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"Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra
Today's forecast calls for blue skies, and today's Strong Songs calls for an in-depth analysis of Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky."
It's time to welcome all our pretty faces to the human race, thanks to ELO's most enduring concert-rock classic. Kirk goes for a sunny stroll on a beautiful musical day full of layered vocals, fire extinguisher drumming, time-tested chords, Les Paul solos, vocoders, and... unexpected saxophone interludes?
Band/Artist: Electric Light Orchestra
Album: Out Of The Blue, 1977
Composed by: Jeff Lynne
"Yesterday" by Paul McCartney from Help!, 1965
"Confirmation" by Charlie Parker, 1946, included on In Person
|Apr 17, 2019|
"Moanin'" by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Dust off your head charts and brush up your best licks, cause it's time to wade into the warm, welcoming waters of jazz.
This episode's Strong Song is Bobby Timmons' gospel-tinged "Moanin'," from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' 1959 album of the same name. Kirk zooms out a bit more than usual to talk about jazz small-group arranging, how a great solo is constructed, how jazz song-form works, and how (hopefully) to have a better appreciation for what's going on on a given jazz recording, even if you don't play. He also talks about anime.
Band/Artist: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Album: Moanin', 1959 (recorded in 1958)
Composed by: Bobby Timmons
Personnel: Lee Morgan, trumpet; Benny Golson, tenor sax; Bobby Timmons, piano; Jymie Merritt, bass; Art Blakey, drums
"Freddie Freeloader" by Miles Davis from Kind of Blue, 1959
"Giant Steps" by John Coltrane from Giant Steps, 1960
"I Wish" by Stevie Wonder from Songs in the Key of Life, 1976
("I Wish" was also featured on a 2018 episode of Strong Songs)
"Jordu" by Duke Jordan from Clifford Brown and Max Roach, 1954
"Cherokee" by Ray Noble as performed by Clifford Brown on Study in Brown, 1955
"Tank!" by Yoko Kanno from the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack
|Apr 03, 2019|
Listener Questions: Syncopation, Subdivision, and Crying Babies
The Strong Songs mailbag is overflowing, so it's time to dive in and answer some listener questions. Kirk digs into creative subdivision, syncopated melodies, major 9th chords, famous drum fills, chiptunes, "bad" singing that's actually good, jazz chords, Indian drum languages, and how to be a better music listener.
"The Four Chords" as performed by The Axis of Awesome on YouTube
A cool breakdown of the "Amen Break" drum fill
"Puttin' on the Ritz" by Irving Berlin, performed by Ella Fitzgerald
"First Tube" by Phish from Farmhouse, 2000
"Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" by Anne Bredon, recorded by Led Zeppelin on their self-titled debut, 1969
"Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd from their amazingly titled album (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd), 1974
"Just a Friend" by Biz Markie from The Biz Never Sleeps, 1989
"Liquid Dance" by AR Rahman, Palakkad Sriram and Madhumitha from the Slumdog Millionare soundtrack, 2008
A cool demonstration of Konnakol performed live by Umamahesh, Umashankar, and Selvaganesh
"Prom Night" by Anamanaguchi, 2014
"Spectra" by Chipzel from Spectra, 2013
"Strike the Earth!" by Jake Kaufman from the Shovel Knight soundtrack, 1989
"Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michael's Mount" by Aphex Twin from Drukqs, 2001
"Well You Needn't" by Thelonious Monk from Misterioso (Live), 1965
|Mar 21, 2019|
"Let It Go" from Frozen
What happens when you put a straight-up power ballad in the middle of a Disney movie? "Let it Go" happens, that's what.
On this episode, Kirk climbs to the top of a snowy peak and summons all his magical powers to figure out why Elsa of Arendelle's self-coronation song rocks as hard as it does, and what it says about the evolution of Disney musical numbers over the past 30 years.
Band/Artist: Idina Menzel
Album: Frozen Original Soundtrack, 2013
Composed by: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey from Escape, 1981
"Part of Your World" by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman from The Little Mermaid, 1989
"A Whole New World" by Alan Menken and Tim Rice from Aladdin, 1992
"When Will My Life Begin?" by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater from Tangled, 2010
"Defying Gravity" by Stephen Schwartz from Wicked, 2003
"How Far I'll Go" by Lin-Manuel Miranda from Moana, 2016
|Mar 06, 2019|
"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Well, either way, this is definitely an episode of Strong Songs about Queen's genre-blending rock saga "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Kirk dives into Freddie Mercury's operatic opus and learns a lot about vocal technique, piano motifs, harmonic easter eggs, studio production, Strategic Brian May Deployment™, and all the ways doubling a track can make your voice sound cool in the studio.
Album: A Night At The Opera, 1975
Composed by: Freddie Mercury
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
"Don't Stop Me Now" by Freddie Mercury from Jazz, 1978
"We Will Rock You" by Brian May from News of the World, 1977
"Somebody to Love" by Freddie Mercury from A Day at the Races, 1976
"Bohemian Rhapsody" a cappella cover by Pentatonix from PTX Vol. IV: Classics
Sign up for Kirk's new mailing list to start getting monthly-ish newsletters with music recommendations, links, news, and extra thoughts on new Strong Songs episodes: https://tinyletter.com/KirkHamilton
You can now follow a Spotify playlist with all the songs from this show, as well as everything featured as one of Kirk's music picks on his other podcast, Kotaku Splitscreen.
|Feb 20, 2019|
"Dancing Queen" by ABBA
It's time to get lost in the bittersweet beats of ABBA's 1976 hit "Dancing Queen." On this longer-than-usual episode, Kirk tries to tease out some of the things that make this song so iconic and enduring, from its lush arrangement to its clever harmonies, repeating melodic motifs, and maximalist audio production.
Album: Arrival, 1976
Composed by: Benny Anderson, Björn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson
Produced by: Stig Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
|Feb 06, 2019|
Listener Questions: The Beatles, Brubeck, Bond and Beyond
It's time for an extra-long episode as Kirk answers your questions about Phil Collins drum solos, musical Wilhelm screams, odd time signatures, Beatles instrumentation, drop-tuned guitars, Bond music, and much more.
"In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins from Face Value, 1981
Jennifer Hudson sings "The Star Spangled Banner" by Frances Scott Key and John Stafford Smith at Super Bowl XLIII, 2009
A YouTube compilation of the Wilhelm Scream
An excellent Vox video on the history of the "Orchestra Hit" sample
"When I Think of You" by Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis from Control, 1986
"In My Life" by Lennon–McCartney from Rubber Soul, 1965
"I Will Follow You Into The Dark" by Ben Gibbard from Plans, 2006
A cool NPR article about Paul Tanner's Tannerin, developed as a more playable derivation of Leon Theremin's original Theremin.
"Good Vibrations" by Brian Wilson and Mike Love from a 1966 Beach Boys LP Single
"Blue Rondo a la Turk" by Dave Brubeck from Time Out, 1959
"Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" by Lennon-McCartney from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967
"Money" by Roger Waters from The Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973
"The Way" by Tony Scalzo from All The Pain Money Can Buy, 1998
"You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire" by Josh Homme and Mario Lalli from Songs for the Deaf, 2002
"Mind Games" by John Lennon from Mind Games, 1973
A nifty "Doctor Mix" YouTube video demonstrating the Mellotron
"Theme from Dr. No" by Monty Norman, arranged by John Barry from Dr. No, 1962
"Skyfall" by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth from Skyfall, 2012
"Manners Maketh Man" by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson (I failed to co-credit Margeson on the show) from Kingsman: The Secret Service, 2015
"Permission to Come Aboard" by Rupert Gregson-Williams from Aquaman, 2018
"Wonder Woman Theme" by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL performed by Tina Guo, released as a single in 2017
"Gimme Shelter" by Jagger/Richards from Let It Bleed, 1969
|Jan 23, 2019|
"Thriller" by Michael Jackson
Darkness falls across the land, and it's the right time for Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Kirk picks apart Rod Temperton's dance floor classic in all its groovy, corny, sound effect-y glory.
Band/Artist: Michael Jackson
Album: Thriller, 1982
Composed by: Rod Temperton, produced by Quincy Jones
A NOTE FROM KIRK:
It’s been a couple months since I produced this episode, and just a few days since I watched the first part of “Leaving Neverland,” a devastating new HBO documentary in which two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, detail their alleged childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson. It’s an intense and difficult documentary to watch, but I recommend that everyone listening to this episode do so. Jackson’s estate denies it all, but watching people on camera relaying such painful memories, in such excruciating detail, is both wrenching and convincing.
It’s impossible to separate an amazing song like “Thriller” from the man who sang it. I still think Thriller is a great song and admire the many people involved in making it, but hearing Robson and Safechuck’s accounts, on top of the similar stories I and the culture at large brushed aside or shrugged our shoulders at when they first surfaced many years ago, has certainly changed the way I hear Jackson’s voice. I’m leaving this episode as is, but I wanted to add this note, as well as to link to this New York Times editorial on Jackson’s legacy by Wesley Morris, which says so much, so well.
|Jan 09, 2019|
"I Wish" by Stevie Wonder
Kirk breaks out the bass and digs into what makes Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" swing like it does, then looks back to some earlier Wonder tunes to guess at why his funkiest stuff tended to be in E-flat.
Band/Artist: Stevie Wonder
Album: Songs in the Key of Life, 1976
Composed by: Stevie Wonder
"Superstition" by Stevie Wonder, from Talking Book, 1972
"Higher Ground" by Stevie Wonder, from Innervisions, 1973
"Wild Wild West" by Will Smith, Moe Dewese, Rob Fusari, and Stevie Wonder, from Willennium, 1999
Classic Albums: Songs in the Key of Life: Amazon
|Dec 26, 2018|
"Single Ladies" by Beyoncé
On this episode, Kirk dives into one of the greatest pop songs of all time.
Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" is arguably the defining song of the last decade, but it's far from your average pop tune. With its unusual tensions and unstoppable groove, it defies safe harmony and resolution, and its composers were more than happy to flip the beat and leave their audience searching for the downbeat.
Album: I Am... Sasha Fierce, 2008
Composed by: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Christopher Stewart, Terius Nash, Thaddis Harrell
|Dec 12, 2018|
"You Can Call Me Al" by Paul Simon
This week, Kirk breaks down one of his favorite songs from one of his favorite albums.
Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" was a single from his incredible 1986 album Graceland, and its music video introduced a generation to the wonders of goofy lip-synching and fretless bass solos. It's a harmonically simple tune with a cleverly dense arrangement, and brilliantly uses musical layering.
Band/Artist: Paul Simon
Album: Graceland, 1986
Composed by: Paul Simon
|Nov 28, 2018|
"Africa" by Toto
|Nov 18, 2018|