Friday, 19 May 2017

Greg Phillinganes - Behind the Mask (1985)

Greg was definitely taking some cues from Michael Jackson in this track with his vocal performance, and you know what, it is awesome. It's kind of a neat thing that Michael Jackson created almost a genre of sassy and confident male singers who would just make a bunch of weird noises now and then.

Aside from that, this is just shy of being a synth anthem. The main synth chords that come in when the songs gets going are something you would probably have heard in a hockey arena in the 80s, and I ain't hatin' it. The synth bass is fairly mild. Not center stage or anything, but I give this track a complete and total pass for just being pretty much synthed out of it's gourd.

For those who enjoy keytars, here's the video as well :)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Vince DiCola - Legacy (Audition Piece for the Transformers Movie) (1986)

Vince DiCola is such a cult favourite. The work he did for the Transformers movie stands the test of time as one of the most bombastic and progressive movie scores of all time. And it was entirely created during the absolute peak of 80s synthesizers. Everything in the score is digital, but not only that, everything is on fire! He doesn't relent, and he rarely repeats himself. Every bar presents new challenges and new directions and new textures. But he does it all masterfully. I am never not blown away when I listen to his work on the film.

So, interestingly, this track was not from the film. It was released well after the fact, due to the sheer fan support for DiCola. In the late 90s he was brought back to perform at some Transformers conventions, and it was there that a new and complete version of the movie score was released. That release had on it this song, which was listed as the "audition piece" for the film.

You just have to put yourself in Vince's shoes for a second. he has one shot to land the gig of scoring the film, and this was what he came up with. This insanely progressive ultra energetic synth laden anthem. And amazingly, the people in charge went with it!

This kind of thing almost never happens. The track with this much energy and hubris never gets to the top of the heap. I think if it were not for how drenched with character all of his many song sections are he would not have secured the job. But it was to his great credit that he managed to show them almost an entire sound track's worth of potential ideas in one track. and while the score itself did  not feature this song, you can hear in the finished product so much of the character and the potential from this track become reality, while also spiraling off in to dozens of their own potentials.

This is an approach to song writing that I have always shared as well, so I definitely see Vince DiCola as a bit of an icon. and just as quickly as he became one, he very nearly disappeared from the scene. Outside of scoring Rocky 4 (another great score) he seemed to never headline a project again.

Amazingly, when the first real life Transformers movie was coming out, I remember reading that he once again auditioned to score the film. I don't think I ever got to hear his audition, but you can imagine how easily they would shut down a song like this, right? That's why it was so amazing that it all came together in 1986... When synths were high tech, and you were practically a wizard if you could get them to make any noise at all.

Vince, hat's off to you, my friend.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Dave Lawson - News Of The World (Bruton BRI - 16) (1981)

I don't want to alarm anyone, but I am about to go ahead an blow your mind. Most people, I should say, aren't aware of library music. Library music is what you would call royalty free music that is made by a production company, that large companies pay a subscription fee to use whole cloth with no need to ever pay royalties.

While there are still tons of library production companies out there today, everything has gone digital, and you subscribe to those services much like you would iTunes or Spotify etc. But in the 70s and the 80s especially, Library music took on a very special role.

Synthesizers. Not everyone had the money just go out and by a synthesizer in the late 70s. The price of the highest end most popular synths were enough that regular people would have to take out a mortgage for just to be able to have. So people who did have these synths, or had access to them, were quite a hot commodity.

Library music of the early "synth" era was unbelievably well created. It seems like the companies like Bruton in this case, would just hire dream teams of good studio musicians and pretty much leave them to create. Otherwise I can't really tell how this music got created the way it did. I would love to hear some postmortems from some of the composers about what it was like.

The really interesting thing is, for a long time, these library records were actually sent on on Vinyl to the news stations and TV stations who had memberships. And these records now seem to litter dusty bins at vinyl shops. There is a large community of people on the internet who are trying to complete these collections in mp3 format, to preserve this music for the glorious compositions that they were. And we will reap the benefits by getting crashing wall after crashing wall of amazing music from the era.

Burton is the name of this library production company, and "BRI" in this case is the genre of record it is. BRI was the label applied to library albums that had a heavily synth based focus, so you can see how it becomes a really fin thing to try and "catch'em all". When you find a new BRI, you know you are in for a treat.

One last interesting tidbit about library albums is that on the back of the vinyl sleeve, each song would have a description of the mood associated with the song. It would say stuff like, "Corporate driving beat" or "mellow down tempo" or "pulsating rhythms". What I love about this is, the people who had the records, and who would put them in their TV shows, would basically look at these descriptions to decide what they wanted for their media.

I like the idea of a musician writing a bunch of stuff, then telling the director and editor this is what it would be especially well used for. Love it. More to come.