By The Landlord
"They're playing our song." – Carole Bayer Sager
Welcome back to the Song Bar all, where during this very week, with a swish of curtain and a whoosh of beer pump, our thronging song-sharing saloon slips serenely into its second birthday! Let's take a moment to savour that before talking about the new topic. Here, in that time, we can celebrate over a hundred deeply delved weekly topics, double that in playlists thoughtfully forged by fantastic guest writers, not to mention much newly released music in our other sections. But let’s not forget how this Bar is also a shrine to tens of thousands of other songs suggested, and millions of thoughts expressed, all captured here as collections are cultivated, and friendships forged with a clink of a glass, a click of appreciation, and brilliantly brewing banter and badinage.
So how can we celebrate this without, as is always the Bar’s calling card, doing the obvious? Well, here goes … what if in this spirit the Song Bar's theme took to its own metaphorical stage, its own Oscars awards ceremony, or a film set, or theatrical extravaganza, whereupon with the entrance of each person, songs or instrumental music accompanies them and help to enhance or announce character, charisma or more subtle sides of personality? Let me explain more …
In the past I’ve touched on my own occasional moments of surreal fantasy in which, when walking down a city street, or entering a shop, or any public place or even work, that during the drone of traffic, the habitual hubbub of chatter, the repetitious exchanges of conversation, task, travel or retail, that everything is suddenly elevated into the world of song. That the person working the supermarket till will suddenly stand up and soar into a beautiful aria about the bagging area, that men working on those roadworks will break out into song-and-dance routine in the manner of West Side Story, that the many rows of heads staring at computers in offices will suddenly lift, like trumpet valves in shiny golden sequence, becoming rows of elegant voices proclaiming the launch of the latest press release, story, announcement, special offer, insurance policy, or stock market flutter, and that the task of drab data input will somehow become converted into a harmonious sequence that, whether in current affairs or leisure industry, click of financial exchange or clank of factory machinery, will collectively express how “all the sound of the Earth is like music".
So this got me thinking that, although this is the stuff of musicals, or surreal moments from a Dennis Potter TV play, while we all must bash through the daily chores of work, home, travel and more, songs can still make life special. They can capture something that we all share, but also still define how unique we are in our varying perceptions and feelings towards them. And so, imagine, for the purposes for this week’s topic, that if, instead of the world being a fantasy musical in which supermarkets become mass singalongs, where board meetings become barbershop quartets, or train stations turn into Greek choruses or Italian operas, that when walking through a door, or entering any scene, home, or workplace, shop or bar, if every individual had their own theme tune or song. What would that music be?
Would it be brassy, bouncy or bold, subtle or sensitive, melancholy or moving, classy and classical, soulful or sexy? Would it instantly and in an extroverted way, be looking to say something about them, or more introvertedly only be willing reveal their character and have a secretive, slow build? Think of your own if you like, though that may be difficult, but perhaps more fruitfully what song might work to introduce people you know personally as well as those in the public eye.
We’re all forged by our influences, and this week, my mind goes back to a children’s TV programme, Bod, that was first broadcast in 1975, and surely imprinted itself on my overactive imagination. This animated series, narrated by John Le Measurer (who played gentle Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army) along with Maggie Henderson, and the music was by the great Derek Griffiths. In a wonderfully simple formula, each time a character appeared, their theme tune would play out, as a way of reinforcing their presence and identity. So Bod, the boyish main character, has a theme with cheekily upbeat whistle and violin – with a touch of Stephane Grappelli about it. Aunt Flo meanwhile resembles a grumpy teacher or frumpy librarian figure, but rather mischievously enters with a slightly sexy saxophone theme. Frank the Postman has a groovy, easygoing early-70s folky style. Farmer Barleymow drives his tractor to the sound of late-night jazz clarinet. And PC Copper’s pom-pa-pa-pa-pom theme has a cod-opera self-important seriousness to it. All absurdly simple of course, but it’s amazing what you can gather about a character from a snippet of music.
Classical music uses themes and recurring themes in many more intricate, complex and subtle ways, played by different instruments at varying volumes or speeds, and sometimes as undercurrent in later movements to express narrative and character. This occurs particularly in opera and symphony, but perhaps the among the most obvious, but also evocatively beautiful is Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 “symphonic fairy tale for children” Peter and the Wolf. Each character is identified by a theme and an instrument, from the soft innocence of the strings for Peter, to the harsh, haunting sound of the French horn for the wolf. Many have narrated this story, but here’s David Bowie’s version:
Film music is also a very effective form for announcing or delineating character, and one surprise example came from classical composer Malcolm Arnold, who wrote comical, but clever music to capture the chaos and humour capturing the anarchy of The Belles of St Trinians - the first of the Ealing comedy 1950s girl school films starring Alastair Sim and Joyce Grenfell. Within this the spiv character, Flash Harry, played by a young George Cole, who later became dodgy car dealer Arthur Daley in Minder, has is own fantastic entrance music:
This topic however is not merely to suggest music that has already been used in this way, but as much that could effectively and entertainingly be done so. Standup comedians and sports stars, particularly wrestlers and boxers, enter their stage with music that is designed to say something about them. It might be all about the dazzle and dazzle of showbiz, but beneath the surface there is often something more being said. But what is the music style or song lyrics saying here? This is who I am, or this is who I want you to believe I am?
Mike Tyson would sometimes swagger out to DMX’s What’s My Name? – though you’d think we’d have known it by then, so by 1996 he used 2Pac’s Road to Glory, which namechecked him just in case we were in any doubt. Chris Eubank, as modest as all the rest, rather liked Tina Turner’s Simply The Best. Arturo Gatti chose AC/DC’s Thunderstruck to match his nickname of Thunder, but Muhammad Ali, as clever as ever, always liked to keep with the zeitgeist, and came out the the funky version by Meco of the theme tune of a new film out that year - Star Wars.
But aside from the braggadocio world of fighters, some sports stars walk out songs that do indeed reflect their personalities. In the 1980s and early 1990s when one-day cricket tournaments began changing profiles as brasher, more commercial tournaments, players wearing varying colours from the usual formal whites, players in some competitions were obliged to come out to bat with a chosen song blaring through the tannoy. Most chose a current pop hit, but England’s supremely eccentric and brilliant wicketkeeper Jack Russell strode across one of Australia’s grounds to a version of How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?
Brash, strange, quirky, subtle, or plain daft, standup comedians generally as worried about their performance as sports stars, but walking on to a song intro might be as much to give them pumped up courage, or parody themselves as to shine a spotlight on identity. Some go for Janelle Monáe and Prince’s Givin ‘Em What They Love, or James Brown’s Get Up and Do My Thang, or perhaps, to calm the nerves, Jack White’s I’m Shakin’, and Prince’s Gett Off has no doubt been chosen as a clever way to leave the stage. Max Wall of course just came on to a messy drum beat, and it is hard to disassociate it from those rubbery legs all these years later:
So what is the ideal music to come on stage to, whether to speak, present an award, or perform? What kind of music says something about a person when they appear? It could be any genre, with lyrics or instrumental. This topic isn’t merely personal, but suggestions, I hope, can be imagined for all sorts of people, famous, known or otherwise.
And so then, who is this week’s compere of the entrance song, and leader of the walk-on band? Well, following the philosophy that if you can talk the talk then you must also sometimes walk the walk, as someone who runs a song-themed playlist-making music forum, I, Ye Landlord must also make playlists too. So I’m happy to take this one unless of course, someone really wants to do so, in which case I’m happy to applaud you on board in my stead. Deadline? 11pm on Monday UK time, for playlists published next Wednesday. And as I make my exit briefly, it’s time to make your entrance.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.