Once – Mini Movie Review

“Falling Slowly” is a good song but I feel like The Civil Wars really improved upon the story concept. If you want to feel bad about musicians not getting to be together, I mean. Just watch a few of their live performances on youtube and let it break your heart that they’re not together and are no longer even a band.

The whole movie feels spun out from the concept of this song and the grip on any actual story with plot feels tenuous. I can definitely see why Once ended up as a play, though. Actors embodying characters fully and feeling it in a live setting is so much more moving than it is through a screen. When all you have is that performance and not a lot else? I didn’t feel anything at all while watching the movie. I wonder if hearing the song for a decade and knowing the basics of the story ruined it for me.

Verdict: It was fine! I’m not mad about it.

The Shangri-Las – “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and “Leader of the Pack”

Ah, writing about music I like. The thing where I open up fifteen tabs and regret never having studied music in any capacity. (I’m sure my week-long stints teaching myself chords every couple of years, then abandoning the guitar before calluses form amounts to absolutely nothing.) 

It’s digital equivalent of this guy and my brain is tired.

Not being hugely into the girl groups of the 50s and 60s, even in a retro kind of way, I thought listening to these two songs were going to be a mild agony. There’s something I don’t love about a clear-as-a-bell voice tone, which is just a taste thing and not a value judgement, but it is what it is. It just happens that those clear, steady voices were popular in those girl groups (also, holy shit they were young, The Shangri-Las were literally a bunch of teenagers, so it’s no wonder they sound like a children’s choir). 

For both of these songs, the subject matter in “Leader of the Pack” and the minor chords in “Remember” serve in opposition to the innocent voices singing the lyrics, which may be why I ended up liking these songs. It’s definitely not how I expected to feel.

“Leader of the Pack” is one of those songs you find on compilations, it’s almost like a novelty. I guess there is a “grand tradition” of teenage tragedy songs, like “Last Kiss” or “Run Joey Run,” to which “Leader” belongs, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less strange. 

This particular song entered my life in high school when one of my friends choreographed a routine for a small group of us to perform as an act break between plays at our community theater. It’s had a special place in my heart since then and I was pleased to dive a little deeper on it for this project. The sing-along quality makes a song that could easily be annoying more fun. 

Looking into the history of the song, wikipedia pointed me toward a bunch of weird covers:

The Carpenters with a very playful Karen Carpenter strutting around in a very 70s ensemble.
Bette Midler making some weird tempo and ad lib choices.
Twisted Sister with a version that charted at 53 in the US and 47 in the UK in 1985. What even? (The Shangri-Las version hit #1 in the US but that was in 1964.)

I also found out that Ellie Greenwich, one of the writers and producers credited on “Leader” performed in a jukebox musical based on her own life, called, of course, “Leader of the Pack.” This album cover of hers fills me with joy – a proud multi-hyphenate! She seems to have been a really bad-ass songwriter and a prodigy, so I’m definitely interested in finding out more about her work, both writing for others and music she put out herself. 

As of writing this, I’ve only known this song for a day but something about it is so familiar to me. In 24 hours, I listened to “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” about 21 times in various versions trying to unlock whatever it is that’s so familiar. Searching for some context, I found out that Amy Winehouse mashed up this song with “Back to Black” during some of her live performances. Maybe it’s the similarity of the two songs that makes me feel like there’s something uncanny about “Remember,” especially when I never really got into Amy Winehouse, so her song is only vaguely familiar to me…like the song’s structure was just floating on the edges of my pop-culture consciousness. After discovering the similarities, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to use online remix tools to meld the songs together. I’m sure it would work in more capable hands than mine. 

Like “Leader,” this song is weirdly dark for a group I would have associated with like, sock hops and milkshakes. I’m not sure the lyrics play out logically, the narrator is reminiscing about her guy who’s been overseas for, we find out in the second verse, literally two years and being hurt he found somebody new. Girl. But you can’t let logic ruin a good time, said anyone who ever loved a Max Martin song

I would love to be able to verify the story on wikipedia, which has “Remember” songwriter George Morton going to see his ex-girlfriend, Ellie Greenwich, to break into songwriting and in a pissing match with her new writing partner (who would later become her husband), proclaimed that he wrote “hit songs” despite never having written any before. He hired The Shangri-Las to sing and came back into the studio with “Remember.” Since it made it to the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, his statement ended up being true. However, that story lacks a source and it sounds like Morton told several versions of how he came up with “Remember” over the years, so who knows. 

This is another song that has been covered to death and is still being covered today. Here are a few of the highlights of the versions I came across:

Aerosmith, whose version charted in 1980
The Go-Gos making it sound kind of punk?
Giselle on her album Not Ready to Grow Up from 2017
The Aqua Velvets doing an instrumental that really unlocked the Back to Black connection for me

If you search, you’ll find no shortage of other covers. It’s sort of shocking that I’d never heard it before, considering a) I love a cover and b) it’s still being covered pretty widely – at least for a song so old.

So will this turn me into a 60s music fan? Probably not. I did check out some of The Shangri-Las other songs on their debut album, but none were as good as “Remember” or as silly as “Leader.” Still, I’m glad these songs were part of the Rolling Stone project. And if I ever create a decent mashup of “Remember/Back to Black,” I’ll be sure to let you know.

The B-52’s – The B-52’s

Raised on the 80’s version of The B-52’s and their Cosmic Thing album, I wasn’t prepared for their debut album to be what it was. As lighthearted as it was lyrically and musically, there wasn’t much that was for me on this album.

In the late 70’s, it sounds like they were doing less traditional, more intentionally wacky music and it’s just…a lot. Sometimes there’s straight-up shrieking or imitation dolphin noises and, though it’s somehow melodic, it’s nothing I would choose to listen to repeatedly if it weren’t part of this project.

The album’s Wikipedia helps to give the style a little more context in better wording than I could come up with. I’m not a surf rock aficionado, so a lot of the nuance here is lost on me. I can’t even make sense of the Rock Lobster video – not that I’m sure that’s even possible or a worthy goal at all. And I’m not down on intentional nonsense as fun! It kind of reminds me of early Nickelodeon interstitials. But I don’t really connect with that style, it’s not something I could peacefully zone out to or conversely, get hyped up on (the music more so than the video style.)

The final track was an adaptation of “Downtown.” It’s listed as a cover but it’s so different from the original as to be almost unrecognizable. I don’t even really know what to say about it, other than it was a fun trivia fact to find out for an album that inspired more confusion than excitement for me.

I dug up a remastered video of Planet Claire which features some fun dancing, some hair…choices. Also, speaking of hair choices, I’m not sure why there are two Rock Lobster videos but this one is a pure live performance and the haircuts alone make it worth checking out.

I have to imagine, if you like jam bands or saw them live, it would be a completely different experience. They sound as fun as they ever have and I’m glad I spent some time with this album to get some weird history on a weird and fun band, but I’m also glad to move onto something else.

Filling in the Gaps

The gaps between what I want to have watched, read, listened to and how much I actually have experienced is huge. The whole reason I started this blog was to help start to close that gap. Without having set any specific goals, apart from the Oscar movies, I’m in the middle of a Game of Thrones re-watch, watching Disappeared and Friends (my weird casual comfort shows),  listening to podcasts, and little else. I don’t feel great about that!

I have been keeping up with the ONTD book club on Goodreads, but even there, I’m still doing my March reading five days into April. I am reading three books at once, which I downloaded in desperation during a week without TV. Also, during March, I did have some wonderful house-guests who I enjoyed immensely, definitely more than reading. That was followed by a week-long work meeting I had to run (the aforementioned week without TV was because of the meeting site), but excuses, excuses. I need to set some other goals!

So: I guess I should break this down into separate lists so I can set some measurable goals. My hope is to turn all of the lists below into blog posts or other pages altogether on the site where I can then track whatever it is I’ve been up to.

Television

  • Continue with GOT re-watch to prepare for the final season! Maybe do one or two small recaps of new things I’m noticing this time around?
  • New shows I’ve been interested in and meaning to watch but haven’t started.
  • Create a list of shows I’ve abandoned in the middle and would like to finish.
    • There have been a lot of shows I’ve started but through moves, life, jobs, and cable cord-cutting have dropped – but not because I didn’t enjoy them.
  • List the shows I want to grudge-finish.
    • Breaking Bad has broken me but I feel like I have to finish it someday, eventually.
  • “Classic” shows I would like to watch.
    • I’m thinking anything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to 90210 to Mad Men. Shows that were an important part of the zeitgeist of their time.

Movies

  • Oscar-related movies (or other awards?)
    • Identify Oscar winners and nominees I actually want to watch (both worthy and “can you believe this shit?” -type movies.)
    • This Had Oscar Buzz – the movies identified by this podcast are Oscar bait movies that went wrong somehow and weren’t successful either financially or in their goal to be “prestige” viewing.
  • Current releases I want to catch ASAP in theater or on digital release.
  • Past blockbusters I never got around to watching.
  • Netflix queue – originals or random movies I’ve bookmarked to watch.
  • Classics, both ones I’m interested in and ones that are “important” to watch. I was a Theatre major for a hot minute and took a film course that I loved. I had great fun hate-watching A Few Good Men.

Books

  • Classics! (Again!) I’ll find some lists and link to sources.
    • I’ve already been trying to do this with a focus on women writers (and am interested in broadening this category to everything beyond the European and American White Dude Canon that is the default in US ~Literature). So far, I have read all of Jane Austen’s novels and tried to read all of Louisa May Alcott’s (though I found some of the later ones in the Little Women series kind of insufferable and abandoned that pursuit). I also recently read Rebecca which was fantastic.
    • Revisit books I read in school and didn’t pay enough attention to? Reading Slaughterhouse-Five and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings during all-nighters at the end of my Summer vacations probably didn’t give these books their due.
  • Keep up with ONTD book club, maybe pick the books for the rest of the year?
  • Current literature, NYT bestsellers, popular YA, other items already on my to-read list.
  • Garbage and guilty pleasures
    • I love reading stuff like Jodi Picoult or like, salacious mystery/crime novels and getting mad. I also would be down to set some goals to read or reread some series like Goosebumps, Sweet Valley High, etc. I also really, really love reading memoirs, celebrity and otherwise. It might be fun to dig up some old ones from the 80’s.

Music

  • Classics I GUESS, though I feel like classic music (not classical) is a way more ephemeral concept than “Classic Movies” or “Classic TV”
  • Grammy winners, other award winners and nominees.
  • Revisiting old faves, both work I already know but hasn’t been in regular rotation and new (or new-to-me) music by artists I used to be into.
  • Billboard top 40 now and into the past.
  • Current finds from Spotify Discover Weekly & Release Radar and music blogs I’m following (please recommend your fave music discovery methods!)

I’m having a really hard time figuring out a way to set goals for the music category, which I guess is because I can pull a finite list of books from somewhere and read a certain number a month, or jot down the movies and shows I want to see and put one on in the evenings, but it’s sort of impossible to know if you want to listen to certain music until you’ve experienced it at least once.

And I like to experience music in different ways, in the car, in the context of an album, maybe at a desk with good headphones on, looking up lyrics and following up on the writers or musicians – what they’ve done before and what the context is if it’s not entirely current. Or I haphazardly toss together a Spotify playlist of tracks the algorithm has selected for me and let it run in the background while I work, deleting any songs I truly, truly hate, until I like some enough to collect my favorites into a more permanent playlist, like some really weirdly organized magpie.

All in all, I need to be less precious about how to work in some more new music on a regular basis and I definitely welcome suggestions. My hope is that with regular blog posting, maybe scheduling particular reviews for different times, I’ll figure out a way to work more music in to my regular media diet.

SO, all of that said, in between all of this goal-setting and this blog being my Camp Nanowrimo project (which I don’t think I was aware was a thing until this year), expect more regularly scheduled posting and more fun to come.

-Melanie