Friday, March 21, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Fiddle Me This! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental amanuensis Hop-Sing and I are off to the coast of South Africa (specifically, to the mouth of the Chalumna River) for a fishing trip on some filthy rich wog sultan's yacht with Dick Cheney. I'm not sure of the details, but I've heard tell that Dick is bringing his trusty shotgun for an old-fashioned coelacanth hunt. Anybody have any recipes? Seriously -- do we filet them and then broil them? Or just shove them on a spit and roast them over a fire? With some kind of tartar sauce, maybe?

Oh well, in any case, that means that posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days.

But until then, as always, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:


By "best," we mean most inventive, most emotionally moving, or whatever works. And by "strings" we mean more than one -- i.e., one solo violin or cello need not apply, but anything from a string quartet to full orchestra is perfectly fine. And they have to be played by live musicians -- no sampling or Mellotrons need apply.

Okay, that said, here's my totally top of my head Top Twelve:

12. Radiohead -- Faust Arp (arr: Jonny Greenwood)

Just because we needed something on the list recorded in this century.

This is nicely White Album-ish, I think, although I should add that I still haven't made up my mind whether I like Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood.

11. The Drifters -- There Goes My Baby (arr: Leiber and Stoller)

If I'm not mistaken this is generally acknowledged as the very first use of strings on a rock/r&b record. Hearing it on the car radio back in the day I remember thinking "Hey -- that sounds like classical music." Heh.

10. A tie --

Buddy Holly -- It Doesn't Matter Anymore (arr: Dick Jacobs)

and Buddy Holly -- Raining in My Heart (arr: Dick Jacobs)

The A and B-sides of the single from Holly's last sessions before the plane crash, if memory serves. Corny in both instances, but effective and catchy nonetheless....

9. Electric Light Orchestra -- Roll Over Beethoven (arranged: ELO)

For obvious reasons.

8. Smashing Pumpkins -- Disarm (arr: Eric Remschneider)

To be brutally honest, I've never much cared for these guys or even paid much attention to them. In fact, every time I've ever seen them play live on the tube, I've found them insufferably pretentious and actively wanted to slap Billy Corgan upside his cueball noggin. But as I was preparing the list yesterday this song came on the radio and I was a goner. Adding to the irony, if I had heard it the same time the previous week, it would have just as easily made that list for best use of bells.

7. Chris Farlowe -- Out of Time (arr: Arthur Greenslade)

Yes, the same backing track can be heard behind Mick Jagger's vocals on the Stones' Metamorphosis album. I think Farlowe's gruffer pipes suit Greenslade's uber-Phil Spector arrangement a lot better, but then what do I know? -- I think Heaven's Gate is a misunderstood masterpiece.

6.Lenny Welch -- Since I Fell For You (arr: unknown)

A guilty pleasure. Welch's vocals are Johnny Mathis on steroids, and those tremulous strings put the whole over the top. None of which has anything to do with Grace Kelly, of course, but a heck of a performance nonetheless.

5. The Beatles -- Eleanor Rigby (arr: George Martin)

Obviously, there are a lot of Beatles songs to choose from, but this one is my favorite. Sir George recently allowed how the semi-hysterical string bit toward the end was directly inspired by the similar riff in Bernard Herrman's score for the shower scene in Psycho.

4. The Pretenders -- 2000 Miles (arr: The Duke Quartet)

From the 1995 "Isle of View" live album. This was a gorgeous song in its earlier studio incarnation, but the sort of Brill Building strings here lift it into another dimension entirely.

3. The Left Banke -- Walk Away Renee (arr: John Abbott)

Baroque 'n' roll? Power pop? Whatever. It's a perfect song and record.

2. Bruce Springsteen -- Jungleland (arr: Charles Callello)

I don't know whose idea it was to get the guy who arranged most of the Four Season's hits to score Springsteen's most magnificently cinematic song, but if there's a better example of revisionist-60s New York City streetcorner romanticism extant, I for one haven't heard it.

And the number one most drop dead gorgeous, there's no fricking question about it, use of strings on a pop/rock record is --

1. The Rolling Stones -- Moonlight Mile (arr: Paul Buckmaster)

Elton John's long-time orchestral guy covers himself in glory here with what sounds like a deliberate evocation of the pastoral section of the Nielsen Third Symphony. [Could I be any more pretentious? Sheesh.] In any case, this is clearly the greatest Stones track that Keith Richards didn't play on.

Alrighty now -- what would your choices be?

[h/t's to Brooklyn Girl and John McPartlin]


peter spencer said...

Gene Pitney - Every Breath I Take

Randy Newman - Louisiana 1927

Brooklyn Girl said...

Annie Lennox - "Walking on Broken Glass"

Linda Ronstadt - "Heart Like a Wheel"

The overture to "Child is Father to the Man" by Blood, Sweat and Tears .... the entire thing is literally a Broadway-style precap of all the songs on the album, done entirely with strings (excluding the crazy laugh throughout).

Anonymous said...

OK Steve, that is gorgeous... Uh, I'm breaking up with Chris Martin. :)


danny1959 said...

Two by Del Newman. "I've Seen that Movie Too" by Elton John and "Feel the Benefit" by 10cc.

TJWood said...

Right now I'm finding this one tougher than last week's bells theme, mostly because many of my choices have already been mentioned. Three of my six choices this week are from artists previously noted:

1. For the obligatory Beatles choice, I'm going with "Within You Without You" from Sgt. Pepper over the more obvious "Yesterday".

2. "At My Most Beautiful", R.E.M. (Up). One of my favorite songs from this band, and one of the best Beach Boys tributes you'll want to hear. Speaking of the Beach Boys...

3. "God Only Knows" (Pet Sounds). In the words of Bono, "the string arrangement on 'God Only Knows' is fact and proof of angels". Beyond that, 'nuff said. Speaking of Bono...

4. "All I Want Is You" (Rattle and Hum). That's Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks' string arrangement, one of the eeriest I can say I've heard in a pop song.

5. I'll go with another choice from the Pretenders' Isle of View CD: The note-for-note recreation of the amazing James Honeyman-Scott guitar solo from "Kid" by the Duke Quartet.

6. Finally, if you are going to (rightfully) choose "Walk Away Renee", you can't leave out the just as exquisite and equally deserving "Pretty Ballerina" by the Left Banke.

Cleveland Bob said...

First off Steve, while I share your distaste for all things Smashing Pumpkins, be careful with Billy. He's approximately 6'8" tall and may thrash you soundly if you attempt the aforementioned cueball slap.

tjwood, the first song I thought of for this category was God Only Knows...good call.

As always, a great category with many excellent coices. I'm going to go with XTC's Your Dictionary from their somewhat overlooked Apple Venus pt. 1 album.

And even though we're supposed to get multiple inches of snow this weekend here is NE Ohio, I'd like to extend a warm Happy Springtime to all of you PowerPoppers out there.

steve simels said...

Cleveland Bob:

Billy Corgan's 6'8"?

I'm not impressed.

Bring it on Lex Luthor, I'll slap you silly!!!!

Oh, and BTW -- I heartily concur on the nominees here. Particularly God Only Knows and Louisiana 1927, which is Randy Newman at his most ecstatically Coplandesque.

joseph said...

weird how much that radiohead track sounds like the stones

emma said...

Per Mr. Emma, who's old enough to be Simels' youngest brother:

"Buy For Me The Rain" - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, (Greg Copeland, Steve Noonan)


"Wings" - Tim Buckley, (arr. Jack Nitzsche)

Noam Sane said...

What? No Procol Harum?

"1000 Umbrellas" by XTC from Skylarking.

"Love is a Losing Game" by La Winehouse. Holy shit, the string arrangement is gorgeous.

and, "Scent of Magnolia" by David Sylvian, from Everything and Nothing. Has an amazing orchestrated bridge. Why is this guy so obscure? His last few records have been incredible.

Jeffrey said...

"It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" - James Brown

"The Way Love Used To Be" - Kinks

David said...

John Cale "Paris 1919" -- one of the best!

steve simels said...

david said...
John Cale "Paris 1919" -- one of the best!

That's actually a clue to next week's list.

But I can say no more....

Cangrejero said...

How about Teenage Fanclub's "Tears"?

FeralLiberal said...

Speaking of Elton John, I'd have to mention "Madman Across the Water". The orchestral break on that is chilling.

And some more from the Beatles: "A Day in the Life" and "Magical Mystery Tour".

The Kenosha Kid said...

I like the Beatles-esque strings at the end of Karma Police by Radiohead.

As noted above, where is Conquistador by Procul Harum on this list?

Never Stop by Echo & The Bunnymen

Alone Again Or by Love

steve simels said...

Kenosha Kid:

I would have put Procol on but I couldn't find a clip with orchestra.....

The Kenosha Kid said...

Fair enough.

I also want to double down on my Echo & The Bunnymen recommendation, with The Cutter and The Killing Moon.

peter spencer said...

How could I forget Jack Nitschze?

Buffalo Springfield - "Expecting to Fly"

David said...

Expecting to Fly will always put me in mind of Jane Fonda's orgasm in Coming Home...or was that 9-5?

Kid Charlemagne said...

Albeit sampled, but I've always liked the strings used in the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony".

Too bad the Stones litigated them out of the music biz.

David said...

The Verve are actually back and playing at the theater at the Garden. Whether that means they have a good new album in them is something else entirely...I have to agree--I still get a happy chill when I hear the opening strains of "Bittersweet Symphony."

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

In probably unnecessary further defense of the Stones of Old, I offer She’s a Rainbow, which speaks for itself if you play it loud. I also like Pretty Voice by the Minneapolis band Cloud Cult. This song’s a little too cutesy at first but builds very nicely if you give it a moment. It employs 1 violin + 1 cello, short of a string quartet, true; but under some creative readings of Steve’s rules might still qualify since it’s not just one violin nor just one cello.

Mister Pleasant said...

Colin Blunstone - "Misty Roses"

The Bangles - "More Than Meets the Eye"

Sparks - "Here Comes Bob". Hilarious and fruity string quartet work from beginning to end.

Stories - "You Told Me". Utterly gorgeous song, with a transcendent string quartet interlude.

and my absolute favorite use of strings ever in a pop song - and tip of my hat to David for first listing here - John Cale's "Paris 1919". And its on Youtube!
Paris 1919

Just might be my favorite album ever too.

dave™© said...

While God only knows I think "God Only Knows" is one of the greatest songs in rock history, I'm gonna pick "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" as having the more outstanding string arrangement. Brian put a sobbing throb in the quartet arrangement, which also turned up on a couple of arrangements from the "Smile" sessions (and if there were a completed original version around, I'd definitely pick "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" in this category).

steve simels said...

I can't believe I left out my all time favorite --

The Byrds' "Old John Robertson."

Glorious, transplendent guitar driven folk rock with a phased string quartet bluegrass breakdown that, coming out of nowhere, cuts the song in half.

Only in the 60s.....

LP Steve said...

Your selections are excellent, but there's got to be room for the Who's "Baba O'Reilly" in there. I know we're all used to the live version with Daltrey on harp, but that's a fiddle on the album, guys.

LP Steve said...

D'oh! Just read your "one violin not eligible" disclaimer. Never mind, then. Carry on.

NYMary said...

Not that I dislike "Your Dictionary," but I don't think it's the strongest cut on that album, even focusing on the strings. "Greenman" a much more profoundly moving tune, IMHO (though I'd take the friendly amendment that the wind are at least as important in setting the mood of the song), and "I Can't Own Her" better strings-wise.

Anonymous said...

Anything ELO but most especially anything on Eldorado.

Too bad I can't nominate The Town Halo by AC Newman for the wonderful cello riff.

TMink said...

My favorite is "Street in the City" by Pete Townsend. It is off his record with Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix. I can heartily recommend both the album and the song. The arrangement goes from Psycho to Theme From A Summer Place.

The real stuff, give it a listen.


Mister Pleasant said...

steve simels said...
I can't believe I left out my all time favorite -- The Byrds' "Old John Robertson."

Bingo. I always forget about the strings too, they just come out of nowhere. Vastly superior to the single version on the B-side of "Lady Friend" - which by the way would be my top choice for pop song with trumpet.

Mike said...

If it's not a mellotron (and I suspect it probably is), Chris Bell's You And Your Sister is just lovely.

Definitely real: Elvis Costello's recodings with the Brodsky Quartet in 1993, something different and something wonderful.

David said...

It's late in the game but I as I sit here listening to "Fresh Feeling" by Eels I have to tip my hat to the lush perfection of the string arrangement, which is one of the song's main hooks. It's a great song for spring too, for obvious reasons.

Padre Mickey said...

Sacrificial Bonfire XTC