Instant Replay: 054
Stevie Wonder — Love Having You Around
For many people, the four albums that Stevie Wonder made when he turned 21 — and gained full artistic control over his work — are as good a run as any artist has ever produced. "Music of My Mind," "Talking Book," "Innervisions," and "Fulfillingness' First Finale" are as good as it gets. (No space here for the debate about whether "Songs in the Key of Life" is part of this run.)
Recently, a group of 16 year-olds I coach and play bass for at Brookline Music School brought up this song, the very first song on the first of those albums. Far be it from me to dissuade these young musicians, so we dove in and we're doing our best living up to the impossibly funky and soulful Mr. Wonder.
I would note that the trombone solo is played by Art Baron, who also recorded with Duke Ellington and Bruce Springsteen. Nice resume! The rest of the instruments — and all the voices except for a bit of Syreeta Wright — are Stevie himself, the sound of a genius who has been freed to be all of himself.
Tony & The Monstrosities — Igor's Party
In the novelty Halloween song "The Monster Mash," the graveyard smash is kicked off by a creature practicing dance moves in the lab, late one night. But why was the monster cutting a rug in the first place? My theory: he was getting ready for Igor's famous party.
In "Igor's Party," the titular hunchback hosts the monster's union for a castle bash. It sounds like quite the chaotic scene: The Purple-People Eater lives up to his name, and Dracula gets a dance with Frankenstein's mother! The falsetto chorus is an ear worm, hinging on a pretty sly pun: graveyard-keeper Igor "digging" a rock'n'roll band. Toss this on your Halloween Party playlist to add a pinch of 1960s kitsch flavor.
Thom Yorke — Unmade
I love horror movie soundtracks! A good spooky song in a film can become synonymous with fear itself (I'm looking at you, John Williams). But the song I bring you today is decidedly not spooky. Dario Argento's 1977 film Suspiria has a beloved, creepy soundtrack by the rock band Goblin. When director Luca Guadagnino remade Suspiria in 2018, he chose Thom Yorke of Radiohead to redesign the film's musical landscape. The resulting score is gorgeous, as well as eerie, nostalgic, and hypnotic. The song "Unmade" plays during an especially terrifying part of the movie, and yet it sounds so comforting that it almost makes the scene beautiful . . . almost.
Alfred Brendel — Ludwig van Beethoven: Rage Over a Lost Penny
Hearing this on CRB recently reminded me what a perfect little piece of music it is. Robert Schumann described it better than I can: “It would be difficult to find anything merrier than this whim . . . It is the most amiable, harmless anger, similar to that felt when one cannot pull a shoe from off the foot.” Argh!
Snoopy, The Musical: Original London Cast Recording — Edgar Allen Poe
OK, it IS the season of the Great Pumpkin, and we ARE in the land of that wild-eyed, raven-haired poet himself, Edgar Allan Poe (have you seen this amazing statue near the Boston Common??), so this piece seemed MOST fitting. I've always loved Peanuts, and this particular musical number captures the dual auras of fear and punk-rock pop-star that Eddy "The Raven" Poe radiates, even from beyond the grave. There's even a vocal canon at one point, also capturing a favorite musical element. Have fun with this one — dance it out and sing along!
(Bonus: You can watch the original cartoon version here!)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta — Charles Griffes: Clouds
Lately, I have been consumed by the music of the early 20th Century composer Charles Griffes. While he is perhaps most widely known today for his songs, primarily composed in a late German-Romantic idiom, he eventually became one of the earliest American adopters of impressionism in music, infusing French-style coloristic orchestration with the musical architecture widely associated with the Germanic tradition. Of these later works, one of my favorites is the orchestrated Clouds, originally written for piano in his set Roman Sketches. This recording with JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is exceptional:
MUNA — One That Got Away
A Gen-Z friend turned me on to MUNA; this is what the kids are listening to, but 80s and 90s pop fans will find lots to love. Let's eavesdrop, and enjoy the beats.
Danny Elfman — What's This?
You can keep Freddy and his Nightmare on Elm Street. When October hits, the only nightmare I'm looking to enjoy is The Nightmare Before Christmas, with good, ol' Jack Skellington. I love singing along with the kids — although we stumble through most of it. This song, sung by composer Danny Elfman, is the most fun to sing along to.
Listen to this month's playlist, and find the full, cumulative playlist here.