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liszt rhapsodies

Franz Liszt published his Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in C-Sharp Minor in 1851, but it was some seventy years later it made is cartoon debut cementing the piece in American popular culture.

In an early Walt Disney cartoon, The Opry House, Mickey Mouse is forced to battle a manic piano while performing the popular encore.

Liszt’s irrepressible music reappeared just two years later in Krazy Kat’s Bars and Stars. Disney used it again in Silly Symphony, and this, along with Max Fleischer’s Car-Tune Portrait, present the unique challenges animals face when performing classical music.

When Warner Brothers’ looney genius Fritz Freleng discovers the Rhapsody’s potential, it becomes one of the funniest pieces of music imaginable. Freleng first uses it in Rhapsody in Rivets, a wordless masterpiece produced for Merry Melodies in 1941. In the cartoon (frustratingly unavailable on Youtube!) we watch a Leopold Stokowski look-alike conduct the construction of the building, using the blueprint as a score, all choreographed to Liszt’s Rhapsody no. 2.

Of the half dozen Freleng cartoons to feature the music, none is as memorable as Rhapsody Rabbit, in which Bugs Bunny makes his concert debut performing the piece only to find an unwelcome helper. Without straying from Liszt’s score, Freleng animates their conflict with magical timing in this clip below.

Bugs answers a phone during his performance (“What’s up, Doc?”) and says, “Who? Franz Liszt? Never hear of ‘im.”

The bit is lifted almost immediately by competitors Hanna and Barbera in the Tom & Jerry cartoon A Cat Concerto.

The Rhapsody no. 2 has also been performed by Woody Woodpecker, Rowlf the Dog, and in a violent piano duel by Daffy Duck and Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It appeared in three Marx Brothers films, and was used in a song about all the flavors of ice cream by the Animaniacs.

Throughout all this, the Rhapsody remains a concert favorite, often used by pianists to present their virtuosity in an encore. Liszt’s score enticingly invites the performer to add a cadenza. Many great pianists have written additions, notably Sergei Rachmaninoff and Arthur Rubinstein. From the very beginning it was a concert favorite, and as records were introduced it became a recording staple.

The recording used in this post, incidentally, is by Alfred Brendel, one of our favorite pianists of all time. Although he was known for his serious, scholarly attitude towards interpretation (once saying his “responsibility is to the composer and to the piece,” not the performer), Brendel likely appreciates the Rhapsody’s comic potential. In a recent retrospective interview he talks about his appreciation of early cinema:

As a child, I had played a lead in a children’s theatre and watched movies by Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. The fascination of the cinema has remained, culminating in a film series that I curated a few years ago under the heading “Between Dread and Laughter”. Great acting in the theatre as well as on the screen has continued to inspire my urge to play roles as a musical performer, and to treat musical pieces as characters.

Liszt himself was said to be one of the greatest pianists of his time, if not of all time. Few reliable accounts really tell us what he was like in performance, although he was occasionally mocked in reviews for his dramatic nature. He was known to add his own cadenzas to other works, or to include fluid changes of tempo to existing scores. In one letter he admitted doing all this to gain applause from the audience. We cannot imagine what Liszt, who life was tantalizingly close to the age of recorded music, would think of all these appearances in cartoons, but we think he would approve.

We first heard Minnesota troubadour Larry Long‘s song “Living in a Rich Man’s World” years ago, when we found a copy of the 1979 album of the same name in the local section of the old Hymie’s, back when Jim was still behind the counter.

Since then, of course, a lot of things have changed, but not so much the opportunities afforded working people around the world and here in our home state. We moved the record shop years ago, and once in a while Larry stops by to talk about what he’s up to these days. Several months ago he sent us a link to hear a few songs he was recorded with his cousin, Melvin James, and we were blown away by this new version of that favorite old song.

He’s releasing a new album, Walking Like Rain, later this year, and Bob Trench of Fahrenheit Films produced this video of “Living in a Rich Man’s World” to get the word out.

Michael Jackson’s videos were often encapsulated in short films, the most famous of which being “Thriller,” in which the star takes a girl on a date to a scary movie, turns into a were-cat, and then dances like mad with a crew of zombies. The whole adventure, which turns out to be a dream (or was it?) is a thirteen-minute epic directed by John Landis, and undeniably a watershed moment in pop culture. We have certainly watched it at least a hundred times.

MJ’s high-production videos often cast him as an outsider (especially the the highly satirical “Ghosts”). The one we often forget is the full length video for “Bad,” because for some reason we’ve only seen its West Side Story-inspired subway dance sequence as many times as we’ve seen “Thriller.”

In the eighteen-minute version of “Bad” was written by Richard Price (author of the seventies Bronx street life novel The Wanderers) and directed by Martin Scorcese. Jackson plays a young man named Daryl who has returned to his neighborhood after graduating from a private school. His former friends are petty thieves and it quickly becomes apparent he no longer belongs there. In an effort to prove he is still bad, Daryl takes them to a subway station where he will mug an old man — but he doesn’t go through with the crime and is berated.

This is when he sings “Bad,” they lyrics for which are part self-promotion (establishing Michael’s new darker image) and part cautionary tale. Like several songs on the Bad LP, Michael sings of the world “be[ing] a better place,” while also warning his friends “they’re gonna lock you up before too long.”

Bad definitely changed Michael’s image, and the album also introduced a sleeker outsider MJ with “Smooth Criminal.” But its hard to imagine Michael as bad. Nowhere is this more clear than in the first line of “Bad,” which is one of our favorite first lines ever on an album: “Your butt is mine.” He couldn’t even say the word “ass,” which would have sounded so much more natural.

It wasn’t until after Michael was relentlessly persecuted by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon in 1993 that his lyrics really turned towards the angrier image implied by “Bad.” On HIStory, Michael swears for the first time (unless you count “damn” appearing on Dangerous) in the song “This Time Around.” Another song specifically directed at Sneddon (“D.S.”) uses the word “ass” so we know he was finally able to say it.

Michael was remembered by associates for his abhorrence of vulgar language, so it is sort of sad that they creep into his lyrics as he becomes increasingly isolated. This is nowhere more heartbreaking than in “Scream,” his duet with sister Janet on HIStory, in which he shouts “stop fuckin’ with me, it makes me want to scream!”

The tabloid media at whom this line was directed was entirely out of touch all of us who still bought records: while they eagerly predicted HIStory to become an enormous failure, the collection was a commercial and critical success for Michael.

And, since we still hear people make jokes about this in the record shop six years later, we guess it has to be repeated: Michael Jackson was never convicted of a crime. He was acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers. The family which accused him had a history of criminal behavior, domestic abuse, fraud and frivolous lawsuits.

In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi reported shortly after the completion of the trial:

And then there was the very key figure in the case, the accuser’s mother, who had to plead the Fifth Amendment on the first day of her testimony to avoid cross-examination on a welfare-fraud allegation – a witness so completely full of sh—t that Sneddon’s own assistants cringed openly throughout most of her five days of testimony. In the next six weeks, virtually every piece of his case imploded in open court, and the chief drama of the trial quickly turned into a race to see if the DA could manage to put all of his witnesses on the stand without getting any of them removed from the courthouse in manacles.

 

 

Its not quite as awesome as Mr. Rogers’ visit to the Crayon factory, but this short video of one of the largest record warehouses in America shipping Records Store Day releases is pretty cool.

We expect most to arrive today and tomorrow, so if there’s a particular release you were interested in, feel free to call or email and ask if we’ll have on Saturday.

Here at your friendly neighborhood record store, we’re working hard to get things in order for our sixth annual block party. Yesterday we assembled all the copies of our Live at Hymie’s compilation.

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We hope we’ll see you on Saturday! If you would like to see the schedule for the live music, you can find it here.

Check out these sweet posters for the event by Jacob Swogger.

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Or “Alright?” Dave Mason wrote the song for the 1968 debut album by Traffic. The following year it was a minor hit for Joe Cocker and for Mongo Santamaria.

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Over the next several years, “Feelin’ Alright?” became a standard, and was recorded dozens of times in just about every genre. Scottish pop singer Lulu recorded the album on New Routes, a 1970 album which found her backed by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and guitarists Eddie Hinton and Duane Allman.

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A heavy version of the song appeared on Rare Earth’s hit album Get Ready, along with several other covers which made up the first side.

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Dave Mason was one of the first members of Traffic to leave the band, and he released a series of successful solo albums on Blue Thumb Records (our favorite 70s label). During this time he wrote and recorded “Only You Know and I Know,” another song which was widely covered.

“Feelin’ Alright?” was included in the live recordings on his 1972 album Headkeeper.

 

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The Jackson Five added “Feelin’ Alright?” to their live set, including performances on The Diana Ross Show.

It really was one of the all-time great television theme songs.

Aaron Goodyear’s new documentary about Gypsy will be screened as part of the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. The film follows the Minnesota-bred progressive rock band whose run as the house band at the Whiskey A Go Go in 1969-70 was legendary. Goodyear has been working on the film for a long time now, and just dropped off a copy for us to finally see it — we really recommend it for any music documentary fans! Here’s the trailer.

The film will have its debut on April 19th at the St Anthony Main Theater (here it is on the MSPIFF calendar).

 

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