Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Warriors Classic 50 Movies, Disc 6

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Son of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (orig. Ercole l’invincible or Hercules the Invincible), 1964, color. Al World (Alvaro Mancori) (dir.), Dan Vadis, Spela Rozin. 1:20.

As offered here, this is one in a series of Sons of Hercules films, with a lively and very silly theme song at beginning and end—and apparently offered as a two-parter, since roughly an hour in we’re given a fast preview of the final 20-28 minutes as “in the next part.”

Never mind. At times fast-moving, at times just lots of scenery with son Argolese and his cowardly sidekick wandering around either looking for a city surrounded by lava or within the city. The first 20 minutes have the daughter of a rustic village king stripping down to take a swim (although she winds up holding her short tunic in front of her) and about to be attacked by a lion, which Argolese naturally defeats. He’s told that would be enough to win the hand of anybody but the daughter of the king—but for her hand he has to slay a non-fiery dragon that’s threatening the village and bring back a tooth. Which, with the aid of a witch, he does—all in the first 20 minutes,

Meanwhile, the soldiers of an evil queen—frim the lava-surrounded city—destroy the village and take all but the coward prisoner. That sets up the rest of the movie. We see that Argolese has almost unlimited strength (he can easily defeat hundreds of armed soldiers, partly because the only use they make of their spears is to let him grab them and throw them, once impaling three soldiers on a single spear), but he’s not quite strong enough to keep two circus elephants from tearing him apart—until his quick prayer to his gods results in one of the chains breaking.

Lots more plot in one final busy day, and all ends well—if we’re to believe that the beautiful daughter, who’s been strapped to a St. Andrew’s Cross and bleeding nearly to the point of death is wholly recovered six minutes after being rescued. I guess love is strong.

Silliness aside, this is well-mounted, a generally very good color print, panned-and-scanned well enough that it wasn’t bothersome, and fun. I’ll give it $1.50.

Gladiators of Rome (orig. Il gladiatore di Roma, and IMDB has the singular “Gladiator”), 1962, “color.” Mario Costa (dir.), Gordon Scott, Wandisa Guida, Roberto Risso. 1:40.

Sometimes life really is too short. The title credits were in yellow text on a shades-of-yellow background; after that, at least for the first 15-20 minutes, it was black, red and white, with various reds the only colors to be seen. Add to that the pace: several minutes of people talking so quickly that I could never follow the plot, followed by action sequences basically showing that the current emperor was a bloodthirsty villain determined to drive out Christianity at all costs. Oh, there’s a superhumanly strong slave—and a beautiful slave girl who is, according to the IMDB summary, really a princess.

What the hell. It’s on Amazon Prime and might even have real color there. I gave up. According to IMDB reviews, I was probably right to do so. $0.

Goliath and the Dragon, aka Vengeance of Hercules (orig, La vendetta di Ercole), 1960, color. Vittorio Cottafavi (dir.), Mark Forest, Broderick Crawford, Gaby André. 1:27.

Now this is more like it! Very widescreen (if your TV can zoom the small 3×4 picture), fairly good print (a bit red-shifted at times, but fine overall), and…did you notice the second named actor? That’s right, Broderick Crawford is King Eurystheus, the sadistic ruler of Italia, a kingdom nearby Thebes, which is protected by Goliath.

Goliath has been sent on a mission to restore the Blood Diamond from a god’s statue that Crawford hid—in a cave protected by three-headed/flaming dogs and, I guess, a not very impressive dragon. Crawford’s convinced that Goliath is dead, making Thebes right for the plucking. Things don’t quite work out that way…

The oddity here: we’re told early on that Goliath has been granted not only enormous strength but immortality—yet one of the subplots involves Goliath’s brother poisoning him (don’t ask). Maybe immortality has a different meaning than I thought?

Anyway: bare-chested specimens of brute strength. Women in peril. Men in peril. Telepathy. Visits from an ethereal representative of the gods—in the final one of which the representative apparently cares more for Goliath than for the gods. A reasonably happy ending. (Well, not for Crawford…)

There’s also a little peasant who could be a sidekick, but he’s only in the movie for maybe two minutes total. Oh, and Goliath is also apparently Emelius the Mighty. Oh, and Mark Forest is apparently our old friend Lou Degni.

Apparently the American version, which I saw, is significantly different than the original, including the pretty much unconvincing stop-motion animation of the non-flaming dragon. It also changed hero names because American International released it—and Universal owned the rights to Hercules. Gods are easy; studio licensing departments are tough.

Oh, the US version has all new music, by Les Baxter no less.

All in all, I found this one satisfying: by the low standards of Warrior flicks, a full $2.

Maciste in King Solomon’s Mines (orig. Maciste nelle miniere del re Salomone). 1964, color. Piero Regnoli (dir.), Reg Park, Wandisa Guida, Bruno Piergentili. 1:32.

Good things: the version I have doesn’t rename Maciste as Samson (although others apparently do, including the IMDB page, which clearly shows the Maciste title). Equal opportunity villains: the king who’s usurped the throne and his partner in crime, a woman who wants half the profits from the mines (which the old king had kept closed to avoid problems) are both sadists—which I guess explains why they take forever to carry out their Fiendish Tortures, thus allowing Maciste to save the day. Oh, and if you relish extended closeups of a grotesque hero’s muscles, well, you get lots of that.

Otherwise…it’s a panned-and-scanned segment of a widescreen movie. Another case where blues and yellows rarely appear. Reg Park comes off as an absolute doofus even when he’s not captive to a magic ankle bracelet (and yes, first overcome by a special garland—don’t these folks ever learn?). Indeed, his “acting” seems about as lively when he has no will as it does the rest of the time. It’s slow. And slower. Then, sometimes, it’s slow. Generously, $0.50.

If you have to ask…

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019

Way back in 2016, a Media commentary in Cites & Insights included my lament about not renewing Conde Nast Traveler, in part because the new editor had adopted the “If you have to ask…” policy–that is, eliminating all mention of hotel prices, since if you have to ask…

I don’t subscribe to National Geographic Traveler, which I suppose you could call a fellow Traveler, but my wife does and I read it. We’ll probably continue to get it. But I find that I’m frustrated by the same If You Have To Ask attitude: there are lots of mentions of hotels (and cruise lines, etc.), even roundups of them…and nary a clue as to how much they cost.

My reaction to IYHTA is to assume the worst: that hotels are probably $1,000 per night or more, that resorts are probably at least $1,500, that all-inclusives are $2,000 per night or more.

Just for fun, I took one recent issue, which as usual mentioned a lot of hotels, and did quick checks: jotting down the price if it took me less than 30 seconds to find one.

Not surprisingly, my worst-case assumption is unfair to many of the hotels–and I think it’s stupid and arrogant of NGT not to include basic price info. The usual three-hotels-in-one-city feature turned out to have prices of $112, $237, and one that’s not actually open yet. Much lower than I’d have guessed, especially since this was for a major European city.

Another article had one hotel, which turns out to cost $516. Another city feature had hotels at $134, $85, and $350.

Then there was a major feature on one class of resorts around the world–and from the descriptions and total lack of information I would have guessed $2,000 a day and up. In some cases I would have been right: $2,100; $2,250; $5,000 (all inclusive). But in other cases: $950; $769; $680; $450 all inclusive; $680; $490; $630; $930 all inclusive; $1,500 all inclusive; $360; $1,333; $303; $278; $1,430; $1,719; $631. That’s quite a range…and I would have wrongly ruled out a dozen of them because I’m not willing to pay $1,000 a night for a room.

Other articles? $360; $248; $266; $241 (both of these are much lower than I would have expected); $127; $169 (ditto these two); $263; $260; $232; $531.

The point? Many of these hotels are quite reasonably priced–but there’s no way to know that, given the If You Have To Ask attitude of NGT–and especially given prices for some of NatGeo’s own tours and cruises, and their branded lodges.

Too bad. I still like NGT, but it would be a lot more interesting and useful if it included just a little more information.

Saying goodbye: another OFP

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

I like good magazines. Good magazines are carefully curated* collections of content delivered on a regular basis, and if done well the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. (If done really well, the ads in a magazine actually enhance the package instead of getting in the way.) *I’m not wild about overusing “curated,” but I think it’s the right term for thoughtfully-edited magazines.

Saying goodbye to a magazine I’ve subscribed to for years is always difficult–made less so lately because I suffer from CTCT (Cover-To-Cover Tendency, the tendency to read all of a magazine) and can’t keep up. (This is also why I’ve never subscribed to The New Yorker and don’t subscribe to any weeklies: I couldn’t keep up.)

I said goodbye to one old friend of a magazine last year, but that was because Conde Nast Traveler‘s new editor had changed it from a content-heavy travel magazine full of good information into an oversized art portfolio with lots of photos, little text and never any prices for anything actually travel-related. It became one of those “if you have to ask” magazines. I still miss it. (Fortunately, Travel + Leisure seems to have stepped up its game, although I worry about the Meredith takeover of Time Inc. We shall see.)

This month marks two more goodbyes, for different reasons.

Porthole–one of two cruise-related bimonthlies we subscribed to for many years–always was an “if you have to ask” magazine and almost entirely fluff. We both finally just lost interest. (It wasn’t hard to jeep up with: I could usually read a whole issue over breakfast. And then note that I hadn’t gained anything from the experience other than a meal.)

Analog is a much tougher case. It’s the oldest of the surviving science fiction/fantasy print magazines (originally with a more vivid name), and published many first-rate stories in the “golden age” and beyond. I don’t know how long I’ve subscribed to it, but probably more than 40 years (based on my awareness that I’ve always read Asimov’s, and it’s celebrating its 40th anniversary). I’ve subscribed to all three remaining SFF magazines for many years, even as they’ve gone from monthly to bimonthly (but with the same fiction page count: each issue of each magazine is now, I’m guessing, well over 100,000 words long).

I’ve been falling behind, and decided something had to give. That something is Analog–and not just because I’m falling behind (thanks to more bookreading, other demands on my time, and just plain slowing down). The other factor is that recent issues seem to be short on good story-telling, as though the new editor doesn’t think that science fiction must first be fiction. Increasingly, I either give up on a story partway through or get to the last page and wonder why I didn’t find it satisfying or intriguing or humorous or informative or much of anything.

That “what did I just read, and why is it considered a story?” feeling almost never happens with Asimov’s or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, but it’s happening most too much of the time with Analog. So it’s time to say goodbye. It was great knowing you for some decades; too bad things have soured.

Getting it wrong–to your own disadvantage

Monday, October 16th, 2017

I wouldn’t bother to note a bonehead arithmetic error in an ad–even if it’s a full-page ad in Fortune–because there are so many of them. But this one was odd, because the error works to the disadvantage of the advertiser.

The ad is for Charles Schwab’s Total Stock Market Index Fund; I saw it in the August 1, 2017 Fortune (as usual, I’m about to months behind on magazines), but it’s probably appeared elsewhere.

The ad compares Schwab’s Total Stock Market Index Fund, 0.03% cost with $5,000 investment (or any investment), with Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index Fund, 0.15% cost with $5,000 investment.

And under the 0.15% says “Nearly 80% more expensive than Schwab.”

Which is a true statement, but a boneheaded one. 400% is “nearly 80%” with a whole lot left to spare.

The Schwab fund is 80% less expensive than the Vanguard–but percentages are not commutative: 80% more and 80% less are not at all the same thing. If A is 80% less than B is 400% more than A.

I’m not sure where the “nearly” comes from in any case, unless those cost percentages are rounded.

I suspect the error didn’t come from Schwab itself, but from a copywriter or editor who thought “80% more expensive” under Vanguard was more impressive than “80% less expensive” under Schwab.

In either case, it’s wrong. And boneheaded. (Not an attack on Schwab, given that we use them.)

A few more notes on the “Big Three”

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

…or…”What? Two posts within a week of one another that aren’t about C&I or OA? What is this world coming to?”

The most recent post was about the “Big Three” science fiction magazines and the fact that, as of January 2017, each one publishes six very large issues a year (to save money on postage and handling: the amount of fiction appears to about the same, the equivalent of one longish novel in each two-month issue).

I thought I’d add a few notes about the “Big Three” and my own reactions to them.

What’s so Big about the Big Three?

In 1980, Analog and Asimov’s each had about 100,000 circulation. That’s a lot for a print fiction magazine of any sort. F&SF ran about 60,000: still enough to make it one of the Big Three–especially since so few other magazines survived for very long (sigh: I do remember Galaxy and [Worlds of] If).

At this point, these three are mostly survivors of the pulp fiction era. By 2004, Analog was don to something like 40,000; Asimov’s to something like 30,000; and F&SF to something like 20,000. By 2009, those numbers were 26,000; 16,000; and 17,000 respectively.

The latest figures I can find for print circulation are lower, but not that much lower. The latest USPS form (in the Jan/Feb 2017 issues of Analog and Asimov’s, which curiously arrived on the same day) are–for the year as a whole–19,963 for Analog and 13,966 for Asimov’s; the latest-issue figures are in both cases nearly the same. The most recent figures I can find for F&SF have print circulation just under 12,000; I’ll update this post when the USPS form appears. (Unlike Analog and Asimov’s, F&SF actually publishes issues within the cover date range.) All three have electronic subscriptions as well, probably numbering in the thousands: it’s quite possible that overall circulation has stabilized. On the other hand, I wouldn’t pay more for a lifetime subscription than for a five-year subscription…

These are three distinctively different magazines, even if all three use small type on cheap paper (they’re still pulps) and the two A’s are the same length and published by the same company. Here’s my current personal take:

Analog

The one with the visible gears–this is very much the Hard Science Fiction place, also in some ways the traditionalist magazine. If you know about the Sad Puppies…well, they’re more likely to appear here than in the other two. It’s the only one where you can expect letters saying that certain stories Really Don’t Belong Here.

I’m finding more and more that the gears show in the writing as well. While some first-rate writers appear here, there’s more clunkiness here than in the other two; I’m finding a couple of authors that appear all the time where it’s liberating to give up after a few pages, something I almost never do elsewhere.

No fantasy. Humor tends to be frowned on (except in short-short “Probability Zero” pieces). Lots of science and “science” articles.

I’ll look at this one very carefully when renewal time comes around (like the others, subscriptions tend to be around $37/year or $63/two years: these mags just don’t have many ads). Maybe after decades of reading I’ve gotten too young for Analog.

Asimov’s

To my mind, the best writing tends to appear here (but F&SF is close), and there’s a broad mix of all types of science fiction, including humor and some fantasy. For a long time, you could predict that a significant percentage of Nebula and Hugo short-fiction and editorial nominees would be from Asimov’s, and as of its 40th year, the magazine notes that stories have won 53 Hugos and 28 Nebulas, with editors receiving 20 Best Editor Hugos.

[I just slapped together a little table using Wikipedia’s lists of Hugo nominees and the find function. Here’s what I find from 1978–when Asimov‘s began–to the present:

Analog Asimov’s F&SF
Novella 34 80 28
Novelette 32 78 30
Short Story 27 77 33

That suggests something about writing quality, I think. (Asimov‘s editor has apparently been nominated every year but one, and won half the time.)

Here’s a similar table for the Nebulas, chosen by writers–again since 1978:

Analog Asimov’s F&SF
Novella 23 75 42
Novelette 15 66 56
Short Story 8 55 48

Anyway: I’ve read Asimov’s from the start (kept ’em for 20 years but lost them somewhere along the way, more’s the pity: were it not for the mailing labels defacing covers, that collection would probably be worth something…) and I’m likely to keep reading it for years to come.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

I think the order of the title is significant: F&SF is particularly strong on fantasy and the occult, and tends not to have much hard science fiction. It uniquely runs cartoons and reader competitions, and has a healthy respect for humor.

I’ve read it for decades off and on, and am likely to keep doing so; I sometimes think I’m likely to outlast the magazine (which could, unfortunately, be true for all three). I’m not sure I have a “favorite” between Asimov’s and F&SF; both seem to have high editorial standards and publish a wide variety of good fiction.

Trying to imagine a Venn diagram of the three–that is, with overlaps for stories that could appear in more than one of them without raising the ire of the readers (that being apparently mostly an issue for Analog), I’d guess about a 20%-25% overlap between Analog and Asimov’s, about a 30%-35% overlap between Asimov’s and F&SF, and maybe a 5% overlap (if that!) between F&SF and Analog, although that overlap would have been higher before Asimov’s came along.

[When do I read these magazines? Back when I was speaking, we were vacationing, and I was attending conferences, I mostly read them during travels. Now I read them at lunch–and I’m about half a year behind, one reason that Analog may get cut.]

Science fiction magazines: the “big three” all 6 BIG issues a year

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

I’ve subscribed to all three of the “big three” of science fiction print magazines for a long time–e.g., I’ve read every issue of Asimov’s, which is in its 40th year, and both Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) even longer.

I put “big three” in scare quotes because none of them have large circulations. (There are other SF magazines, some of them probably in print, but these are the three with long histories.)

A couple of years ago, F&SF switched from monthly issues to bimonthly (that is, six times a year), while making each issue much fatter: the postage costs were killing them financially. Meanwhile, both of the others (which are both published by Dell, also home to two mystery magazines) went to slightly larger but fewer pages–and to 10 issues per year, two of them double-thickness.

Now the shift is complete: as of January-February 2017, all three magazines publish six double issues per year. (They’re double issues so they don’t have to double the length of outstanding subscriptions.)

Initially, I thought the results meant less fiction. Now, I think it may mean more, as fewer pages are devoted to columns, editorials and overhead. So, for example:

  • The November/December 2016 F&SF has four novellas and seven short stories in addition to its two book review columns and film column.
  • The January/February 2017 Asimov’s has one novella, four novelettes and seven short stories plus poetry, a book review column, and three other editorials and columns.
  • The January/February 2017 Analog has one novella, four novelettes and eleven short and short-short stories plus a fact article, book reviews, poetry and several columns.

That’s a lot of text–novellas are 17,501 to 40,000 words while novelettes are 7,500 to 17,500 words.

It felt like I was getting at least a fairly long novel’s worth of reading in each issue. A quick scan and crude OCR of page pairs from each of those issues bears that out. F&SF has smaller pages and a little more leading, but more pages: 256 pages, which seem to average about 370-400 words. In other words, with six pages of overhead an issue could have up to 100,000 words; I’d guess the average is 90,000 or more (given that four novellas alone are at least 70,000 words!). The other two appear to have 650 words per page (roughly), and run 208 pages; given 8 pages of overhead, an issue could have 130,000 words or so, and I’d guess these issues run on the order of 100,000 words.

(Those numbers could all be seriously off–this was just one pair of pages scanned using Canon’s built-in OCR routines. Let’s just say that each double issue is probably between 75,000 and 130,000 words, and quite possibly 100,000 words or more–in any case, at least as long as a novel.)

Now, if I could keep up with them…while still reading actual novels. I wonder how long they’ll survive in these book/zine forms?

 

It’s not just (some) librarians who seem professionally suicidal

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

Reading an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (via Kindle) about a magazine that started up three years ago and may not have money enough to produce any more issues.

With, but of course, an early paragraph about the curiosity of starting a new print magazine when (paraphrasing) magazines and newspapers are shutting down EVERY DAY.

Except…

Newspapers aren’t shutting down “every day.” After most afternoon newspapers (and, unfortunately, most competitive newspapers in most cities) shut down, there have been very few shutdowns–and, interestingly, ad revenue seems to have bottomed out and started rising again.

As for magazines, old ones do disappear (not every day, but every so often), as they have throughout the history of magazines. And new ones do appear (not every day, but almost) as they have throughout the history of magazines. Mr. Magazine (Prof. Samir Husni, who specifically tracks magazines available on newsstands) pretty consistently finds more startups than shutdowns every year. Yes, newsstand sales have continued to fall–but for most magazines (except People and a few others), newsstand sales are pretty much irrelevant. There’s a reason Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and ACLU have all introduced print magazines in the past few years–they work in a way few other media do. (It’s also true that there are a lot fewer multimillion-circulation magazines than there were years ago–but many more niche magazines. I think that’s a good thing, but then I never was much for the multimillion-circulation magazines. Except, I guess, for the biggest circulation magazine of them all: AARP The Magazine, which is steadily growing and now close to 24 million.)

Then, halfway through the article, we get to the “AHA!” moment, after blaming The Death Of All Print for the upstart magazine’s problems:

  • It doesn’t accept advertising, because that would impair the purity of the vision.
  • The online version not only doesn’t require subscriptions, it doesn’t accept them, because…

The founder’s pretty much upfront about wanting the magazine to be funded as somebody’s charity. That’s nice, but a failure to maintain that funding model has nothing whatsoever to do with The Death Of Magazines.

Meanwhile, Happy Holidays–all 27 of them during this season. For that matter, for a few of you, keep that colander shiny!

Another meaningless musical post

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Not sure why this stuck with me, but it did: a remarkable six-word lyric, to wit:

My heart cries out in desperation

which immediately precedes the chorus for the song (Ronnie Milsap, “Don’t Take It Tonight” if you’re too young to know it).

As far as I can tell, Milsap originated the phrase; Bing and Google show up other uses (mostly religion-related), but I’m guessing those authors copped it from Milsap, quite possibly without even realizing it.

In the original it is part of a love song–naturally, a lost love song.

Which brings me to the companion item: a remarkable little disquisition on happiness and love songs. This time the author is Harry Nilsson and it’s a bit long to quote without possibly being a copyright violation. So, instead, I’ll point you to the YouTube video:

I think the song’s hilarious in general (if you don’t know Nilsson, this is not, shall we say, his usual singing voice or accent). But the disquisition in particular comes as the spoken interlude in an otherwise-sung song, beginning right around 1:27 and running to 2:16.

For some of us, “…if everyone was happy…” is enough to trigger the whole sequence.

Have a nice weekend. (If you’re wondering, still happily married after 36.5 years. Tom Paxton wrote great lost-love/losing-love songs that didn’t refer to him either.)

The Final Economist

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

It arrived on Monday–two days later than the cover date, but that happens sometimes.

It’s sitting in the special throne room plexiglass stand used to hold magazines being read in the throne room.

For the last year, it’s been the only magazine there–because it takes more than a week of throne room visits to get through an issue.

I never actually paid for The Economist; it was a Magazines-for-Miles deal using airline miles from one of several airlines I never plan to use again. Even at the absurd $0.02/mile exchange rate (which most people now think grossly exaggerates the worth of airline miles), the “price” was nowhere near $160, the one-year subscription price; I think it was around $60.

I’m one of those readers: I read most magazines cover to cover, and we subscribe to a lot of magazines. (Including ones that come with various other arrangements–e.g., VIA, On Investing, AARP The Magazine, Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife, and now the new ACLU magazine–it’s something over two dozen.)

So next week I’ll go back to having a mix of magazines in the throne room stand–Fast Company (well suited to the location), some of the infrequent “comes because you do something” magazines, maybe Fortune if I’m ahead on other things.

I decided not to renew some months ago–quite apart from the $160/year, which is more than we spend on any four magazines, much less one.

A few of the reasons why:

What I Won’t Miss

The strained British/slang/invented language the “newspaper” uses.

The feeling that the only difference between “leaders” (editorials) and other articles is that the leaders are explicitly slanted.

The constant slagging of the U.S. and especially Obama.

Added 7/11: I especially won’t miss the frequent admonitions for the U.S. to get into another shooting war.

The special definition of “liberal” used when business or markets are involved.

The sheer volume of it all.

What I Will Miss A Little

Being better informed (to the extent that you can filter out the slant) about a range of nations and economic issues.

Some of the special sections.

I might say “The World in 2014”–but I never received that special issue, and by the time I realized I should have received it, it was far too late.

What I Will Miss The Most

I’ll miss this enough that I’ll probably start extending my library visits so I can catch up with recent issues (I’m assuming they keep at least four back; if not, I’ll have to start going more often).

The final page, especially when there’s no obvious candidate for the obituary of the week.

I find the final page superb. I plan to keep reading it.

[By the way, in case any silly person thinks the only reason I’m dropping The Economist is the price and thinking of giving it to me: Please don’t. Contribute a third of the cost, or a little less, say $50, to Cites & Insights.]

In some ways, I’ve liked having a weekly magazine. Time is such a shadow of its former self that I’d find it sad to take (I read it for years, back when there was some substance to it). I might look at The Week or, less probably, Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Most likely, I’ll get used to not having a weekly–after all, I do still read the daily, even if via Kindle Fire 8.9.

Songs and arrangements, 1

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

(Or maybe 15 or 20…it’s been a while.)

The songs I’ve kept–specifically, the 800-odd songs on my Sansa Fuze, chosen from my collection of a couple thousand–are there for various reasons, mostly pure pleasure.

That pleasure sometimes comes from the arrangements not just the songs. And sometimes what I believe to be the key theme of an arrangement…isn’t.

Two cases (only the second speaks to the paragraph just above):

I haven’t kept all that many old war protest songs, but I have kept Tom Paxton’s Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation. That’s partly because of the lyrics (the YouTube version I link to includes them; consider the wonderful chorus–“we’re sending 50,000 more to help save Vietnam from the Vietnamese”–but also the penultimate verse. Both say a lot about the Vietnam conflict.

But there’s another reason the song’s on my Fuze: It’s one of the few songs I have that uses a 12-string guitar in its orchestral/organ mode, the really mighty sound of a well-played 12-string acoustic. (Back in Berkeley, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I knew of a local who played Great Gates of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition on the 12-string–or maybe he played the whole suite. It was damned impressive.)

The second one’s entirely different: Uptown Girl by Billy Joel. That’s the one where what I always remember as the key element of the arrangement…really isn’t.

To wit–well, play the song. At 2;20 there’s a drum riff (two groups of three strikes). It’s repeated four times, I think.

My auditory memory tells me that the riff is used throughout the song.

It’s not: It’s only used during about 15 seconds near the end of the song.

[I always think of Uptown Girl as Joel’s tribute to the Four Seasons, but I may have the wrong group in mind.*]

Then there’s the single passage in James Taylor’s Gaia that makes it almost a test record for one aspect of speakers and headphones…but that’s another post.


*Or not. According to Wikipedia, Billy Joel says the Four Seasons served as inspiration for the song.