Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Chew #11 by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Random Chew page of the week (from Chew #11)

The Academy's snub of the Attack the Block score is such bollocks, innit?

In ghettos like the blocks of South London, all that running away from Five-0 will make you better prepared for running away from gorilla wolf muthafuckas.
HitFix's Kristopher Tapley considers the Attack the Block score by Steven Price and Basement Jaxx to be the year's best original film score and is bummed that it's not one of the 97 scores that are eligible for consideration in this year's Best Original Score category. I'm bummed too--the cutting-edge score from British comedian/filmmaker Joe Cornish's enjoyable inner-city-vs.-outer-space thriller is one of my favorites of 2011--but I'm not surprised that the Academy would exclude it.

The Academy rarely nominates the scores I like the most (not one bloody nod for any of Irish DJ/composer David Holmes' Ocean's scores during the '00s?). Plus, Price and Basement Jaxx's (and Holmes') sounds aren't middlebrow and tweedy enough for the Academy. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross aside, cutting-edge things tend to frighten and confuse them.

There's one upside to the snub: I don't have to be subjected to a lame interpretive dance to "The Ends" from Attack the Block.

Monday, December 19, 2011

You're such a blockhead, Charlie Brown Christmas liner notes guy: Robert Wilonsky clears up (in 1998) some misconceptions about the classic special's soundtrack

The reason why we never again saw those twin sisters on the far left of this photo was because they were spoiled brats who were a pain to work with, and their stage mom/manager wanted too much moolah from Bill Melendez.

In 2009, I unearthed from my Fistful of Soundtracks archives a cassette of a 1998 phone interview about the beloved music from A Charlie Brown Christmas that I recorded with the Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky, and I transcribed the best parts of the discussion, which aired on the college radio incarnation of AFOS.

On TV, Wilonsky is best known for hosting the HDNet shows Higher Definition and The Ultimate Trailer Show and for being one of many guest film critics who subbed for a recuperating Roger Ebert when he was unable to resume his co-hosting duties on At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper. In 1998, Wilonsky wrote an Observer article that revealed some little-known background info about the Bay Area-based Vince Guaraldi Trio's pitch-perfect music from A Charlie Brown Christmas (for instance, he said "the album isn't the soundtrack to the special. Actually, it's the other way around: The record was cut before the cartoon was made"). So shortly after his article was published, I called Wilonsky up and had him discuss on AFOS why he loves the Guaraldi tunes from the classic 1965 CBS animated special, which has aired exclusively on ABC since 2001.

Five years after our interview, Wilonsky recorded an NPR piece about both Guaraldi's album (Concord Records remastered and reissued it in 2006, but with--good grief!--a couple of remastering mistakes later corrected by Concord after complaints from fans) and the special itself, which Wilonsky described in his segment as "the perfect Christmas gift, a show that is part Bible lesson, part jazz solo, part psychotherapy."

Here again is that interview from 1998.

Like MC Hammer, Vince Guaraldi hailed from the Yay Area and liked the girls with the pumps and a bump.
Robert Wilonsky: For 30 years, they've listed the wrong personnel on the records for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Vince Guaraldi Greatest Hits records... Fred Marshall was very unhappy to find 30 years after he made this record that he never got credit for actually playing on the thing... His daughter, whom I've put in my piece, went to a record store to buy the record A Charlie Brown Christmas that her dad played on. She had always had the vinyl version, which never had the listing of personnel. She bought the CD, which said "Colin Bailey: drums, Monty Budwig: bass, Vince Guaraldi: piano," couldn't believe her dad wasn't on the record, took the record back to the record store, said "I'm not gonna buy these records till you fix the credits." He told her dad he wasn't on the record. Dad called Fantasy Records, said "Why the hell am I not on the record?" The label guy got kind of upset because he wondered where he'd been for 30 years if he was upset about the incorrect personnel listing and went about to figure out if they were wrong all these years.

Jimmy J. Aquino: You also say in your article that the soundtrack album is not really a soundtrack.

RW: Right. Both A Boy Named Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas were actually recorded before the Charlie Brown Christmas special was even filmed. What happened was Vince Guaraldi had been approached by Lee Mendelson... He had asked Vince about doing this music for a documentary that was going to be sold to a network--maybe CBS--about Charles Schulz and Peanuts. So they went in the studio and did this music. Something happened, and the documentary never aired. I'm not quite sure what happened. I don't think anybody really knows at this point. Time has erased a lot of memories. But they had this great record, so Vince released it as Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown, which was what it was called originally.

Around the same time in 1962-63, they also went in to do the Christmas record because Vince had kids that were around the age of Charlie Brown and the characters in Peanuts, and he thought it'd be nice to do a jazz record because he liked the music so much and he liked what he had done and he liked the sound the trio had. He also thought there weren't any Christmas records out there for kids and adults. They were all a little cheesy, a little melodramatic for him, and him being a cool jazz pianist and having played with Cal Tjader and all these guys, that was his metier to do a cool jazz Christmas record. So he did it, and Mendelson liked it so much that he figured they'd maybe go out and get a sponsor like Coca-Cola, which I believe is who ended up sponsoring the show...

When they actually decided to do the Christmas special, Vince Guaraldi had to go to Los Angeles to record cues or shorter versions of the songs he was intending to use on the Christmas special, so he rounded up Monty Budwig and Colin Bailey, who were in his band in the early 1960s and had since moved to Los Angeles, and had them re-record shorter versions of what Jerry Granelli the drummer and Fred Marshall the bass player had done earlier around the time of A Charlie Brown Christmas. But for some reason, Fantasy just thought it was Colin and Monty playing on both those records and not Jerry and Fred...

JJA: How come A Charlie Brown Christmas is so special to you?

Film critic and large-headed bald man Robert WilonskyRW: I remember as a kid all those Claymation episodes--Rudolph and The Year Santa Didn't Come or whatever it was called. I remember thinking, "God, these are kind of silly, but Charlie Brown was a kid, he's your age..." I didn't realize that later in life, I would become a large-headed bald man myself, much like Charlie Brown, so perhaps there were some subliminal messages in there...

One thing I always loved about it as well was the fact that I didn't realize this until later, but I got to be a jazz fan when I was real young, like 12 or 13, which in Texas, is not an easy thing to do. You're either a country or Southern rock fan. You're not a jazz fan. There was a public radio station here that played jazz at night. I used to love it. One day, Vince's music came on, and I'll never forget it. It was A Charlie Brown Christmas... I was a teenager, and it made me just fall in love with it all over again. I fell in love with it this time around for the music because it was so pretty, it was so melancholy and kind of restive. I listen to it 24 or 25 times a day during the holidays sometimes because it just permeates the air like a good smell... It's just this great thing to have around, whether it's for nostalgic purposes sometimes or whether it's for musical purposes because it's just a beautiful, perfect record. It's not overwrought like all these other Christmas records. It's not sentimental. It's just perfect.

Happiness is a wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey Christmas party.
This is a Charlie Brown Christmas/Doctor Who mash-up by Larry Wentzel that's included here for no reason other than it's awesome.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Mr. Sunshine, yay": The five best original TV themes of 2011

Winterfell is currently embroiled in a feud with the neighboring kingdom of Normanfell, ruled by King Stanley Roper, who keeps mugging in front of an unseen camera for some reason.
(Photo source: The Art of the Title Sequence)
5. Mr. Sunshine (Rob Cairns? Matthew Perry's musician dad? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)
The broadcast networks' elimination of theme songs from most of their programming is a trend that depresses veteran TV theme composers like Happy Days and Wonder Woman theme maestro Charles Fox, who briefly expressed his displeasure during a recent interview on the podcast TV Confidential. But when a quick and minimalist theme like the one that opened Matthew Perry's short-lived single-camera comedy Mr. Sunshine makes every one of its five seconds count--it sublimely nailed the sardonic tone of the title character in just three words--maybe these skimpy themes on the broadcast networks aren't so awful (plus non-commercial HBO, which doesn't have to worry about the advertisers that are partially to blame for theme songs becoming an endangered species, is keeping the art form alive, as you'll see later).

4. Lights Out (Thwak! Music)
I'm glad the crew behind this short-lived FX boxing drama didn't go with "Lights Out" by Santigold (a sweet tune, by the way, but it would have been too on-the-nose) and opted for something original and appropriately brash and brassy a la The J.B.'s to open their show.

3. American Horror Story (César Dávila-Irizarry and Charlie Clouser)
If creepy old-timey photos of long-dead babies and creepier split-second images of pickled remains of dead babies or fetuses are your thing, then you're going to get a kick out of the American Horror Story opening title sequence by famed Se7en title designer Kyle Cooper. The rest of us find the titles unsettling to watch. I actually often turn my head away from the screen when the titles begin. They're accompanied by an eerie and effective industrial theme by sound designer César Dávila-Irizarry and Saw series composer and former Nine Inch Nails member Charlie Clouser. Together, the titles and the Dávila-Irizarry/Clouser theme are the only genuinely scary part of American Horror Story.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Roots' final four Undun tracks suggest that ?uestlove has a future as a film composer

?uestlove, photographed by Sears
The Roots' excellent 13th album Undun, which dropped yesterday, is the band's first concept album. The somber Undun is a cautionary--and fortunately, not-so-preachy-and-Afterschool Special-ish--tale that centers on a teen named Redford Stephens (his name is lifted from the Sufjan Stevens song "Redford") who falls into the drug game.

?uestlove has conquered the worlds of drumming, arranging, late-night bandleading and tweeting. Could film scoring be next for ?uesto to tackle? On the cinematic instrumentals that comprise the four-part "Redford Suite" that concludes Undun, ?uesto, who has said he might go completely orchestral on the next Roots album, displays some serious Bernard Herrmann-esque chops.

I second the following graf, despite a couple of annoyingly lofty-sounding and obtuse phrases that are so NPR ("fictionalized into hip-hop"?--what the hell does that mean?):
?uestlove treats "Redford" almost like a piece of movie music, accompanying the action rather than recapitulating it. The result is a cinematic moment waiting to be processed, fictionalized into hip-hop. It's as if the listener zoomed in beyond the safe narrative distance of the song and actually ended up in the movie. This movement of the suite is like a rap track under a microscope, the sample blown up so large that the beats that keep hip-hop as the frame of reference are a horizon enshrouded in fog… Finally, credits roll over a sublime string quartet, mercifully for Black Thought's black thoughts — at least for a moment, before ?uestlove's meticulously arranged strings are silenced by the chilling, deathly growl of a struck piano.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hell yeah

'Zat you, Santaolalla?
(Photo source: Música Detrás de Cámaras)
The best part of AMC's new western series Hell on Wheels has to be the way-too-short opening title theme by Brokeback Mountain composer Gustavo Santaolalla (san-ta-oh-lah-yah).

Blood will be spilled. Lives will be lost. Men will be ruined. Deadwood fans expecting the next Deadwood will be disappointed.
Santaolalla's theme is my favorite original theme for a Sunday night show since rapper Asheru's declaration that "I'mma remain a soldier till the war is won" during the opening titles of The Boondocks (God, I miss that show).