Wednesday, 31 December 2008

"Stop me oh-a oh stop me..."

Morrissey may have implored listeners to interrupt him if his lyrical meanderings seemed overly familiar, but for some of us, repeated listens to humour set to music aren't a chore.

Watching a recent documentary about comic songs, I couldn't help but notice the frequency with which the participants took on a defensive attitude. It seems that the comedy song is much derided and undervalued. On one hand that is odd to me, as it's a medium of humour I like very much. On the other, I can understand the wariness - whilst a bad Christmas cracker joke might annoy for a few seconds, a bad comedy song has the potential to elicit far more lasting displeasure. I experienced this first hand when I went to a Linda Smith charity benefit gig last year; though the woman herself was very funny, not all of her friends paying tribute were as amusing as they thought they were, and we were subjected to some 'comedy' songs so dire I wondered if I would ever laugh again.

But no matter - we recovered from the trauma eventually. Fortunately there are enough good songs out there to keep me on the writers' side. Given the frequent doom and gloom in the news of late (aka always), I thought it would be nice to wrap up this year (or start the next one, if you're temporally ahead of me) by sharing a small selection of some of my favourites.

So, to kick off, here's 'The Vatican Rag' by Tom Lehrer. As a Good Catholic Girl I should probably heartily disapprove, but it seems to me to neatly summarise a heck of a lot about Catholic practice and is rather funny to boot, so there you go.

Fast forwarding to the 80s, with a rather more earthly subject matter, 'Let's do it' is probably Victoria Wood's most famous song:

Already a hero of mine for his stance on Ginger Pride, Tim Minchin deconstructs romantic destiny in 'If I didn't have you'. The extent to which I find his mathematical analogies amusing may go some way to explaining why I am still single.

Back to this side of the globe, proving that not all the humour has to come from the pros are the Amateur Transplants. I was directed to 'The Anaesthetist's Song' (below) by a friend who aspires to make a career out of knocking people out. They appear to have done plenty of comedy song homework, as their 'Drug Song' pays heavy tribute to Tom Lehrer's 'Elements'.

Picking up on my previous blog post, it seems appropriate to link to one of Mitch Benn's most recent efforts. As a resident on The Now Show he has the (un)enviable task of having to come up with 2-3 songs per episode that reflect the week's news. Here's '(Stay the hell away from) Hallelujah':

And finally to finish with a spot of Bill Bailey. 'Love Song' was one of the highlights of 'Part Troll', and it's a testament to its popularity that when I saw him on his most recent tour, he performed this as an encore and the audience matched him word for word.

I hope that at least some of the above have raised a smile. Happy new year.

Monday, 29 December 2008

A love is not a victory march

The race for the Christmas number one slot was a bit different this year, what with the contest being fought mostly between a TV show winner and a dead guy who has never released a single over here, the result being the same song occupying the top two slots and featuring again further down the chart.

This is what happens when Simon Cowell tries to convey that he has musical discernment. Normally the X Factor winner would be given any old chart fodder for their first single, guaranteed to go to number one. This year, the bizarre decision was taken to use an epic Leonard Cohen song, covered by many, but the definitive version being widely regarded to be Jeff Buckley's from the album Grace.

Now, Grace is among my favourite albums ever, and Hallelujah is one of the high points. So naturally I joined the throngs of those expressing their dismay at the choice. Campaigns began on Facebook to implore people to overthrow the X Factor grip on the charts by getting other versions into the top ten on download sales. In a moment of festive madness, I even decided to join the flashmob planned to fill Trafalgar Square with hundreds of Buckley fans who would all burst into song at a given moment. The reality was rather more muted, as The Times was unfortunately on hand to note, but hey - I guess I can now say that I have sort of featured in a broadsheet newspaper. (In response to the article, I should like to point out that (i) they may have been up to twenty of us at one stage (ii) nobody was taking it particularly seriously (save for one rather intense individual) (iii) it was rather embarrassing when what I presume was the combination of cold and ridiculousness prompted us to all forget the words to the second verse and (iv) no eardrums were irrevocably damaged in the making of the protest, but I can't promise it was entirely melodic either).

Like many who objected to the song choice, I have nothing against Alexandra Burke - I think she has a great voice, seems like a lovely person and I wish her a long and happy career. Nor do I feel that the song is off-limits for covering - Buckley's version was not the last, and nor will Burke's be. For me, what was objectionable about the whole thing was seeing a great song commodified. It wasn't that the winning performer had chosen it because it had always been a favourite of theirs, or that they had performed it earlier in the competition and had their 'breakthrough moment' with it. Rather it seemed a case of, "This is the product, you have to sell it." To take a song loved by so many and to use it in that way rather taints what emotive music is about.

Inevitably, despite their passion, the Buckley fans lost the battle for the top spot. But to get an unreleased version to number two, ahead of another X Factor alumnus was pretty impressive. And perhaps the whole thing will prompt a few more people to give Grace a listen, which is no bad thing. Maybe Cowell will reflect upon the overall response and conclude that his choice was ill-judged. Or maybe he'll be buying the rights to another classic song as we speak...

Jeff Buckley
Originally uploaded by
Café du Monde

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Good news

It's nice to know that sometimes, just sometimes, there exist stories in the news to which the only possible response is to smile.

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