Thursday, December 01, 2022

My Personal One Hit Wonders [1]

According to Wikipedia, a one-hit wonder is any entity that achieves mainstream popularity, often for only one piece of work, and becomes known among the general public solely for that momentary success. I've translated this to my own preferences as any act that scores exactly one hit in my list of 200+ favourite songs (in Artrockometer terms 6/6, "hors concours") and does not have even one song in the next tier (in Artrockometer terms 5/6, "essential"). Here is a first helping. The image above was made with Photofunia.

That ole devil called love (Alison Moyet)

About the artist: Alison Moyet (1961) is a a British singer, songwriter and performer noted for her powerful bluesy contralto voice. She came to prominence as half of the duo Yazoo (also known as Yaz), but has since mainly worked as a solo artist. Her worldwide album sales have reached a certified 23 million, with over 2 million singles sold.
About the song: cross-over attempts can be mindbogglingly awful, but once in a while they produce a real gem. Alison Moyet is a case in point. In the mid eighties, she took a break from her disco style songs and successfully toured England with a jazz band led by John Altman, then topped it off by recording the Billie Holiday classic That ole devil called love for a single release. This became her biggest UK hit to date, reaching number 2 in April of 1985. No doubt about it, she pulled it off big time. Her version is beautiful, and still has enough pop overtones to qualify for this list of pop/rock songs. 

About the artist: Anne Murray (1945) is a Canadian singer. Her 32 studio albums consisting primarily of pop, country, and adult contemporary music have sold over 55 million copies worldwide during her 40-year career. 
About the song: You needed me is a track from the 1978 album Let's keep it that way. I have always liked this delicate ballad , but since I met my wife Lu, it has taken on a special meaning. It was the first song we sang for each other, first in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, later at karaoke in a Singapore club, and we also played it at our wedding ceremony in 2000.

Kristallnaach (BAP)

About the band: BAP are a German rock group formed in 1976. Lead singer Wolfgang Niedecken mostly sang their songs in Kölsch, the dialect of Cologne. They released dozens of albums - with eleven albums reaching the number one in the German record charts, BAP is one of the most successful rock acts in their home country.
About the song: Kristallnaach is the absolute highlight in BAP's repertoire. This track from the 1982 album Vun drinne noh drusse likens the rise of neo-nazism in Germany of that time to the period before the second world war - the song title refers to the night in which the windows of houses and shops of Jewish citizens were thrown in in a fit of nation-wide antisemitism. The images they evoke in their lyrics are unusually strong, and depressing in their continued relevance, almost forty years later. The instrumentation suits the song perfectly, starting with sinister low sounds and ending in a fury of drums.

Give up your guns (The Buoys)

About the band: The Buoys were an American pop/rock band from the early 1970s. Their career was short-lived, they never got to record an album. They are remembered for two singles: the notorious Timothy about cannibalism, and Give up your guns. 
About the song: for some reason, Give up your guns from 1971 is appreciated much more in Holland than elsewhere: it featured regularly in the all time top100 organized yearly by a Dutch radio station in the period 1970-2000, peaking at 22 in both 1974 and 1975, and getting a last entry as late as 1996. This story song with its desperado motive ("Shooting here or hanging there - and either way I lose") rather remarkably foreshadows later Eagles songs. 

The sound of silence (Disturbed)

About the band: Disturbed are an American heavy metal band, formed in 1994. The band released seven studio albums, five of which have consecutively debuted at number one on the USA charts. They have sold over 17 million records worldwide, making them one of the most successful rock bands in the modern era. 
About the song: I am reluctant to include cover versions of songs where the original is already in the list, but this is one of the few exceptions. Although Simon and Garfunkel's original remains unsurpassed, the cover version by Disturbed, a track from their 2015 album Immortalized, blew me away when I first heard it in 2019. Paul Simon himself endorsed the power metal ballad version of his masterpiece. 

Tears in heaven (Eric Clapton)

About the artist: Eric Clapton (1945) is an English rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He was a prominent member of the Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Derek and the Dominos, Cream, and Blind Faith, but also had a substantial solo career with 23 studio albums. He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. 
About the song: Tears in heaven is one of the most moving ballads of all time, describing the feelings of a father who has lost his son and wonders whether they will meet again - and recognize each other - in heaven. Clapton recorded this shortly after the death of his own son, and although the lyrics are not his, they might have been. The song first appeared on the 1991 soundtrack for the movie Rush. On a side note, this is also a karaoke favourite of mine - and just be thankful I did not load that version as background music for this site. 

Träume (Françoise Hardy)

About the artist: Françoise Hardy (1944) is a French singer-songwriter, model and fashion icon. She is widely considered an icon of French Ye-Ye pop and of the sixties in general. She has released 32 studio albums and is one of France's most sold artists. 
About the song: Träume (Dreams) is the title track of her 1970 album, the second of her two albums sung in German. The first time I heard this song was 37 years after its issue. One morning during our 2007 holiday, I was waiting for my wife to be ready, and watched a French movie on TV. In one of the more dramatic scenes they used a German song as background, and it really blew me away. Fortunately, the name and singer were mentioned in the dialogue as well, which allowed me to find the song upon our return. The gorgeous melody is courtesy of the German composer Martin Boettcher, who is best remembered in Europe for his numerous German movie scores, including the Edgar Wallace and Karl May series. Françoise Hardy's sings the German lyrics with a seductive accent, and the end result is simply great.

Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)

About the artist: Gerry Rafferty (1947 - 2011) was a British rock singer-songwriter, who first was known as the lead singer of the band Stealers Wheel, and then in the mid seventies embarked on a solo career that yielded one huge hit.
About the song: Baker street is a beautiful song from the 1978 album City to city, and became a top 3 hit in the UK and the USA. It helped the album reach platinum status. The lyrics are somewhat depressing, dealing with the evil of drink, the inevitability of night-life loneliness, and the difficulty of getting back on your feet and starting anew. However, this is set off against the phenomenal instrumentation, crowned by the unforgettable saxophone solo by Raphael Ravenscroft, which has been rightfully hailed as rocks greatest sax break in the Guinness Rockopedia. 

Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley)

About the artist: Jeff Buckley (1966 - 1997), was an American singer, songwriter and guitarist. He was the son of Tim Buckley, and shared his father's fate of a far too early death - he drowned at the age of 30. Even though he released just one studio album, he is widely remembered and respected. 
About the song: his 1994 album Grace, which I only discovered over ten years later, is now widely recognised as a classic, not in the least because of his phenomenal cover of the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah. Starting intriguingly with the sound of a candle being blown out, this ballad unfolds magnificently as Buckley makes the most of the brilliant lyrics.

White rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)

About the band: Jefferson Airplane were an American rock band, formed in 1965, and one of the pioneering bands of psychedelic rock. Between 1966 and their split up in 1972 they released seven studio albums.
About the song: White rabbit, a track from their 1967 album Surrealistic pillow, is easily the best song from the flower power generation. Grace Slick's voice passionately renders the story of Alice in Wonderland, although the links with the drugs scene of that time are quite obvious, right from the start. "One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, the hookah smoking caterpillar, you've just had some kind of mushroom and your mind is moving low...". A surprise USA top ten hit, the song remains a popular feature on classic rock stations around the world. 

Hurt (Johnny Cash)

About the artist: Johnny Cash (1932 - 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, actor, and author. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 90 million records worldwide. His genre-spanning songs and sound embraced country, rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel. This crossover appeal won Cash the rare honor of being inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame. He released over sixty studio albums in a recording career that lasted 57 years.
About the song: one of the latest additions to the list. Johnny Cash' music is not exactly my taste, but when in 2019 I first heard his song Hurt, it blew me away, and the more I hear it (and see the amazing video), the more I love it. It is a track from his 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around, which mainly consists of covers. Hurt is originally a Nine Inch Nails song, and that band's leader Trent Reznor praised Cash's interpretation of his song for its "sincerity and meaning", going so far as to say "that song isn't mine anymore - it's his now". 

Copyright statement: screen shots from videos is deemed fair use.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Art of Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (1879 - 1935) was a Russian avant-garde artist and art theorist, whose pioneering work and writing had a profound influence on the development of abstract art in the 20th century. Malevich is considered to be part of the Ukrainian avant-garde (together with Alexander Archipenko, Sonia Delaunay, Aleksandra Ekster, and David Burliuk) that was shaped by Ukrainian-born artists who worked first in Ukraine and later over a geographical span between Europe and America (from Wikipedia). The self-portrait above is from 1910.

Sisters (1910)

Before he found his own style, Malevich paintings were influenced first by impressionism as in this lovely park scenery with two well-dressed sisters.....

Gardener (1911)

.... and later fauvism as in the self portrait at th start of this post, and this depiction of a gardener.

Peasant Woman (1912)

Th change in style within a year is stunning. WikiArt labels this as "Cubo-Futurism", and this is one of the earliest examples.

The Knifegrinder (1912)

Another example of the same style. My personal favourite painting by this artist.

Morning in the Village after Snowstorm (1913)

This is a perfect example of Russian Cubo-Futurism. Not quite cubism, it was a method of portraying objects via geometric shapes.

Head of a Peasant Girl (1913)

A cubist portrait that is almost abstract. An intriguing work..

Aviator (1914)

Another cubist work, but less abstract. This one foreshadows the collage style of later decades, as well as surrealism (the fish shape and the playing cards).

Englishman in Moscow (1914)

Another work in the same style. Intriguingly, once more with a fish.

Suprematism (1916)

One of many such works he created in this style. From WikiArt: Suprematism  is an art movement, focused on basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, lines, and rectangles, painted in a limited range of colors. It was founded by Kazimir Malevich in Russia, around 1913, and announced in Malevich's 1915 exhibition, The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0.10, in St. Petersburg, where he, alongside 13 other artists, exhibited 36 works in a similar style. The term suprematism refers to an abstract art based upon "the supremacy of pure artistic feeling" rather than on visual depiction of objects. It is not my favourite style by far, but I had to include one of these in my blog post.

Reaper (1929)

A decade later saw Malevich go back to more figurative paintings in style he used before. This is of course a typical expressionist style.

Portrait of Woman in Yellow Hat (1930)

Similarly, this portrait has clear elements ofneo-impressionis and fauvism.

Worker (1935)

Ending today's post with a stunning portrait - where neoclassicism meets Soviet realism.

Copyright statement: images all in public domain.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Compositions of Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, and violinist. Considered a leading composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras, he has been described as a successor of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt Along with Gustav Mahler, he represents the late flowering of German Romanticism, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style (text from Wikipedia). 

As with all posts dedicated to one composer, I will select my 12 favourite works, listed in chronological order. All depicted CD's are from my own collection.

Don Juan (1888)

Don Juan, Op. 20, is a symphonic poem based on the famous Don Juan legend. The work, composed when Strauss was only twenty-four years old, became an international success and established his reputation as an important exponent of modernism and vivid orchestrator. I like most of his many symphonic poems, but this one really stands out for me. The version shown above is by the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under Paavo Berglund on an RCA CD.

Tod und Verklärung (1889)

Tod und Verklärung (Death and transfiguration) opus 24 is a tone poem specifically about the death of an artist. It shows more influence by Wagner than usual. It has moments of fascinating beauty (perhaps most in the transfiguration theme, which Strauss would quote sixty years later in his Four last songs), but also moments that seem too spectacular and brilliant for the subject. Yet, Strauss himself said to his daughter-in-law on his deathbed: "It's a funny thing Alice, dying is just the way I composed it in Tod und Verklärung ....." The version shown above is by the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel, on a CBS CD.

Morgen! (1894)

Morgen! (Tomorrow!) is the last in a set of four songs combined in Opus 27. The text of this Lied, the German love poem "Morgen!", was written by Strauss's contemporary, John Henry Mackay. For me this is the absolute highlight in the vast and excellent collection of Lieder by Strauss. It was originally composed for voice and piano, and arranged for voice and orchestra with violin solo three years later. Usually I prefer orchestral versions, especially when done by the composer himself as here, but in this case I stick with the first version I heard: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Wolfgang Sawallisch on a Deutsche Grammophon CD.

Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1895)

Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (The merry pranks of Till Eulenspiegel) was originally meant to be an opera, and some of that comes back in the tone poem, which has more contrast in mood than usual. The themes are highly melodic and recognizable, and often intrinsically playful as fitting for the subject of the eternal prankster. The music takes us through his various pranks, his trial and execution - after which he still has the last laugh. This is film music before film was invented - I keep wondering why Disney did not include it in Fantasia. Without a doubt, this is one of the most important pieces in the history of the symphonic poem. The version shown above is by the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel, on a CBS CD.

Also sprach Zarathustra (1896)

Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30, translated as 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', is a tone poem. Almost everybody knows the first 2 minutes, almost nobody the last 32 minutes. A bit of an exaggeration of course, but also not that far from the truth. The fabulous opening Sunrise fanfare has become as iconic as the starting notes of Beethoven's fifth symphony, appearing in movies, TV series and commercials all around the world. The eight parts that follow are loosely based on chapters of Nietsche's treatise of the same name - of all of Strauss' tone poems, this is the one that is the least programmatic. And definitely one of the very best.  The version shown above is by the Wiener Philharmoniker under Lorin Maazel on a Deutsche Grammophon CD.

Don Quixote (1998)

Don Quixote, Op. 35 is a tone poem for cello, viola, and orchestra. Subtitled Phantastische Variationen über ein Thema ritterlichen Charakters (Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character), the work is based on the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. It is a unique specimen among the Strauss tone poems: set in theme and variations form, and with the main subjects (Don Quixote and Sancho Panza) represented by one instrument each throughout (cello and viola). Excerpts from the Cervantes story are translated into music in the best Strauss tradition, sometimes witty (pizzicati suggesting the hero dripping wet after his boat sinks), sometimes hilarious (flutter-tongued woodwind representing the army of sheep he attacks), sometimes touching (DQ's death). The version shown above is by the Scottish National Orchestra under Neeme Järvi, with Raphael Wallfisch (cello) and John Harrington viola), on a Chandos CD.

Salome (1905)

Salome, Op. 54, is an opera in one act based on a libretto by Hedwig Lachmann (a German translation of the 1891 French play Salomé by Oscar Wilde. The opera is famous (at the time of its premiere, infamous) for its "Dance of the Seven Veils". Strauss composed fifteen operas, but this is the one that stands out for me. The version shown above is by the Wiener Philharmoniker under Herbert von Karajan, with Hildegard Behrens, José van Dam, Karl-Walter Böhm, Agnes Baltsa and Wieslaw Ochamn, on an EMI double CD.

Eine Alpensinfonie (1915)

Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony) is Strauss' final symphonic poem, his longest, and perhaps his most ambitious, covering the climbing of a mountain, starting and ending at night. Strauss includes the typical parts of such a trip, the climbing, the waterfall, the alpine pasture, struggling through thicket and undergrowth, the glacier, the summit, the view, the change in weather, the descent, the storm and finally the sunset. It is an amazing tour de force, in which he utilizes all colours available in the enlarged symphony orchestra - and more. Majestic and essential - even if in the end, I prefer some of the more condensed symphonic poems of 20-30 years before. The version shown above is by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta on a London CD.

Horn Concerto No. 2 (1942)

Coming sixty years after his first Horn Concerto, the second (in E-flat major) looks back at those early days - it is unashamedly conservative, and highly effective. It has since become the most performed and recorded horn concerto of the 20th century. The version shown above is by the Staatskapelle Dresden under Rudolf Kempe, with Peter Damm as soloist, on an EMI CD.

Metamorphosen (1945)

Metamorphosen is a study for 23 solo strings. It has been widely believed that Strauss wrote the work as a statement of mourning for Germany's destruction during the war, in particular as an elegy for the devastating bombing of Munich, especially places such as the Munich Opera House. A few days after the completion of Metamorphosen, he wrote in his private diary: "The most terrible period of human history is at an end, the twelve year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany's 2000 years of cultural evolution met its doom." (Wikipedia). In more than way, it is a retrospective, directly citing Beethoven and hinting at Mahler in parts. The version shown above is by the Vienna Philharmonic under Andre Previn on a Philips CD.

Oboe Concerto (1945)

The Concerto in D major for Oboe and Small Orchestra is one of the last works Strauss composed near the end of his life, during what is often described by biographers, journalists and music critics as his "Indian summer." It is a stunning piece - possibly my favourite oboe concerto of all time. The version shown above is by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan with Lothar Koch on a Deutsche Grammophon CD.

Vier Letzte Lieder (1948)

Vier Letzte Lieder (Four last songs) is a song cycle for soprano and orchestra. This work is often considered the swan song not only of Strauss, but also of the late romantic era of classical music in general. The songs on texts by Hesse and von Eichendorff are "Frühling" (Spring), "September", "Beim Schlafengehen" (When Falling Asleep) and "Im Abendrot" (At Sunset). All of the songs but "Frühling" deal with death and all were written shortly before Strauss himself died. They are suffused with a sense of calm, acceptance, and completeness (Wikipedia). Personally, I think this song cycle is one of the most important and beautiful of all time. The version shown above is by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under George Szell on an EMI CD.

Copyright statement: posting lower quality album covers is deemed fair use.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The Saturday Evening Post Magazine Covers

The Saturday Evening Post is an American magazine, currently published six times a year. It was issued weekly under this title from 1897 until 1963, then every two weeks until 1969. From the 1920s to the 1960s, it was one of the most widely circulated and influential magazines within the American middle class, with fiction, non-fiction, cartoons and features that reached two million homes every week (from Wiki). Among its regular cover artists was Albert Staehle (1899-1974), who painted 26 covers for the Post. Of those, 25 featured his mischievous black and white Cocker Spaniel, Butch. As it is 20 years ago almost to the day that we got our own Cocker Spaniel Jazz (sadly no more with us of course), I'm making this a post about these covers - providing no additional information under each. The image above was made at the Photofunia site, which has no copyright issues.

February 1944

June 1944

July 1944

October 1944

February 1945

June 1945

September 1945

February 1946

May 1946

August 1946

September 1946

February 1947

Copyright statement: posting lower quality magazine covers is deemed fair use.