Rolling Stones Wednesday with Cyndi Lauper

This week I listened to number 487 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 best albums of all time; Cyndi Lauper and She’s So Unusual.

(I’m well aware that I post this a day too late. I wish I had a good explanation, but in fact I was shanghaied by my roommates to watch rom coms last night.)

I think I was eleven the first time I heard Cyndi Lauper. It wasn’t Girls Just Wanna Have Fun actually, but True Colors, and I loved it from first listen. I also fell a little in love with Cyndi Lauper. She was probably my first girl crush, with her outgoing style and crazy hair. I wanted to be just like her.

Even if you don’t listen to Cyndi Lauper, you know Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
My friends took the absolute piss out of it when I sang along to it earlier. I don’t care, I love that song. loud and proud!
There is something so brilliant in the synth panning from left to right ear in the beginning. It’s become so iconic, you instantly know what song it is.

Lauper has been a huge supporter of LGBT+ rights for many years now, and this comes to light in her song When You Were Mine. In the song Lauper sings to someone who’s left her for another man. Whether it’s a girl or a boy, we don’t know, but there’s a same sex relationship in there somewhere.

I read once that She Bop is about masturbation, about taking matter into your own hands. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’d be great if it is. I can’t associate it with anything else now, anyway.

I’ve recently made a playlist on Spotify where I add my personal favourites from every album. From She’s So Unusual, I added She bop, All Through the Night and Time After Time.

I’ve been working on this project for six months now and I’m only 13 albums in. I have 486 to go! I think this might be the time where I take on too much, but I will try to get through the best I can.

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Osmo conducts Shostakovich

Tonight I was at Harpa concert hall to hear Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra play Shostakovich 6th symphony, conducted by Osmo Vänskä. It was my first time seeing this conductor, but I’ve already added him to the list of my favourite conductors.

He’s a very playful conductor, full of life and engagement. The way he practically jumps around on the podium, makes the music come alive in a magnificent way. He turns fully to each section of the orchestra whenever he wants to draw something special out of them. One of his talents is to really highlight soloists. He makes the orchestra into a excellent foundation to make soloists shine and stand out.

Benjamin Zander, the musical director of Boston Philharmonic orchestra said “The conductor does not make a sound,” in this TedTalk. This describes Vänskä’s way of leading the orchestra very well. He seems to be very aware of the fact this job is to draw the best sounds out of the orchestra.

The concert started with Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Sergei Prokofiev.

A piece with a lot of influence from military music, but still with that rich film music sound. Already here, the soloists is shown off in Osmo’s secure grip. Saxophone is not a permanent part of the orchestra, but the player hired in for this piece did a terrific job of blending in, while still standing out for his solos.

The fifth movement was particularly good. The strings did a wonderful job of capturing the juicy sound that we associate with film music, but still kept it classy. There are miles of difference between juicy and cheesy.

Before intermission, the orchestra was joined by clarinetist Einar Jóhannesson.

They performed a piece from 2014 by Áskell Másson, called Silfurfljót, or Silver Stream in English.  It was very lovely and atmospheric. It is a very recent piece music, and therefore has some experimental aspects. However, I believe this is a piece that can be appreciated by traditionalists as well as those of us who do enjoy avant-garde music.

While the soloists was highly skillful and clearly engaged in the music, he failed at drawing the listener in. Instead he remained in his own bubble and left the audience to fend for itself. Especially music that isn’t necessarily pleasing to the ear at all times, is very much in need of assistance from the player to engross the listener.

The main piece of the evening was also the highlight.

Shostakovich is masterful at beautiful melodies as well as fiery rhythms. My favourite moments during concerts, are when the sound lifts up the room and feels close to palpable. When all the senses take a break to let you completely focus on hearing every little detail in the sound surrounding you. This moment occurred several times during Shostakovich sixth symphony tonight. It made this concert an experience I’ll enjoy for a long time.

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Monday’s flaming orange, like Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz

“Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.”
– Leonard Bernstein

In my class on orchestra excerpts, we’re focusing on Symphonie Fantastique this month. In March we’re going to see Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal and performance. It’s all very exciting and interesting, and it felt fitting to pick that as this week classical piece.

I could go on for hours about the analytic parts to this piece and how important it is as a beacon and turn point and music history. My music history teacher in high school definitely did. In every class, for a week. I’m not going to do that, however. Because you’re not here to have a bunch music trivia shoved down your throat.

Instead I’m going to talk about the circumstances surrounding the writing of this symphonic piece. You see, a lot of people believe that Berlioz wrote Symphonie Fantastique while high on opium.

Hector Berlioz

Berlioz wrote notes following the music of his composition, telling the story of a musician falling in love with a girl. While resting in a field one evening, he convinces himself that the girl is unfaithful (note, there’s no mention of her actually being unfaithful, the protagonist only believes so). He tries to take his own life with an overdose of opium, but the dose is not strong enough to kill him. Instead he hallucinates that he kills his beloved, gets condemned and watches himself walk to the scaffold. When he dies, witches dance in a Sabbath for his funeral. Plot twist: His beloved leads the dance of the witches.

Berlioz wrote this symphony after falling in love with an Irish actress whom he fell in love with when seeing her on stage as Ophelia in Hamlet. He tried to write her, but she never responded. It was only after hearing the symphony and realising Berlioz’s genius, that she agreed to meet him. They were married the year after, but very so unhappy, they separated later.

Harriet Smithson, the Irish actress Berlioz fall in love with.

The parallels in these two stories are so obvious, I’ll leave it to you to find search for them. However, I can definitely imagine Berlioz hallucinating the whole of Symphonie Fantastique in an opium haze, and then decide to write it down once he woke up. I’m still not sure if Bernstein’s right about it being a cautionary tale about drugs, though.

Have a listen, and tell me what you think.

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Girl Crush: One song, four versions

For long time I’ve wanted to start a new series where I take close look at three or more cover versions of a song and compare it with the original.

Today is the first time I’ll do this series, and I have decided to start with Girl Crush by American Country band Little Big Town. It was a track on their sixth studio album from 2014. The cover versions I look at is by Pete Wolf Band, Ali Brustofski and Harry Styles.

The first one I listened to was the original version by Little Big Town. It’s a good example of pop country ballads that have been very popular the past few years. The instrumentals are kept very low and in the background to keep the focus on Fairchild’s vocals and that way also on the message in the lyrics.

They follow a very common pop formula in the building of the song; A-B-A-B-C-A1, or Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge (or in this case, a short instrumental), then a coda, or an ending, which in this case takes up the beginning of the first verse. Although it is ver standard, it’s still effective. The lyrics carry a very powerful message about the narrator has a crush on a girl, but not for the obvious reasons.

I found this cover on Spotify. It’s by Pete Wolf Band, a band that I’ve never heard about before and when I Googled them, I found that the rest of the internet doesn’t know much about them either. They are a German rock band who released their first album last year, consisting only of covers.

Girl Crush is the first song on the album, and already from the get go you can hear that they take the song in a different direction than the original in terms of genre. The electric guitar picks a quick lick before the vocals come in, a little raspy, resembling famous old hard rock ballads.
In the chorus, they’ve kept the backing vocals from the original, only made them louder to blend more in with the soloist.

Although it sounds different, this cover is built just like the original. If anything, I would have liked to see Pete Wolf Band change this formula up a little bit. Perhaps extended the guitar solo, or played around with the ending. It’s important for a successful cover to differ from the original in as many ways as possible.

Ali Brustofski was also a completely new name to me. A little research told me that she got famous as a Youtuber covering well-known artists.

This versionof Girl Crush, from 2014, goes very much more in the pop music direction, beginning with synthesized strings pizzicato, or plucking on the strings. It’s followed by piano and synthesized drums. This cover doesn’t use acoustic instruments at all, which makes it very different from any of the other covers I’ve listened to today.

Upon hearing this cover for the first time, I found the beginning very strange. I didn’t see the point of the strings, when they’re cut off by the piano after a mere four bar intro. Then I heard it again and noticed that the strings come back in later on in the song. Despite this clear thought through element in the production, the song doesn’t come off as anything more than an average pop song. There’s nothing about this track that stands out in the mirage of every other pop ballad.

Brustofski has cut the instrumental bridge out and goes straight from the second chorus into the ending. While this makes the cover different from the original, it does nothing to benefit the song. It makes it shorter by several seconds, and gives proof to the fact that the production is not done by someone confident enough to let the instrumentals be heard without the soloist.

Last up is Harry Styles. He recorded this cover of Girl Crush in September as a Spotify single.

This cover stands out from the others in many ways. The first thing that hits me is that it’s much slower than the original. Styles, like Pete Wolf Band, has also decided to stay away from the guitar pick arpeggios that are featured in the original. Instead he goes for strumming the guitar in deliberate randomness. The cover also features nothing but Styles’ vocals and guitar.

This cover is stripped bare and stands alone with nothing but the message in the song. Styles’ slightly raw, unrefined vocals carries the lyrics very well, and the song comes off as vulnerable and aching.

Another way that makes Styles’ cover stand out from the others, is how he adds time to the instrumental bridge in his cover and goes straight from it to a faded out ending, skipping the repeat of the first verse. It gives a sense that he’s said all he needs to say, and doesn’t feel the need to repeat anything.

When she heard I was looking for covers for girl crush, my roommate recommended that I also checked out a version that Styles did for BBC music, which I found on Youtube. In that version, the setup is much more commercialised and crowd pleasing, but it works because unlike the Spotify version, the one for BBC is in front of an audience. The live version is done in a lower key than the Spotify version, which makes it possible for Styles to jump up an octave into the second verse. He’s added a whole band to the ensemble and has backing vocals on the second verse as well as the chorus.

The BBC version ends with a 16 bar instrumental, twice as long as the original, including a lovely blues guitar solo, before it goes into the ending from the original, repeating the first verse. It shows that Styles is willing to play around with the material he has, and won’t do the same thing every time. That seems promising for when I go to see him live in March.

Four very different versions, all of them interesting in their own ways. Personally I prefer Harry Styles’ version. Not only because I listen to him regularly (Although that probably is a contributing factor), but also because that is simply more my genre of music. Saying a cover is better than the original version is usually an unpopular opinion, but in this case I think it’s better than Little Big Town.

Have a listen to the four versions and let me know what you think in the comments down below.

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