Archive for ‘Music’

17/05/2012

Five Songs to Cry to…

I think that almost everyone must have their own song that for no apparent reason will always put them in floods of tears. But there are also songs which most people will probably agree on simply being heart wrenching to listen to. So in the spirit of shared total misery, today I have decided to make as many of my readers as possible in to tearful wrecks. You’re all so very welcome.

Anyone who actually has these on their MP3 player, is verifiably nuts, and hardcore masochistic.

5: Who Wants to LiveForever? – Queen.

Originally from that classic 80’s movie “Highlander”, this song is to be the most heart wrenching ever sung by Freddie Mercury. Seriously I challenge anyone hearing this for the first 50 times not to end up teary-eyed. I know I never did.

Best listened to with a sword in one hand, and a box of Kleenex in the other.

4: When Somebody Loved Me – Sarah Mclachlan.

Have you watched Toy Story 2? Have you watched Jessie’s flashback to her first owner? Did you listen to that song? Did you cry?

You didn’t? Really?

You frikkin’ liar!

Best listened to just after you realise that your puppy is aging 7 times faster than you. Damn that’s depressing.

3: Winter Song – Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson.

Like probably 90% of it’s fans, I first heard this song at the end of the final episode of “real” Scrubs. It played to a flash-forward of J.D.’s life after leaving Sacred Heart. And you know what because of this piece of music it took me 9 attempts to be able to watch that scene through without breaking down into tears.

Best listened to while walking along a canal, noticing all the death, and decay in the hedgerow alongside it. (Emo or what?!)

2: The Calling – Regina Spektor.

Yes, I know, it’s from the soundtrack to Prince Caspian. Let’s forgive the female singer, who happens to have the coolest name ever, her need to earn a crust. This song just tears me apart when I hear it. The lyrics are tough enough on the old emotional centers, but when she reaches the chorus I just end up curled in a ball on the floor.

Best listened to…well someday best listened to when thinking about god children I don’t have yet.

1: Dance With my Father Again – Could be several people…

Okay speaking of my Partner in Crime, this one’s for her. I have no idea which version gets to her the most, but I went with the Luther Vandross version, because it’s the only one I know. Anyway I’m guessing I better have the tissues, and tea on standby after posting this.

Love you Rosie.

Best listened to from the kitchen while making tea for a tearful Rosie.

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12/04/2012

A Creative Soul Needs a Little Help.

Last weekend it was brought to my attention that a certain musician was in need of assistance. That musician being the genre defying Dr. Carmilla. I will however let her explain what it’s all about herself.

Funding Campaign

In over a year of writing for this blog I have never posted with regard to anything like this. But I truly believe that this artist is that talented, and deserving of any help my readers can lend her.

(Please reblog this everyone, let’s help this brilliant musician achieve her dream.)

01/12/2011

Top 10 “Fuck Yeah!” Songs of the 80’s.

So after a Saturday of trawling through YouTube looking for a little amusement, it suddenly occurred to me to go looking for the music that I vaguely remember from my childhood. Being a child of the 80’s, I got to enjoy the two best decades of music, with the 90’s being the second. Admittedly, the 1980’s had a lot of trash. Real extra high-grade crapola. But on the other hand it also had some of the very best “Fuck Yeah!” motivational music ever. Think about it. If there’s a piece of music that pumps through your mind when the shit goes down, and you are aged 30 or older, the odds are it’s from the 80’s.

(Okay technically at least I’m an 80’s child, I was born in ’78 but I’m buggered if I can remember a damned thing from the 70’s.)

So here we go with my rather unique, and very personal Top 10 1980’s “Fuck Yeah” songs. And while most of these will probably end up being from one movie soundtrack or another, since it’s my list you won’t find “Eye of the Tiger” in there. I do have some self-respect, though as you’re going to see, not very much.

10.  Invincible – Pat Benetar.

As I mentioned in my review of “The Legend of Billie Jean.” this was the big musical hit of that movie, even though the movie itself bombed. Look out for Miss Benetar being her incredibly beautiful self, weird fire effects, and some shots of ridiculously the young Christian and Helen Slater.

Best listened to when seeing off vast ravening hordes of aliens, while wearing your powered armor.

The best “Fuck Yeah!” line, every time she sings  “We will be invincible!”

 9. Man in Motion – John Parr.

Featured in the Brat-Pack classic, St. Elmo’s Fire. This is one of those songs which shouldn’t work. After all it’s about a bunch of  privileged American college kids, and their unending bitching about how much their lives suck…no hang on that could actually be the movie. Well it’s hard to keep these things straight. Regardless this is one of those songs which seems to regularly end up on the background loop in gyms the world over.

Best listened to when you’re getting your guts together to ask someone out. After all if she says “No.” the lyrics have been preparing you to just keep on moving.

The best “Fuck Yeah! line, “You broke the boy in me, but you won’t break the man!” For some reason this line even works for girls.

 8. Together in Electric Dreams – Phil Oakley.

Yes, I do realise that this is a love song. Yes, I do realise it is cheese given lyrical form. But do you know what? After listening to this for less than a minute, I’m just about ready to take on anyone. This may have something to do with vague childhood memories of wanting Virgina Madsen to date me more than anything in the world, aside from a new He-Man toy. It may have something to do with Oakleys magnificent hair-style in the video. Hell it may have something to do with my rapidly approaching psychotic breakdown. But whatever the reason this song does it for me.

Best listened to while you’re kicking someones ass, preferably with while wielding a sword, for the hand of the divine Virginia Madsen.

The best “Fuck Yeah!” line, “No matter where I go, I know I’ll never find a better prize.”

7. Rush Hour – Jane Wiedlin.

So this song is a little insipid. It’s kind of saccharine sweet, as in nauseating. And yet if this comes on the radio I suddenly get the overwhelming urge to steal a car, find a bad girl, and go cruising. The catch being that I don’t even know how to drive!

Best listened to while beating the classic Playstation game Wipeout, in the vain attempt to impress a girl who just doesn’t care.

The best “Fuck Yeah!” line, there isn’t really one. Seriously, there just isn’t. I don’t know why this song makes me want to crazy things, but it sure as hell isn’t down to the lyrics. I guess it must be Miss Wiedlin herself.

6. Hungry like the Wolf – Duran Duran.

It’s all too easy to laugh at Duran Duran these days. After all here was a group of apparently straight men, who were more primped than any of the girls in their audiences. But you can’t deny that they wrote some absolutely killer songs. Back in the days when I ran regularly this was always on my playlist.

Best listened to, secretly, hidden in a basement, at night.

The best “Fuck Yeah!” line, “Stalked in the forest, too close to hide, I’ll be upon you by the moonlight side.” There really wasn’t a lot to choose from.

5. Welcome to the Jungle – Guns n’ Roses.

Now let’s start by saying this. I loathe Guns n’ Roses. Hatred is not a strong enough word. When I even hear the name of the band I get the overwhelming urge to murder entire cities. Hence this being on a motivational song list. Some day they’ll be my motive for murder…No really while I don’t like this band, even the worst band can have just one amazing song, and for me this is it. The whole song hangs together perfectly, it’s exciting to listen to, and it just make you want to go out, and pound some concrete.

Best listened to while free running in any city, but preferably on the set of a Bond movie.

Best “Fuck Yeah!” line, “If you want it you’re gonna bleed but it’s the price to pay.” Says it all really.

4. Rock you like a hurricane – Scorpions.

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. This is the song you play before that first date with the girl of your dreams, I know I have. Before you go for that big job interview, again I have. Hell the Pope probably listens to this at full blast before he says mass, ummm nope not done this one.

Best listened to. LOUD!

Best “Fuck Yeah!” line “Here I am, Rock you like a hurricane!” Well come on what else could I choose?

3.  You’re the best around – Joe Esposito.

This one is a cliché. I know it is. Everyone who has ever written a post like this has used this song. But there’s a reason clichés exist, and in this case it’s so you can headbutt your way through that solid steel wall that’s lying between you, and your goal. Look this song even made the impossibly uncool Ralph Macchio cool for a full 3 minutes and 9 seconds. That’s how powerful Joe Esposito is.

Best listened to while trying to remove that burnt in rice pudding from last nights dinner. Cause damn it, if you have to do it, you may as well be the best around at it.

Best “Fuck Yeah!” line, “Never doubt that you’re the one, and you can have your dreams!” Ah the dream of a pudding free saucepan.

2. The Neverending Story – Limahl.

Remember when I mentioned not having much self-respect. Well this is the proof. Yes, in my number 2 slot, (when you’re quite done laughing), is the theme tune from one of my favourite childhood movies, The Neverending Story. It’s another one that probably shouldn’t be on this, or any other, list but somehow is a real “Fuck Yeah!” song for me.  That might have a lot to do with my having a very, very early crush on the girl who played the heroine Atreyu…yeah that was an AWKWARD conversation, the day when someone had to tell me that she was actually a boy. Yeah, well anyway.

Best listened to curled up in a fetal position while trying to drown out the screams of your early sexuality being mangled.

Best “Fu….there aren’t any. None.  I’m sorry but I tried to find even one, and there just isn’t. But interesting fact the boy, and he was definitely boy, who played Atreyu also played Boxey in the original Battlestar Galactica. Yeah, I never liked that character either.

1. Princes of the Universe – Queen.

Well really who else could I have put at number 1? 20 years after his death, and Freddie still makes neck hairs the world over stand on end. From the wonderful movie “Highlander”, this song is quite simply rock perfection. I mean come on, the video even has Christopher Lambert as Connor MacCloud right there in it, and Freddie fights him, sword to…microphone. But still, wow.

Best listened to while single, and barehandedly wiping out an entire brigade of alien mech-warriors. Mech-warriors who always appear somewhere nearby whenever this song is played, purely to give the listener something to destroy. It’s that, or let them conquer the world.

Best “Fuck Yeah!” line, I couldn’t pick just one, so here’s four;

“Got to pass the test first time, yeah
I know that people talk about me
I hear it every day
But I can prove them wrong ’cause I’m right first time”

Freddie we still love you.

26/11/2011

Do you know what it feels like to get something so right?

I am learning to play the ukulele. I’m sure you’ve gathered that by this previous post, and this one, oh and this one too. But what I’ve yet to speak about in my blog, is the fact, that while I am learning to play the ukulele I have virtually no musical background to speak of. I won’t say none, I did learn the tinwhistle for a year in primary school. But at the time I could never even vaguely comprehand standard musical notation, and so learned to play, to a reasonable standard, a very simple, even very limited instrument purely by ear.

Tuesday of this week past was an odd day. I spent much of it trying to script out a burlesque act, or at least what I think would make a fun one. While I did that I chatted with someone special online. But after everything else was finished I pulled out my ukulele, loaded up the .PDF’s of my sheet music, and started to practice.

I’ve developed a love for playing a certain style of renaissance music. It has very few strums, but instead uses a lot of multi-string plucks, and intricate finger style play. It gives the sound of the ukulele a wonderful harp-like quality. And I simply adore playing in that style. Though admittedly, I do usually play any style of music rather badly.

I’m not a natural musician. I do have fairly a decent sense of rhythm, and timing. But I still find reading standard notation extremely difficult. If you struck two notes I couldn’t tell you what either of them were. Often I’d even be hard pressed to tell you which one was higher or lower. But I’ve worked hard over the last few months, and while I still can’t read standard sheet music proficiently, I can understand enough to know how long a note should be held for. How intensely it should be played, and what tempo is required for a given segment. This added to the tabulation method of writing music, at the very least allows me some small chance of occasionally hitting the right notes, in the right order and in the right way.

So Tuesday I practiced for an hour or so. Worked my way through my scales, as well as the various pieces of music I play during each practice session to stretch out my left hand, and improve my accuracy. Then that done I then went on to the internet to see if I could find something new to try my hand at. After all, there’s only so many times you can play “Moon River”, “Scotland the Brave” or “Hall of the Mountain King” before your brains start to melt.

Well, after a little while I found a random piece of 17th century guitar music. Lot’s of double, and triple plucks, only a couple of strums, those nice and relatively simple. In short, ideal. Now before that day on finding a new piece of music, I’d almost always headed straight to YouTube to find out how it was supposed to sound. But Tuesday I decided to see if I could read through the mixture of notations a few times, and then play it cold. So that’s just what I did.

I picked up my ukulele, and for about two minutes Amanda simply vanished as a conscious being.

There’s a thing that happens when you type a lot. You reach a stage where you no longer think at all about where each of the keys are. You just think and type automatically. It took me years to reach that stage as a typist. But these days I can, and often do type like that. To me that feels like the words flow from my fingertips like a stream of water.

Playing that piece of music on Tuesday. Cold, having never heard it before, felt similar. I read the music, I plucked each note in turn, performed the strums with surprising ease. The fingers of my fret hand seemed to know how to position themselves just right. The fingers of my plucking hand felt like they were dancing over the strings. It all felt right. But I never once thought about what I was playing. I read written music on the screen, and audible music came from my hands. No thought, no consciousness involved.

When I’d finished the piece, and after I’d gotten over a really odd feeling of shock at it being finished, I went to YouTube.

It wasn’t a complex piece, and I imagine for any accomplished musician it would have been laughably easy to play, but to my utter delight I not only played it well, but very nearly perfectly. I held a couple of notes too long, things like that. But it was the first time since I picked up a ukulele that I felt I was actually moving to a realm where I can someday describe myself as a musician. Not just a player of an instrument, but an aspirant musician.

But the best part was how it felt. Touch typing like that feels like water flowing. But that feeling can’t compare to this. When you type, and screw up you hit the backspace, nothing is lost, it’s a natural thing to quickly repair the fault, and move on. When you pluck a musical note, that’s it. There’s no way to ever force that genie back into its bottle. So playing that well for once, using the full limits of my present musical skills, didn’t feel like anything that flows.

No, it felt like flying, and I want to feel it again.

10/11/2011

A review of the Mahalo Les Paul ukulele.

Right so I was originally messing about my my lil sisters Ohana uke while she was wandering around Spain for part of the Summer. Of course when I expressed orgasmic delight at playing it she went and bought me a Les Paul electro-acoustic model as my first uke.

So what do I have to say about it after three months of ownership? Well I do love it.  There’s simply no getting away from the fact that it is delicious to look at. It’s slightly larger than a standard soprano ukulele, but considering the fact that at 5’10” I’m slightly larger than the average ukulele player this is definitely a good thing. It comes pre-strung with Aquila strings, this for those who don’t know is a wonderful thing. Most uke’s come pre-strung with knicker elastic. They’re hard to tune, and impossible to keep in tune once you do. Where as Aquila’s are easy to keep in tune once the initial stretching period is over with.

For a mass produced instrument the finish is good, not excellent, but good. There are several small imperfections in the varnish, and the dye beneath it. The tuners are good quality and have never needed adjustment to hold tune. The action might be slightly high for a lot of players, but since I have kind of strong fingers don’t have any problems playing it myself. That said when I do restring it I will probably reduce the action very slightly.

I did come up against a few minor niggles. The wires inside the body of my uke buzzed at first. That problem however was easily fix by unscrewing both of the external panels in turn and sticking the wires down with miracle tape, aka duct tape. Then I found that it was still buzzing when I played the C string with any sort of gusto. After a little effort I traced that issue to a cable tie inside that hadn’t been trimmed down, and so was vibrating against one of the braces on the back of the soundboard. So out came long pair of scissors, and a long jewellers tweezers and that was fixed.

Other than that there are some very minor intonation issues with some frets beyond the 9th or 10th fret. But they are extremely minor, and since I have something of a tin ear from too many concerts, nightclubs and raves in my 20′s, to my mind they add to the unique sound of my particular uke. Although they do make my puppy, and violin/guitar playing partner wince a lot of the time, she being one of those perfect pitch type people. (By minor I mean that on a chromatic tuner the note on a given fret is either only very slightly high or low. And I mean very slightly.)

My only real gripe with this ukulele isn’t actually with the instrument, but rather with the instrument bag it comes with. It’s flimsy, badly stitched rubbish. Frankly if you wrapped it in brown paper you would be vastly improving the situation. I wouldn’t trust it to keep dust off of my uke. So the very first thing I bought was a hard-case for my baby. I would strongly suggest you do too.

Now there are those who say that only about 1 in 3 Mahalo Les Pauls are actually playable. So perhaps I got lucky. But I have since getting mine, fiddled around with a few in random music shops , and so far I have yet to find one that’s as unplayably awful as some people make them out to be.

I have yet to talk about how it sounds when played as an electric-ukulele. This is because right now I  don’t have the means to test it. But you can expect a review of this aspect in the New Year. Yup there’s an Orange mini-amp that’s seductively calling my name.

I feel that the Les Paul is a pretty good first uke. It’s a joy to play, a joy to look at, and it makes me smile everytime I pick it up. It’s a budget uke so you do get what you pay for, which is relatively cheap and cheerful. But be warn this one will lead to a very severe case of Ukulele Addiction Syndrome. I should know I’m already planning on not just buying an nice concert uke in the future, but on actually building more than a few also. Stay tuned for more information on that in the near future.

18/08/2011

Being a Ukulele bad-ass, or how I discovered a love for messing about with a teeny guitar like object.

So my adopted lil sister, the Pyxie, went to Spain for a few weeks.  Along with the nagging worry I always have when she’s out of the country, she also left me with her ukulele.  A really sweet lil Ohana SK-10S.  So out of curiosity and large dose of chronic insomnia I picked it up one night, and a Google search led me to website Ukulele Hunt.  After about 2 hours of learning to tune it, and pluck a few simple exercises I had come to four surprising realisations.

1. The Ohana SK-10s comes pre-strung with what I can only assume is knicker elastic.  That first 2 hours session I found myself tuning it again every ten minutes.  Though it did improve with time, I believe the C string is still an inspiration for serious swear word creation.

2. I really like the ukulele as an instrument. It’s very light and easy to handle, which makes it an ideal instrument if you, like I, suffer from a lot of physical pain and weakness.  What’s more, you can pick it up and 2 hours later with some serious effort be picking out a couple of nice little tunes.  Or put another way, it’s an instrument that’s fun and easy to play, but I suspect will prove a right bugger to master.

3. You don’t have to strum the lil bugger.  When you see a ukulele played on telly, it’s usually strummed, rarely do you see it plucked.  But this instrument can sound almost harplike if you pluck it just right.  And it’s a wonderful thing to learn to play melodies on.

4. And finally, it’s spelt “Ukulele”, not “ukelele”.  Yeah I know!  I was kinda shocked too.

Anyway, after a couple of weeks of some semi-serious messing about on the Pyxies ukulele I was hooked.  I say semi-serious because it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when your best two pieces to play on it are “Popeye the Sailorman” and “It had to be you.”

Then the Pyxie came home and bought me my own one.  I was kinda stunned.  I mean ukuleles aren’t crazily expensive instruments, but if you want even a vaguely good sounding one they are defiitely not cheap either.  She got me a gorgeous Mahalo Les Paul electro-acoustic model.  Very pretty, kind of sexy in a bad ass sort of way and a little larger than her own.  The latter a very good thing as Mother Nature did not bless me with petite fingertips, and on her Ohana I had serious problems not hitting a second string by accident.

Isn't it so pretty? And it even sounds as good as it looks.

So after a couple of practice sessions I am now even more hooked on my own ukulele than I ever was on hers.  And I learned another important lesson.

5. Aquila strings are the shit.  Seriously, they sound so much better I simply can’t get over it.

So yes, this is meant to be a review.  Well here it is.  The ukulele is not a toy instrument, it is a serious piece of musical kit.  It can be strummed, plucked, made to sound almost like a harp and even tapped with a finger to make a reasonable lap-drum if you feel like it.  I would definitely recommend one as a first instrument for a young child or even a young hearted adult, simply because you feel that you’re making progress the whole time you practice, from the very first minute.  They make a great instrument for someone who is physically a little frailer than average, because they simply don’t take much physical strength to use.  They come in several sizes, meaning even the Incredible Hulk could probably find one to suit his oversized hands.  Aquila strings as I have already mentioned are quite simply, the shit.

Oh and The Uke Bad-ass as far as I’m concerned is Alistair Wood, owner and writer of UkuleleHunt.com.  For creating probably the best online source for ukulele knowledge and being the author of Ukulele for Dummies.

P.S. Thanks for the mini-axe Pyx.

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