released: 2000
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: Trouser Press came up with a good shorthand description for "Lovely Head," the first single off the duo Goldfrapp's debut album Felt Mountain: "If Lee Van Cleef had ever romanced Shirley Bassey, 'Lovely Head,' which sounds like a score in search of a Sergio Leone film, would have been their song."

Ennio Morricone's influence on Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, which they acknowledged in the Felt Mountain liner notes with their shout-outs to Morricone and Leone, is most evident in "Lovely Head." There's whistling, harpsichords, percussion reminiscent of Il Maestro's Sicilian Clan main title theme and a vocal effect that's as bizarre as the coyote howls in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly score, but it's more of a Goldfrapp touch than a Morricone touch. Goldfrapp, who provides the whistling during "Lovely Head," makes her voice sound remarkably like a theremin(*), with the help of a synthesizer that distorts her vocals (her theremin-like howls also turn up during another Felt Mountain cut and "Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day, "Pilots").

(*) In his intro for the TCM Essentials Jr. broadcast of the theremin-filled Thing from Another World a couple of days ago, host Bill Hader said, "Transformers would be so much better with a theremin." True that.

"Lovely Head" also channels the grandiose sound of the secondary themes John Barry composed for either 007's love interests or the foreign destinations where 007 would shag those love interests. The Bondian strings and drums of "Lovely Head" inspired a YouTuber to replace "All Time High," one of Barry's weakest Bond ballads, with "Lovely Head" in the Octopussy opening titles.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: The John Gregory Orchestra, "The Avengers"

Honor Blackman switched to leather outfits because during a fight scene, she split open her pants. An even better solution to that wardrobe malfunction would have been pantsless fighting, a.k.a. trousersless fighting, which would have made the show's ratings go up 1000 percent.
I gave myself an assignment for the entire month of July: I've been writing one post per weekday in which I say a few words about a selected track from A Fistful of Soundtracks' "Rome, Italian Style" block of imaginary soundtrack music and covers of '60s and '70s film and TV themes. Sometimes, I've found myself not being able to say much more than "It's dope" or "It's shiny," and other times, the TV series where the piece of music originated from is a more interesting subject to write about than the music itself, which is the case with today's post. The "'Rome, Italian Style' Track of the Day" series concludes this Friday, but the block will continue to air Mondays through Thursdays from 11am to noon on AFOS.

Song: "The Avengers" by The John Gregory Orchestra
Released: 1961
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: It's a faithful cover of the other Avengers theme, the lesser-known one from the British spy show's pre-Emma Peel seasons that was composed not by Laurie Johnson, but by the late British jazzman John Dankworth. Those rarely seen (due mostly to the British TV networks' love of throwing their archived shows away) and shot-on-videotape first three seasons were more serious in tone, and Dankworth's crime-jazz theme reflected that harder-edged tone.

A show that's turned 50 years old (!) this year, The Avengers started out as a total sausage fest, with Patrick Macnee's John Steed partnered with Ian Hendry's David Keel, a doctor seeking vengeance on the drug dealers who murdered his fiancée. When leather-clad anthropologist/judo expert Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) arrived as a replacement for Keel (Hendry, the show's original lead actor, decided to bounce after the first season to pursue a film career), the once-grim procedural gradually evolved into the eye candy-filled, sexy and playful spy-fi classic we know and love today.

"When the women came, it coincided with the rise of women's lib. So women were totally excited to see, in what was after all a comic strip type show, a woman [who] actually does things," said Macnee in 1998, when he was promoting his memoir The Avengers and Me. "At that time, to see a women like Diana Rigg, with that beautiful auburn hair throwing men over her shoulder, then tossing her hair out of her eyes, smiling and saying 'Where do we go next?' was highly attractive--particularly to young women. And to young men, particularly with the clothes, because they were... err, revealing and interesting. Suddenly a woman was vibrant in a medium in which [that] normally didn't happen."



The Avengers 50th Anniversary Press Launch from Avengers 50th on Vimeo.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, "Spy School Graduation Theme"

Whenever someone straps on an electric guitar, why must they always make the same faces that G.E. Smith used to make before an SNL commercial break?
Song: "Spy School Graduation Theme" by the Canadian band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
Released: 1993
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: I love this '60s spy score-style tune by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, the now-defunct instrumental rock band best known for composing the Kids in the Hall theme tune "Having an Average Weekend" and declaring that "We're Not a Fucking Surf Band."

In his series of season-by-season reviews of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD, blogger SamuraiFrog says he always wanted to see a Trek TV spinoff that was set at Starfleet Academy. On a similar note, I always wanted to see someone create a show about spy school, although the USA show Covert Affairs is kind of fulfilling that function, but with the field serving as the new classroom for its inexperienced but plucky heroine Annie, who was pulled out early from the CIA's "Farm" and immediately promoted to field work.



All the other "Rome, Italian Style" Tracks of the Day from this week:
The John Gregory Orchestra, "It Takes a Thief"
Daniele Luppi, "An Italian Story"
Count Basie and His Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald & The Tommy Flanagan Trio, "Sanford & Son Theme (The Streetbeater)"
Elvis Costello and Sy Richardson, "A Town Called Big Nothing (Really Big Nothing)"

The big alley

So it's San Diego Comic-Con time again, huh? Screw the overcrowded and stress-inducing Comic-Con. Here at A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog is an Artists' Alley where, like the Artists' Alley down at SDCC, you can find lots of stunning-looking art, but the alley here is a little nicer. It's not crowded, it doesn't smell as strange and there aren't any guys wearing those stupid-looking mandals because they think America wants to see their ugly toes on national TV. (For Christ's sake, you're a grown-ass man. Dress like one. They're called shower shoes for a reason: they're meant only for the shower. The only people who should be wearing open-toed shoes are ladies and Spartacus extras.)

During the week of last year's Comic-Con, the AFOS blog posted several great examples of TV show-inspired artwork. Here's some more standout TV-related art.

30 Rock/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen mash-up by Alex Ross
30 Rock/League of Extraordinary Gentlemen mash-up by Alex Ross. I'm looking forward to the inevitable mash-up of Warren Ellis' Ministry of Space and Astronaut Jones.

Return of the Jedi/Community mash-up by Victor Perfecto
Return of the Jedi/Community "For a Few Paintballs More" episode mash-up by Victor Perfecto.

Daria by Ming Doyle
Daria by Ming Doyle.

Fozzie Bear on WTF with Marc Maron by Skottie Young
Fozzie Bear stops by Marc Maron's garage, by Skottie Young. I enjoyed Maron's controversial exchange with Dan Savage about Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum on Real Time with Bill Maher last week.

Yemana from Barney Miller by Pete Emslie
Detective Nick Yemana from Barney Miller by Pete Emslie.

Hanna-Barbera Presents The Wire by Paul Sizer
The Wire as a Hanna-Barbera cartoon by Paul Sizer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: The John Gregory Orchestra, "It Takes a Thief"

Robert Wagner originally provided the voice of Charlie in ABC's upcoming Charlie's Angels revival before he had to quit the show. I wonder if there's a stipulation in the contract for the actor who will do Charlie's voice that says he must allow his voice to always be piped through that disco-looking white speakerbox from both the old show and the 2000 movie. Yeah, I said '2000 movie' instead of 'the two movies' because let's just pretend Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle doesn't exist.
Song: "It Takes a Thief" by The John Gregory Orchestra
Released: 1972
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: British bandleader/arranger John "Chaquito" Gregory's cover of Dave Grusin's slick It Takes a Thief theme lacks the funky bass playing and urgent percussion that I love so much about Grusin's third-season arrangement of the theme. But Gregory's rendition is the only cover of the theme that's available (it's also the only recording of the theme that's available), so it'll do.

The It Takes a Thief theme is my favorite Grusin tune. It's the perfect opener for a '60s espionage procedural I've often found to be more enjoyable than most '60s American spy shows because it has a criminal as its hero, which is more interesting to me than the company man types who were frequently the leads in '60s spy shows. Plus, as Alexander Mundy, Robert Wagner was the epitome of cool and quite skilled with the show's moments of light, not-too-campy-like-the-worst-seasons-of-U.N.C.L.E. comedy. This ease with comedy was a skill that the future Number Two later put to great use when he literally made a mess of his debonair image in the funniest thing he ever did, the 1989 SNL "Sloppy Eater" sketch (Parks and Recreation has got to find a way for Rob Lowe to work in his amusing and dead-on Wagner impression, which he's done in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and on talk shows).

In 2006, Universal announced that Will Smith was attached to a big-screen version of It Takes a Thief, which hasn't been made yet. Nah, I can't see him playing a smooth thief like Mundy. Smith is more entertaining when he's playing a fish-out-of-water hero like in the original Men in Black and Hancock and is less entertaining when he tries to be suave. Mundy is more of a Taye Diggs or Idris Elba role or a role for Michael Weatherly, whose onscreen dad on NCIS happens to be Wagner himself.

Pushing for more Asian Americans as leads on screen or in fiction is an uphill battle that I continue to be passionate about, so why not think outside the box and get Sung Kang from Justin Lin's Fast Five, who looked like he was channeling Mundy in that surprisingly good heist flick, to play him? Just rename him Alexander Moon.

Then again, why make an It Takes a Thief movie when the USA show White Collar is currently doing a better job at channeling Wagner's old show than whatever the movie version would have attempted to do?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Daniele Luppi, "An Italian Story"

The traffic is surprisingly lenient to Daniele Luppi. They're letting him walk in the middle of the street. He must have bought all those drivers either pizzas or prostitutes.
Song: "An Italian Story" by film composer Daniele Luppi
Released: 2004
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: The imaginary soundtrack Rome isn't the first time Luppi paid tribute to '60s and '70s Italian film scores with the help of many of the veteran musicians who performed on those scores. In 2004, Luppi released An Italian Story, which featured original music that he wrote to salute not just Ennio Morricone (whom Luppi feels doesn't get enough props for his more avant-garde material and his work with early synths), but also Nino Rota, Piero Umiliani, Piero Piccioni, Armando Trovajoli and Stelvio Cipriani. All of them are composers Luppi has admired since his childhood in Italy.

"Like the films themselves, the music of the era was shiny and exuberant, filled with unusual flourishes and surprising turns," wrote Italian Story liner notes author Dan Epstein about the '60s and '70s sound Luppi recaptured. "It was the joyous sound of 'la dolce vita'--a newly prosperous nation springing back to effervescent life after the forced dreariness of the Mussolini regime and the grim period of poverty and austerity that followed World War II."

Alessandro Alessandroni has claimed the late Piero Umiliani didn't give him credit for coming up with the lead vocal line in 'Mah-Na-Mah-Na.' The Umiliani tune was a theme from an obscure Italian sexploitation documentary that was made famous by the Muppets. A porno flick theme on Sesame Street? That's like that time when Emmy Jo danced around to the theme from Deep Throat during an episode of The New Zoo Revue.
For the album's breezy title track (and another track on the album, "Fashion Party"), Luppi recruited Alessandro Alessandroni--the whistler/guitarist/virtual one-man band who was responsible for many of the bizarre noises during Morricone's scores--to whistle, of course.

"I will always remember the smile on [Alessandroni's] face when he first heard [the title track]," recalled Luppi in the liner notes. "It was like, 'Here I am, playing with these great musicians once again!'"

That feeling of being reunited with old friends is also experienced by us while listening to "An Italian Story." To those of us who have dug Italian film scores since the first time we saw either Once Upon a Time in the West or maybe The Sicilian Clan, Alessandroni's whistle is like an old friend.

The only thing I like about downtown San Jose is...

... the donut shop I live near because of its clever menu and because I'd run into folks like this:

The Farts will be strong in this one.
[Via Psycho Donuts' Facebook page]

Oh yeah, and La Victoria across the street ain't too shabby.

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I like to insert little jokes into the image alt tags of A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog. They can be made visible on Internet Explorer, but for some reason, they can't be made visible on Firefox. To see what the alt tag says if it doesn't appear, take the cursor, highlight the blog post's text and images from beginning to end, copy (Ctrl-C) them all and then open Notepad or Word or a similar word processor and paste the clipboarded text and alt tags there.

Do not stare at this on Friday the 13th. It's bad luck.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Count Basie and His Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald & The Tommy Flanagan Trio, "Sanford & Son Theme (The Streetbeater)"

Is it live or is it Memorex? If this were Ashlee Simpson instead of Ella Fitzgerald, I think we'd know the answer to that question.
Song: "Sanford & Son Theme (The Streetbeater)" by Count Basie and His Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald & The Tommy Flanagan Trio
Released: 1972
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: It's a cover of Quincy Jones' classic Sanford & Son theme that I was recently made aware of by The Smartest Man in the World podcast host Greg Proops' funny reenactment of two different Ella Fitzgerald concerts he saw: first in the '70s, when the Sanford & Son theme was part of her and the Count Basie Orchestra's set list, and then about a couple of decades later, when Proops and his wife watched the audience of predominantly "75-to-80-year-old women who are wearing hats" chew out Fitzgerald's security guard for being too slow to help the frail singer sit more comfortably in her chair onstage. "The people in front of us who haven't stood on their own in 14 years are standing now!," recalls Proops, who then busts out his best cranky old New York lady complaining-about-the-prices-at-Talbots voice. "'She's not comfortable! Get her a seat!'"

Greg Proops is one of the few actors from The Phantom Menace to emerge from that debacle with their dignity intact.
I wish Greg Proops would occasionally have guests on his podcast because I'd like to hear him verbally spar with his old Whose Line Is It Anyway? host Clive Anderson again.
This portion of The Smartest Man's "Counts" episode includes a great description of Basie as a Frank Sinatra bandleader in comparison to Neal Hefti and Nelson Riddle. "The dynamic [between Basie and Sinatra] is fucking wild, right?... That's how the band was: shrieking horns, scintillating trombones... 'Angel trumpets and devil trombones,' right?," Proops says. "And then Count Basie would go, 'Pink!,' in the middle of everything, in the middle of fury. In the middle of a hurricane, Count Basie would hit one white key. 'Pink!'"

The dynamic between the Basie band and jazz singers like Sinatra and Fitzgerald is on display in Fitzgerald's live cover of "The Streetbeater" from her Jazz at Santa Monica Civic '72 album. "Minger's on trumpet!," says Fitzgerald, who's referring to trumpeter Pete Minger during his solo. I like the way Fitzgerald, Minger, saxman Jimmy Forrest and the other band members play off of each other here, and the musical dialogue Fitzgerald carries on with the band's guest soloists is even doper during their electrifying rendition of "C Jam Blues" at the end of the same album.


With his invention of Champipple, Fred Sanford became the George Washington Carver of mixed booze. This Black History Minute has been brought to you by St. Ides. Drink St. Ides: That's the patron saint of 'Holy shit!'
This is a snippet of an illustration I did for my currently-in-the-works book I Suck at Math: A Trio of 10 Articles About Pop Culture. The illustration speculates what it would have been like if Redd Foxx starred in The Phantom Menace, a movie that happens to feature the voice of... Greg Proops. Circle of life!
Speaking of jazz, Fred Sanford's insults to Aunt Esther are like jazz.

Aunt Esther: This old heathen want me to pay him for comin' in here!

Fred: He oughta tip me just to look at you!

Boom!

Aunt Esther: When I was born, my body was blessed by Mother Nature, honey!

Fred: And as you got older, it was cursed by Father Time!

Bam!

Aunt Esther: Fred Sanford, I have the feelin' of Christmas!

Fred: And the face of Halloween!

Woof!

Aunt Esther: Woodrow and I are going to have a baby.

Fred: Well, somebody better call the zoo!

Horn stab!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The people who run Sleuth have no Cloo

Nah, it's more like Sloth.
When NBCUniversal (now one word instead of two) added Sleuth to its stable of cable channels in 2006, it was an alright idea for a channel: Nick at Nite with guns. For its first couple of years, Sleuth's 24-hour lineup was comprised of reruns of NBCUniversal-owned cop or detective shows like Dragnet, Magnum, P.I., Miami Vice and the always-worth-revisiting Homicide: Life on the Street.

But like so many other channels, of course, Sleuth has strayed from its original purpose. These days, DirecTV channel 308 is an ill-defined dumping ground for reruns of current original shows from its sister station USA (Royal Pains, In Plain Sight)--and Walker, Texas Ranger. With content like Royal Pains, a doctor show, In Plain Sight, a cop show with very little detective work because of its focus on witness protection, and Walker, a cop show with no detective work (and one that's only watchable when Conan O'Brien's around to butt in with snarky and appalled commentary), the name Sleuth doesn't make much sense anymore. Cloo--the new name that Sleuth will assume on a yet-to-be-confirmed future date a la the still-inane 2009 conversion of its other sister station Sci Fi to Syfy--makes even less sense. What's next? NBCUniversal rebranding USA as YouSA? (They also own Telemundo. Maybe they should rename it YouEse.)

Occasionally, Sleuth has done something nice like temporarily revive a show I've longed to see again (Keen Eddie, The Rockford Files) or air a 007 marathon or the surprisingly good 1973 made-for-TV caper movie/unsold anthology show pilot The Alpha Caper, which isn't on DVD and stars Henry Fonda as a forcibly retired parole officer who teams up with the ex-cons he used to watch over--two of whom are played by Leonard Nimoy and Larry Hagman--to hijack a shipment of gold. But otherwise, as a fan of the private eye and caper genres, I've found Sleuth to be a wasted opportunity, regurgitating too many of the same broadcast network procedural reruns that can already be found on USA (House, NCIS).

I bet Fi wouldn't be too thrilled if she found out her boyfriend still refers to her in the Burn Notice intro as his EX-girlfriend.
Unless it's airing a White Collar episode I've never seen before or a Burn Notice rerun with a useful spy tip I need to jot down, Sleuth isn't worth my time. The channel's so cheap it doesn't have any on-air hosts or any original programming that could have given Sleuth a distinctive personality, like how breezy procedurals have become USA's forte or how FX has become synonymous with edgy comedies and gritty and violent but intelligently written dramas (the only original show that Sleuth has produced is a 2006 I Love the '80s-style special about "America's Top Sleuths").

It's owned by NBCUniversal and it's called Sleuth (that is until the name change to Cloo takes place), so why isn't the channel diving into the NBCUniversal library, with its vast history of influential crime shows, and pulling out classic sleuthy properties like Columbo (R.I.P. Peter Falk) or the other NBC Mystery Movie shows? Shouldn't a channel called Sleuth be a little, uh, sleuthier?

Also, as someone who stopped finding Law & Order interesting after an ailing Jerry Orbach left the mothership (although the later pairing of Jesse L. Martin and Jeremy Sisto was a great and too-brief one during the mothership's Law half, as was the duo of Chris Noth and Annabella Sciorra on Criminal Intent), I don't think Sleuth needs to be another repository for Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit reruns (TNT has exclusive rights to reruns of the mothership, which explains its absence on the NBCUniversal channels' schedules). Okay, maybe Criminal Intent is tolerable once every weekday, but a five-hour Goren-thon like the ones Sleuth often does is overkill. Plus, Sleuth is the sixth channel on the dial that currently airs Criminal Intent reruns, after USA, Bravo, Oxygen, WGN and the local MyNetworkTV affiliate. Enough already, man.

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Elvis Costello and Sy Richardson, "A Town Called Big Nothing (Really Big Nothing)"

Every weekday from July 1 to July 29, the "'Rome, Italian Style' Track of the Day" series of posts provides info on the tracks from A Fistful of Soundtracks' "Rome, Italian Style" playlist, which focuses on how musicians outside the film and TV music world interpret '60s and '70s film and TV music. The one-hour "Rome, Italian Style" block airs Mondays through Thursdays at 11am on AFOS.

The MacManus Gang is that gang from The Warriors that has all the members dress like Elvis Costello circa 1978.
(Photo source: The Elvis Costello Wiki)
Song: "A Town Called Big Nothing (Really Big Nothing)" by The MacManus Gang featuring actor Sy Richardson
Released: 1987
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: It's one of my favorite artists, Elvis Costello (recording under his real name Declan MacManus), doing a spaghetti western-style tune, with a voiceover by Lite from Repo Man. I can't pass that up.

Weave got tonight. Who needs tomorrow?
Costello, who did only backup vocals on "A Town Called Big Nothing," wrote the tune for a film he had a bit part in, Repo Man director Alex Cox's recently recut 1987 spaghetti western homage/spoof Straight to Hell, which stars Richardson, whose most noteworthy role outside of Cox's films was in the cult favorite Pushing Daisies (as the surly coroner with an unexplained grudge against Chi McBride's P.I. character Emerson Cod).

Listen to Costello do the British cowboy thing--decades before Daniel Craig in Cowboys & Aliens.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jamie Foxx covers the Brady Bunch theme as Babyface, Luther Vandross and Prince

While giving her former boss a peck on the cheek, Dawn Wells sneaks a bag of weed into his coat pocket as a gift.
Thanks, Sherwood Schwartz, for making sitcoms that were so often devoid of logic that they led to many fun hours of dissection during tipsy or stoned conversations ("If Mike's supposed to be an architect, then why would he build a house for nine people that has only two bathrooms?"). The tuneful and surreal Schwartzverse in The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island has also served as fodder for countless stand-up routines--mostly bad, some good.

Because the Brady Bunch and Gilligan creator died earlier this week, here are the four best versions of the Schwartz-penned Brady Bunch theme ever, all performed in 2002 by Jamie Foxx (who, by the way, is very funny in this summer's Horrible Bosses, as a "murder consultant" who doesn't quite live up to his intimidating-looking appearance):



Because I watched a lot of Comedy Central during the '90s, I was subjected to tons of hacky stand-up clips from the '80s and early '90s. The hackiest ones always involved either of the following topics: "Asians talk funny," airline food, "White people drive like this, while bruthas drive like this," the differences between men and women and "Here's what the Brady Bunch theme would sound like if a rapper did it." Foxx's R&B-ified Brady Bunch is funnier--and much more accurate about the musicians he's imitating--than those '80s routines that basically said, "Hey everybody, watch me do the Brady Bunch intro as I demonstrate that I've listened to only one rap song in my life, that one by Aerosmith and Rum-DMZ."

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Jimmy Smith, "Walk on the Wild Side"

You know what would have made the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum 10 times more fun? Jack Palance's awesome voice. They should have gotten him to record narration for every single museum display. To a certain generation, Palance will always be that weird old dude who did one-handed push-ups on the Oscars, but I'll always remember him for 'Believe it... or not.'
Song: "Walk on the Wild Side" by master Hammond B-3 organ player and Beastie Boys "Root Down" sample source Jimmy Smith
Released: 1962
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: I first took notice of "Walk on the Wild Side"--not to be confused with the Lou Reed classic of the same name--when I heard it during Martin Scorsese's Casino. I later discovered that Smith's exhilarating instrumental was a cover of a movie theme, Elmer Bernstein's theme from the 1962 New Orleans bordello drama Walk on the Wild Side, which starred Laurence Harvey, Capucine and Jane Fonda (that was an interesting way for Scorsese to insert a shout-out to Bernstein, whom he previously worked with on Cape Fear and The Age of Innocence: he needle-dropped a cover of one of Bernstein's earlier compositions).

The instrumental version of Bernstein's Walk on the Wild Side theme accompanies one of legendary movie title designer Saul Bass' best opening title sequences, which, unlike most of Bass' other sequences, doesn't use any animation and is simply footage of an alley cat, cleverly edited to the tempo of Bernstein's slinky-sounding theme. The catfight at the end of Bass' titles pits a black cat against a white cat. It's like a Real Housewives of Atlanta fight scene with better acting.

The word on the street is Robert De Niro would like to pet this black pussy.
(Photo source: The Movie Title Stills Collection)
Though its lyrics contain gospel-style references to the promised land of heaven, it's odd how this theme from a then-risque '60s movie about New Orleans hoes has become a gospel standard. It's like if Blondie's "Call Me" from American Gigolo got rewritten as "Call Me (Hello Lord)" or something.

I always liked the Charles M. Schulz version of luggage for runaways and hitchhikers: a simple stick with a polka-dotted sack tied to it at the end.
Walk on the Wild Side star Jane Fonda models Timbuk2's new "Hitchhiking Ho" line.


All the other "Rome, Italian Style" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Goldfrapp, "Pilots"
Mike Patton, "Deep Down"
Barry Adamson, "The Big Bamboozle"
John Zorn, "Erotico (The Burglars)"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Goldfrapp, "Pilots"

'Pilots' is one of the best homages to the late John Barry ever recorded.
Song: "Pilots" by Goldfrapp
Released: 2000
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: It's like the 007 theme song Goldfrapp always should have gotten to write and record (I don't know what Eon Productions thinks of Goldfrapp, but if I were one of the Broccolis, I'd sign up Goldfrapp to do the next 007 theme). Besides its John Barry-esque sound, "Pilots" is on the playlist because... well, I'll let Alison Goldfrapp describe "Pilots" via an excerpt from an interview she did for LAUNCH in 2000:
"'Pilots' is my sci-fi image, a dream about being inside of this huge black bomber. Rubber radiators for clouds! This idea of feeling very small in the big scheme of things: 'What the f--k am I?' The idea of machinery being your friends. In a city you can hear people everywhere--upstairs, next door, downstairs. But if you're always worried about who's looking in your window, it can be a bit much. But there probably is somebody looking at you from somewhere."
Goldfrapp also captured that feeling of smallness in the big scheme of things in their elegant-looking video for the "Pilots (On a Star)" remix. Too bad I can't embed the video, which is set at a futuristic airport--if it were designed in the '60s by vintage 007 set designer Ken Adam. My favorite part of the video is the hot stewardesses on kick scooters.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Mike Patton, "Deep Down"

The triptych effects in this photo inadvertently caused the string section lady behind Mike Patton to look like a female Hobbit from the Lord of the Rings movies.
Song: "Deep Down" by Mike Patton
Released: 2010
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: When I first learned that for his '50s and '60s Italian pop music tribute project Mondo Cane, Patton recorded a cover of "Deep Down," Ennio Morricone's wonderful theme from the 1968 Mario Bava cult favorite Danger: Diabolik, I was worried that Patton's version was going to be overly kitschy. A 2009 video of Patton and his Mondo Cane orchestra giving a soaring performance of "Deep Down" in concert put that worry to rest (see the video below).

The Faith No More and Mr. Bungle frontman is a Morricone fan who once released a compilation of his favorite atonal Morricone score cues on his Ipecac label and who, like myself, wishes that more people would notice Morricone's non-spaghetti western compositions like "Deep Down" because, as he once noted in Spin, "Many people think of him only in terms of spaghetti western music." During "Deep Down," Patton and his orchestra honor the material with a non-kitschy take that's a worthy addition to the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist. Their cover is the opposite of that occasionally amusing but otherwise terrible Mystery Science Theater 3000 series finale where Mike and the Bots wrongheadedly trashed Danger: Diabolik, one of the best comic book adaptations ever filmed, as if it were a crime against humanity like the previous--and much more deserving--MST3K target Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Double O Section, a blog that reviews films and shows from the spy genre, said "[MST3K] did a grave disservice to cinema in general" with that Diabolik episode.

John Phillip Law & Order
"The film has been tagged unfairly in the pop-consciousness as trash/camp," said the SpyVibe blog. "As much as I enjoy their riffs on bad-but-fun flicks, Mike and the robots had no business dragging Bava's Diabolik into that campy pigeonhole."

"When it turned up on [MST3K] as a turkey to be laughed at, I thought they were missing the point, it's supposed to be fun," said Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World director Edgar Wright in his entry on Diabolik for Time Out's "50 Essential Comic-Book Movies" list. "It made me really angry!"

Mr. Wright, whenever you get angry again because you're reminded of MST3K's shabby treatment of Diabolik, do what I do. Listen to Patton's calming and respectful cover of "Deep Down." It's like all is right with the world again whenever I hear it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Barry Adamson, "The Big Bamboozle"

Here we see Barry Adamson hanging out inside the Red Room from Twin Peaks.
Song: "The Big Bamboozle" by imaginary soundtrack producer Barry Adamson
Released: 1995
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: Adamson's "Big Bamboozle" crime-jazz instrumental is so seamy-sounding it would have been perfect as music during Kiss Me Deadly (a classic noir that, by the way, finally got the Criterion treatment on Blu-ray and DVD this summer).

This is the weirdest place to run into a homeless chick--or a high-on-Ecstasy Anne Heche.
I like "The Big Bamboozle" so much that when I edited together episodes of A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series, I frequently used it as an instrumental bed for segments where I spoke.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: John Zorn, "Erotico (The Burglars)"

That goofy jig Stephen Colbert does to atonal John Zorn music as if it's 'Tea for Two' kills me every time.
Each post in the "'Rome, Italian Style' Track of the Day" weekday series (July 1-29) provides info on a different track from A Fistful of Soundtracks' "Rome, Italian Style" playlist, which focuses on covers of '60s and '70s film and TV music and imaginary soundtracks like Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi's Rome and Adrian Younge's Venice Dawn. The mission statement of the "Rome, Italian Style" block is basically "how musicians outside the film and TV music world interpret '60s and '70s film and TV music." It airs Mondays through Thursdays at 11am on AFOS.

Song: "Erotico (The Burglars)" by avant-garde composer John Zorn
Released: 1985
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: It's a cover of Ennio Morricone's "Ma non troppo erotico," a down-and-dirty score cue (from the 1971 Jean-Paul Belmondo/Omar Sharif action flick The Burglars) that's an example of the Morricone sound at its sexiest and has been described more than once as great music to knock boots to. If you ever wondered what the Italian blues would sound like, listen to "Ma non troppo erotico," which features Morricone's excellent vocalist Edda Dell'Orso. Zorn's version of "Ma non troppo erotico" on his 1985 Morricone tribute album The Big Gundown is missing the horn stabs, pounding drums and Dell'Orso vocals that made the original such a cool track, but the cover compensates for their absence with electric guitar riffs by Bill Frisell and batshit crazy--and of course, towards the end, erotic-sounding--howls by vocalist Laura Biscotto.

The dopest part of DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie's Summertime 2 mixtape: The unexpected appearance of Stevie Wonder's "Love Light in Flight"

'Fuel injection passion' was less expensive in 1984.
(Photo source: Tommer G)
Thanks to the High Fidelity scene in which Jack Black disses the sappy and overplayed Woman in Red theme "I Just Called to Say I Love You," Stevie Wonder's Woman in Red soundtrack has become a punchline, much like Prince's Batman song soundtrack, which was the subject of a similar gag in Shaun of the Dead. Another thing that both those '80s song soundtracks have in common is that though those albums aren't exactly career highlights for either artist, they aren't exactly awful either. They're redeemed by two or three underappreciated tracks.

"Love Light in Flight" is one of those tracks, and it's a song I hadn't heard since 1984 or 1985--until I recently stumbled into it during DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie's Summertime 2 mixtape and instantly smiled, which is why I just added "Love Light in Flight" to A Fistful of Soundtracks' '80s block "Soda and Pie" (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at noon).

'Yo Will, something about you looks different. Did you get new Jordans?'
"Drums, please!"
"Oh man," I thought to myself while bumping Summertime 2, "I remember 'Love Light in Flight.' It so takes me back to when I was a Ghostbusters-loving kid in '84!" It's such a damn smooth track--plus it's full of aviation imagery, which would have made it perfect for the flight-themed "Up, Up and Away" episode of the terrestrial radio incarnation of A Fistful of Soundtracks that I aired on July 22, 2001.

I know where this is going. Cue 'Love in an elevator/Livin' it up when I'm goin' down...'
Suddenly, Gene Wilder is faced with a crippling decision: Kelly LeBrock or the sheep that's waiting for him at home?
"Love Light in Flight" is the one hit song from The Woman in Red that's neither overplayed nor preachy (that would be the well-meaning but clunkily written "Don't Drive Drunk"). Camille Paglia may be a pretentious, Sarah Palin-loving weirdo (her Salon Oscar telecast recaps were always worthy of an Onion parody), but she's right that "Love Light in Flight" is a sublime tune.

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Adrian Younge, "1969 Organ"

'Please don't go, baby. I'll learn to appreciate your Perry Como LPs.'
Song: "1969 Organ" by Adrian Younge
Released: 2000
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: It's my favorite track off Black Dynamite editor/composer Adrian Younge's imaginary soundtrack Venice Dawn, a long-out-of-print homage to '60s and '70s Italian film music from 2000 that Younge and Wax Poetics Records reissued as a free download earlier this week.

"It is well documented that American soul expanded the thresholds of contemporary music and influenced composers around the world. Classically trained European composers, such as Ennio Morricone, loved the sound of soul and synthesized this compositional style with his music," said the self-taught musician, film editor and former hip-hop producer to Wax Poetics. "Ennio Morricone is by far one of my favorite composers."

Younge is also fond of the Italian band Goblin of Suspiria fame and similar-sounding psychedelic soul acts, and their sounds also influenced Venice Dawn (I also detect a little Jerry van Rooyen in the organ riffs in "1969 Organ"). Like Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi's Rome project, Venice Dawn is a score written for an old movie that doesn't exist. At the time of Venice Dawn's initial release, Younge pretended Venice Dawn was a real piece of Italian cinema and punked everyone.

That mischievous spirit was carried over by Younge and director Scott Sanders into Black Dynamite. The 2009 blaxploitation homage is one of the funniest and most effective comedy films of the '00s because its approach to spoofing blaxploitation flicks is refreshingly timeless (unlike the lazily written and instantly dated pop-culture references of the Epic Movie/Disaster Movie/Meet the Spartans spoof franchise) and the actors in Black Dynamite play everything straight--just like the Leslie Nielsen who was completely dead-serious and stone-faced during the brilliant and short-lived Police Squad! TV series, not the Leslie Nielsen who went completely broad and resorted to mugging to the camera in the Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! movies.

While we await both Younge's score music for Adult Swim's animated version of Black Dynamite in spring 2012 and his Wax Poetics album Something About April, which is scheduled to drop in September, he's offered us an appetizer to Something About April in the form of the newly unearthed Venice Dawn--an EP that can now be sampled during the "Rome, Italian Style" block of imaginary soundtracks and covers of '60s and '70s score music from Monday to Thursday at 11am on A Fistful of Soundtracks.

2009 organ



All the other "Rome, Italian Style" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Count Basie and His Orchestra, "007"
Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, "More [Theme from Mondo Cane]"
Goldfrapp, "Utopia (New Ears Mix)"
Babe Ruth, "The Mexican"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Knives Out Against Murdoch"? Is he going to taste her steel?

'You hacked my phone! Taste my steel!'
I must be the only one who saw that headline and thought, "What did Rupert Murdoch do to piss off Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim?"

And also: "Where can I see this fight because the sight of that old douche getting his ass handed to him in a fight would make my week?"

Insert additional shitty pun using Knives' last name here.

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: Count Basie and His Orchestra, "007"

If Richard Pryor had starred in Blazing Saddles instead of his more studio pocketbook-friendly replacement Cleavon Little, this would be a picture of Gil Scott-Heron instead of Count Basie, which would be equally awesome.
Song: "007" by Count Basie and His Orchestra
Released: 1966
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: It's Basie's big-band cover of the recently deceased John Barry's "007," complete with the legendary jazz pianist's trademark "plink, plink, plink" at the end (although it's actually more of a "da-dee-dee, plink, plink"). Not to be confused with the much more famous "James Bond Theme" (which was written by Monty Norman and arranged by Barry), "007" is a secondary theme for the Bond character that Barry introduced in 1963's From Russia with Love, the first film in the Bond franchise that Barry scored from start to finish, or rather, from gunbarrel to final makeout session, presumably on a raft. This North by Northwest-style, stately-sounding action motif turned up frequently during the Sean Connery era of the series--the era when the Bond installments, particularly From Russia with Love, most closely resembled North by Northwest--and rarely appeared in the series again after Connery's departure. The Basie Orchestra's rendition of "007" is taken from Basie Meets Bond, an album in which the band made its debut on United Artists Records by recording a tie-in to United Artists' biggest cash cow at the time and covering its most signature themes, including, yes, "Underneath the Mango Tree."

What's Taraji P. Henson doing on the cover of Basie Meets Bond?
Hear Basie get his plink on.