Monday, January 31, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: The Blind Boys of Alabama, "Way Down in the Hole"

'Bodie, beam me up.'
"'Rock Box' Track of the Day" is a series of weekday posts about each of the existing songs that are streamed during the "Rock Box" block on A Fistful of Soundtracks (4-6am, 9-11am and 3-5pm on Mondays and 5-7am, 9-11am and 3-5pm on Fridays). Each post provides info on a different track from the "Rock Box" playlist and points out the movie or TV series moment where the track is so effectively used.

Song: "Way Down in the Hole" by The Blind Boys of Alabama
Released: 2001
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: The gospel group's cover of the Tom Waits tune was selected by Wire creator David Simon to be the theme during his show's brilliant first-season opening title sequence, which Andrew Dignan astutely described in a Museum of the Moving Image video essay as a sequence that "announces that The Wire is not a kicking-down-doors-and-busting-heads kind of cop show. The compositions are often off-center or partly out-of-focus, conveying world weariness and tedium on both sides of the divide."

Each subsequent season of The Wire would feature a different version of "Way Down in the Hole" in the titles. Season 2 episodes opened with Waits' original version, season 3 eps opened with a Neville Brothers version that was commissioned for the show, season 4 eps kicked off with a version that was also recorded for the show and performed by Domaje, a group of Baltimore teens, and season 5 eps opted for a cover by Steve Earle, who had a small role on the show as Bubbles' AA sponsor Waylon.

The Blind Boys version--the first piece of music that ever appeared on The Wire--was also the last existing song that was featured on the show. It accompanied the montage that concluded the series finale "-30-."

John Barry (1933-2011)

John Barry (1933-2011)
My favorite element of the 007 movies--besides the women--is the score music. John Barry, who died earlier this morning at the age of 77, wrote 11 of those 007 scores and made them so enjoyable and listenable outside the context of those movies. It's hard to listen to Barry's rousing and cool On Her Majesty's Secret Service main title theme without going up to a mirror and kneeling and pretending to aim a gun--just like what Danny once did on Hustle when he rehearsed a heist to the tune of Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible theme blaring from a stereo.

I'm sure Barry would have rather been remembered for more than just Bond, so I'll mention that my two favorite non-Bond pieces of score music by Barry are the entire score from 1965's The Knack... And How to Get It and the theme from the Roger Moore/Tony Curtis buddy detective show The Persuaders!

"Another of the great composers has left us," tweeted Bear McCreary, who's currently scoring NBC's The Cape. "I'm cranking up The Black Hole in your honor."

Besides The Black Hole (an example of great opening title theme, schizophrenic and uneven movie--when I was a kid, I thought the Black Hole coloring book was more fun), I'm also fond of Barry's themes from The Ipcress File, The Lion in Winter, Midnight Cowboy and Game of Death.

Barry also appeared on-screen as orchestra conductors in a couple of movies he scored. He cameoed in the 1968 Michael Caine heist flick Deadfall, which Fox Movie Channel aired last week, and The Living Daylights, his final 007 project (the above photo is from his Living Daylights cameo). Barry's musical output dried up in the late '90s (his last screen credit was the 2001 WWII codebreaking thriller Enigma), but British musicians kept alive his work by sampling some of his film themes. Mono sampled an Ipcress File cue in 1996's "Life in Mono," Fatboy Slim crafted a memorable hook out of the guitar riffs of Barry's first major film theme, the 007-esque Beat Girl theme from 1960, in 1998's ubiquitous "Rockafeller Skank," and Robbie Williams introduced the You Only Live Twice theme to a new generation in 1998's "Millennium" (seven years later, another of Barry's Bond themes got a similar introduction to a new generation when Kanye West sampled "Diamonds Are Forever" in "Diamonds from Sierra Leone").

Vanity Fair's intriguing profile of Barry from two years ago offers great insight into what made Barry tick and why everyone from his Out of Africa boss Sydney Pollack to Michael Caine thought of him as a man with the Midas touch, especially when it came to music.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Harry Nilsson, "Jump Into the Fire"

Never have the words 'I gotta go home and get my hat' sounded so ominous.

Song: "Jump Into the Fire" by Harry Nilsson
Released: 1971
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in GoodFellas. Some IMDb research revealed that the track is also part of Bottle Shock, The Girl Next Door, A Good Year and a CSI: NY episode.
Which moment in GoodFellas does it appear?: It's one of six (!) existing songs in the unforgettable nine-minute "May 11, 1980" sequence that reportedly cost Martin Scorsese an arm and a leg... and a wing.

Last week, the music of Harry Nilsson--from his cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" that was made famous by Midnight Cowboy to the charming original songs he penned for Robert Altman's Popeye--was the subject of an A.V. Club "Gateways to Geekery" piece. Below the article, several commenters cited "Jump Into the Fire" from Nilsson Schmilsson as the best part of GoodFellas.

The epic and apocalyptic-sounding "Jump Into the Fire" drum solo by Derek and the Dominos member and Gotham City police commissioner Jim Gordon is a great match with the cocaine-fueled descent of gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). In the frenetic sequence (hey look, it's a young Kevin Corrigan as Henry's wheelchair-bound brother--and there's Isiah Whitlock Jr. not saying sheeeeeeeeeiiiiit!), GoodFellas music editor Christopher Brooks mashed up the kickass Nilsson track with The Stones' "Memo from Turner," a live version of The Who's "Magic Bus," The Stones' "Monkey Man," Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" and George Harrison's "What Is Life?" ("Ooh, that was an expensive scene," recalled Brooks in a fascinating GoodFellas oral history that GQ published last year). But the best piece of music during that sequence is silence. I'm referring to the ominous silence that surrounds Lois (Welker White), the smug and perpetually stoned babysitter/drug mule, as she pesters Henry about driving her home to pick up a lucky hat she can't fly on planes without, which leads him to his arrest. I love how Scorsese chose to leave that moment--the moment right before Henry gets pinched--unscored.

"He's one of the few people who knows how to match music and picture. It's not just about taking a great record and just slapping it up in there," said Scorsese fan Spike Lee in GQ's oral history. "That scene is directed, obviously, by someone who's used cocaine! Simple as that. And used it a lot. And if you've never tried cocaine, which I haven't, now I know what it feels like, after watching that scene."

All the other "Rock Box" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Aloe Blacc, "I Need a Dollar"
Spandau Ballet, "Gold"
Brother Noland, "Coconut Girl"
A Flock of Seagulls, "Space Age Love Song"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A teen who was in a coma from 1974 to 2008 recaps the first Star Wars prequel

Nah, John Shaft could take this horned muthafucka. You see Shaft in Africa?
By special guest blogger Sonny Gautier

Me, Sonny Gautier.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Sonny Gautier is a Fistful of Soundtracks listener from Bed-Stuy who previously wrote for this blog a review of the 2008 trailer for Star Trek because his favorite TV show was Star Trek--the '70s animated series, not the much more popular '60s live-action show the cartoon was based on. Due to brain damage caused by exposure to too many Sid and Marty Krofft shows, a then-adolescent Sonny lapsed into a coma in 1974 and didn't wake up until 2008. Sonny has had a lot to catch up on. When I suggested he check out New Jack City because it has far doper production values than the pre-New Jack blaction flicks he grew up watching, he said, "I've seen that flick so many times already." He was much more interested in a series of fantasy flicks he'd never seen before: Star Wars. Here's Sonny's recap of one of the six Star Wars installments, which he opted to watch in chronological order, from The Phantom Menace to Return of the Jedi, instead of the way most of the rest of us watched the series, from A New Hope to Revenge of the Sith.)

Does John Williams do high school assemblies? Because I know some boring-ass assemblies that could really use the Phantom Menace music.
Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace

Holy shit.

I had never seen a movie open like that before. BLAAAAM! Horn stabs out of nowhere! It felt like a pimp kicking you in the nuts with one of his high heels. And there was no "Starring James Cagney in..." or "Pam Grier is..." It just cut to the chase and said, "Screw the opening credits. Who gives a shit about the old lady who sewed together all the robes or the sucker who shined the skinny robot's shoes? This is what you need to know about the phantom menace."

I used to play trumpet for my high school marching band, so I dug the abrupt fanfare that kicked off The Phantom Menace. Jim told me the music was written by a man named John Williams. Where was this Williams cat when I was in my coma? If he had been by my bedside and gotten together a bunch of musicians to play the Phantom Menace theme, that would have woken my ass up.

After the opening theme, an Irish priest in space brings along with him a younger priest for a mission to keep the peace in the galaxy. I forgot what exactly their mission was because I couldn't remember most of the yellow words that scrolled upward into the horizon before the opening action scene--some complicated bullshit about "trade" and "taxation," I think. I felt like I was watching my eighth grade history teacher Mr. Greenblatt try to write a screenplay about the Revolutionary War but then gave up early on and turned it into a movie about Irish priests in space.

I thought the point of a comic relief is that they're always supposed to say something funny. Apparently, Star Wars disagrees with me.
The Jedi priests carry swords of light that buzz and can cut through steel walls. Those are some dynamite-looking weapons. The bug-eyed aliens who interfere with the priests' mission talk like the dudes who run the nearby sushi bar. Later on, a donkey who talks like a gay Jamaican ice cream man and is named Jar Jar tags along with the priests. What's up with all the accents in this movie? It's set in an unspecified future where priests pilot spaceships and arm themselves with light swords, yet the priests and aliens all sound like they're from certain parts of the other boroughs. If that shufflin' donkey's supposed to be the comic relief, he's not very funny. (The queen in whiteface who sounds like a transsexual ho cracked me up much more than the donkey or the little robots that kept saying "Roger, roger.") The six-year-old white kids in the audience might find Jar Jar funny, but I don't. I'd rather see Redd Foxx be the comic relief. Is he still busy?

Father Jinn, his "padawan" Obi-Wan and the Jamaican donkey are forced to get their damaged ship repaired on a desert planet, where they encounter a slave woman and her son, whom Jinn believes to be the Messiah because of his "midichlorians." You know it's science fiction because the slaves are a white woman and her blond son. Yet I kind of enjoyed seeing a couple of white folks in shackles. Still, that doesn't make up for the Stepin Fetchit shit with the donkey.

That's why his mama named him Anakin. Because it rhymes with mannequin.
Father Jinn needs to stay off the, uh, gin because the kid doesn't look like much of a savior. A future leader in a star war needs to have what white folks call charisma, and this sulky little turkey doesn't. The kid must be half-robot, half-human because he only had one expression for the entire movie.

I dug the kid's futuristic car race and the sword fight between the Jedis and Darth Maul, but where's the "wars" of the title? There wasn't much bloodshed like there is in the war movies I know--and most of them don't even have "wars" in the title. I know this is only the first installment in the series, and they're building towards something monumental, but that's kind of false advertising. The Phantom Menace script comes off as boring instead of exciting, although I like how Star Wars doesn't got any overdramatic scenes of somebody shaking their fists at the sky and crying "Nooooooooo!!!"

I wonder how this would have played out with Bing Crosby as the Irish priest. Maybe there would have been lots of unnecessary singing.
The Irish priest looks constipated for the whole movie and then dies in the climactic sword fight. Obi-Wan takes over as the kid's mentor so that he can teach him how to make some new facial expressions. A brother named Mace Windu looks like he could whup some ass with his purple blade but isn't given shit to do in the movie. The cat who plays Mace must be one of those strong, silent types who never scream and shout in their movies.

Mace Windu gets ready to stab that fool Jar Jar.
I heard Billy Dee Williams, an even cooler dude than Mace, doesn't show up until Episode V. This is going to be one long-ass space saga. In this first movie, there wasn't enough of that Darth cat or Mace, and there was way too much of unfunny Jar Jar. Man, I feel sorry for all the Jamaican ice cream men out there who have to be subjected to this dumbass donkey.

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Aloe Blacc, "I Need a Dollar"

Aloe Blacc's bow tie doubles as a garrote that can be used in the event of stopping another fan of bow ties, Tucker Carlson, from saying yet another stupid and racist thing.
Song: "I Need a Dollar" by Aloe Blacc
Released: 2010
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's the opening title theme from How to Make It in America, HBO's recession-era New York dramedy (or is it more of a comma?). To promote his new Stones Throw album Good Things, Blacc recently performed "I Need a Dollar" on both Conan and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where it sounded impressive live and won him some new fans at Studio 6A.

My reaction upon hearing "I Need a Dollar" for the first time on How to Make It in America was exactly like my initial reaction to American Gangster's original song "Do You Feel Me," a Hank Shocklee-produced throwback to the sounds of the period setting of the Denzel Washington film that was performed by Anthony Hamilton (and written by, of all people, Diane "My Heart Will Go On" Warren). I wondered, "Whose recording studio archives did they dig up this gem from?" Blacc's vintage soul sound was so convincing in "I Need a Dollar" that I was surprised to learn the track was new.

"I Need a Dollar" is the perfect song for both a show that's like Entourage's cash-strapped, bedbug bite-covered East Coast cousin and these shitty times. Blacc actually wrote it before the recession hit:
Complex: What inspired the concept for "I Need A Dollar"?

Aloe Blacc: No money problems. That was boom time. The housing industry was up. Everybody was happy. I lived in this house that we called the Monmouth Temple on a street called Monmouth in Los Angeles from 2003 to 2008. A lot of musicians tend to live in this house. One of the guys has a really nice record collection, and he gave me some chain gang field recordings of convicts, largely black, from the South, working on chain gangs. This was in my head at that time. It seemed to me a little bit like a spiritual. That's the way I originally made the song. I actually recorded it with my friends in 2007 at the Monmouth Temple when we were just sitting in the front room stomping on the wooden floor and clapping our hands. Kind of like a spiritual you could do it in church. So that's how I always heard it. At least the melody in my voice, that's always remained and it worked perfectly with the music that these guys made in New York.
That spiritual quality in Blacc's voice helps lend "I Need a Dollar" a certain timelessness that will outlast whatever fashion or beverage trend the hustlers in How to Make It in America will attempt to take advantage of all season long.

Blacc is one of many former rappers who have shifted towards more melodic material with tunes like "I Need a Dollar." In his pretty good remix of "I Need a Dollar," L.A. battle rapper Dumbfoundead dabbles with ease in this shift towards sung vocals that Blacc has fully embraced:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Spandau Ballet, "Gold"

A scene from The Real Housewives of Bloomsbury.
Song: "Gold" by Spandau Ballet
Released: 1983
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in the 2000 Black Books episode "He's Leaving Home." The "He" is Manny (Bill Bailey), the bumbling assistant of misanthropic second-hand bookshop owner and boozehound Bernard Black (Dylan Moran). Tired of his verbally abusive boss/flatmate, Manny moves out and ends up breaking the lump of coal that stands in place of Bernard's heart.
Which moment in "He's Leaving Home" does it appear?: Spandau Ballet's '80s empowerment anthem accompanies the montage of Manny's rise as the star model of a sleazy photographer (Omid Djalili) with a fetish for beard hair like Manny's. (The Djalili character would go apeshit like an "Oprah's Favorite Things" audience member if he visited present-day Williamsburg.) The "Gold" montage is one of the funniest sequences in the surreal Britcom's oddly arranged three-season history. During her DVD commentary with Moran and Bailey, co-star Tamsin Greig (who's currently testing the patience of reviewers as the uptight wife/writing partner on Showtime's Episodes) does nothing but laugh all through the montage when the commentary reaches that point of the episode. The sequence is one of several moments in which Black Books turns Bailey's balding and long hair into an amusing visual gag, whether it's trimming his hair to show how ridiculous Manny would look as a prim chain bookstore employee or coiffing it to hilarious effect like in the montage, which can be seen here.

I always thought "Gold" would have been a great opening title theme for a Roger Moore-era 007 flick. Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp probably thought so too. In fact, he originally wrote "Gold" as a spoof of 007 themes. (That early incarnation of the song lives on in the Goldfinger-style imagery in the "Gold" video, which is nicely covered here by Images of Heaven, a blog about '80s MTV videos. I didn't know the gold-painted chick in the video is a young, pre-Bram Stoker's Dracula Sadie Frost.)

Tomorrow's "Rock Box" Track of the Day is a much more timely and desperate-sounding song that's also about trying to keep ya head up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Brother Noland, "Coconut Girl"

Before doing The Worm, James Franco hung out with worms for a few weeks and interviewed them about their day-to-day lives.
Song: "Coconut Girl" by Brother Noland
Released: 1982
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in Pineapple Express.
Which moment in Pineapple Express does it appear?: It accompanies the montage of pothead Dale (Seth Rogen) and his dealer Saul (current Best Actor Oscar nominee James Franco, in a performance I thought he should have been nominated for) hanging out with a trio of tough-talking kids they sold weed to. Dale and Saul's interaction with "Chachi" and his friends is reminiscent of the naturalistic scenes between the kids and Paul Schneider's railroad worker character in Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green's earlier film, the much more serious George Washington. Who knew Green would turn out to be such a good comedy director in Pineapple Express and Eastbound & Down? (Green's next film reunites him with Franco and Danny McBride--it's Your Highness, the medieval comedy that's become an Internet sensation because of, mmm, Natalie Portman in a thong).

Yesterday's "Rock Box" track was part of a Sym-Bionic Titan episode that was a source of minor controversy. Today's "Rock Box" track is also tied to some controversy--in England, that is. Pineapple Express was more controversial in England than it was here in America. Because they found the stoner kids sequence offensive, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification), the English equivalent of the MPAA, gave the film an 18 certificate (their NC-17), which Columbia Pictures didn't want. The studio was shooting for a 15 for their release, so Columbia, Rogen and the Judd Apatow-led producers agreed to delete the stoner kids sequence to get a 15. Yeah, that BBFC uproar really stopped British kids from sneaking in to Pineapple Express like The Green Hornet said he used to do as a kid in order to glimpse racier fare when he noted that "I've been seeing R-rated movies since I was 12 years old and I'm okay!"

The maligned-in-the-U.K. sequence gives some nice exposure to a catchy tune I never heard before. "Coconut Girl," which was a radio hit in Brother Noland's home state of Hawaii, is an example of a sound called "Jawaiian," a genre that mixes Caribbean and Hawaiian elements. According to a 1992 Billboard article, the Jawaiian sound exploded in Hawaii in 1990 before peaking sales-wise in 1991.

From Honolulu magazine's 2010 "100 Years of Hawaiian Music" article:
Jawaiian became the scapegoat of choice for Hawaiian music buffs lamenting the decline of traditional culture. Not that it did anything to quell the reggae takeover. “If you talk to Hawaiian music purists, they revile Jawaiian,” says Amy Stillman. “If you talk to the rank and file, though, they love it. As soon as they’re out of halau, that’s what’s on the radio on the drive home. It’s expressing thoughts and sentiments that are relevant, in a musical language that is relevant.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: A Flock of Seagulls, "Space Age Love Song"

Someone should tell Kimmy to watch her hair. She might have a Michael Jackson Pepsi ad 'hair on fire' moment.
Song: "Space Age Love Song" by A Flock of Seagulls
Released: 1982
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in the "Lessons in Love" episode of Genndy Tartakovsky's Cartoon Network animated series Sym-Bionic Titan, which ended its first season in December and has been renewed for a second one. "Space Age Love Song" also appeared during the Shawn/Juliet roller skating sequence at the end of Psych's "Talk Derby to Me" episode.
Which moment in "Lessons in Love" does it appear?: It plays during one of my favorite moments of animation from last year: the episode's climax, in which Kimmy (Kari Wahlgren), a cheerleader in love with her math tutor Newton, a.k.a. Octus the robot (Brian Posehn), dances to the Flock of Seagulls track on her iPod while walking home and is oblivious to Octus, Ilana (Tara Strong) and Lance (Kevin Thoms), in the merged form of the show's titular robot, battling a giant monster behind her.

The sequence is a callback to an earlier sequence in the episode that became controversial on the Web for its depiction of Kimmy trying to seduce Newton/Octus into doing her classwork for her by booty dancing and pole dancing to "Booty Jeans," a song that was written for the show and performed by voice actor Arif S. Kinchen. Some bloggers launched into annoying "Won't anyone think of the children?" rants and complained that the sequence is too racy for a TV-PG cartoon (they're forgetting that this show, with its torture scenes, booty dancing and characters who are of the same ages as the ones on the much more controversial Skins and the not-as-controversial Glee, is meant for an older audience), while one blogger was bothered by the sequence for a more sensible and understandable reason that brings to mind how pervy and skeevy Cartoon Network viewers who are over 40 (and most likely look like Posehn) can be. "Kimmy's ass is over emphasized for maximum fanservice potential," he wrote, "and the entire thing, especially as he begin the dance with Octus framing her in a triangle with his hands, makes it all the more voyeuristic."

Has anyone seen this show's torture scenes? To me, it's weird that those scenes didn't receive as much flack as Kimmy's dance did. It just shows how backwards America can be in comparison to other countries: "Oh, he's just stuffing an alien monster's entire body down someone's throat. That's cute. But a cheerleader 'booty quakin''? Tar and feather the makers of this show!"

That "Booty Jeans" sequence is crucial to the episode's storyline of Kimmy realizing, with the help of Newton/Octus, that she doesn't need to always use her body to get ahead in life and that she doesn't have to conform to what others want her to be (and Newton/Octus helps her in a non-preachy and terse way, which shows how mature and subtle the writing on Sym-Bionic Titan is in comparison to the days of "Knowing is half the battle" PSAs).

Also, if it weren't for the "Booty Jeans" sequence, we wouldn't have two minutes of sublimely edited, Flock of Seagulls-scored genius.

The Rinzler boy

Damn, that cock ring is ginormous. And why does it have that glowstick shit on it? Wouldn't that burn his junk?
Most remixes of film or TV score music are meh, but French remixer Basic Slack's take on "Rinzler"--Daft Punk's thrilling cue from the Tron: Legacy "Disc Wars" skirmish between Sam (Garrett Hedlund) and Rinzler (Anis Cheurfa), the antagonist who always arms himself with two discs a la Chow Yun-Fat's double Beretta action in John Woo flicks and Darth Maul's double-bladed saber-wielding in The Phlaccid Menace--is a pretty good expansion of that two-minute cue.

Tron: Legacy music supervisor Jason Bentley told the MTV Movies Blog that "The score that [Daft Punk] set out to make was one that could stand with Star Wars or Superman." It sure does stand with them. The fact that I keep adding more tracks from Tron: Legacy to "Assorted Fistful" rotation and have listened to Daft Punk's score repeatedly, whether in its original form or in remixes like Basic Slack's--and even more often than I did with any of the Star Wars or Superman score albums--is proof of that.

The poster for Alamo Drafthouse's Tron: Legacy screening, by Eric Tan

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Crosstown Traffic"

If I were a rapper in the late '80s and my last name was B., I would rock this as my medallion.
Song: "Crosstown Traffic" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: 1968
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in the broadcast version of Keen Eddie's "Keeping Up Appearances" episode. Paramount Home Entertainment didn't bother to clear "Crosstown Traffic" for the DVD version, which I refuse to watch.

Music montages turn Moneypenny on.
Which moment in "Keeping Up Appearances" does it appear?: The sequence where Detective Eddie Arlette (Mark Valley) goes for a ride in a Bentley that once was owned by Jimi Hendrix.

Keen Eddie is a lost comedic gem from creator J.H. Wyman, who's currently a writer/producer for Fringe, which returns in a new and not-exactly-great time slot tonight and briefly had Valley as a regular before he starred in Human Target, where he's basically playing Eddie Arlette again, but with mad fighting skills. Wyman's London-based cop show was too foreign, anarchic and offbeat for mainstream America (it wasn't dour and moralistic enough for them--the original CSI, the #1 prime-time hit that year, was more up their conservative-leaning, bodybag-filled alley). But Keen Eddie won over TV critics (National Review, of all publications, actually liked it) and whoever were the three or four viewers who caught it on Fox. I was one of them, and I instantly dug "Crosstown Traffic," the tune where Hendrix MacGyvered a kazoo out of a comb and a piece of cellophane, when I first heard it on Keen Eddie.

All the other "Rock Box" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Matt & Kim, "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare"
Tom Jones, "Sex Bomb (Peppermint Disco Mix)"
The Motherhood, "Soul Town"
Edo G feat. Masta Ace, "Wishing"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Matt & Kim, "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare"

Troy comforts Jeff after Jeff's fashion choice of a sweater and collared shirt with jogging pants makes all the campus ladies allergic to him.
Song: "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare" by the Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim
Released: 2009
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in Community's pilot episode. I wonder if the choice of "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare" is a swipe at the pants Joel McHale is wearing all through the pilot (see above). If so, that's awesome.
Which moment in the Community pilot does it appear?: The scene when Jeff (McHale) tries to ditch the study group--a rambunctious bunch of folks he'll grow to tolerate over the course of the season--and is caught by Britta (Gillian Jacobs) while she's having a smoke break. The song also turns up when Jeff takes the Spanish test answers out of the envelope Professor Duncan (John Oliver) gave him and discovers his friend tricked him and slipped him nothing but blank paper.

My favorite non-cable show Community is back tonight with its first new episode since the ambitious stop-motion-animated Christmas ep, so here's "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare," which was also featured in the trailers and promos for the pilot before it premiered.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Tom Jones, "Sex Bomb (Peppermint Disco Mix)"

My dream episode of Battle of the Network Stars would pit the girls from the fake nighttime soap Grosse Pointe against the girls from the fake sitcom Room and Bored, the shitty show that actress Valerie Cherish resurfaced in on The Comeback. And the episode would involve lots of mud wrestling.
Song: "Sex Bomb (Peppermint Disco Mix)" by panties collector Tom Jones
Released: 2000
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's the opening title theme from Grosse Pointe, Darren Star's amusing WB spoof of his own creation Beverly Hills 90210. In one of the show's most memorable gags, Star poked fun at the fact that his 90210 characters were played by actors who were way too old to be pretending to be teens by having one of the male stars of Grosse Pointe's show-within-the-show wear a toupee. The most well-known (and busy) alum from the short-lived Grosse Pointe is Lindsay Sloane, who went on to do two more Grosse Pointe-esque inside-showbiz projects, Entourage and the wildly funny Judd Apatow production The TV Set (rent that film whenever you need to feel better after a favorite show of yours got killed by its network--or maybe you shouldn't rent The TV Set when you're mourning the loss of that show because the film's look at the TV industry can be downright depressing stuff).

Producer Mousse T.'s pretty damn catchy "Sex Bomb" remix, which sampled "All American Girls" by Sister Sledge, also turned up on the original version of The Office and The Simpsons.

From a 2000 PopMatters review of Grosse Pointe:
The opening credits of Grosse Pointe feature Tom Jones singing "Sex Bomb (The Peppermint Jam Disco Mix)," which is somewhere between scary and laughable, and also quite catchy. To a funky disco beat, he sings, "You're my sex bomb, and baby, you can turn me on / Now don't get me wrong, ain't gonna do you no harm / No, this bomb's for loving and you can shoot it far..." This sets the mood for the rest of the show — it all seems so familiar, just slightly off, maybe a little disconcerting. But it's only the beginning. Grosse Pointe is a mean, mean show — and nobody escapes the knife.

TV math

That line about all Asians enjoying math is bullshit because not all of us enjoy it. I hate math because I've always sucked at it. I barely remember how to do algebra anymore--that's how much I adore math. I took my own difficulties with math and made that trait a part of the backstory of the heroine I created for Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology. If us Filipinos were great at math, we wouldn't be making so many damn boneheaded decisions when it comes to money, business or real estate.

I may suck at math, but I'm good at TV math, as you can see from these December 3, 2010 tweets I'm reposting. I got bored on Twitter one morning and started talking in nothing but TV math equations.

LiveLinks commercials haven't been the same since Evangeline Lilly left.
Evangeline Lilly

I'm looking forward to the scene in Mad Men next season where Don cries in the bathtub while Megan's trying to get him to soap her tits. #HotTubTimeMachine
+ @MeganSCDP =

'Um, where do I go for rehab to get that ex-Daily Show correspondent off my back?'
that hot chick in the T-Mobile myTouch 4G commercials
11:07 AM Dec 3rd

Lynn Minmei is the Britney Spears of Macross Island: she looks awesome naked and can dance but isn't really all that great of a singer.

I fucking miss this show.
+ the '90s MTV animated series Downtown

Clerks II has forever ruined Samantha Fox's 'Naughty Girls (Need Love Too).' And the animated donkey from Hee Haw.
+ (the Clerks franchise minus the bestiality) =

I also fucking miss this show.
the much-missed Megas XLR
11:15 AM Dec 3rd

He's also available to do lion puppet shows at your kid's birthday party.

Cheerocracy in action.
+ Bring It On

'Don't worry about me. I'm fine. My acting career will recover only slightly after this.'
+ (The Powers of Matthew Star minus the sight of Louis Gossett Jr. slumming it) =

I like reading the Cartoon Brew and Super Punch blogs, but their bloggers' recent 'Won't anyone think of the children?' attitude towards Kimmy's bootydancing sequence in Sym-Bionic Titan really fucking annoys me.
Sym-Bionic Titan
11:18 AM Dec 3rd

(28 Days Later minus fast zombies) + slow zombies + all the bickering scenes from Lost = AMC's adaptation of The Walking Dead
11:08 AM Dec 3rd

Early '90s-era Usher + the baritone of a teenage Wayne Newton + awful songwriting + Linda Evangelista's hair = Justin Bieber
11:09 AM Dec 3rd

Kelly Brook boobage + MTV Spring Break coverage reimagined by a Gorezone reader + (Jerry O'Connell minus his dick) = Piranha 3D #FilmMath
11:11 AM Dec 3rd

(The live-action Scooby-Doo minus the Scooby cast) + the Yogi cast + Hanna or Barbera spinning in his grave = that Yogi Bear movie #FilmMath
11:13 AM Dec 3rd

(Northern Exposure minus almost all the Indians) + the intellect of a bag of hammers + a train wreck = Sarah Palin's Alaska on TLC
11:20 AM Dec 3rd

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: The Motherhood, "Soul Town"

The Mother Hood. Didn't that star Robert Townsend?
Song: "Soul Town" by The Motherhood
Released: 1969
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in Ocean's Thirteen.
Which moment in Ocean's Thirteen does it appear?: The closing credits (right after my favorite ending in the three Ocean's films: Brad Pitt's way of apologizing to David Paymer for what he and the crew had to put him through as part of their revenge plot against Al Pacino).

Of the three Ocean's soundtracks, my favorite has to be the third and final one, because of how much music supervisor David Holmes' score music had evolved since Eleven, as well as his taste for obscure tracks like Puccio Roelens' cover of "Caravan" and the breezy and badass "Soul Town" instrumental by the Krautrock band The Motherhood. (Plus, Thirteen opens with future "Rock Box" Track of the Day "The Riviera Affair" during the studio logos, and it doesn't contain a certain Elvis track I grew sick of hearing after it got overplayed and horribly remixed by Junkie XL).

The Motherhood was a fusion band led by German saxophonist Klaus Doldinger, the composer of the scores to Das Boot and The NeverEnding Story. I can hardly find any info about this phase of Doldinger's career or "Soul Town." I like how the tune kicks off with a slightly out-of-place piano solo straight out of Ramsey Lewis' "The 'In' Crowd."

"Soul Town"'s a comin'.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Edo G feat. Masta Ace, "Wishing"

'Oh snap!' never sounded funnier coming out of such a slow and somber voice.
Song: "Wishing" by Edo G feat. Masta Ace
Released: 2004
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in The Boondocks' 2006 MLK holiday episode "Return of the King," which had Dr. King (Kevin Michael Richardson) interacting with the characters in the Boondocksverse. Ignorant-ass Riley (Regina King, no relation) sizes up Dr. King and asks him, "Is you Morgan Freeman?" Self-hating, brain-damaged Uncle Ruckus (Gary Anthony Williams) protests against the civil rights leader and in one of the episode's funniest lines, declares "I was happier at the back of the bus!"
Which moment in "Return of the King" does it appear?: "Wishing" accompanies the brief montage where Huey (also Regina King) and MLK go door-to-door to spread the word about their political rally (the above photo is from this sequence). The 2004 track samples King's "I Have a Dream" speech and is Masta Ace and Edo G's list of wishes for changes in everything from the then-Bush-run White House to more-heated-in-2010-than-they-were-in-2004 issues like Islamophobia and health care ("I wish God could take away the pain/I know you wanna call me insane/I'm a dreamer"). "Wishing" isn't featured long enough in "Return of the King" for viewers to dig most of the verses, but the track's presence nicely foreshadows the final moments of Huey's episode-long fantasy ("It's fun to dream").

"Return of the King" is my favorite episode of any animated series in the '00s. The initial fear that Aaron McGruder dumbed down his thought-provoking and politically charged comic strip for TV was laid to rest with a brilliant, hilarious and scathing peek into an alternate reality where King didn't die from James Earl Ray's bullet.

King awakens from a 32-year coma and is disheartened by what's become of the world he non-violently fought for. His image and ideology are exploited in everything from advertising to so-called political discourse (a certain August 2010 rally at the Lincoln Memorial is eerily foretold during the scene where a bow-tied mash-up of smarmy Tucker Carlson and equally smarmy Bill O'Reilly tries to force King to espouse his "Country First"-like agenda, and the blowhard ends up getting an ass-whupping from Huey that always makes me applaud). Streets that were named after MLK have become hotbeds of violence. His pulpit has been taken over by preachers who are talkin' loud and sayin' nothing. MGM released Soul Plane.

From Rodney Barnes' DVD commentary for 'Return of the King': 'There's a rumor going around that Al Sharpton was holding two pieces of chicken right before King said 'nigger,' and I can't say what happened, but paramedics were called.'
"Black Entertainment Television is the worst thing I've ever seen in my life!," complains King in a climactic rant where he frequently says, uh, "Nintendo." King's wake-up call to his community pissed off the totally-missing-the-satirical-point-of-the-episode Rev. Al Sharpton (much of King's speech was lifted from a song by Asheru, the same MC who performed The Boondocks' dope opening title theme). Sharpton publicly lashed out against the McGruder-scripted "Return of the King" and demanded an apology from Cartoon Network for allowing MLK to be "desecrated." The Peabodys responded to Sharpton's criticisms by giving the episode an award.

"What I like about Al is that he's not in this for the publicity," snarks McGruder in the episode's equally hilarious and scathing DVD commentrak.

"Cartoons," adds Boondocks co-executive producer Rodney Barnes in the commentrak. "That's what Dr. King be doin' today: fighting against cartoons."

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Elton John, "Amoreena"

Dog Day Afternoon was nearly given the same title as the Life magazine article it was based on: the corny and unsubtle 'Boys in the Bank.' Because the film intended the Pacino character's homosexuality to be a surprise twist for moviegoers who were unfamiliar with the real-life robbery, that would have been like if The Sixth Sense was instead called I Am Dead.
Song: "Amoreena" by Elton John
Released: 1970
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in my favorite Al Pacino movie, Dog Day Afternoon.
Which moment in Dog Day Afternoon does it appear?: The opening credits.

Earlier this week, New York magazine film critic David Edelstein named Sidney Lumet's 1975 classic his favorite New York movie because of the soulfulness Pacino brought to Sonny, one of many New York characters he's played in his career, and the way the film turns "the whole crazy paradox of acting, of being private in public" into a metaphor for life in the big city. The opening montage of grimy '70s New York in the summertime--beautifully assembled by legendary editor Dede Allen (who died last April) and accompanied by John's lazy-day tune "Amoreena," the only non-diegetic piece of music in the film--is one of the reasons why Dog Day always winds up in discussions of greatest New York movies like Edelstein's.

Embedding was disabled for the clip of the Dog Day opening that was posted on YouTube, so view the sequence here.

All the other "Rock Box" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Stevie Wonder, "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)"
Madvillain feat. M.E.D. a.k.a. Medaphoar, "Raid"
The Who, "I'm One"
Puccio Roelens, "Caravan"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Stevie Wonder, "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)"

They forgot to add Most Valuable Player to Kathy Nelson's on-screen credit.

Song: "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" by Stevie Wonder
Released: 1972
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in High Fidelity, which was where I first heard this overlooked Wonder tune.
Which moment in High Fidelity does it appear?: The closing credits, which are a special treat for fontophiles like myself. Mmm, Stencil...

About a Boy, another great Nick Hornby adaptation from the early '00s, attempted to do for Skechers what High Fidelity did for The Beta Band.

Mmm, Eurostile...

Euro my steez.

The characters' hatred of Wonder's '80s and '90s output was the subject of one of Jack Black's key scenes ("Rob, 'Top Five Musical Crimes Perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the '80s and '90s.' Go."), so it's no surprise that Rob (John Cusack) opted for 1972's "I Believe" while making a mixtape for Laura (Iben Hjejle). "I Believe" is the closing track on Wonder's Talking Book album. In 2005's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Stevie Chick wrote that "'I Believe' finds Stevie's heart broken, but his belief in love still intact"--much like Rob at the end of the film.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Madvillain, "Raid"

After nabbing Oprah, Ed and Rummy regret kidnapping her when, like the horrified TV critics at last week's TCA Press Tour, they discover she won't stop talking for 18 minutes.
Song: "Raid" by Madvillain feat. M.E.D. a.k.a. Medaphoar
Released: 2004
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's one of three Madvillain tracks featured in the 2006 Boondocks episode "Let's Nab Oprah."
Which moment in "Let's Nab Oprah" does it appear?: The sequence at the end of Act 1 where dumbass wiggers Ed Wuncler III (Charlie Murphy--hold up, isn't he black?) and Gin Rummy (Samuel L. Jackson--hold up, isn't he black too?) attack a Woodcrest bookstore to carry out the episode's titular scheme, and Ed and Rummy's increasingly exasperated eight-year-old accomplice Riley Freeman (Regina King--hold up, isn't she a woman?) points out to the duo that they went to the wrong bookstore and kidnapped Maya Angelou by mistake.

The "Where's Oprah, punk?" clip from this sequence, which I tacked on to "Raid" as an intro for airplay during the "Rock Box" block, never fails to amuse me whenever I hear it. It's a hilarious sequence that also gives some nice exposure on TV to DOOM and Madlib and one of my favorite tracks off Madvillainy (because of couplets like "The metal fellow been rippin' flows/Since New York plates were ghetto yellow with broke blue writing"). The opening jazz-piano sample in "Raid" meshes well with the show's Vince Guaraldi-style original score.

Hear the Villain spit enough lightning to rock-shock the Boogie Down to Brighton.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: The Who, "I'm One"

Check out the 1980 Empire Strikes Back glass. I love that example of Freaks and Geeks' attention to detail. I don't even give a shit about it being a possible anachronism error.
Song: "I'm One" by The Who (because today is 1/11/11)
Released: 1973
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in the 2000 Freaks and Geeks episode "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers."
Which moment in "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" does it appear?: The wordless sequence where latchkey kid Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) comes home from school looking rather miserable after a not-so-great day, makes himself a grilled cheese (with chocolate cake on the side), flips on Dinah Shore's talk show Dinah! and laughs his ass off to a set by Dinah's guest comic Garry Shandling.

During the outstanding two-part WTF episode where he interviewed Freaks and Geeks writer/producer Judd Apatow, host Marc Maron said the "I'm One" sequence was the Freaks and Geeks moment that resonated with him the most because it relates to how "comedy was really one of the few things that made [Apatow and I] happy, that made us feel good, that took away the pain, that gave us the sense that things were going to be okay."

Apatow, who co-wrote "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers," lifted the "I'm One" sequence from his own life as a child of divorced parents who found refuge in comedy and watched hours of stand-ups on talk shows after school. "I was at my fantasy world watching Michael Keaton do stand-up on The Mike Douglas Show, and I couldn't have been happier," Apatow told Maron. "I look back on it as a great time. I don't think, 'Oh, that was so sad. I was alone in my room.' I was like Bill, laughing my ass off, watching Jay Leno in 1979 on The Mike Douglas Show."

Bill reacts to seeing footage of John Boehner weeping again.
During the filming of the sequence, Apatow and "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" co-writer Bob Nickman got Starr to laugh so hard by telling him the dirtiest jokes off-camera. Both funny and poignant (it's Apatow's ultimate salute to his mentor and Larry Sanders Show boss Shandling, whom Apatow first met as a teen when he interviewed him for the high school radio show that Maron played excerpts from on WTF), the sequence is one of many reasons why viewers like myself love Freaks and Geeks, and it's enhanced by The Who's 1973 track from Quadrophenia.

Because the freaks half of the episode revolved around a Who concert, every existing song during "Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers" is a Who track, except for "Summer Breeze" by Seals and Crofts (this was a few years before the CSI franchise introduced the band's songs to a new generation of viewers). No other track on the show perfectly encapsulates Bill, the geek who's most comfortable in his own skin and with his lot in life ("I'm a loser--no chance to win") and doesn't care what others think of him ("And I can see/That this is me"). His sense of humor helps take away the pain.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Puccio Roelens, "Caravan"

I wish someone did this to one of the hotel rooms Sarah Palin stays at whenever she's in the continental U.S.
Last Monday, I started a series of weekday posts about each of the existing songs that are streamed during the "Rock Box" block on A Fistful of Soundtracks (4-6am, 9-11am and 3-5pm on Mondays and 5-7am, 9-11am and 3-5pm on Fridays). Each post provides info on a different track from the "Rock Box" playlist and points out the movie or TV series moment where the track shows up and is utilized to great effect.

Song: "Caravan" by Puccio Roelens
Released: 1971
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in Ocean's Thirteen.
Which moment in Ocean's Thirteen does it appear?: The sequence where George Clooney and Brad Pitt sabotage David Paymer's hotel room so that Paymer can give Al Pacino's hotel a bad review (the above photo is from this sequence).

I love this little-known cover of the 1936 jazz standard that was unearthed by Ocean's Thirteen music supervisor and score composer David Holmes. It sounds like a source cue straight out of Diamonds Are Forever--another Vegas movie. Ocean's Thirteen's inclusion of "Caravan" is a callback to the use of Arthur Lyman's version of "Caravan" in Ocean's Eleven.

Hotel room vandalism never sounded so chill and slick.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: The Roots, "Here I Come"

For a very white kid, Scott Pilgrim's got some moves.

Song: "Here I Come" by The Roots featuring Malik B. & Dice Raw
Released: 2006
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in Superbad. (It also appears in the Hancock closing credits.) "Here I Come" is the most upbeat (and party-friendly, hence its inclusion in Superbad) track on 2006's Game Theory, The Roots' most militant and brooding-sounding album. Game Theory was a bold move for their first album for Def Jam, a label that many feared would interfere with The Roots' sound and force the band to be more mainstream (luckily, Def Jam's been hands-off). You may be more familiar with the faster-paced version of "Here I Come" that The Roots perform each weeknight during the opening titles and end credits of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Dammit, Fallon! That was supposed to be the theme song for my talk show! You know, the one I host in my basement with my special guests, a cardboard cutout of Liza Minnelli and a cardboard cutout of Jerry Lewis?
Which moment in Superbad does it appear?: The scene where Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse finally arrive at Emma Stone's party.

Speaking of Superbad, last night's Daily Show superimposed the face of a crying John Boehner from 60 Minutes over the body of McLovin while he lost his virginity in the movie. That cracked my ish up.

Hear Black Thought, Malik B. and Dice Raw disturb the peace.

All the other "Rock Box" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Classic & 86, "Ridin'"
Pulp, "Like a Friend"
Run-DMC, "Rock Box"
The Crystal Method, "Starting Over"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Classic & 86, "Ridin'"

'Kumar, is it me or do the patties taste like a disgruntled employee sabotaged our Slyders and took a shit on each of them?'

Song: "Ridin'" by Classic & 86
Released: 2004
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in the Jersey-set Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and may be the best song to bump in your ride while driving through Jersey since "Woke Up This Morning."
Which moment in White Castle does it appear?: Both the opening and closing credits.

Miss Eighty 6, back when she recorded as Sarai and looked like a blond Alison Brie. Photographed by Rod Spicer.
White Castle fans who enjoyed "Ridin'" might have wondered, "Who the hell are Classic & 86? Did they skip the planet?" I didn't know who they were either. At first, I thought that after releasing "Ridin'," Classic ended up as a UPS driver like Thugnificent on The Boondocks, while 86 is toiling away in the same kind of office from hell where Harold would spend his workdays being a walking doormat. I did some digging around the Web and landed on an Urban Dictionary entry that actually listed some useful information about them instead of feeding me info that Classic & 86 is a new expression for getting a tug and chug.

After following a paper trail that started from Urban Dictionary, I found out that the two rappers, who have separate careers and teamed up on "Ridin'," each have recorded more than just that one song and are still making music. Classic is Chris Classic, a protege of the late Jam Master Jay who's frequently contributed hip-pop tracks to prime-time soaps like Gossip Girl and a bunch of movies I want nothing to do with (Harold & Kumar star Kal Penn's 2007 masterpiece Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies and most recently, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), while 86 is Miss Eighty 6, who also received some airplay on Gossip Girl. Before "Ridin'," Miss Eighty 6 recorded under her real name Sarai. A commenter under Sarai's 2003 "Ladies" video on YouTube wrote: "bring Sarai back - will trade for Ke$ha."

"Ridin'" is good, solid hip-pop with lyrics that are actually more than four words long--it's not the same kind of hip-pop Eminem astutely criticizes and ridicules in his just-leaked track "Syllables" when he says "nowadays these kids jus'/Don't give a shit about lyrics/All they wanna hear is a beat and that's it." The 2004 tune also showed up in the Usher rom-com In the Mix, The Air I Breathe and the Melrose Place revival, but it will forever be identified with a cult flick that's one of my favorite comedies of the '00s.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Pulp, "Like a Friend"

On Monday, I began a series of weekday posts about each of the existing songs that are streamed during the "Rock Box" block on A Fistful of Soundtracks (4-6am, 9-11am and 3-5pm on Mondays and 5-7am, 9-11am and 3-5pm on Fridays). Each post will provide info on a different track from the "Rock Box" playlist and point out the movie or TV series moment where the track is so effectively used. Sometimes, the post will be brief, and sometimes, it'll be long. Today, it's a long one.

The Venture Bros. was able to afford a Pulp song, but at the cost of decent lighting.

Song: "Like a Friend" by Pulp
Released: 1998
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: This awesome track--written by Pulp and composer Patrick Doyle for the 1998 Great Expectations remake that Doyle also scored--showed up in The Venture Bros.' recent fourth-season finale "Operation P.R.O.M."
Which moment in "Operation P.R.O.M." does it appear?: It was the most effective use of an existing song on TV in 2010. I'm referring to the finale's closing montage, where the wildly funny animated series briefly hits pause on the comedy to deepen the character of badass SPHINX operative and former Venture family bodyguard Brock Samson, with the help of "Like a Friend." In less than four minutes, the sequence brings closure to both Brock's love/hate relationship with love interest and nemesis Molotov Cocktease and the season-long thread about Brock's self-imposed separation from the Ventures.

Dean and Hank Venture by Annie Wu
Artwork by Annie Wu (Photo source: Wu)

Alan Sepinwall, the biggest championer of NBC's cult show Chuck, once said he found The Venture Bros. to be unfunny (huh?) and unappealing. Of the two pop culture reference-heavy action comedies, which are both about losers who are trying to make sense of a crazy universe full of comic book supervillain-style adversaries who constantly want them dead, The Venture Bros. is clearly the more consistent and superior show. It's more willing to shake things up in its universe, like keeping Brock separated from the Ventures for most of the fourth season or having The Monarch's meek and flabby underling 21 gradually morph into a more capable, assertive and muscled henchman, yet still retain a bit of his previously buffoonish self when he continues to talk to his dead best friend 24 as if he's still alive. (As someone who often finds the Buy More hijinks on Chuck to be less entertaining than the spyjinks and thinks the Morgan character is better utilized in the latter because of Josh Gomez's chemistry with Adam Baldwin, I was hoping the destruction of the store at the end of last season would mean no more stories at that limited and increasingly tiresome setting. But that was not to be when the CIA rebuilt the Buy More this season.) Team Venture is also far less reliant on music montages than Chuck. Like The Wire, the animated series is aware that music montages have more of an impact when they're used sparingly.

Storytelling drawbacks aside, there's a lot to like about Chuck, but the more flawed and screwy characters in The Venture Bros. make Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer's creation a more interesting show. Chuck is ultimately about triumphing over cowardice and self-doubt to win both the girl of your dreams and the respect of the U.S. government (or the respect of the Buy More). It's a nerd's fantasy that presents how nerds would like to see themselves. That's not a bad thing, but it can also make for formulaic viewing (Chuck's current season has been an uneven one where I've found my attention wandering, despite whatever Yvonne Strahovski's almost wearing that week and the presence of Timothy Dalton, who has to be the show's greatest casting coup so far). Meanwhile, The Venture Bros. isn't concerned with triumph. It's about failure, the inability to impress or satisfy women and the difficulty of overcoming inner demons like cowardice, self-denial or unhealthy sexual appetites--in other words, it shows the ugly reality of how most nerds really are.

Okay, now I see why Sepinwall doesn't like The Venture Bros.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Run-DMC, "Rock Box"

Not seen in the photo: Michael Richards on the ones and twos.
Song: "Rock Box" by Run-DMC
Released: 1984
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: The tune that gave the AFOS non-score music block its new name--and remains one of the most effective examples of rap experimenting with hard-rock guitar licks--clearly left an impact on young Chris Rock. (It also happens to include his last name in the title. I wonder why he digs it so much.) The comedian and Prince Paul sampled "Rock Box" in their 1997 Diddy parody "Champagne"--which was where I was first exposed to "Rock Box"--and then Rock and Everybody Hates Chris showrunner Ali LeRoi later got both Rock's younger self (Tyler James Williams) and special guest star Jason Alexander to lip-synch and quasi-air-guitar to the Run-DMC classic in a highlight of the 2007 "Everybody Hates Snow Day" episode of Chris. Most gamers may know "Rock Box" best from its appearance during Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Hear why Calvin Klein's no friend of Run's.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: The Crystal Method, "Starting Over"

This is the first in a series of weekday posts about each of the existing songs that are streamed during AFOS' "F Zone" block, which is starting over today with a new name, "Rock Box" (4-6am, 9-11am and 3-5pm on Mondays and 5-7am, 9-11am and 3-5pm on Fridays). Each post will provide info on a different track from the "Rock Box" playlist and point out the movie or TV series moment where the track is so effectively used. The series of posts will end when I run out of "Rock Box" songs to write about.

'Gil, I don't think your Creed CD is doing much to motivate me.'
Song: "Starting Over" by The Crystal Method
Released: 2004
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's in the original CSI's 2004 "Dead Ringer" episode. The rousing track also turns up in Alias and Blade: Trinity.
Which moment in "Dead Ringer" does it appear?: It's in the pre-credits teaser at a nighttime relay race for cops where the CSIs are participating as runners, beautifully shot in the desert at night by cinematographer Nathan Hope.

The opening shot of runners and police escort vehicles emerging from the horizon, accompanied by the perfectly chosen opening electric piano riff of "Starting Over," is the ultimate example of Alan Sepinwall's description of CSI as "a snazzy-looking series, particularly in the way it picked up the baton from The X-Files in showing how much can be done with scenes set at night." A fan review of the episode at noted how the opening shot is "as stunning a bit of visual imagery as anything I've seen on network series TV. While you can always count on Jerry Bruckheimer's works to include plenty of nicely done location shots -- usually from the vantage point of a helicopter -- this night shot of the marathon runners was just amazing."