Monday, 1 November 2010

Swamp | Mixtape | Vol XV, Narrative for Orchestra

Music As Reading: Mixtape XV, Narrative for Orchestra

For a background to this mixtape, a rather hysterical and dreadfully organised set of paragraphs are available here. To summarise, it is intended to be a reflection on the way that we can’t help but read certain songs forever tied up with the television show/ film/ whatever narratives that we’ve seen them accompany/ introduce/ symbolise/ whatever enough times that this connection has become the point of the song, whether we like it or not. Such tracks, indeed, represent an act of Music As Reading that we’ve all engaged in, subconsciously or not, at one point or another, and deserve to be recognised as such. Lyrics and even mood are discarded and the connotation is king! Half of the mixtape will illustrate the various points made in those aforementioned paragraphs, the other will introduce a few other particularly compelling examples – for the potential scale of this mixtape is enormous, but citing examples such as the Star Wars theme and Singing in the Rain would be a waste of everybody’s time.

We’ll begin then, to pay lip-service to this week’s theme, with Jace Everett’s ‘Bad Things’ along with another of his recent tracks, ‘More to Life (C’Mon C’Mon)’ to demonstrate that ‘Bad Things’ probably isn’t as good as we think it is. Then we’ll draw out the strand of teenage association via Remy Zero’s ‘Save Me’, Mates of State’s decent attempt to make ‘California’ listenable and Simple Mind’s ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ to demonstrate that this has been going on for some time in a teen-sense – since 1985’s Breakfast Club, certainly. We’ll then explore four of the five versions of The Wire’s ‘Way Down in the Hole,’ two versions of Twin Peaks’ ‘Falling’ (the Wedding Present cover proving that even when a band with a significant, important, connotative identity take on one of these songs, the narrative prevails) and finish off with Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ in order to state, in less explicit terms, I hope it was the fucking label what sold it to Hollyoaks. ‘Red Right Hand’ also offers a useful segue into Cave’s cinematic soundtrack work, an unsurprising example of music acting, beyond its original context, as a vessel for narrative – considering that Cave wrote a soundtrack for the audio version of his most recent novel and just generally has form here, as regular readers will have noticed. Then, by way of conclusion, three other examples of this phenomenon manifesting in film: Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does it Better’ from The Spy Who Loved Me, mainly because of Alan Partridge. Bernard Herrman’s Psycho work for straightforwardly evocative reasons as well as the fact that when he combined all the cinematic fragments into a single composition he called it ‘a Narrative for Orchestra’. And the Door’s ‘The End’ because, despite the fact it was the final song played at the band’s last ever gig i.e. represents a fabulously important musical-biographical punctuation mark (and a staggeringly appropriate one at that), one can’t hear that without first thinking of Kurtz/Brando. A fitting final testament to the power of the imposed filmic narrative. And one that comes full circle, in terms of its relation to this week’s theme. For Apocalypse Now = Martin Sheen, in blackface, in primeval swamp, as much as it = anything, right?


Bad Things – Jace Everett (True Blood)
More to Life (C’mon C’mon) – Jace Everett
Save Me – Remy Zero (Smallville)
California – Mates of State (The OC)
Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds (The Breakfast Club)
Way Down in the Hole – The Blind Boys of Alabama (The Wire)
Way Down in the Hole – Tom Waits (The Wire)
Way Down in the Hole – The Neville Brothers (The Wire)
Way Down in the Hole – Domaje (The Wire)
Falling – Julee Cruise (Twin Peaks)
Falling – The Wedding Present
Red Right Hand – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (NOT Hollyoaks)
The Proposition #1 – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (The Proposition)
Song for Jesse – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (The Assassination of Jesse James...)
The Road – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (The Road)
Nobody does it Better – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me)
Psycho: Narrative for Orchestra – Bernard Herrman (Psycho)
The End – The Doors (Apocalypse Now)


  1. I am fascinated by how music videos fit in with this narrative - almost as a means of protecting the songs against being stolen by someone else's story.

    Consider Katy Perry's California Girls. It appears at the beginning of last Friday's episode of Eastenders whilst we see a bunch of Walford women appearing as the antithesis of Perry's music video.

    As a result, the opening scenes of this episode play out as a cruel parody of the Katy Perry video, sneering at the Eastend ladies... all because the song is irreversibly linked in our minds to its promotional video, and so any attempts to pair it with something else becomes a jolt.

  2. Indeed.

    Of course, there are also music videos which deliberately draw upon/reference the television show/film/whatever that they're fully aware they're destined to be associated with until the end of time. I guess the question then is, is this because the people behind the video are fully aware the song requires the context if it is to remain remotely palatable - unlike a FUCKING TRIUMPH like California Gurls? I'm inclined to say yes, based on the fact the example what immediately springs to mind is Bryan Adams' (Everything I Do) I Do It For You - not that Costner as Robin Hood is particularly palatable but, y'know, Alan Rickman as SoN is pretty fun.

    Incidentally, are you actually Sad Brad Smith or, indeed, Jason Kottke? The Eastenders reference suggests not but it would be very rad if you are.