Awesome-ness!

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We’re going to take another break from Christmas albums today, because just about the entire world is setting aside holiday season hustle and bustle to talk about Star Wars.

story of star wars

The trilogy takes up a fair amount of space in our record collection at home. The reason for this is something that might alarm millennials: when we Gen Xers were growing up with Star Wars, we couldn’t watch it on any passing whim. Even if you were fortunate enough to have VHS or Betamax player, there was likely only one in the house, forcing you to share video time with people — ugh, parents — who didn’t understand how important Star Wars was. Worse still, you had to convince them to spend twenty dollars a piece for the tapes. Or rent it. Lord knows our parents spent more money renting Star Wars at the grocery store to open their own franchise.

So the way you recreated Star Wars was through the records. Each of the original three films had an excellent soundtrack LP, with composer John Williams conducting the London Philharmonic. In addition to providing hours of background music while playing with those Kenner toys in the basement, these albums offered stills from the films to look at and, in one case, a poster.

20th Century also produced story albums for each of the Star Wars films, and licensed the images and score to Disney’s Buena Vista Records. This last move led to the storybook records with an amateur cast, and the first wave of anxiety over the Disneyfication of the trilogy around the same time J.J. Abrams was a sixteen-year-old scoring Nightbeast.

We love the actors on these 7-inch records, especially the guy who plays Han Solo.

 

If you think this is fun, wait ’til you hear Buena Vista’s versions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The best part is actor Michael Dorn (of CHiPs and Star Trek fame) playing Darth Vader for the first time.

adventures of luke skywalkerThe story LPs had the actual dialogue from the film, and they were awesome. The first was narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne, and was recently broadcast here in town by KFAI’s Listening Lounge. Our favorite is the storybook treatment of The Empire Strikes Back, released as The Adventures of Luke Skywalker and narrated by the improbably named Malachi Throne.

The first two soundtrack albums were frustratingly mis-sequenced, making it impossible (without moving the needle several times) to act out the films. Ideally, these interruptions could be timed to coincide with costume and scenery changes. Those of you who grew up with these records probably understand.

star warsThe success of Star Wars and The Story of Star Wars naturally inspired imitations and knock-offs. Meco’s famous disco version of the main title theme and the Cantina band, from his album Star Wars and Other Galatic Funk, briefly became the #1 song in America. Before we come down on Meco for cashing in on the Star Wars fad, which folks certainly did, he reportedly saw the film four times in the first week. He might have just been one of the awesome-est Star Wars nerds of all time.

meco star wars

london orchestraOrchestral knock-offs became ubiquitous. While recording the Star Wars theme may have lent a little class to the Boston Pops after Saturday Night Fiedler, other albums were janky at best. The deceptively-named and inferior London Philharmonic Orchestra released an album with this warning on the jacket to avoid lawsuits or, we suppose, a brick through the window of the basement where they recorded.

Star Wars record ephemera extended well beyond the story book albums and the scores. There was, for instance, a 12″ single with an extended version of “Lapti Nek,” the fucking awesome Max Rebo Band jam which was cut when the “special edition” of Return of the Jedi appeared. Lucas and crew pushed for the song to become a dancefloor hit, re-recorded it with Michelle Gruska (today a voice-over artist and vocal coach) taking Sy Snoodle’s lead. The sad state of “Lapti Nek” is a subject of controversy with Star Wars fans, as the song as it appeared in Return of the Jedi in 1983 has never been issued on a record.

But something else sparked more controversy when folks started to listen to the Star Wars scores at home. Classical fans noticed striking similarities to other albums in their collections. It started with the main theme, which bears several striking similarities to Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s title them for King’s Row, a modestly successful film produced by Warner Brothers in 1943. Previously it was best remembered by film buffs for being the movie to make Ronald Reagan a star (it’s where he first said, “Where’s the rest of me?” — a line which became the title of his autobiography written while running for Governor of California). Korngold’s music was popular enough that the studio was prepared with a form letter for requests for it’s score, which studios rarely offered on albums or sheet music at the time.

It wasn’t until after Star Wars sparked interest in the score that it was finally recorded and released as an LP, although it is considered one of the finest works in Korngold’s extensive catalog. He also wrote several string quartets, concertos for strings, and symphonic works. In his main title theme for King’s Row you’ll likely recognize the inspiration for the main title theme to Star Wars, but also Williams’ themes to Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

kings row soundtrack

Was Williams a thief? Meh, hardly more of a thief than George Lucas himself. And honestly, if it weren’t for Lucas’ appropriation of mythology, we wouldn’t have read books like The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell as teenagers and seemed smart to our peers in college. Without Williams we may have not discovered Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s magnificent score to this otherwise forgettable film. Without Star Wars we might be wandering in some desolate desert.

But questions about the Star Wars scores persist. It doesn’t help that the theme from ET is eerily close to a passage from Howard Hanson’s Second Symphony or that the best part of Jaws clearly comes from Dvorak’s From the New World symphony.

Perhaps the most damning example of Williams’ creative license is also the most memorable melody to come out of the Star Wars trilogy. The debut of “The Imperial March” in The Empire Strikes Back is nothing less than movie magic, but it’s also a familiar theme.

empire strikes back

Frederick Chopin’s B-flat funeral march was hardly as obscure as the score for a Ronald Reagan film. In fact, it was one of the pianist’s finest moments. The Marche funèbre from his Sonata no. 2 was completed in 1839, and a century later became a standard at state funerals. Fifty years ago it was performed by a military band during the funeral procession for Winston Churchill, and just two years earlier for John F. Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery (hear the latter here).

rubenstein chopin

Orchestrations of Chopin’s funeral march date to the earliest part of the twentieth century, but it was Edward Elgar’s arrangement in 1933 which became the most popular and likely inspired Williams’ “Imperial March.”

You can hear an original 78rpm recording of Sir Adrian Boult’s conducting Elgar’s arrangement performed by the BBC Orchestra in 1937 at Abbey Road here.

Pianist Arthur Rubinstein is often considered the finest interpreter of Chopin’s music, and first recorded the Sonata no. 2 in 1946. It is included in RCA’s Red Seal Chopin Collection (pictured at left), and features a moving performance of the funeral march.

Another recurring theme from The Empire Strikes Back becomes integral to the story when Han Solo is put into carbonite by Darth Vader. After Princess Leia expresses her love for the scoundrel (to which he famously replies “I know”) we hear the theme introduced when the two first kissed aboard the Millennium Falcon.

This lovely romantic melody was first introduced in Tchaikovsky’s sole violin concerto, which was completed in 1881 and remains regarded as one of the most demanding works written in the form. We chose a recording which features David Oistrakh, a virtuoso to whom concerti by Shostakovich and Kachaturian were dedicated. He’ll introduce the familiar theme just past halfway through the recording sample below, which comes from a 1962 recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.

Tchaikovsky re-introduces the melody near the conclusion, much in the same way Williams does with his love theme in Empire when Han is frozen. Tchaikovsky initially intended to dedicate his concerto to Iosof Kotek, a violinist who historians believe was also briefly his lover. Kotek did not want to debut the piece, and their forbidden relationship wasn’t allowed to blossom, as was the one between “a princess and a guy like me,” as Solo phrased it.

tchaikovsky concerto

If Williams relied on his record collection for inspiration while composing the Star Wars score, he certainly had a favorite in Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet, The Rite of Spring, which we featured here on the Hymies blog a couple years back. It’s magically surreal opening mirrors Williams’ musical landscape for Tatooine, and an exciting early passage provided the soundtrack of stormtroopers on the march in the middle of the film.

We took our samples from Stravinsky’s ballet from this exciting 1968 version by the Chicago Symphony with Seiji Ozawa conducting. Our earlier post about it uses an earlier recording with the composer conducting.

rite of spring

The suspenseful music heard as the Millennium Falcon comes out of hyperspace and approaches the Death Star comes from a likely source: Gustav Holst’s seven part suite, The Planets. Early passages of “Neptune, the Mystic” are reflected in other scenes set aboard the gigantic space station as well.

The eighth and furthest planet had only been discovered a little over thirty years before Holst’s birth, and was still shrouded in mystery when he composed this movement for his suite on the celestial bodies in 1915. It was not until Voyager 2 passed the planet in 1989 that we were able to get a good look at it.

holst the planets

While fans have had fun finding reflections of Williams’ Star Wars scores in other classical works, they are hardly more ‘stolen’ themes than re-invented, the same way the story itself borrows from films like The Hidden Fortress. It is hard to imagine any scene from the trilogy without the music.

return of the jediWilliams also provided inventive otherworld music for the Cantina band, Jabba’s palace, and the Ewok celebration. Like “Lapti Nek,” this last song was replaced in the 1992 “Special Edition” of Return of the Jedi, to the frustration of fans. The replacement song was also written by Williams, but proved to be highly unpopular, as were most changes made in the “Special Editions.” What better place to end our survey of Star Wars records than with the end of Return of the Jedi?

ewoksThe word “Ewok” is never spoken in Return of the Jedi, nor are any of the little warriors given a name except in the end credits. Their celebration song at the end of the film — which fans know as “Yub Nub” –is in a language invented by legendary engineer Ben Burtt, who is responsible for the sounds of Star Wars.

This storybook record about the Ewoks is from the same Buena Vista series which licensed the music and images, but not the actor’s voices.

 

 

We’re taking a break from our month-long bonanza of Christmas records to post the last video in our series co-produced with Pabst Twin Cities. We saved Mary Allen and the Percolators for last because it wouldn’t be fair if someone had to follow this band. Here they are performing “Teenage Girls” in a video directed by Dan Huiting, edited by Lauren Josephine and mixed by Brian Herb of Mother of All Music.

If you follow the Youtube link, you’ll see that we have finally created a Hymie’s Records channel and you can watch ten videos from our series, with more to be added soon.

On Record Store Day we will be releasing a compilation LP of these recordings, which will include a DVD! Thanks to our good friend Craig Drehmel from Pabst Twin Cities for all his work on this amazing collaboration, which has brought together so many of our favorite local artists!

The Ramsey Lewis Trio released his first album, Ramsey Lewis and the Gentlemen of Swing, nearly sixty years ago. The 2011 CD Taking Another Look was Lewis’ eightieth album! We’d have a hard time choosing a favorite. His early album are the epitome of class — the only problem with An Hour with the Ramsey Lewis Trio is that it’s not actually an hour long! Ramsey’s seventies soul albums are consistently awesome. You can’t go wrong with “What’s the Name of that Funk? Spiderman.” Lewis can play jazz in just about any setting — his appearance on the 90s compilation Stolen Moments: Red Hot+Cool was one of the best tracks on that collaboration between jazz and hip hop artists.

Just how awesome is Ramsey Lewis? So awesome that earlier this year he got a personal birthday greeting from the President!

If forced to thin our collection to just one Ramsey Lewis album, we’d choose Them Changes. The reason: it was recorded at the Depot here in Minneapolis in 1970. This is the club which eventually became First Avenue ten years later.them changes

Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen played the first show at the Depot on April 3rd, and we believe Ramsey Lewis made the first live recording in the club. Them Changes was recorded on May 8th and 9th.

The title track is a cover of Buddy Miles’ signature tune, which was first written when he was playing drums in Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies. The cover of Lewis’ album applies the song to changing times in a way which remains relevant to today’s events as well. Released as a single (credited to Ramsey Lewis & Co.) his cover of “Them Changes” didn’t do as well as earlier singles but we love it just as much as his versions of “Wade in the Water” or “The In Crowd.”

Lewis had played the fender rhodes electric piano on a couple previous albums, but never to the effect he does on Them Changes. Also, this live album is the second time Phil Upchurch joined Lewis’ trio. He was in the middle of a run of soul jazz albums which are some of our favorites, and a perfect compliment to Lewis’ style.

The album was captured by the legendary remote recording engineer Reice Hamel. Hamel is particularly famous for the innovations introduced with The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, a live album which influenced other jazz recordings for years to come. You can certainly hear this in the way he recorded the crowd’s interaction on Them Changes although Lewis has a lot less to say than the talkative Adderley. We recently posted two tracks from an Ahmad Jamal album Hamel recorded at the same club (here). A couple of Hamel’s additional claims to fame are recording Barbra Streisand’s widely bootlegged debut at the Hungry I in 1963, and the recordings from Joan Baez 1962 tour which made up the best selling In Concert albums. Whether he made other recordings at the Depot is uncertain, but it’s something we’re on the lookout for!

luther allisonLuther Allison answered the question in the first song on this awesome LP, where he is backed by a band called the Blues Nebulae.

Allison was never as famous as some of his early employers (which include Howlin’ Wolf and James Cotton) but he led bands on recordings and tours ’til his untimely passing from undiagnosed cancer in 1997. Late in his career he received wide-spread acclaim, including basically owning the Blues Foundation‘s WC Handy awards for several years.

Allison is also unique in being one of the only blues artists to ever record for Motown Records. His three records for the notoriously polished label are distinctly different from the rest of its catalog.

Love Me Mama was his first album, released in 1968 after several years of hard work in the Chicago area.

Yep, we have posted about this already back in September. We’re pretty excited, so here’s a second reminder: local goth/metal legends Morticia have reunited for a special Halloween show here at Hymie’s!

Morticia released a 7″ single (“Zombie Love” b/w “You Scare Me to Death”) and an LP (Mortal Fear) in 1987. Their last album, 13 Nightmares, was released five years later, and earned a Minnesota Music Award for Best Metal Album. All three albums they released before disbanding in 1994 were on local label Channel 83 Records. In 2005 an Italian label collected highlights from all three on a disc, Exhumed, which was popular enough with metal fans to quickly fall out of print.

Their act was described at the time as an updated Alice Cooper with darker shades of the Damned and Sisters of Mercy, and they were the first goth metal band from the Twin Cities to establish a following. Morticia stopped playing in 1994 with a final show at First Avenue, but reunited in April 2012 to take part in the 25th anniversary celebration of KFAI’s The Root of All Evil program at the Triple Rock.

morticia singleFounding member Matt Batchelor, who performs these days with Black Rainbow and Vicious Violet. When he came across a couple copies of the original “Zombie Love” single, he brought them into the shop — and our enthusiasm for the songs forged a friendship. We’re really excited to be hosting Morticia’s first show in years.

12036900_10203357482177560_3364506457096452378_nIn the spirit of Halloween, Morticia has prepared thirty treat bags for the first fans in the doors after 4pm. They have been rehearsing and it sounds like it’s going to be an amazing show — please understand it will be crowded here!

We’ll also have some copies of last year’s Hymie’s Halloween mix, which was a big hit with ghosts and goblins of all ages. All we have to do is find the box of pumpkin-stamped CD sleeves we stored somewhere around here…

(Incidentally, we will be DJing our Halloween favorites at Harriet Brewing on Friday night from 11pm to close. The always awesome i like you will be performing a set at 8pm, preceeded by Machinery Hill at 6pm.)

Each year we add a few more spooky singles to our collection, and we’re going to try to squeeze a few more monster party jams onto our Halloween mix. Here’s a couple of this year’s silliest songs.

ghoul in schoolmonster shindigWe’ve posted some ghost stories found on albums here, and also one of our all time favorites Halloween songs (“Werewolf” by the Frantics) here.

A few more Halloween songs will appear on the blog this week!

Morticia will perform here at Hymie’s at 5pm on Halloween. Costumes are encouraged. The Facebook event for the show is here.

Whiskey Jeff Lonesome Stoned and Drunk

Our next release from Hymie’s Records will be the debut album by Whiskey Jeff and the Beer Back Band. Lonesome, Stoned and Drunk has been years in the making, and we could not be more proud of this project.

Jeff and his band are not only exceptionally talented, but also good friends. We have loved having them here over the years. Jeff’s songs are both poignant and hilarious, and on the album the band sounds like a classic “Bakersfield sound” honky tonk act.

The album will feature liner notes from local promoter Craig Drehmel and country music legend Sherwin Linton. We are currently working on scheduling some shows for November and December to celebrate its release. The album will be available here in the record shop, and at those shows, the week of Thanksgiving.

The folks at Piñata Records never fail to inspire us. This has been a quiet year for the Twin Cities’ best record label, who released a staggering series of successful singles and LPs last year. Their two full length albums this year have been awesome: Black Diet‘s return showed more depth, range and complexity than their debut (our review is here), and way back in chilly January the label released New Noir by Mystery Date, which is the most strangely compelling mixture of power pop, new wave and good old fashioned punk rock we’ve heard in years. We are weirdly addicted to both albums, as we have been to everything this retro-fueled, forward-looking label has released.

a2449712753_16And now, after telling us they would never release another 7-inch single, they’ve outdone themselves by snaring another band which fits smartly into their distinctive roster. The rockabilly reared, punk perfected quartet L’Assassins have established a passionate following over the past couple years, but their recordings have been sparsely split over singles and EPs. Each has earned rave reviews, and the band is sure to find even more fans the more people hear them. We think this new single, “Fire of Love,” is their best yet.

The band is a perfect fit for Piñata Records, who have consistently found local bands with a strong retro base and fresh ideas. L’Assassins longest release, the Lovin’ on the Run EP put out by Big Action Records in 2013 (here), pulls together all the variety of vintage and contemporary influences they’ve cited in interviews: rockabilly like Wanda Jackson and Buddy Holly, killer psychobilly like the Cramps and Minneapolis’ own current music culture, in which the band is revered as a live favorite.

It’s hard to separate the band’s sultry aesthetic from their music, given the relationship between the “pin up girl” look and rockabilly’s historic role as an outsider music. In one interview, guitarist Monet Wong points to Thee Headcoats as an influence, “keeping music alive from the previous generation, [while] adding your own twist and of course doing originals too,” before acknowledging “there’s not a lot of female examples to point to.” Women were an anomaly in much of the rock and roll influencing bands like L’Assassins, more likely to objects of affection or anger than the ones offering the expression.

L’Assassins are sure to build a bigger following with rockabilly and punk rock fans as quickly as with young women who want to be inspired by more bands like Thee Headcoats. One thing we’re especially excited for is the video for “Fire of Love” to be released soon. There’s a preview on Youtube, which has hints of Tickle Torture creepiness, but also classic L’Assassins sexiness. If their epic video for “Backstreet Bomp” directed by Tyler Jensen is any indication, “Fire of Love” is probably going to be the best video of the year.

It’s disappointing, though not surprising, when reviews of the band focus more the women’s appearance than their performance: for instance, in a review for Razorcake, the always classy Rev Norb describes L’Assassins as “hot girls with nice hair and guns” long before he mentions their music. It’s pretty clear the quartet welcomes the attention if it gets their music a fair listen, and they’re actually backing up the oft-mentioned attitude with even meaner music. Seriously, listen Lovin’ on the Run, and don’t Monet Wong’s sweet guitar riffs in “Be My Dog” or our favorite track, the inventive, invective “Creep.” L’Assassins are so good the band would easily clobber the competition in a blind listening test.

They certainly impressed the Suburbs’ Chan Poling, who wrote “Fire of Love” with L’Assassins in mind. He and new bandmate Steve Price (who had joined the Suburbs for 2013’s surprise album Si Sauvage) produced the session for the new Piñata single, and Poling sat in on L’Assassin’s blazing original b-side, “Liar,” which might be our favorite song by the band to date. We absolutely love the addition of the organ, which calls to mind their new labelmates, Narco States, as well as a history of sweet keyboards on Minnesota garage rock records. Lead singer Tea Simpson never sounded better than on these two new tracks, and the guitar riffs and solos are explosive. Both new tracks are so well-produced they burst out of the speakers here at Hymie’s, and we’re glad nobody complains when we play the stereo entirely too loud.

The release show for “Fire of Love” is this Friday at Lee’s Liquor Lounge. Also performing will be Chicago’s Krank Dandys and Black Widows. The always awesome Travis Ramin will be spinning garage records in between sets. Details, on the facebook, here.

Addendum: The Video!!!

It was posted on Youtube this morning, between the time we posted our excitement over the single and the time we returned from a business meeting (yes, even record stores have business meetings — they’re just more fun than the ones we had in our old jobs). This is the 10th (!) video of L’Assassins written and directed by Tyler Jensen and producer Sasha Landskov, and it lives up to all our expectations! They all have a short film — Kill Kill Kill! Bang Bang Bang! — which will be featured in the Minnesota Underground Film Festival next month.

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