Thursday, March 25, 2004

Randomness inspired by a cheap synthesizer

Recently I was fooling around with one of those cheap synthesizer jobs from Casio. It had a few million buttons on it, so of course my inner geek had to demonstrate Technical Mastery by finagling with them. That meant playing back some of the songs in the "song bank".

I guess we've all heard many melodies without knowing their names and origins, and the saner among us probably don't worry about it. But because I'm one of those who has to watch the credits in movies, I like to know the original names and where they came from, and the song bank was revealing.

"Cielito Lindo"? No, that's the theme from the Frito Bandito! He was a promotional character sentenced to death for violating PC.

"Habanera" from "Carmen"? I first heard that on "Gilligan's Island". (So that's why artists like to control their works - here's another example)

"Ode to Joy"? I first heard it after it had been Sixtified, with lyrics like "hope and understanding" - I don't remember the artist. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (Walter/Wendy Carlos?), "A Lover's Concerto" (the Toys) and Beethoven's 5th have received similar treatment. (And then there was Joan Baez' "Diamonds and Rust", which was remade by Judas Priest - when does it stop?).

"Aura Lee"? Who's that? - I know it as "Love Me Tender" from Elvis Presley. Hmmm - remember that lawsuit the late George Harrison suffered, when someone said "My Sweet Lord" sounded too much like "He's So Fine"? I'm guessing you couldn't defend "Love Me Tender" that way - the other guy would just say they'd ripped off the public domain "Aura Lee" instead. Likewise for "Little Brown Jug" and Chuck Berry's only #1 hit, "My Ding-a-Ling". Then again, who's to say that the originals weren't ripped off from someone else? (As for ripoffs, what would you do with something like "Green Haze" by Elvis Hitler? He set the lyrics of the theme from "Green Acres" to the melody of "Purple Haze", and the result is better than it sounds. Oh, you know what I mean, wiseguy...).

Several other prepackaged songs I knew from movies, cartoons, other commercials, or even theme songs for professional wrestlers. Somehow it left off the themes from the "Lone Ranger" and "The Green Hornet", originally known as the "William Tell Overture" and "Flight of the Bumblebee".

Other songs it offered haven't necessarily been so commercialized, but they're so typecast you never hear them outside certain contexts. For instance, if you've been to a wedding you probably heard the "Bridal March" from "Lohengrin" on the way in and the "Wedding March" from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on the way out (I'm using Casio's names). Inexplicably, Casio omitted Chopin's "Funeral March", which about everyone must have heard played on an organ at slow tempo in creepy settings (and for the first few notes sounds remarkably like the "Bridal March"...)

How could they miss "To Anacreon in Heaven"? Oh come on, I know you've heard it. The melody, anyway - the lyrics have been replaced many times. The most popular lyrics are from a poem called "The Defense of Fort McHenry". The resulting song is known by another name.

Once in a while a song goes from commercial to pop. I understand that the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" began as just a jingle for a bank and reached #2 on the Billboard charts. I can't think of any other cases, but wizards like CG Hill and Ed Driscoll probably can.

Oh, if you were waiting for some sort of point to this post, you can give up now.

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