Radiohead’s “Creep” Performed in a Vintage Jazz-Age Style

Smashing Pumpkin’s leader—and sole remaining original member—Billy Corgan is a man of many opinions, most of which I find easy to ignore. But in one of his recent made-for-headlines quotes, he referred to fellow nineties alt-rock superstars Radiohead as “the last band that did anything new with the guitar.” It is, of course, impossible to quantify this not-especially controversial statement, but I haven’t found it easy to dismiss either. After Radiohead’s first three albums, we had maybe a solid decade of musicians looking back to a time before electric guitars to find an alternate path forward (as Radiohead themselves largely traded guitars for synthesizers). That said, in the years since Pablo Honey, The Bends, and OK Computer, Thom Yorke and band’s breakout song, “Creep,” has successfully translated to so many unplugged arrangements that they deserve credit for writing a universally beloved new standard as well as reinventing rock guitar—even if they’d prefer we all forget their first, angst-ridden hit.

There’s Mexican actor Diego Luna’s powerful rendition, as the animated troubadour Manolo in Jorge Gutierrez’s Book of Life. There’s Tori Amos’ characteristically intense, live voice and piano version; there’s Amanda Palmer on ukulele, Damien Rice on acoustic guitar, and Korn—believe it or not—in a very tasteful acoustic cover. Now we can add to these the bring-down-the-house swing arrangement at the top of the post, with jazz singer Haley Reinhart, who slides from playful vamp to an almost gospel crescendo, and all, we’re told, on a first take. This jazz-age cover comes to us from pianist Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, a touring collection of ensemble musicians that Bradlee assembles to re-interpret famous pop songs. He previously recorded a sweet, classic soul cover of “Creep” with Karen Marie, above. The list of other Postmodern Jukebox covers ranges from a “Sad Clown with a Golden Voice” version of Lorde’s “Royals” to a klezmer take on Jason Derulo’s club anthem “Talk Dirty” (with the song’s 2 Chainz rap in Yiddish). We previously featured a New Orleans jazz rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” with stage actress and singer Miche Braden. As Ayun Halliday wrote of the Guns n’ Roses’ reimagining, the Radiohead covers above are “not without gimmick, but it’s a winning one.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The 5 Best Noir Films in the Public Domain: From Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street to Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker

I try to catch the Noir City film festival whenever it comes through Los Angeles, not just because it uses the Egyptian, one of my favorite theaters in town, but because it comes curated by the experts. You’d have a hard time finding any group more knowledgeable about film noir than the Film Noir Foundation, who put Noir City on, and anyone in particular more knowledgeable than its founder and president, “noirchaeologist” Eddie Muller. The talks he sometimes gives before screenings give a sense of the depth and scope of his knowledge of the genre; you can sample it in a video clip where he introduces Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (above) at last year’s Noir City Seattle.

You may remember Muller’s name from our post featuring his list of the 25 noir films that will stand the test of time. I do recommend Noir City as the finest context in which to watch any of them, but you don’t have to wait until the festival comes to your town to see a few, such as Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street and Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour. (2nd and 3rd on this page.) They and various other important pieces of the film noir canon have fallen into the public domain, making them easily and legally viewable free online. Watch The Hitch-Hiker that way after you’ve seen Muller’s introduction, and you can replicate a little of the Noir City experience in the comfort of your own home.

Other public-domain noirs of note include Orson Welles’ The Stranger, a subject of controversy among Welles fans but one about which Noir of the Week says “you couldn’t make a better choice if you’re looking for a conventional, fantastic looking film noir thriller.”

And as the name of the festival implies, when we talk about such a highly urban storytelling tradition as noir, we very often talk about the city as well. Rudolph Maté’s D.O.A. includes as a particularly vivid depiction of 1940s Los Angeles and one of the more dramatic uses of the beloved Bradbury Building in cinema history. These five pictures should put you well on your way to a stronger grasp of film noir, and no doubt get you ready to explore our list of 60 free noir films online.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins & Grace Jones To Star in Gutterdämmerung, “The Loudest Silent Movie on Earth!”

Once upon a time, Joe Strummer wrote and directed Hell W10a silent black & white film featuring the music of The Clash. And the Pixies’ Black Francis created a driving, jangling soundtrack for one of Weimar Germany’s finest silent films, The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920).

If the melding of vintage and modern aesthetics appeals, then get ready for Gutterdämmerung. Directed by the Belgian-Swedish visual artist Björn Tagemose, Gutterdämmerung promises to be “the loudest silent movie on earth,” with Iggy Pop, Grace Jones and Henry Rollins playing starring roles. BEAT describes the premise of the film as follows:

The film is set in a alternate reality where God has saved the world from sin by taking from mankind the Devil’s Evil Guitar. As a result the Earth has been cleansed into a puritan world with no room for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (boo). [Queue] Iggy Pop as the punk angel Vicious, who secretly sends the Evil Guitar back to Earth, unleashing all manner of sin upon mankind.

Things get even crazier when Henry Rollins, as the puritan priest, coerces a girl to destroy the guitar, a quest that see’s her face the most evil rock ‘n’ roll bastards on the planet. Grace Jones plays the only person capable of controlling all the testosterone of all the no good rock ‘n’ rollers – obviously.

The director and cast set the scene a little more in the “launch video” above. To be honest, the video feels a bit like a spoof, making me wonder whether this is all a big put on. But they’ve certainly set up a respectable web site where, each week, they’ll announce other personalities starring in the film. So, stay tuned…

via Pitchfork

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7 Female Bass Players Who Helped Shape Modern Music: Kim Gordon, Tina Weymouth, Kim Deal & More

If you follow music news, you’ll have read of late more than a couple stories about two former members of two highly influential bands—Jackie Fox of the Runaways and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. Fox’s story of exploitation and sexual assault as a sixteen year-old rock star comes with all the usual public doubts about her credibility, and sadly represents the experience of so many women in the music business. Gordon’s numerous stories in her memoir Girl in a Band document her own struggles in punk and alt rock scenes that fostered hostility to women, in the band or no. The discussion of these two musicians’ personal narratives is compelling and necessary, but we should not lose sight of their significant contributions as musicians, playing perhaps the least appreciated instrument in the rock and roll arsenal—the bass.

Members of bands that routinely become the subject of petitions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Fox and Gordon represent just two of hundreds of women bass players, many thumping away in obscurity and no small number achieving success in indie, punk, metal, and jazz bands, as solo artists, or as sessions musicians. Gordon’s low end helped drive the sound of nineties alt-rock (see her with Sonic Youth at the top), and Fox’s basslines underscored seventies hard rock (with the Runaways above).

Before either of them picked up the instrument, another hugely influential bassist, Carol Kaye, played on thousands of hits as a member of L.A.’s top flight session musicians, the Wrecking Crew. A trained jazz guitarist, Kaye’s discography includes Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” the Beach Boy’s “California Girls,” the Monkees “I’m a Believer,” Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright”… and that’s just a tiny sampling. (See Kaye give Kiss’s Gene Simmons a bass lesson, above, and don’t miss a lengthy interview with her here.)

Kaye could, and did, play almost anything; she is an exceptional—and exceptionally gracious—musician. And while few bass players can match her when it comes to musical range and ability, many share her talent for writing simple, yet unforgettable basslines that define genres and eras. Alongside Kim Gordon’s aggressively melodic bass playing in Sonic Youth, Kim Deal of the Pixies gave us massive 90s alt-rock hooks and, like Gordon, shared or took over vocal duties on some of the band’s biggest songs. (See them do “Gigantic” live in 1988 above.) Although they may not seem to have much in common, both Deal and Kaye mastered the art of simplicity, paring down what could have been overly busy basslines to only the most essential notes and rhythmic accents. (Deal discusses her approach in an interview here.)

Like Kim Deal’s playing in the Pixies, Tina Weymouth’s bass in Talking Heads worked as both a rhythmic anchor and a propulsive engine beneath the band’s angular guitars and synths. (See her awesome interplay above with the band and guest guitarist Adrian Belew during the Remain in Light tour in Rome.) Weymouth not only comprised one half of the funkiest art rock rhythm section in existence, but she wrote what is perhaps the funkiest bassline in rock history with her own project Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” It’s almost impossible to imagine what the 80s would have sounded like without Weymouth’s bass playing (though we could have lived without her dancing).

No list of classic female bass players will ever be complete—there’s always one more name to add, one more bass riff to savor, one more argument to be had over who is over- and underrated. But it should provoke no argument whatsoever to point toward Meshell Ndegeocello as not only one of the most talented bass players, but one of the most talented musicians period of her generation. See her and band above play “Dead End” live on KCRW. Unlike most of the players above (except perhaps Carol Kaye), Ndegeocello is a highly technical player, but also a very tasteful one. Much of her music flies under the radar, but most people will be familiar with her cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Nights” with John Cougar Mellencamp and her neosoul hit “If That’s Your Boyfriend.”

Again, this is only the briefest, smallest sampling of excellent female bass players—in rock, jazz, soul, etc. An expanded list would include players like Melissa Auf der Maur, Esperanza Spalding, and many more names you may or may not have heard before. One you probably haven’t, but should, is the name Tal Wilkenfeld, an Australian prodigy who has played with Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, the Allman Brothers, and Jeff Beck. (See her absolutely kill it in a performance with Beck above from 2007.) Like Carol Kaye many decades before her, Wilkenfeld made her name at a very young age, playing guitar in jazz clubs, and quickly became a highly in-demand player called—at age 21—“the future of bass.” Are there any other women players out there deserving of the title, or of inclusion in a bass playing Hall of Fame? Let us know in the comments, and include a link to your favorite live performance.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear All of Mozart in a Free 127-Hour Playlist

wolfgang_amadeus_mozart

“You can’t have Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart as your favorite composers,” said conductor and San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas. “They simply define what music is!” True enough, though it doesn’t seem to have stopped anyone from, when asked to name their classical music of choice, unhesitatingly respond with the names of Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart — and Mozart most often. So why does the man who composed, among other works, the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, and Don Giovanni still command such instinctive allegiance nearly 225 years after his death?

“Mozart did not come from nowhere,” writes New Yorker music critic Alex Ross. “He was the product of a society that was avid for music on every level, that believed in the possibility of an all-encompassing musical genius. The society we live in now believes otherwise; we divide music into subcultures and subgenres, we separate classical music from popular music, we locate genius in the past.” But as past geniuses go, we’ve picked a good one in Mozart to carry forward with us into our technological age: the kind of age where you can listen to an 18th-century composer’s collected works with the simple click of a mouse.

The simple click of a mouse, that is, onto this Spotify playlist of the complete Chronological Mozart, brought to you by the same folks who put together the playlists we’ve previously featured of 68 hours of Shakespeare and the classical music in Stanley Kubrick’s films. (If you don’t yet have the free software needed to listen, download it here.) A few tracks have vanished since the playlist’s creation (such are the vicissitudes of Spotify) but it still offers about 127 hours of the (mostly) complete works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the aforementioned famous pieces and well beyond. Listen and you’ll not only understand why Mozart defines what music is, but — apologies to Michael Tilson Thomas — why you, too, should number him among your favorites.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Harper Lee Gets a Request for a Photo; Offers Important Life Advice Instead (2006)

Harper Lee

Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960. More than a half decade later, the novel remains one of the most widely-read books in American classrooms. And students still write the 89-year-old author, requesting photographs and autographs.

Occasionally, they get a little more than they bargained for. Take, for example, a student named “Jeremy,” who wrote Lee in 2006 and requested a photo. In return, he got something more valuable and enduring: some pithy life advice. The letter Harper sent to Jeremy reads as follows:

06/07/06

Dear Jeremy

I don’t have a picture of myself, so please accept these few lines:

As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, “I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.”

(Signed, ‘Harper Lee’)

Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was just released last week — 55 years after her debut. You can read the first chapter (and also hear Reese Witherspoon read it aloud) here.

via Letters of Note

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Miles Davis Covers Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” (1983)

What happens when the Prince of Darkness covers the King of Pop?

Miles Davis’ decision to record a studio version of Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit, “Human Nature,” caused Al Foster, his friend and drummer, to walk out mid-session, thus putting an end to their longtime collaboration. Davis chalked it up to Foster’s unwillingness to “play that funky backbeat,” and brought in his nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr., to finish the job.

Foster must’ve really hated that song.

Say what you will, “Human Nature” is–like most Jackson hits–an ear worm.

Depending on who you talk to, Davis’ studio track, above, is a either a straightforward homage in which his horn recreates “Jackson’s breathy intimacy” or “flat, schmaltzy elevator music.”

People’s feelings for it tend to echo their response to Jackson’s original, to which Davis cleaved pretty closely.

“Human Nature” was written by Toto’s keyboardist Steve Porcaro, the son of a jazz musician who idolized Davis. He was understandably honored that his dad’s hero chose to cover his work along with Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time,” on 1985’s You’re Under Arrest, one of the prolific artist’s final albums.

Davis’ association no doubt contributes to the tune’s ongoing popularity. Those who want to compare and contrast, can take their pick of reggae, hip-hop, electronica and funked up New Orleans brass versions.

But back to “Human Nature” as rendered by Miles Davis. Most critics prefer the live version, below, captured July 7, 1988, at Montreux. Slate’s Fred Kaplan described it as “an upbeat rouser” through which Davis “prances.”

As Davis himself explained in a 1985 interview with Richard Cook:

On a song like “Human Nature,” you have to play the right thing. And the right thing is around the melody. I learned that stuff from Coleman Hawkins. Coleman could play a melody, get ad-libs, run the chords – and you still heard the melody. I play “Human Nature,” varies every night. After I play the melody, that tag on the end is mine to have fun with. It’s in another key … uh, D natural. Move up a step or so to F natural. Then you can play it any way you want to.

Another remark from the same interview proved prescient:

You don’t have to do like Wynton Marsalis and play “Stardust “and that shit… Why can’t “Human Nature” be a standard? It fits. A standard fits like a thoroughbred. The melody and everything is just right, and every time you hear it you want to hear it some more. And you leave enough of it to know what you want to hear again. When you hear it again, the same feeling comes over you. 

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

1,000,000 Minutes of Newsreel Footage by AP & British Movietone Released on YouTube

Both Faulkner and the physicists may be right: the passage of time is an illusion. And yet, for as long as we’ve been keeping score, it’s seemed that history really exists, in increasingly distant forms the further back we look. As Jonathan Crow wrote in a recent post on news service British Pathé’s release of 85,000 pieces of archival film on YouTube, seeing documentary evidence of just the last century “really makes the past feel like a foreign country—the weird hairstyles, the way a city street looked, the breathtakingly casual sexism and racism.” (Of course there’s more than enough reason to think future generations will say the same of us.) British Pathé’s archive seems exhaustive—until you see the latest digitized collection on YouTube from AP and British Movietone, which spans from 1895 to the present and brings us thousands more past tragedies, triumphs, and hairstyles

This release of “more than 1 million minutes” of news, writes Variety, includes archival footage of “major world events such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, exclusive footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.” And so much more, such as the newsreel above, which depicts Berlin in 1945, eventually getting around to documenting the Potsdam Conference (at 3:55), where Churchill, Stalin, and Truman created the 17th parallel in Vietnam, dictated the terms of the German occupation, and planned the coming Japanese surrender. No one at the time could have accurately foreseen the historical reverberations of these actions.

Another strange, even uncanny piece of film shows us the English football team giving the Nazi salute in 1938 at the commencement of a game against Germany. “That’s shocking now,” says Alwyn Lindsay, the director of AP’s international archive, “but it wasn’t at the time.” Films like these have become of much more interest since The Sun published photographs of the royal family—including a young Queen Elizabeth II and her uncle Prince (later King, then Duke) Edward VIII—giving Nazi salutes in 1933. Though it was not particularly controversial, and the children of course had little idea what it signified, it did turn out that Edward (seen here) was a would-be Nazi collaborator and remained an unapologetic sympathizer.

This huge video trove doesn’t just document the grim history of the Second World War, of course. As you can see in the AP’s introductory montage at the top of the post, there is “a world of history at your fingertips”—from triumphant video like Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, above, to the below film of “Crazy 60s Hats in Glorious Colour.” And more or less every other major world event, disaster, discovery, or widespread trend you might name from the last 120 or so years.

The archive splits into two YouTube channels: AP offers both historical and up-to-the-minute political, sports, celebrity, science, and “weird and wacky” videos (with “new content every day”). The British Movietone channel is solely historical, with much of its content coming from the 1960s (like those hats, and this video of the Beatles receiving their MBE’s, and other “Beatlemania scenes.”)

Movietone’s one nod to the present takes the form of “The Archivist Presents,” in which a historian offers quirky context on some bit of archival footage, like that above of the Kinks getting their hair curled. The completely unironic lounge music and casually sexist narration will make you both smile and wince, as do Ray Davies and company when they see their new hair. Most of the films in this million minutes of news footage (and counting) tend to elicit either or both of these two emotional reactions—joy (or amusement) or mild to intense horror, and watching them makes the past they show us feel paradoxically more strange and more immediate at once.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

A Master List of 1,150 Free Courses From Top Universities: 35,000 Hours of Audio/Video Lectures

free courses online 1000

During these summer months, we’ve been busy rummaging around the internet and adding new courses to our big list of Free Online Courses, which now features 1,150 courses from top universities. Let’s give you the quick overview: The list lets you download audio & video lectures from schools like Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford and Harvard. Generally, the courses can be accessed via YouTube, iTunes or university web sites, and you can listen to the lectures anytime, anywhere, on your computer or smart phone. We didn’t do a precise calculation, but there’s probably about 35,000 hours of free audio & video lectures here. Enough to keep you busy for a very long time.

Right now you’ll find 133 free philosophy courses, 85 free history courses, 120 free computer science courses, 71 free physics courses and 55 Free Literature Courses in the collection, and that’s just beginning to scratch the surface. You can peruse sections covering Astronomy, Biology, BusinessChemistry, Economics, Engineering, Math, Political Science, Psychology and Religion.

Here are some highlights from the complete list of Free Online Courses. We’ve added a few unconventional/vintage courses in the mix just to keep things interesting.

The complete list of courses can be accessed here: 1,200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities

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Björk Presents Groundbreaking Experimental Musicians on the BBC’s Modern Minimalists (1997)

Experimental music, by its very nature, stays out of the mainstream. All styles of music begin as experiments, but most sooner or later, in one form or another, find their way to popular acceptance. But if one living musician personifies the intriguing borderlands between the popular and the experimental, Björk does: since at least the 1980s (and, technically, the 1970s), she has steadily put out records that constitute master classes in how to keep pushing forms forward while maintaining a wide fan base, seemingly giving the lie to John Cage’s dictum that making something 20 percent new means a loss of 80 percent of the audience.

Cage, an icon of minimalist experimental music who still caught the public ear now and again, doesn’t appear in the BBC’s Modern Minimalists [part one, part two], but only because he died in 1992, five years before it aired. But this Björk-hosted whirlwind tour through the company of a selection of innovative minimalist composers of the day actually feels, at points, a bit like Cage’s 1960 performance of Water Walk on I’ve Got a Secret: we not only hear them talk, but we hear their music, see them make it, and get an insight into the way they work and — perhaps most importantly — the way they think.

“When I was asked to do this program,” Björk says in her distinctive Icelandic inflection, “it was very important for me to introduce the people I think are changing music today.” That roster includes Alasdair Malloy from Scotland, Mika Vainio from Finland, and, most famously, Arvo Pärt from Estonia. Björk not only draws out their musical philosophies, but responds with a few of her own. “People have moved away from plots and structures, and moved to its complete opposite, which is textures,” she says over a series of postmodern landscapes, “A place to live in, or an environment, or a stillness.” And the role of the musician in that modern reality? “To take these everyday noises that are ugly, and make them beautiful. By this, they’re doing magic.”

via Network Awesome

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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