Tuesday, March 4, 2014

We Love It!

This is going to be quick - I have an early get-up time tomorrow - so I'll be to the point.

I've seen a few bits and pieces of the new late-night show lineups - Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, etc. - and while I haven't been particularly impressed, what I saw tonight really put a smile on my face.

The musical guest was just starting. A guy named Randy Newman. Never really heard of him yet the name somehow sounded familiar. He started playing the piano. Sang about people dressing like monkeys in New York. Okay.

Then the most familiar musical procession started up. A variation of that same synesthetic imagery flooded my mind, and it took me hardly a second to decode it into the ending of Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie from 1997. That's where it came from. That "I Love L.A." tune near the end of the film. That was the guy and the song?

Scenes from the film splashed across my mind. Bean's being driven around L.A. in Peter Langley's convertible, taking pictures, and there's imagery of the streets and pedestrians, etc. I thought at the time of seeing it that the song was written specifically for those scenes in the film. Eventually I'd come to know it was a song independent of the film, but I thought the artist was black just judging by his voice. I never looked it up because I expected to see a glossy pro-L.A. party-like thing and I wasn't really interested in that.

Hearing it now, though, years later, completely out of context of that film with its scenes and imagery, it takes on an almost fully different perspective for me. I looked it up on YouTube. It had actually been recorded more than a decade before the film had been released, and not at the same time (as was the case for Boyzone's "Picture of You" which was recorded in conjunction with the film by a boy band that despite my thinking and its sound is actually Irish).

Hearing it independent of the film, it's also the full song and not edited specifically for its scenes. An easy, mellow piano opens it as he sings a verse or two, deriding New York and Chicago - and then a bright piano mixed with synthesizer immediately takes over. D major. D-F#-A. Right away. This synth does the individual notes while a jaunty piano plays D major, F# minor, C# minor, and E major. I figured this out over fifteen minutes with my keyboard and slowing it down in Audition.

These opening notes (apart from the actual piano intro) immediately put a smile on my face, a big one. They're just super feel-good. Like someone's tipping their hat off to you, with a grin on their face. Like it's your birthday and you're behind the candles, about the blow them out. I find it interesting that when I first heard it I didn't associate it with D major at all, it was just a blurry roundabout-looking texture that's a whitish colour, and super feel-good. As soon as I listened carefully and tried playing the chord note by note, it immediately made sense and the texture aligned accordingly in my head. Had the synth been a normal piano, I would likely have known it was D major by ear a lot quicker.

Here's the opening synth, if you play music, or like to know how it works:
D-F#-A,* F#-A-C#-F#-E-C#-C#, E-G#, E-E-C#-E-C#-E-C#... and over again.

*The first three together create D major.

You play D major during the first three notes, then on the F# you're playing the corresponding chord (F# minor). Then you head to C# minor when you hit the two C#'s, and end on E major upon the E after the G#. All the chords correspond easily to what note the synth is playing, very straightforward, in a four-chord progression. Basic and quite rudimentary in music or pop songs.

The first verse starts on A major...yeah, I'll stop there. This is a review, not a dissection and tutorial. Anyway, the song is reminiscent of the film for me, and it sounds both positive and pessimistic at the same time. You kind of get a sense of greatness from the song thanks to musical notes that ascend and descend quite obviously. The drums kick in quite nicely in the beginning. There are soft bits and other parts that build up really well. The song's almost like a roller coaster, musically. At the end the guitars come in the compliment the synths to give it a good climax. I get a sense of light-hearted fun, sunshine, even decadence in a way. Like you can go to L.A. or southern California, basically, and it'll be like your perfect, happy birthday or something, or sense of fun times.

Lyrically, Newman sings about general things you'd find just about anywhere. Look at that mountain, look at those trees; look at that bum, he's down on his knees. Good things and negative ones. Of course, go to Vancouver or places in Europe and you'll see mountains, and if you go virtually anywhere you'll see trees. Had he specified a local-kind of tree like the iconic palm trees or others native to California he might sound like he's referring to L.A., but "look at those palm trees" or "look at those California Live Oak Trees" probably doesn't mesh well in a line of a pop song. When he does get L.A. specific, he uses street names.

The real idea of the lyrics essentially is to point out that L.A. trees or mountains or women or bums are different than what you'd find anywhere else, in a much better, grander way. "Look at those women, ain't nothing like 'em nowhere." Makes me think of 'California Girls' by the Beach Boys (also referenced in the song) though their lyrics talk about wishing all great girls of the world were California girls, not vice versa.

I see the lyrics in a positive light compared to how I saw them originally. They're the words of a man who just loves his city. It's not patriotism or "born in the USA!" or anything like that, just positive words and music about a city someone loves. I respect and like that. I wish I could do that with Ottawa. Put some feel-good music down and write about the good things about Ottawa, what I love about it. I could. The issue is that compared to L.A., Ottawa has virtually no culture and only two real iconic landmarks - Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal. With Los Angeles you way more than just famous people, you have the film industry and its culture, famous theatres, buildings, landmarks, even famous streets and famous signs. What could I say about Ottawa? "Look at that hill, look at those trees. Look at that politician, he's down on his knees. Look at those woman, ain't nothing like 'em over here." Let's yell "Wellington! We Love it!" We don't have a 6th street. We have a Chinatown and a Hintonburg. "Somerset Street! We Love it! Preston Street! We love it!" Rolling down the Queensway with a big nasty redhead at my side/Gatineau Hill winds blowin' in cold from the north/and we was born to freeze...

As for the music video, it had me laughing at first. You get a cold, sepia-tone image of New York from under a bridge in a factory zone as Newman walks away unimpressed...then, with the sudden synth and piano comes a sudden slideshow of summer images mixed with L.A. scenery, chrome and car grilles and bikinis close-up. Way to jump the contrast. Newman spends the video cruising in a convertible with a redhead girl while you get scenes of the city and people saying "We love it!"I can easily applaud his taste; I'd ride in a convertible with a redhead any day. Just not here.

Okay, Randy Newman. Fine. I like L.A. too. You've done your job right. It looks enticing...for someone from the city 'fun forgot.'

Music: A
Lyrics: B+
Music Video: B- (laughable).

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