Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The 10 Most Iconic Instrumental Movie Themes

The truth is, I feel any of the ten remaining movie themes in my list of forty could very well own the top spot. That's because all ten have managed to take a life of their own beyond the films for which they were written. Many of us may not have even watched the movies themselves, but may have encountered references to the music in other movies, TV shows, parodies and jokes, or even ringtones.

A last note. In this entire list, I have also decided to drop out movie themes that began initially as TV themes, no matter how iconic they now are.  Samples would be the PETER GUNN TV theme which became popular in the movie BLUES BROTHERS, or even music from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, which really was a TV series first.

So here you have it, the final ten in what I believe are the 40 most iconic movie themes the world has heard. I am certain I have forgotten about others which deserve to be here. Maybe you can remind be about them. Right now, I already have a few....

Meanwhile, to hear the tracks listed below, click here: MY TOP 10 MUSIC THEMES OF ALL TIME

#10 JAWS (John Williams)
He did it for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND with five notes.  But for JAWS, John Williams created a most recognizable musical signature with just 2. Hum these notes to anyone with increasing volume and tempo, and they will easily associate the tune with dangerous waters. So far in his career, Williams has been nominated for an Oscar, a whopping 45 times. JAWS gave him his first win (in 1975).

#9 ENTER THE DRAGON (Lalo Shifrin)
For this first American-produced martial arts film, Lalo Schifrin infused to his groovy pop jazz theme, the use of traditional Chinese instruments to give the soundtrack a distinct local flavor. He is also credited for first employing a technique we now know as sampling, when he integrated Bruce Lee's actual screams into the music. I can still hear my brother Jig mimicking the shrieks during the 70s! Many have since covered the movie's main theme, and one is included in the game, Dance Dance Revolution. Incidentally, Shifrin is the man behind the music of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.

#8 PSYCHO (Bernard Herrmann)
The success of PSYCHO's famous shower scene is attributed greatly to Bernard Herrmann's screeching strings which sent chills to viewers' spines everywhere. In an interview in 1971, Herrmann said he purposely used a string section alone because he felt he needed to complement a black and white film with a "black and white" sound--a string ensemble would give only one basic tone color. The American Film Institute names Herrmann's work as the fourth best score of all time, even if it was snubbed at the Oscars in 1960.

#7 CHARIOTS OF FIRE (Vangelis)
Play the music and images of Lydia de Vega and other athletes racing in slow-mo come to mind. Greek composer Vangelis is the man behind the music that has been used countless times in sporting events, and has been parodied in slow-mo sequences in such movies as Mr. Mom, Happy Gilmore, Bruce Almighty, and Madagascar. The track reached #1 in Billboard's Hot 100 though Vangelis was accused of plagiarizing the work of a fellow Greek composer. Vangelis won in a court of law. He also beat Dave Grusin's ON GOLDEN POND at the Oscar's.

#6 ROCKY (Bill Conti)
I confess. With my parents in 1976, I sneaked into Diamond theater in Cubao, a small tape recorder so I could record Bill Conti's music. ROCKY's main theme was nominated at the Oscars for Best Original Song (though there are hardly any lyrics), losing out, however, to A STAR IS BORN's "Evergreen." Nonetheless, it peaked at #1 in Billboard's Hot 100 in 1977.  Known also as GONNA FLY NOW, the main theme is closely associated with sports training montages. 
#5 THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (Ennio Morricone)
Here's another signature motif, this time from 5-time Oscar nominee Ennio Morricone. The repeating 2 notes in the melody are designed to resemble the sound of a howling coyote. This plus gunshots, whistling and yodeling throughout the soundtrack give this spaghetti western an indelible attitude. Not many in this day and age probably remember Clint Eastwood's movie, but the music has remained timeless. It's insane Morricone was not nominated for this work. On the other hand, it crazier he hasn't won an Academy Award.

#4 THE PINK PANTHER (Henry Mancini)
One of the most recognized and enjoyed pieces of music ever, THE PINK PANTHER's main theme defines the cool beatnik attitude of the 60s with its loungey, brassy jazz feel. Henry Mancini won 3 Grammy Awards for the tune though his soundtrack lost to MARY POPPINS at the Oscars. The music has been used in the movie CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE, and a task to be accompished in the board game CRANIUM is to hum the "Pink Panther Theme."

#3 STAR WARS (John Williams)
The American Film Institute has voted John Williams's music for STAR WARS as the best soundtrack of all time. The work is often credited as heralding the revival of grand symphonic scores in the 70s and reviving the use of leitmotif, a musical phrase to identify a character, place, relationship, mood, or other element of film. STAR WARS became among the most popular soundtracks of all time, mirroring the cult following that the film eventually enjoyed. The music won a Academy Award, beating out Williams's other work, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

#2 JAMES BOND (Monty Norman)
Though a lot of JAMES BOND music has been written through the years, the most iconic is the "James Bond Theme" introduced in the film DR. NO in 1962. Composer Monty Norman was more known for his musicals, but accepted the project when he was invited to travel with the crew to Jamaica. John Barry (OUT OF AFRICA, SOMEWHERE IN TIME), who arranged Norman's music and eventually scored other Bond movies himself, was not credited for his contribution in DR. NO. Some have suggested that Barry created the popular theme, and the argument has been a subject of 2 court cases.

#1 THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (Elmer Bernstein)
The brave and noble main theme from the movie is a Western masterpiece from musical giant Elmer Bernstein, who borrows from Mexican strains and rhythms to define the film's soundtrack. Berstein lost the Oscar to Ernest Gold's EXODUS in 1960, but his work is listed as #8 in the American Film Institue's best original scores of all time. While by itself, the soundtrack is a force to reckon with, it quickly created a life of its own as the most memorable advertising hook of all time and an international  pops concert staple, thus its iconic status.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bukas Palad Nominated for CMMA Anew

The Bukas Palad Music Ministry's latest CD, HINDI KITA MALILIMUTAN, produced in 2007 to celebrate the group's over 20 years, has been nominated in the 30th Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) for Best Religious Album. 

The project, which took over a year to complete, is a double-disc album featuring twenty liturgical and inspirational songs for worship, prayer and reflection by such notable composers as Fr. Manoling Francisco S.J., Fr. Arnel Aquino, S.J., Jandi Arboleda, Gary Granada and Noel Cabangon, all interpreted through the voices of Bukas Palad.

The group has been nominated in the CMMA for Best Religious Album twice before--in 2004 for LET YOUR PRAISES BE HEARD, and in 2006 for GOD OF SILENCE.  WInners of the 30th CMMA will be announced during a special awards show on October 29.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Most Iconic Instrumental Movie Themes (Part Three)

While drafting this top forty list of the most iconic instrumental movie themes, I realized that my #40 to #21 reflected my personal favorites which managed to gain some popularity over the years. The top 20, however, are generally the soundtracks (not necessarily ma faves) of huge blockbusters--perhaps a reason why these musical scores have made quite a stamp on pop culture.  Check out the list below and see if you agree.

Some have been wondering if the likes of THE DEER HUNTER or KRAMER VS. KRAMER will appear in my top forty. Sadly, the answer is no. In the same way that I have omitted movie themes with versions carrying lyrics in the same soundtrack, I am not including music not written for the film. THE DEER HUNTER's original music was written by John Williams, but its most popular track CAVATINA is a classical guitar piece by Stanley Myers. Most of the music in KRAMER VS. KRAMER is actually by Antonio Vivaldi. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY's famous opening track is by Richard Strauss, and EMPIRE OF THE SUN's SUO GAN is actually a traditional Welsh lullaby.

So the music listed below is wholly original. But as I've mentioned, many of them have become extremely popular because the film themselves for which they were written have been HUGE! If you wish to hear the music described in this list feel free to visit: MY TOP 40 MOVIE THEMES (20-11).

And do tell me if your own movie theme favorites!

#20 JURASSIC PARK (John Williams)
I suppose giant blockbusters have a way of helping their soundtracks approach iconic status. Jurassic Park, after all, was the most successful film released up until 1993 when the movie hit the theaters, and its music is among the most memorable--classic JohnWilliams: bold, brassy, and anthemic. Wiliams wrote the score in the same year he finished Schindler's List, for which he won an Oscar. He was not even nominated for Jurassic though. All right, I do feel that Schindler's is truly more deserving, but there's no denying that Jurassic has become quite popular.

#19 CINEMA PARADISO (Ennio Morricone)
Almost everyone's favorite Morricone score. The music here is considered to be a co-star of this Oscar- and Cannes-winning Italian film. The bittersweet melodies create a persona that watches and sympathizes with Salvatorre as he comes of age, finds a father figure in movie projectionist Alfredo, and has his heart broken. Morricone (assisted by his son Andrea in this movie), creates a most passionate and magical piece, with an innocently rustic appeal. As a movie buff and audiophile, you can imagine the thrill I experienced receiving a DVD of Cinema Paradiso from my sister Eileen.

#18 E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (John Williams)
The American Film Institute voted Williams's work for E.T. as the 14th greatest musical score, and rightfully so. The music (which earned Williams his fourth Oscar) helped define the composer's rich orchestral style in that period of his career. It is grand and uplifting, compelling and endearing. I cannot imagine the bicycle scene to be as special as it became without John Williams.

#17 Beverly Hills Cop (Harold Faltermeyer)
Faltermeyer won a Grammy for original score in 1986 for this, having captured the synth-pop style of the era with his "Axel F" theme. Insanely engaging and danceable, the music heightens the pop attitude of the comedy involving Eddie Murphy's character, who attempts to bust two hustlers in an unauthorized sting operation. Faltermeyer, also credited for the music of Top Gun, among others, had assisted Moroder on the latter's Oscar-winning work for Midnight Express.

#16 SUPERMAN (John Williams)
Watching Superman by myself in 1979 at Circle theater (SRO, mind you), I could not help being mesmerized by the special effects (they were special then) and overwhelming music. Jerry Goldsmith, who wrote the score for THE OMEN, was originally hired to do SUPERMAN, but had to dropout of the project due to schedule conflicts. Thus John Williams took over. Heroic and romantic, Williams's work became a favorite among local marching bands and rondallas. Gee, who isn't familiar, even 3 decades later, with Superman's main theme?

#15 HATARI! (Henry Mancini)
For the 1962 John Wayne movie about Western expatriates catching wild animals in Africa, Henry Mancini wrote the highly popular theme, Baby Elephant Walk--a piece of music I encountered through my sister Audrey, who used to play this on the organ. Combining brass and woodwind instruments to mimic sounds of a herd of elephants, Mancini was successful in creating a whimsical jazz treat that has been covered by a number of musicians. Though many of us, I suspect, do not know the film, you might nod in recognition when you listen to the track.

When a film's biggest mystery hinges on a 5-note alien musical code, how can that movie's soundtrack not make a dent in our musical minds? Spielberg, who directed the movie, purposely gave Williams a 5-note limit because the short motif was to represent an alien greeting, which is supposed to be succinct. Williams developed tons, with Spielberg choosing one at random. Lucky for us, the successful musical phrase resonated with millions the world over.

#13 GONE WITH THE WIND (Max Steiner)
It lost to THE WIZARD OF OZ for best original score at the Oscars. But Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!  Max Steiner's work is The American Film Institute's #2 choice for the greatest film score. Romantic and lush, it is the perfect accompaniment to the 1939 dramatic war film based on Margaret Mitchell's novel. Seventy years later, the music lingers still, carrying the same emotional grandeur. Was it ever used in some Pinoy radio soap?

#12 INDIANA JONES (John Williams) 
So much John Williams in this batch of film music! The score for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is close to 80 minutes long. The film itself? About 100 minutes. Wall-to-wall music that's utterly rousing and pompous. The main theme has been used as well in other Indiana Jones stuff from video games to theme park rides. So even if the music has not been available in music stores since 1995 (it will be rereleased in November this year), no one has really escaped from it. It's hard to believe Williams lost the Oscar to someone else (whom you'll meet soon).

#11 SOMEWHERE IN TIME (John Barry) 
This soundtrack clearly has a cult following. Panned by critics after its release, the movie had a lackluster performance at the box office, but its lyrical music swept audiences off their feet. While Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" is a motif in the film, Barry's main theme has become a favorite of many. It was thus surprising when Barry was not even nominated for an Oscar (the award was given to the movie FAME). Lyrics were later developed, and the song was recorded by Pat Castillo and Vernie Varga, among others.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Most Iconic Instrumental Movie Themes (Part Two)

Which movie themes to you have made the most impact? So much music and so many films to consider. I'm listing my top forty, and would certainly be curious to hear what's in your inventory.

Last time, I described and uploaded my #40 to #31.  This time I'm continuing the countdown to #21.  This is tough.

I would have liked to include certain pieces of music, but threw them out the window at the last minute. Well I did say "instrumental," and many like the main theme of St. Elmo's Fire have versions with lyrics in the soundtrack. So those didn't make the cut. I did, however, consider those themes which were given lyrics after the movies had been released, and you will note one in the list below.  And what about songs with just a few bars of words?  I included them; after all, the lyrics in these cases are almost purely ornamental.  The songs would never appear in a videoke bar's playlist.

So there. I shall be moving on soon with the next installment of this countdown.  But if you would like to listen to the music described below, simply click here: MY TOP 40 MOVIE THEMES (30-21)

#30 THE UNTOUCHABLES (Ennio Morricone)
Did you not shudder in this movie? And when you did, were not the rhythmic percussion stabs on overdrive? Morricone works wonders again, heightening the suspense in this crime drama on Elliot Ness's attempts to bring gangster Al Capone to justice. Much of the music (which earned for Morricone an Academy Award nomination) was designed to put flesh to the characters of the movie and to keep the audience clinging to their seats.  Listen the piece and you'll know what I mean.

#29 OUT OF AFRICA (John Barry)
"I once had a farm in Africa...." I can still hear Meryll Streep whisper against the lush soundtrack by John Barry.  The film narrates the events surrounding the lives of Europeans who settled in the bush country of Kenya from 1914-1931, from the point of view of a baroness who shares the same lyrical and poetic qualities of the film's music.  The main theme is subtle but full.  Barry's music ranks #15 in the American Film Institute's 100 years of film scores. Those who never got to see the film may remember the score being used in some past Pinoy afternoon weekend soap.

#28 SCHINDLER'S LIST (John Williams)
A tearjecker. John Williams was so challenged, he told director Stephen Spielberg that the film needed a better composer. Spielberg replied, "I know. But they're all dead!" Williams recorded the piano tracks himself and hired Izthak Perlman to do the violin version, as recommended by Speilberg.  The result is a grieving melody that accompanies the story of a German businessman who saves the lives of over a thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.  Plot and music: equally poignant. Williams won an Oscar for his work.

#27 THEME FROM SHAFT (Isaac Hayes)
This is bound to reveal my age again.  In 1971, the main theme of 
Shaft won for Isaac Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song.  Hardly any lyrics though--more spoken word.  The overall score, which was nominated too, seemed to begin the trend of amping the funk and the wah guitars to accompany scenes involving African-Americans and crime.  Thanks to Eileen for owning the LP of Shaft's soundtrack.  I developed an afro as a result. Way too cool.

#26 THEME FROM THE CHAMP (Dave Grusin)
No, "What Matters Most" is not in the original soundtrack of the The Champ.  The song there with lyrics is Chris Thompson's "If You Remember Me." The lyrics to the movie's main theme were later developed by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and first recorded by Kenny Rankin (recently by Aiza Seguerra). Blame all this on the eloquence of Grusin's instrumental. Moving as always. Nominated for an Oscar again. This is the third from Grusin for me. I see a trend....

#25 THE OMEN (Jerry Goldsmith)
Awfully frightening. The polar opposite of The Exorcist in my last entry. Do not attempt to listen to this alone in the dark. Goldsmith won an Oscar here beating heavyweights Bernard Hermann and Lalo Schifrin. I guess rightfully so. I remember having had nightmares with this soundtrack playing in the background. That ought to be a proof of the music's success. Oh, there are lyrics on this too, but I hardly consider the piece a singable tune.

#24 THE MISSION (Ennio Morricone)
I remember performing "Gabriel's Oboe," one the of the soundtrack's pieces, with flutist Benito Valencia during a college event. We were both simply enchanted with Morricone's score, and I suppose many still are too, 22 years after the film's release. Recently, Kelly Sweet recorded a version of the song with lyrics--"Nella Fantasia" (and so did local balladeer Reymond Sajor). But for this list, I am voting for another piece in the movie, "Vita Nostra." I had goosebumps while listening to the song in the theater, and my eyes started to well up. Sublime, I thought. Match the music with De Niro's performance in that unforgettable scene, and you've got a movie moment. 

#23 ON GOLDEN POND (Dave Grusin)
One of my favorites of all time. The opening piano phrases easily set the mood for melancholia. And why not? Grusin is on the ivories. It's not easy explaining how you feel once confronted with music like this accompanying a drama on a stormy father-daughter relationship, a marriage in its twilight years, and a special bond between and old man and a stranger of a boy--all set amidst the splendor of the lakes of New Hampshire. "Emptying" is a good word to describe it, in a wonderfully quiet way. Too bad Grusin lost the Oscar to someone who will appear in this list soon.

#22 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (Maurice Jarre)
Those familiar with old epic flicks (filmed in Super Panavision) will remember the glorious overtures during the opening minutes of the movie. Of the many overtures recorded for film, I believe Lawrence of Arabia ranks among the most memorable. I guess, with the Arabian desert as your cinematic landscape, a musician has got room to play with exotic scales and rhythms--and Jarre had just that, earning himself an Oscar for merely 6 weeks of work. Exhausted, it took him 5 months to fully recover. Listen to the track and you'll understand.

#21 MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (Giorgio Moroder)
In the late 70s, my dad gifted me with the soundtrack of Midnight Express, which he purchased during a trip to Europe. I listened, and thought: Disco. Oh, but I thought it was progressive disco--highly inventive, extremely electronic, ahead of its time. The spacey and dizzying yet gritty feel seemed to complement well the narrative of how an American student is sent to a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey.  Moroder beat Grusin's "Heaven Can Wait" during the Oscars for his outstanding work.

The Most Iconic Instrumental Movie Themes (Part One)

If I weren't doing what I do now, I would surely have been a film scorer.  For some strange reason, I have always been more moved in film by music than by dialogue.  And for me, where the greatest movie moments are, the most poignant melodies are lingering near.

With the encouragement of Eric, who just celebrated his birthday, I am listing what I feel are the most significant movie themes of all time.  These are the film scores that have continued to haunt me, and to bring me back to a certain place every time I hear them.  On a personal level, perhaps they stand for something I felt while experiencing that moment in the film, or represent a stage in life that I had been in.  But on a grander scale, they probably mirror the pop culture then, and have made and indelible mark in society.  Whatever the case, these strains of music are to me, iconic.

I guess this will therefore be a subjective list as there is no way of scientifically ranking the appeal of sound, let alone their impact on our collective consciousness. Your list will obviously differ from mine, but hey, this makes a lovely playlist that will surely let your spirit wander.

There will be forty songs in this countdown to the top.  The first ten are described here, from #40 to #31.  Come back for the rest of the list.   But if you want to listen to the ones discussed here, feel free to click: MY TOP 40 MUSIC THEMES (40-31)

This piece of music, I did not experience first in the context of the film.  I first heard it during a Reading of Honors ceremony when I was in prep.  The song was used as a fanfare to open the event.  I later learned from my sister Eileen who owned a cassette of the soundtrack, that it came from the movie version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I eventually got to see the film much later and discovered for myself how the music was used as a backdrop to scenes of the birds in flight.  For his work, Neil Diamond won a Golden Globe for Best Score in 1973, beating John Williams and Michel Legrand.  Very 70s pop, but soaring nonetheless.

#39 THE CHILDREN OF SANCHEZ (Chuck Mangione)
Another piece I had encountered prior to watching the film. Another sister, Monique, owned an LP of Chuck Mangione carrying the track. I must have been 13. I was quite engrossed with the syncopation of the music and was so aware of the fusion of jazz and world music here. The experience was intense.  The film, I watched years later.  It was about a Mexican farmer, I believe.  I remember little about the plot, but recall being ecstatic during those scenes when the music unfurled. Mangione was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1978.

#38 DYING YOUNG (James Newton Howard)
First, a disclaimer: this is not among my favorites. But it surely penetrated our consciousness in the early 90s, and even I could not escape its ubiquity--so consider it iconic. Blame it on the popularity of Julia Roberts, or the star power of Kenny G. then, who performed the track and included it in one of his widely successful CDs.  The song played non-stop in jazz radio stations, and reminded us how film music, even the instrumental kind, can be so part of pop culture.

#37 HEAVEN CAN WAIT (Dave Grusin)
Ok, the music here is what started it all for me.  It was the first film score to make me literally cry, and told me: gee, I wouldn't mind writing music for movies some day.  It also began my love affair with Dave Grusin's work. I remember distinctly watching Heaven Can Wait in 1978, melting in my chair during the last scene, and staring blankly at the credits as the music played. Maybe I'm just a sucker for dramedies.  Maybe it was surprising for me how the theme, through its various movements, embraced both the tragic and comic aspects of the film.  Whatever the case, Grusin was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to someone else's work which will appear in my list soon.

#36 IL POSTINO (Luis Bacalov)
I'm not even sure if many are aware of this film or its music. Eileen sent me a copy of the movie sometime in 1995, and I fell in love with it immediately.  Albeit a fictional story, it chronicles the relationship between real-life poet, Pablo Neruda and a postman who learns to love poetry.  Bacalov's music is rustic, romantic and sincere.  His work, which eventually won for him an Academy Award, was also used to score recorded readings (by Sting, Madonna, Julia Roberts, Gelnn Close, among others) of Neruda's poetry.  And his melodies have been mimicked in TV commercials set in South America.

#35 FORREST GUMP (Alan Silvestri)
The hovering feather during the film's opening credits accompanied by the lilting score tells you instantly that Forrest Gump is a magical movie.  Silvestri's music is as charming and innocent as the movie's main character.  It has that power of making you feel warm and comfy inside.  I'm a fan.

#34 FAR AND AWAY (John Williams/Enya)
Those who used to tune in to 88.3 when its programming consisted mostly of smooth jazz and new age will recognize the music of this movie.  John Williams's score, coupled with Enya's mesmerizing vocals complete the Celtic mood and tone of the film about Irish immigrants seeking their fortune in the U.S.  It has a rhythmic quality that is most calming.  To prove it, check your blood pressure before and after listening to the track.

#33 THE EXORCIST (Jack Nitzsche)
Naturally, I watched the movie years after it was released in 1973. And when I did, I recognized the music instantly though  didn't know from where. Maybe it was used to score local dramas. I'm not sure, but the repetitive melodic line obviously left a huge impression. Hypnotic and numbing.  Subtle, unlike most horror flick scores. The movie earned 10 Oscar nominations, and though Nitzsche's work was not among them, it gets my nod.

#32 LOVE AFFAIR (Ennio Morricone)
The first of many in my list by this acclaimed Italian composer. Ennio Morricone has written and arranged music for over 500 film and television productions, and this one for Love Affair has been a favorite of many.  Rich, romantic and sweeping, Morricone's melodic line is deeply emotive--a perfect match with Love Affair's sentimental plot.  The version in my playlist is the one Morricone dedicates personally to Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, the leads of the movie.  Attend a wedding sometime, and you are likely to hear the same strains.

All right, so I've never seen this quiet film about a deaf-mute man who befriends a lonely teenage girl in his boarding house.  But listening to the theme music makes me feel I've actually watched this story of alienation and love.  Woven into the plot is one of Grusin's simplest melodies; easy to hum, it sinks quickly into the heart and stays forever.  You may have heard it before (the film was released in 1968) and may remember.  Many musicians who know the piece warn: watch out for the killer key change.  It's solitude set to music.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Steve Perry vs. Arnel Pineda

It must have been mid last year when I first heard rumors that American rock band JOURNEY was eager to recruit Pinoy sensation Arnel Pineda to be the group's lead vocalist based on videos posted of Pineda and his band ZOO on YouTube.  It seemed no one could verify the story though my friends at the Department of Tourism had received a call from a U.S. music columnist wanting to contact Pineda and to meet up with him for an interview. Months later, that same writer confirmed in confidence that Pineda had flown to the U.S. for his face-to-face audition and had booked the job.

Since then, the world held its breath, wondering if Pineda would do justice to the legacy left behind by Journey's original lead, Steve Perry. Skeptics disagreed with the idea of a Filipino fronting an all-American band (though Steve Perry, Pereira in real life, is of Portuguese ancestry). Today, however, months after the release of JOURNEY's most anticipated album, REVELATION, the reviews on Pineda are glowing.

The Philippine edition of the album carries 2CDs.  The first contains all-new tracks featuring the band's newest lead singer while the 2nd are recordings of the hits popularized the Steve Perry's vocals but now reinterpreted through Pineda's.  

It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing both lead singers. They are equally gifted tenors with amazing range and depth. Critics are quick to note that of all those who have succeeded Perry as JOURNEY's frontmen (there were 2 beofre Pineda--Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto), the Filipino's voice comes closest to the original. It is almost scary how the timbre is so alike, critics find this to be Pineda's only flaw. However, listening more closely makes evident what Journey's REVELATION is all about--Pineda's vocals are rich and robust, maybe even a tad more than Perry's. That the new vocalist's sound is reminiscent of the original should not rob him of his own talent.  In fact, after hearing the new cuts in the album, it has become clear to me--while they unmistakably carry the JOUNEY sound and spirit, I cannot hear Steve Perry in them at all. Arnel Pineda shines through.

Make no mistakes though. I believe there never will be another Steve Perry. He is an icon. But the world has room for another.

JOURNEY's Neal Schon, who thanks God for discovering Pineda on YouTube, says the Filipino's voice has it all, and "all I can say is WOW! It's truly incredible...the man can sing anything and what a deep moving soul he has.''

For his part, Pineda in the album thanks "all my fellow Filipinos around the world who believed in me...MABUHAY TAYONG LAHAT!!!"

Below is a link that compiles JOURNEY's popular tracks recorded 2 decades ago side by side those recorded more recently with Arnel Pineda.  When you find the time, get the REVELATION CD as the JOURNEY continues.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs (#1)

So here's the lowdown. It isn't Madonna, not Michael Jackson, not even Elvis Presley whose music is Billboard's most successful single of all time.  The artist was not even the original singer of the big hit, and these days, he endorses a brand of steaks and beef jerky.

Ernest Evans would entertain his friends in the various jobs he took.  His boss at the Produce Market fondly nicknamed him "Chubbycheckar," and the store owner of the Fresh Farm Poultry, so impressed with his singing and performance style, arranged for Chubby to have a private recording session for American Bandstand host Dick Clark. 

During that meeting, Clark's wife asked Ernest what his friends called him and he replied, "Chubby."  

"As in in Checker?" she asked. And after that, the monicker stuck for good.

In 1959, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters recorded a minor hit as a B-side to their TEARDROPS ON YOUR LETTER.  It was in the year after when 19 year-old Chubby Checker covered that flipside song to create a monster hit and a dance craze that were both named, THE TWIST.

Checker's smash single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1960, and then set a record as the only song to reach No. 1 in two different chart runs when it resurfaced and topped the chart again in January of 1962, following Checker's appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  All in all, the song was in the Hot 100 for a whopping 39 weeks.

Since then, Checker has covered his own cover several times.  In 1982, he rerecorded THE TWIST but renamed it T-82.  He then went to the studio in 1988 with The Fat Boys to make an updated rendition of The Twist.  And in 1990, Checker even did a country version of his most popular tune. 

Checker is known to have compared THE TWIST to the creation of the telephone as a groundbreaking moment because he says the song allowed people for the first time to dance "apart to the beat" as opposed to say, in ballroom dancing.

So there you have it.  Let's give it up again for the big 10 in Billboard's Hot 100 Top Songs of All-Time:

#10 UN-BREAK MY HEART (Toni Braxton)
#9 WE BELONG TOGETHER (Mariah Carey)
#8 HEY JUDE (The Beatles)
#7 YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE (Debbie Boone)
#6 PHYSICAL (Olivia Newton-John)
#5 MACARENA (Los Del Rio)
#4 HOW DO I LIVE (LeAnn Rimes)
#3 MACK THE KNIFE (Bobby Darin)
#2 SMOOTH (Carlos Santana)
#1 THE TWIST (Chubby Checker)

And here's a video of that top charter, THE TWIST:

Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard magazine, acknowledges that the list may not jibe with fans' personal choices for the most popular songs in the last 50 years.  He says, "This is simply a chronicle of how each of these songs performed in their era on the Hot 100.  We're not saying these are the most memorable songs of your life."

Meanwhile, there is another chart, Billboard's All-Time Hot 100 Artists. You might resonate with that list more.  But you guys will have to wait for my next posts to find out....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs (#2)

It was after his band's reunion show in 1997 at New York's Radio City Music Hall when the artist realized that his younger children were growing up without ever having heard his music over the radio; after all, his last big hit was in 1982.  And so he got together with mega record executive Clive Davis (the same man who signed him up with the Columbia label in the late 60s) and then-Arista senior director Pete Ganbarg to produce an album designed to reach junior high schools, high schools, and universities. The man is Carlos Santana, and the album was to be SUPERNATURAL.

For the project, Davis and Ganbarg gathered the current who's who in the music industry to collaborate with Santana, among them songwriter Itaal Shur, who submitted the song ROOM 17 for SUPERNATURAL.  The lyrics went: Room 17, on the 17th floor, meet me at the elevator and I'll take you to the door.

Producers were not very happy the lyrics, and so they convinced Shur to allow another songwriter to play with the words that would accompany Shur's already engaging music. The man they hired, Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas.  After numerous revisions, Davis and Ganbarg (who let Santana hear the demo) were extremely happy with Thomas's work.  The hitch? Santana was not.

Santana's manager approached Ganbarg and advised him that maybe Davis could assure the guitarist that the song would be a hit.  The manager said, "With all due respect, he's known you for around 2 or 3 years now. He's known Clive Davis for 30."  And so Davis immediately sent Santana a fax that read: "Dear Carlos, I really believe in the song.  We're gonna hire Matt Serletic to produce it.  I think with Matt's vision, with Rob Thomas on vocal and with your guitar, I think it would be very special."

An hour later, Santana's manager called saying that Carlos would record the song, SMOOTH.

The song broke the airwaves in July 1999, eventually hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and staying there for an incredible 12 weeks.  In February 2000, SMOOTH won the Grammy Awards for record of the year and best pop collaboration with vocals.

Santana later called Ganbarg saying, "Pete, It's Carlos.  I'm calling to apologize. You were right.  I was wrong.  And thank you for giving me a song I'll be playing for the rest of my life."

Let's see the official SMOOTH video featuring the reluctant Rob Thomas on vocals. Thomas had wanted George Michael to record his lyrics, but was outvoted by record producers.

We're just one step away to revealing Billboard's biggest hit of all time!  The artist? A happy and chubby one today at age 66....

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs (#3)

In 1928, the music drama DIE DREIGROSCHENOPER written by Bertolt Brecht with music by Kurt Weill premiered in Berlin, and from it emerged a song that would become a popular standard: DIE MORITAT VON MACKIE MESSER. 

The play was eventually translated into English and was called, THE THREE PENNY OPERA.  And like its original, its main character was the deadly MACKIE MESSER, a persona based on the dashing but cruel and sinister highwayman MACHEATH in John Gay's THE BEGGAR OPERA.  In the English version, MACKIE was aptly nicknamed, MACK THE KNIFE--which also became the title of the play's most memorable song.

In 1956, MACK THE KNIFE was introduced to the U.S. through a recording by Louis Armstrong. But it was the 1959 version of a young 22 year-old that hit America by storm. The singer was  Robert "Bobby" Cassotto, an Italian-American big band performer who changed his stage name after seeing a malfunctioning electrical sign in a Chinese restaurant that read, DARIN DUCK instead of MANDARIN DUCK.

Despite Dick Clark's precaution to Bobby Darin that a song from an opera would not click with a rock and roll audience, the singer's track hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100, and #6 on the Black Singles chart, and won for Darin a Grammy Award for Record of the Year as well as a nod for Best New Artist.

Many in music history have recorded the tune--Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Robbie Williams, Sting, Lyle Lovett, Michael Buble, and Westlife, are just some.  But it was Frank Sinatra, after having recorded MACK THE KNIFE with Jimmy Buffet, who declared Darin's rendition to be the most definitive of all.

Here's a 1959 video of Darin with the song that made him a huge star, MACK THE KNIFE:

We're revealing soon Billboard's most successful tune of all time.  But before that, the #2 spot belongs to a guitarist whose biggest hit came 30 years after he debuted on the Billboard charts.  The songwriter was hoping to get George Michael to sing the material, but he eventually sang it himself....