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The James Bond Themes That Never Were

Posted on 26/3/15 by Jon O'Brien

With the 24th film in the James Bond series, Spectre, confirmed to hit cinemas later this year, speculation continues to mount as to which in-vogue performer will get the chance to belt out its theme over the opening credits, (Sam Smith is currently the hot favorite). But quite often, it’s the 007 songs which are thrown onto the scrapheap that turn out to be far more memorable than the chosen ones. Here’s a look at five rejected Bond themes that in an alternate universe, would be regarded as cinematic classics.

Saint Etienne – “Tomorrow Never Dies”

Pulp, Marc Almond, The Cardigans and k.d. Lang all submitted songs for Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as 007. But it’s Saint Etienne, and their exquisite homage to the John Barry scores of the 60s, that should perhaps feel most cheated after being ignored in favour of Sheryl Crow’s forgettable attempt. Even Brosnan himself later argued that it was “seven times better” than the official theme.

Pet Shop Boys – “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave”

Responsible for one of the more forgettable Bond themes, A-Ha were unfathomably given the nod for 1987’s The Living Daylights ahead of the year’s most successful pop act, Pet Shop Boys. Later appearing on their 1990 album, Behaviour, the dramatic and far superior synth-pop of “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave” only confirmed that the producers made the wrong call.

Blondie – “For Your Eyes Only”

Sheena Easton’s theme to 1981’s For Your Eyes Only may have received both a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination, but it still pales into comparison with Blondie’s track of the same name. Debbie Harry and co. were in fact the producers’ first choice to open the credits, but were replaced by the future Prince protégé after the band insisted on writing their own song – a suitably moody piece of new wave which eventually appeared on 1982’s The Hunter.

Phyllis Hyman – “Never Say Never Again”

Intended to introduce Sean Connery’s return to the role after a 12-year absence, “Never Say Never Again” perfectly bridged the gap between the brassy belters of Shirley Bassey and the smooth soul-pop of Gladys Knight. Sadly, following a dispute with the score’s composer Michel Legrand, producers were forced to shelve late Phyllis Hyman’s superior theme and give the job to Brazilian singer Lani Hall instead.

Johnny Cash – “Thunderball”

Admittedly, The Man In Black’s theme to 1965’s Thunderball suggested the James Bond series had took an unexpected turn into Spaghetti Western territory. But the Ennio Morricone-esque trumpets, shuffling country beats and Cash’s booming tones would certainly have been preferable to the chosen histrionics of Tom Jones.

If It Ain’t Broke…

Posted on 28/2/15 by Jon O'Brien

Songwriter-turned-star Meghan Trainor seemed destined for one-hit wonder status when “Lips Are Movin’,” the follow-up to her chart-topping body-positive novelty anthem, “All About That Bass,” turned out to be little more than a carbon copy of her doo-wop-reviving breakthrough hit. Yet despite the fact that she’s revealed herself to be a one-trick pony, the 21-year-old has somehow managed to extend her 15 seconds of fame, scoring a number one album, a second Top 5 single and multiple Grammy nominations. But not every artist who sticks rigidly to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ rule is so lucky. Here’s a look at five artists who followed up a major chart smash with a near-identical clone, only to watch it inadvertently plunge them back into obscurity.

Lou Bega – “I Got A Girl”

German-born Lou Bega helped to spearhead the Latin pop revolution of 1999 with his irresistibly infectious remake of Perez Prado’s instrumental, “Mambo No.5,” topping the charts across Europe and reaching No.3 on the Billboard 200. The self-proclaimed lothario repeated the trick with a virtually identical blend of trumpets, mambo beats and lyrics boasting about his bedroom conquests, but the track unsurprisingly bombed and Bega has barely been heard of since.

Rednex – “Old Pop In An Oak”

If you thought Avicii invented country house then think again. Long before “Wake Me Up” became completely inescapable, another Swedish act, Rednex, were busy blurring the boundaries between the hoedown and the disco with their Hi-NRG take on 19th Century American standard, “Cotton Eye Joe.” The story of a man who seeks refuge in a tree after cooking his wife’s pet skunk, the lyrics of follow-up “Old Pop In Oak” may have been distinctive, but its all-too-familiar, if still annoyingly infectious, melody was anything but.

No Mercy – “Please Don’t Go”

Formed by Frank Farian, the mastermind behind Boney M and Milli Vanilli, boyband No Mercy briefly threatened to muscle in on Backstreet Boys’ territory with their 1996 cover of La Bouche’s “Please Don’t Go.” But even the most easily-pleased of teenyboppers saw right through their glaringly obvious attempt to repeat its formula with the equally corny “Please Don’t Go,” and the trio disappeared back into nowheresville almost as quickly as they had escaped from it.

Whigfield – “Another Day”

Renowned for its strange quacking duck-like synth, hairbrush diva video and hip-wiggling dance routine, Danish pop star Whigfield’s 1994 holiday anthem, “Saturday Night,” was alleged to have ripped off both The Equals’ “Rub A Dub Dub” and Lindisfarne’s “Fog On The Tyne.” Both plagiarism cases were eventually thrown out, but it’s unlikely she would have been so lucky had the writers of her unashamedly identical follow-up “Another Day,” differed from her signature hit.

ATB – “Don’t Stop”

Trashy Europop beats? Check. Breathy female vocals? Check? Pitch-shifted guitar hook? Check. Andre Tanneberger’s follow-up to the Ibiza anthem of 1999, “9PM (Til I Come),” was such a blatant attempt to cash-in on its predecessor’s success that even the German DJ himself has since disowned the track for its sheer laziness.

Five Times The Grammys Got It Hopelessly Wrong

Posted on 9/2/15 by Jon O'Brien

Barring a few grumblings about the lack of recognition for Frozen, and the multiple nods for Meghan Trainor, this year’s Grammy nominations didn’t exactly ruffle many feathers. However, look through the 56-year history of the world’s premier music awards ceremony and you’ll find a whole host of baffling decisions which suggest the voting panel has its fair share of tone-deaf members. Here’s a look at five of their most unforgivable blunders over the past quarter of a century.

Best New Artist –Milli Vanilli (1990)

One of pop’s most infamous duos were eventually forced to hand their Best New Artist Grammy back after it was revealed that they didn’t even sing a note on 1989 chart-topping sophomore, Girl, You Know It’s True. The Grammy panel might not have been aware of the impending lip-syncing scandal, but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that they overlooked the likes of Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul in favour of such a blatantly disposable act.

Best Rock Song –Eric Clapton – “Layla” (1992)

Having virtually defined a generation, Nirvana’s grunge anthem, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” should have been a no-brainer in the 1992 Best Rock Song category. Instead, the Grammys decided that Eric Clapton, and a pointless reworking of 70s hit “Layla” from his Unplugged album, was more deserving of the accolade. The Grammys have possibly never been so out of touch. Or have they?

Album of the Year –Steely Dan – Two Against Nature (2000)

Giving the above a run for its money in the WTF! stakes, the 2001 ceremony saw deeply unfashionable jazz-rock duo Steely Dan beat the likes of Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, Radiohead’s Kid A and Beck’s Midnite Vultures to the Album of the Year title. Eight years later, the Grammys would pull a similar trick when Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell tribute album was deemed a greater record than Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black and Kanye West’s Graduation.

Best Dance Recording –Baha Men – “Who Let The Dogs Out” (2001)

Gina G, Eiffel 65, Lionel Richie – the Grammys are notorious for getting the Best Dance Recording Category nominations hopelessly wrong. But nothing exemplifies just how little they ‘get’ the genre more than the decision to award Baha Men’s highly irritating, if highly infectious, novelty dancehall number, “Who Let The Dogs Out,” the title in 2001.

Best Dance/Electronica Album –Skrillex – Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (2012)

In a year which produced modern classics from SBTRKT, Rustie and Jamie xx, the Grammy panel believed that the hipster-haired nuisance Skrillex and the brainless brostep of Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites was more deserving of the Best Dance Album category in 2012. Incredibly, he’s since picked up a further five awards. To put that in perspective, Diana Ross, Bob Marley, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix have never even won one.

We Honor Great Video Game Soundtracks - part 2

Posted on 23/12/14 by Penguin Pete

To continue from part 1, this is a random slap-dash post of great video game soundtrack music. If you don't get every game title you wanted for CDhristmas this year, maybe this post will inspire you with a head full of nostalgia to load up one of your own old favorites. Because you've got time to burn during winter break anyway, right?

And this time we'll clear it up: We're NOT taking songs that originated from outside of a game. Sorry, no GTA DJ picks, no Guitar Hero tracks, no licensed hits. Only original music produced for the games themselves.

Unreal - Nightvision

Just the last word in cyberpunk techno themes, that's all. The music goes perfectly with the mood: first-person-shooter action in a futuristic setting, likely as not taking place in the metal bowels of some spaceship or sewer system.

SimCity 4 - Rush Hour

We couldn't leave out the Broadway theme from SimCity 3000 last time; likewise, this jazzy number with the busy, busy percussion section just works too hard for us to leave out here. Again, we could go on all day about SimCity background music, since it has to work harder, but we'll just select a few tracks.

Sam and Max Hit the Road - main theme

Sam and Max is one of the most legendary cults spawned by the seminal LucasArts studios. The mini-franchise is somewhat a parody of noir detective thrillers, but with the bizarre factor turned up to X-Files levels. Then played for laughs, and thus perfectly suited with this boppy, cheesy, lounge lizard club sandwich of a theme.

Donkey Kong Country - Treetop Town

Another Super Nintendo Classic we could use for examples to fill this whole article. But special mention goes to this infectiously catchy earworm, with a lively xylophone capturing life bouncing from tree to tree in the jungle.

Haunted Castle (Castlevania) - Cross Your Heart

For a video game series centering around romanticized vampires decades before Twilight, birthing the Goth genre when Goths were still Punks, the Castlevania series was a whole generation ahead of its time. We could have picked many themes from the franchise, but the original arcade cabinet first-level theme is the one that gets stuck in your head all day after hearing it once. There's a party at Dracula's crypt, and everybody's dancing 'til dawn!

Meh, we'll randomly stop right there.

No, wait, we have to do this...

Commander Keen 4 - You've Got to Eat Your Vegetables!

We're not including this one just for the music, but for the story behind it. Here's Apogee Games composer Bobby Prince, in a live interview, talking about how he came up with this theme and what went into it:

And now you appreciate just how creative you have to be to squeeze that much expression, not only out of an instrumental track itself, but being played out of a 286'er desktop PC in the 1990s, with maybe a Soundblaster card and Radio Shack speakers if you were flush. This was in the days of pre-Windows, boys and girls! Sure, anybody reading this could probably plunk this tune out on a guitar. They had to code that stuff in assembly!

That's all you get this time folks. Keep listening, keep reading, and merry Christmas!

We Honor Great Video Game Soundtracks - part 1

Posted on 23/12/14 by Penguin Pete

What else says Christmas more than video games? And here we're a music blog, so why not pay some tribute to that most addictive, repetitive, looping species of ear-candy. After all, making video game music is no small task - it has to sound good, but not be too intrusive, and it has to be something you could listen to for hours and not get tired of.

You fans out there will have your own recommendations - be sure to leave them in the comments! Go ahead, argue with us, we won't melt. But here, with no context whatsoever, are outstanding examples of game music from games both classic and contemporary...

Earthbound - (can't pick just one!)

This Super Nintendo sleeper cult hit still has a monster base of fans today, and we owe some of that enjoyment to the work of the music team. It's so varied and carries so many moods, you'll find yourself pausing the action just to soak it in.

There's the snowbound Winters theme for wandering in the northern woods:

Or the offbeat Saturn Valley theme for talking to adorably ugly but cute... native... things:

Or the ridiculously catchy be-bop whenever you ride the bus:

But the fans would crucify us - and rightly so! - if we left out the final boss theme. Which starts out like peppy 8-bit Tetris music, but wait for it... Suddenly, it's death metal.

There's hundreds of these themes, enough to fill 2 CDs. The team even made many more tracks that never got used.

Sim City 3000 - Broadway theme

For a sedentary PC game where you spend a lot of time trying to build a metropolis from the ground up, you need something attractive, upbeat, and varied. Perhaps with a dot of Gershwin and a bit of Broadway. How about...

Many more tracks from the Sim universe deserve recognition, but we'd be here all day.

Portal - Still Alive

So you just finished a crash course against a mad computer which has not only done everything in its power to kill you, but to passive-aggressively screw with your head while you struggle to escape. GLaDOS is one of the most unforgettable video game villains ever, and this song, her closing shot, has its own legend.

Super Mario Brothers theme

No, we're not saying it's among the greatest ever. It's actually pretty pedestrian, just a cheerful little ditty to get you through a series of platforms. But still, how many video game themes get performed by an entire orchestra?

OK, before everybody yells at us to get off Nintendo, here's an interview with a Nintendo music composer.

Metal Gear Solid 3 - Snake Eater

For an epic series with unbelievable depth and innovative (for the time) strategy, this theme just captures the sweeping scope of this military adventure, whether you're trying to sneak past guards at a Top Secret Headquarters or just survive the night without dying from snake venom.

Katamari Damacy - main theme

Action, action, and more action! For being a game about being a rolling ball of stuff, this theme sure made it sound epic. Just too catchy to ignore. Bicycle to work with this on the Pod, you'll vault the cross-traffic at every intersection.

And we'll randomly stop there so your browser gets a break from all the videos loading. They will continue to rain from the sky like Tetris blocks in part 2 of this post...

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