#OnRepeat: The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”

This week, I’ve had The Beach Boy’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” #OnRepeat. This song has been a favorite of mine for awhile, but I’ve been playing it a lot lately because of the weather and the upbeat nature of the song.

The Beach Boys are a rock group from Hawthorne, California that formed in 1961. Their use of vocal harmony, different musical arrangement techniques, and surf and beach lyrics made them an influential and popular band during the 1960s and 70s. Their music is a blend of 1950s-style Rock’N’Roll, Pop, Jazz, and Psychedelic music, creating a unique sound that was surprisingly more complex than much of the rock music that was being created at the time. Some of the most well-known songs are “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” “I Get Around,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.”

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was written and recorded in 1966 for the album, Pet Sounds, using Classical music influences and instruments that weren’t typically associated with American Pop music, like the accordion. The lyrics describe a young couple who want to be together, but can’t because of their age. Even though the words evoke feelings of lament and longing, the music is bright and upbeat; and the singers’ vocal harmonies and catchy melody make this song easy to get stuck in your head.

Take a listen below:

 

 

Is there a singer or group that you can’t stop listening to? Leave a comment below!

 

 

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#OnRepeat: Vaud and the Villains’ ” Eyes on the Prize”

This week, I’ve had Vaud and the Villains’ “Eyes on the Prize” #OnRepeat. I saw this band live in San Diego several weeks ago and I haven’t been able to stop listening to their music ever since.

Vaud and the Villains is a 20-piece, New Orleans-style big band based in Los Angeles, California. Their music and performance style is a mixture of Cabaret, and theater, blending New Orleans Jazz, Gospel, Blues, R&B, Country, and Rock music. The band is lead by actor, Andy Comeau, and his wife, Dawn Lewis, who are known by their stage names Vaud Overstreet and Peaches Mahoney. Their live shows are high energy, with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor, vintage-style outfits, and seductive dancing.

“Eyes on the Prize” is a folk song that became popular during the United States Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, and is based on a traditional Gospel song. Vaud and the Villains bring a type of slinky-like, playfulness to this song that Bruce Springsteen could not, but at the same time, mirrors the grit and charisma Springsteen brought in his performance. This is truly one of the few bands that you have to see perform live–video and recording don’t do this band justice. Take a listen below.

Do you know any bands who are great live performers? Leave a comment below!

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Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer – “Skylark Doesn’t Sound Right”

Late night rehearsals were not her favorite. Especially when just getting through a previous four-hour rehearsal with musicians that didn’t practice, didn’t care, and didn’t want to be there. She was tired, both physically and emotionally, and she definitely needed sleep. It was nights like this that made her question whether she truly could be a singer.

“Hey, let’s run ‘Skylark,’ guys,” she said, adjusting her microphone stand.

Sam was noodling around on the drums while William was playing a pattern on the congas.

She held up the chart. “Can we run through Skylark one time? It’s super late.”

Sam looked over at William’s hands and decided to join in. The piano player heard the pattern that William and Sam were playing and he started playing a montuno on the piano.

She shot Todd, the piano player, a dirty look.

He smiled and played the montuno faster.

I don’t have the patience for this, she thought, rolling her eyes. She sat down and put her chin in her hands.

“Alright guys. Let’s run ‘Skylark’ before Tiffany loses it,” William called to the other band members as he slapped one of the conga heads.

She looked down at the ground and sighed. William loved to jam for hours and hours and was easily distracted, whether they had to get stuff done or not. The level of sarcasm in his voice was more than she liked, but she was grateful William had taken charge and got the band back on track. Who knows how long she would’ve been sitting there.

She had never felt she fit the leadership role very well, being more comfortable with the idea of being a part of and working as a team. That’s why she hated when stage crews placed the microphone out front, far from the rest of the band, isolating her. She loved set-ups where everyone was close together, even if it was uncomfortable, because then she felt part of the group. She could interact with everyone easily and react if something happened unexpectedly.

Todd began to play the intro to the song, interrupting her thoughts. She came in with the first verse, but as she kept singing, she noticed something sounded off with he chords that Todd was playing. She tried to ignore it as she continued on to the second verse, but his chord voicings felt like nails on a chalkboard. She winced. She knew her music theory was poor and that if she said something, Todd would ask for specific keys and fingerings. Something that she honestly couldn’t do. She looked at William and Sam, who both gave her uncertain looks.

Sam put up his hand. “Stop. Let’s run it from the top again.”

Todd played the intro to “Skylark” and she came in with the first verse again, but the same issue was still happening. There was no room, melodically, for her to sing. Todd’s chord voicings sat right on top of her voice. “Something’s not right,” she called out to Todd.

“What do you mean?” Todd stopped playing.

“The chords you’re playing don’t sound right,” she said, making a face.

“Well, what chords? Show me specifically what chords I’m playing wrong. If you can’t point them out, then–”

“I don’t know what exactly you’re playing, Todd, I just know it’s the wrong chords,” she said, feeling herself blush. She knew he would put her on the spot if she spoke up. Just because she couldn’t name every chord Todd was playing without looking, didn’t mean she was wrong. She knew she had a really good ear. Now, though, she felt stupid for saying anything.

Sam got up from behind the drum set and walked over to stand beside Todd. “Let me see what chords you’re playing.”

Todd played the first couple of chords.

“You do know this is in the key of A minor, right?” Sam said, frustrated. He pushed Todd over on the bench so he could sit down and start playing.

“Where on this chart does it say what key it’s in?” Todd said, losing his patience.

“Right there!” Sam pointed to an area on the chart. He started playing the chords of the song. “Tiffany, start from the top. I’ll play along.”

She started singing the first verse while Sam accompanied her. “That feels way more comfortable.”

“Yeah, dude, your voicings were wrong. You’re crowding her too much when you play like that. She’s supposed to sit on top. Not fight to be heard.” Sam got up to go back to the drums.

Todd started running through the chords, playing the voicings that Sam had shown him.

She shook her head. She knew she shouldn’t let it get to her, but being a singer who was severely lacking in music theory was crippling. Musicians already had notions of singers being divas and complainers. Add lack of technical musical knowledge and it would become downright embarrassing whenever any type of issues arose. Moments like the one she just had with Todd would happen more often if she didn’t start studying theory more.

Sam counted off on the drums. She raised her eyes from the floor and started to sing.

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#OnRepeat: Lana Del Rey’s “Once Upon a Dream from Disney’s Maleficent”

 

This week, I’ve had Lana Del Rey’s “Once Upon a Dream” #OnRepeat. I just recently came across this recording and can’t get enough of Lana’s haunting interpretation of this Disney classic.

Lana Del Rey (born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant)is a model, singer, and songwriter from New York state who got her start performing in underground night clubs in New York City. Her music blends Pop, Psychedelic Rock, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Country, and Electronic music. Some of her most well-known songs are “Video Games,” “Ride,” “Young and Beautiful,” and “I Can Fly.”

“Once Upon a Dream” is a song written in 1959 for the animated Disney movie, Sleeping Beauty, used during the scene in the film where Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip dance together for the first time. Lana Del Rey’s version of this song was released for the 2014 Disney film, Maleficent, a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story from a different perspective. Del Rey’s use of the lower part of her range, her full, raspy timbre, and the use of piano and radio effects definitely give this version of “Once Upon a Dream” a darker feel. The waltz-like feel is still apparent in this arrangement, adding to the song’s eccentric, yet lullaby-like quality.

Take a listen below:

Do you have any cover songs you can’t stop listening to? Leave a comment below!

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#OnRepeat: Marvin Gay & Tammi Terrell “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

This week, I’ve had Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” #OnRepeat. This has always been a favorite Marvin Gaye song and for some reason this week I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.

Marvin Gaye was a singer, songwriter, drummer, and record producer from Washington D.C. His playing and singing style helped shape the Motown sound of the 1960s and would eventually influence many future Neo Soul and R&B singers. Some of his most well-known songs are “Let’s Get It On,” “What’s Going On,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” and “Inner City Blues.”

Tammi Terrell is a singer from Philadelphia who became famous for her string of duets with Marvin Gaye and for her brief work with James Brown. Along with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” her other hits were “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Had she not died at an early age from cancer, she would have no doubt been very successful on the Motown, and later, R&B scene.

The song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is essentially a love song; one person tells another how they’ll be there for the other no matter what because of their undying, unconditional love. The theme and words are straight forward (heavy and bittersweet, if you think about it), but the music itself is upbeat and catchy, causing you to sing the melody long after the song has ended. Gaye and Terrell’s voices blend nicely together and individually, they bring a soulful and sweet element to the song through phrasing and vocal riffs.

Take a listen below:

Do you have a singer  or group that you can’t stop listening to? Leave a comment below!

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Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer-“Cattle Call”

This was probably the worst idea she had ever had. Initially, she thought it would be a good opportunity to get exposure. She knew she had a good voice, but maybe she just wasn’t cut out for this kind of thing.

She had been standing in a long line since seven o’clock that morning, her mom by her side and a piece of paper with a number printed on it on her chest. It was starting to get really hot, and feelings of self-doubt and anxiousness were starting to take over.

“This could be it. The big break you’ve been waiting for,” her mom whispered in her ear.

She looked around. People were dressed in outlandish outfits, playing guitars, and dancing around. “I don’t know, Mom, they’re saying that there’s over 5,000 people here,” she said, worried. Everyone wanted their fifteen minutes of fame. A lot of them had probably worked and sacrificed to get there. Why should she be the lucky one to get picked for a slot on the show?

Everyone was being filtered into a large stadium. Cameras were everywhere, but all she wanted to do was crawl in a ball and hide. What the heck was she doing here? This wasn’t her. Security guards were directing the crowds onto the field and making performers line up in rows of five.

She looked back at her mom. “You’re going to do great. I’m proud of you no matter what. I’ll be waiting right here,” her mom said, reassuringly.

She looked around as she walked up to her line. There were individual tents with three judges sitting at a table underneath each tent. Performers would walk up in groups of five, standing next to each other, and each would sing an excerpt of a song. Many of the performers that were being picked to move on to the next round had extravagant outfits or were physically attractive, but she didn’t hear anything substantial coming from their mouths. This isn’t real, she thought. This isn’t music.

She was next in line to sing. She watched the judge’s faces as the group of performers each sang. They were all clearly bored, looking, but not really listening. The performers finished and left. She walked up to face the judges along with four other singers.

She looked around. Each one of the girls standing there with her looked terrified. She felt nervous, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed. The judges were too busy jotting down notes on paper, so much so that they didn’t even notice when it came time for her to sing. Screw this, she thought. They’re going to pay attention to me. She picked the one part of the song she prepared where she knew she would belt the melody. She had a deep, powerful voice. She was damn good at belting. The other singers around her looked up when she let the sound escape from her lips. She let herself feel every note in that moment, forgetting what happened before and what might come after. She knew her voice carried, so her mom had to hear what everyone else was hearing. What the judges were trying to ignore.

One of the judges held up her hand, cutting her off halfway through the second line of the verse she was singing. “That’s enough. Thank you.” The woman adjusted her glasses, a fake smile thinly spread across her face. “Unfortunately, you aren’t what we’re looking for. Better luck next time.”

Her insides felt empty, as she walked out of the stadium. She was physically and emotionally exhausted. She felt as though she had taken everything inside and laid it on the table for those judges, completely exposing who she was. And for what?

“That girl was ridiculously good. I don’t know why they didn’t pick her to move onto the next round,” a girl said directly to her right that was pointing at her.

She smiled back at the girl, but when she saw her mom, the smile disappeared. She struggled to hold back tears as she mom hugged her, but she had never felt so insignificant. Her talent, her years of training and experience had meant absolutely nothing here. She felt as though everything she knew about music didn’t matter. She had wasted a day waiting to perform for people who didn’t care if she succeeded or if she had real talent. She would be less willing (if at all) in the future to put herself in a position where her talents weren’t truly appreciated and where her time was of little value.

“I could hear you all the way across the stadium,” her mom said as they walked to the car. “You sounded amazing. I’m proud of you.”

 

 

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Grand Performances: A Great Live Performance Venue

I am all for utilizing social media to interact and network with others when creating art. However, live music performances are the life blood of music. CDs, MP3s, music streaming services allow you to play music whenever and wherever you want, but who doesn’t want to see their favorite band, singer or even a new group play live?

That’s why I absolutely love Grand Performances in Downtown Los Angeles. Grand Performances is a free, summer-long concert series that takes place at the open-air California Plaza II in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles. Audience members can come bring picnic meals and drinks, sitting almost anywhere around the stage. There is reserve seating for those who wish to pay, but really any seat in the plaza is a great seat because of the sound system, acoustics, and multiple television monitors placed throughout the area. Grand Performances makes it a point to celebrate cultural diversity, booking groups and solo acts from all over the world (I, myself, recently went to watch L’Orchestre Afrisa International & Ricardo Lemvo, hailing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

I have written posts encouraging people to go experience live music before, but really, everyone should go to a show during the Grand Performances summer series. By offering free access to world performance events, they are building and inspiring our community to become a part of the bigger cultural picture, educating the public through art; especially music. The artists that perform also are able to sell their merchandise, should anyone choose to bring these cultural experiences home to explore more (which they should). The staff that work these events are always polite and extremely helpful, and the welcoming atmosphere keeps people coming back every summer.

Please check out a show at Grand Performances soon! This is definitely one of the best musical experiences that you could have in Los Angeles. You won’t be disappointed.

The link to their main page can be found below for your reference:

http://www.grandperformances.org

 

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#OnRepeat: Ricardo Lemvo’s “Mambo Yo Yo”

This week, I’ve had Ricardo Lemvo’s “Mambo Yo Yo” #OnRepeat. I have been listening to Lemvo’s music for awhile, but recently have become somewhat obsessed since watching him perform live at Grand Performances in Downtown Los Angeles this past weekend.

Ricardo Lemvo is a singer born in Angola, but was raised in Kishasa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he was first introduced to Cuban music. Ricardo formed the band, Makina Loca, back in 1990, blending influences from African Soukous, Kizomba, Samba, and Cuban Salsa music. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California, but travels internationally frequently for concerts, festivals, private events. Some of his most well-known songs are “Yiri Yiri Bon,” “Malambo,” “Mama Kiyele,” “Birin Birin,” and “Tata Masamba.”

“Mambo Yo Yo” is an upbeat song that sounds almost like an Afro-Cuban salsa song if you didn’t listen closely to the lyrics, which are both in Spanish and mix in words from different African languages. Ricardo’s voice brings a unique color to the music because of his nasal-like, raspy yet vibrant timbre. His melodic phrasing seems to float on top of the other instruments and his rhythmic timing keeps you on your feet dancing.

Take a listen below:

I know that Ricardo is able to sing in several different languages, however, I’m not quite sure which African language he is singing in here. If anyone has an accurate translation of his lyrics, or can point me in the right direction, please feel free to leave a comment below. Please check out more of Ricardo Lemvo’s music, both online and live performances!

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#OnRepeat: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”

This week, I’ve had Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”#OnRepeat. I grew up listening to this song repeatedly, but didn’t really quite appreciate it until recently.

Queen is a rick band from London, England that was popular during the 1970s and 1980s. The band was lead by vocalist and pianist, Freddy Mercury (famously known for sliding effortlessly up and down his five-octave range), writing music that blended Pop, Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, and Classical music. They were known for experimenting heavily with sound and live stage performance techniques. Some of their most well-known songs are “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Somebody to Love.”

“Bohemian Rhapsody” was a song written by Freddy Mercury that became one of the most iconic Pop songs in the last several decades. Nearly six minutes in length, the song was written in the format of a suite, with changes in style and tempo, moving from a Ballad section to an “Operatic” section, to an aggressive Hard Rock. Mercury’s virtuosic voice is prominent throughout with an incredibly powerful, piercing upper range that he utilizes while belting. He demonstrates ridiculous efficiency in diction and rhythm, and he was able to slide from subtle and sweet to brash and energetic almost seamlessly. Having grown up listening to Queen, and then training as a vocalist myself, I have gained a whole new level of respect for this song, Freddy Mercury, and the band as a whole.

Take a listen below:

What do you think? What is your favorite Queen song? Let us know in the comments below!

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Musings-Bill Evans

 

[pic: jazzdagama.com]

“To imitate someone is to insult them.” – Bill Evans

When I came across this quote, it seemed so one-sided to me that I had to respond. I try my best to look at both sides of a situation or opinion, but to me, this statement seems extremely reductive because of the fact that many musicians start out their musical careers imitating someone else.

As a matter of fact, I have always told people to learn what others have done before them (their melismas, phrasing, breathing techniques, etc.) as a tool for practice. Once you have become comfortable enough and know that melodic line or vocal lick like the back of your hand, then you can start to experiment with it, adding or taking away parts, or coming up with something entirely different so that it becomes your own. For this reason, imitation is a key step in the learning process.

I wouldn’t imitate vocalists or musicians (horn players’ horn lines are great practicing tools too)if I didn’t like or respect some aspect of their playing. If I truly think something sounds slick or interesting, I’ll want to figure it out and practice singing it until I can perform it all my own because I want that idea or performance aspect as part of my musical vocabulary. That idea will be in my subconscious for the rest of my life. How could that be insulting?

I can understand why some might see this as an insult though. Some musicians think that copying or imitating is lazy; that there is no effort or original thought in imitation. I would argue the contrary because many licks, phrases, or melodies that I’ve imitated during practice have been used as a springboard or starting  point to create something entirely different. The more avenues the musicians are willing to utilize for creativity, the more potential for music that can be created. Imitation has the potential to spark creative thought, leading to something newer, different, or even, better than the original idea.

 

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