Who Is This Chick Called “May”?

My little girl is 8, so she is allowed to like this show:

I couldn’t resist teasing her, though, because at 0:18 Victoria Justice sings “somebody could hear” in the traditional manner, pronouncing “hear” so that the listener thinks of this:

Then at 0:25, for some strange reason, she pronounces the rhyme “disappear”, as dis – a – one of these:

Singers do this vowel-mangling all the time, if you let them, but it’s usually the writer’s fault. Stay away from the pinched vowels, lyricists, like “eeee” and “eeeer” on long sustained belt notes. Especially near a young girl’s break in register, that’s a minefield.

It often happens on the word “me”, which turns into “may”, and later in the Victorious theme song (‘Make it Shine’ by Dr. Luke and Michael Corcoran), “me” turns into “may”, but for once it’s not the fault of the writers. It’s just a poorly trained singer trying to sound like her vowel-mangling Idols:

Not a fantasay
Just remember May
When it turns out right …

… In my victoray
Just remember May …

I have been dutifully remembering this chick called May, but she has yet to turn up in the series.

We should give TV singers and writers a break, because they never have training, and they rarely have talent. We should be tough – very tough – on any guilty music theatre writers. Like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Amy Powers/Don Black/Christopher Hampton, the writers of Norma Desmond’s big ballad “With One Look”, from Sunset Boulevard. They give this, right on the break, to a woman of a certain age:

This time I am staying, I’m staying for good
I’ll be back to where I was born to be
With one look I’ll be me!

I hate this song. I really hate this song, and for all sorts of reasons. It has bullshit lines like “silent music starts to play”, which isn’t true of seeing a silent movie. You can hear the music, but not the movie: that’s the point.

But look at that last line. Two “eeee” vowels, back to back! And what does “With one look I’ll be me” even mean? Does Norma mean “Once again, I’ll be the great silent screen star Norma Desmond”? Then she should sing “Norma Desmond”. And it need not rhyme.

Anyway, here, around 2:59,  is Glenn Close singing “With one look, I’ll be May”:

Fine, you might say, Glenn Close can sing, but she’s not one of the great belters. Betty Buckley is one of the great belters, and here she is, in a live performance, around 8:22, having to preserve her belt voice by singing both “where I was born to bay” and “With one look, I’ll bear Maaaay”.

Bad writing. Pure and simple.

Alright, Let’s Get This Over With

Here are the nominees for this year’s Best Original Song Oscar.  I have posted about the pointlessness of this award earlier.

From Tangled, “I See the Light” (music Alan Menken, lyric Glenn Slater)

Bland ballad, made blander by Slater’s proficient use of cliche and bland imagery (“starlight”, “Standing here it’s all so clear/I’m where I’m meant to be”, “the fog has lifted”, “if she’s here, it’s crystal clear” etc.)

From 127 Hours, “If I Rise” (music A.R. Rahman, lyric Dido, Rollo Armstrong)

It has everything! Exotic cultures! Indecipherable lyrics! Children’s chorus! Non-committal sentiment about being better than your best!

From Toy Story 3, “We Belong Together” (music and lyric Randy Newman)

Fun, up-tempo Randy Newman number that might successfully have accompanied the credits to a thousand other movies.

From Country Strong, “Coming Home” (music and lyric Tom Douglas, Troy Verges, Hillary Lindsey)

So bland and bursting with country-rock cliches that it must make Glenn Slater feel like a phrase-maker. Oh, and sung by Gwyneth Paltrow. It will win.

All I Wanna Do Is Conceive With You

Some time ago, I posted that Heart’s All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You (written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange) is an awful and incoherent song.

Then I rewrote the lyric, to highlight its awfulness, and so that the song at least made sense.

Much, much later, I was asked to perform at the Q Theatre’s 2011 Season Launch. I was there because John Shortis and Moya Simpson (in whose show I am to appear) couldn’t make it.

And I had nothing, I mean nothing to perform.

That afternoon, nothing.

As I ironed my shirt that evening, nothing.

Then I remembered: John and Moya’s show is about great lyrics, and great lyricists. Why not pay tribute to a turd?

I practised All I Wanna Do Is Conceive With You in the car on the way out to Queanbeyan, waited in the audience for my bit, explained to the crowd what a dreadful song the original is, and did my version at the piano.

I thought it went OK: big laugh on the kidney line, and then I heard from Moya a couple of days later.

“Well, I don’t know what you did,” she said, “but the sound guys say they pissed themselves.”

So. Pretend that I’m a woman, trawling for man-seed, and strap yourselves in:

It was a rainy night when he came into sight
Standing by the road, no umbrella, no coat
So I pulled up alongside and I offered him a ride
He accepted with a smile so we drove for a while

I tried real hard not to stare, checked his teeth and head of hair
I studied his face, remembered my mace
He seemed pretty stupid, I lied just in case

“All I wanna do is make love to you
Say you will, you want me to
All I wanna do is make love to you
And if you knock me up, that’s OK too”

And so we found this hotel, both ignoring the smell
He made magic that night. Oh, he did everything right
He brought the woman out in me, so many times, needlessly
And in the morning when he woke all I’d left him was a note

I told him I am the compost, you are the seed
Or I’m a tree surgeon, de-sapping your tree
Don’t try to find us, no not at all
If we need a kidney, we’ll give you a call

All I had to do was conceive with you
One fertile night was all we knew
All I had to do was conceive with you
I was ovulatin’ about halfway through

Oh, we made love
Love like parents
All night long
We made la-harv …

And then it happened one day, I slutted ’round the same way, and
He was so surprised to see
I’d brought our bastard with me
I said please, please understand
I’m in love with another man
But we cannot make babies, ho-uh-ooh-oh
So we hatched this ridiculous plaaaaaaaaaan …

‘nd all I had to do was conceive with you
One fertile night was all we knew
All I had to do was conceive with you
Now, do you wanna try for number two?

All I wanna do is conceive with you
Frankly, any guy will prob’ly do
All I wanna do, all I wanna do
Is have unprotected sex with strangers
Like Momma taught me to.
All I wanna do,
All I wanna do,
Is steal your sperm and raise your children
Without asking you.
All I wanna do is conceive with you
All night long,
All night long,
All night,
Yeah ———-

I changed the key of the backing track, which makes the backing singers sound like chipmunks. I think it suits the material perfectly. Oh, and by the way, Ann Wilson, the original singer? A hell of a vocal. Just taking the piss out of her, I nearly lost my voice.

Scene: A Play School Rehearsal, circa 1998


Presenter: (sings)
I’m a little teapot, short and stout
Here is my handle, here is my spout.
When I get all steamed up, then I shout
Tip me over, pour me out.

Me:  (at the piano)
You know, it’s odd, because it’s not the teapot that shouts.

Presenter:  What?

Me:  That’s a kettle.  A kettle gets all steamed up, the old-fashioned ones shout, and then you pour the water into the teapot.

Executive Producer:  Oh, don’t joke, don’t joke about it.  We’ve approached the writers a couple of times to make different versions of that song, and they won’t let us change a word.  Very precious.

Me:  (sings)
I’m a little kettle, short and stout
Here is my

yeah, it’s just not the same, is it?

Presenter: (looking up from TV Week)
Are you done?


Here, just to be clear, is a teapot:

And here is a kettle, the kind that shouts when it gets all steamed up.

They are not the same thing at all.  There may be some sort of hybrid teapot/kettle, which steams up, shouts, and pours out tea, but I don’t think it would work.  Tea needs to steep in water that has just been boiled.  Even with billy tea, where you use the same container for both boiling and steeping, you don’t add the leaves until after the water has boiled.  Then you swing it over your head, three times.

I think my Executive Producer was referring to the publishing house in charge of the rights to The Teapot Song when she said “the writers” – a sensible use of metonymy.  Perhaps the publishers are wise to stick with the original words, because I submit that The Teapot Song is, on every measurable level, the most successful popular lyric that doesn’t make any sense.  Bigger than anything by Dylan, Procul Harum, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, or anyone else who didn’t make any sense. 

Applause all round to George Harry Sanders and Clarence Kelley.

Two Idle Games With Songs

I have two of these, usually enjoyed while doing something banal, like hanging out the washing.  The first is to find songs that sound hilarious with a thick New Zealand accent.  You need lots of short “i” vowels:

This is it
Oh, this time I know it’s the real thing

That’s fun, but the all-time champ is:

Isn’t it bliss
Aren’t we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground
You in

The other game is to correct a song’s grammar.  My mum alerted me to this one:

If I give my heart to you
I must be sure
From the very start
That you
Would love me more than … she did

There are thousands of songs begging for this game, but my latest fave is:

Hurt very well
Come on baby, make it hurt very well
Sometimes love doesn’t feel as it ought
You make it
Hurt very well

A Nice, Hummable 32-Bar Standard about Foreplay

I was waiting at the coffee window at Tilley’s, and heard this coming from the speaker above me:

something something bark
What a perfect something park
something no moon
would you like sugars with that?

How lovely, I thought. Someone has written a whole song about the quaint custom of necking in cars. That should have been me.  I must look it up when I get home.

So I did, and it was Doris Day doing No Moon At All, written by Redd Evans and Dave Mann.  It’s more of a celebration of darkness in general, and its value to kissing couples, and only mentions necking in cars very briefly:

Don’t make a sound, it’s so dark
Even Fido is afraid to bark
What a perfect chance to park
And there’s no moon at all

A-ha, I thought. So the whole song about parking is still fair game. And off I went and wrote one.

Evans and Mann were smart, because making the whole song about parking means you need rhymes for “park”, and if you are being traditional about these things (as I am), you can’t repeat a rhyme once you’ve used it.  That means, if you use “bark”, you can’t use “embark”, or “disembark”. This may sound fussy, but it’s how some great, great songs were written.  Seek what the masters sought and all that.

I picture this one being done late, maybe last in the set, by a woman – or man – with confidence, wit and a tempting neck:

Now, at the tail-end of the evening,
Might I make a casual remark?
It’s far too late to stay and much too soon to go home,
So let’s park
Ooh, baby, let’s park

You drive, I’ll provide the navigation,
But, Captain, before we embark,
The course I’ve charted has one little stop on the way:
Let’s park
Ooh, baby,

Right there, secluded and inviting,
Or there, where all the lights are low.
And there, there’s even lower lighting.
Hey, you talk a lot, and the time for talk
Was over long ago
So, baby,

Now, as this story’s resolution
Completes our emotional arc,
The mandatory high-point hasn’t happened, not quite,
And if a thing’s worth doing, I am worth doing right,
With just a little temperature, we two could ignite
A spark
Ooh, baby, let’s park

For an especially Aussie touch, check out the magpie in the background at about 1:06!

Notes on an Australian Cast (Concept) Recording – Ned Kelly

Damn, but Google Books is an ugly place to visit. I swear, it was designed by someone who hates books.

But the occasional gem is hidden thereon, like this account of Ned Kelly‘s first season at the Adelaide Festival centre in 1977.

Reg Livermore has given his own clear-eyed account of the show (more properly, Ned Kelly – The Electric Music Show), in his book Chapters and Chances, and here, on his website. Great pics there too.

The show began in pretty hip fashion for the 1970s, with an original 1974 concept recording, and then a stage adaptation, a la Jesus Christ Superstar and (later) Evita. After a contentious run in Adelaide, December 1977 (of the “is-public-money-wasted-on-this-sort-of-thing?” variety), it opened in February 1978 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney (the theatre is now no more), and quietly disappeared until 2000, when the songs and lyrics were revised, and the stage rights became available to amateur and community groups.

There is no official cast recording of any stage production, but the original concept album can still be found (in my case, in a library), and has additional historical interest because most of the cast (Trevor White, Jon English, Arthur Dignam, John Paul Young, Livermore himself) had lately distinguished themselves in the Australian cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Dignam and Livermore, between concept album and stage version of Ned Kelly, starred as The Narrator and Frank-n-Furter in the Australian premiere of  The Rocky Horror Show. Oh, and Livermore managed, in all that spare time, to squeeze in the first productions of Betty Blokk Buster Follies and Wonder Woman.

This is in the space of four years, which is now the average length of time between a musical’s first reading and its lukewarmly received second workshop. Perhaps this is not always a bad thing, because the consensus on Ned Kelly is that the score had promise, but that it was probably unstageable, in the 1970s, in its 1970s form.

How’s the album holding up these days?

1. What Else Is New? – John (Paul) Young, Trevor White & Peter Chambers with Arthur Dignam

The opening bars sound like a proficient high school band, so things are off to an inauspicious start. Then, happily, everyone starts to rock out, and all the guys are obliged to hit high C sharps. Characterisations aren’t subtle: “once upon a time, there were these greedy squatters”; meanwhile, Dan, Steve, Joe and Edward “Bang Bang” Kelly are “fighting for your liberty”.

2. Put ’em Down – Dignam, Reg Livermore

The villains appear – cops and judges who they don’t rock like the Kelly boys. They are exceptionally daggy, and their beef with the common folk is both too self-knowing and vague, for the “unhygienic rabble” … “do exactly as they please”.

Incidentally, Flynn’s melody is not dissimilar to the one Benny and Bjorn would later write for “1956 – Budapest is Rising” in Chess. And nice countermelodies!

3. Lullaby – Janice Slater

Janice has a touch of Olivia Newton-John, especially when she hits the top notes. Or is it the other way around? This is a very, very loud lullaby, and the music is blithely that of the American southwest, with no attempt to sound Aussie, and not a hint of worry about it: “there’s a chahld … crahn to bee a may-uhn.”

4. Rob A Bank – J(P)Y, White, Chambers

A bluegrass patter number, with good, specific imagery from lyricist Livermore: “velvet suit” and “mad Uncle Harry”. At this stage the gang are still lovable ruffians.

5. Never Going Home – JPY, White, Chambers, Jon English & Tony Rose

And now they’re not. This is a big set-piece of a number, intelligently contrasted with  what went before. At Stringybark Creek the Kelly boys, in reverse historical order, graduate from bank robbers to killers. Flynn again proves adept at the big choral counterpoint stuff, alternating with solo passages. It builds and builds but it’s all a bit ponderous. Ned gets a chance to prove, once again, that heroes are heroes because their voices rock out.

6. Better Watch Yerself – White

Now that he’s crossed the threshold, Ned gets a short choral commentary, just as Judas did in Jesus Christ Superstar.

7. Dark Walk Home – White

A Kelly boy theatre-ballad at a moment of dilemma and, like many of them, too self-knowing: “I can walk two roads, one of them home. I can be two men, one man alone … gonna be a dark walk home tonight.” The chord progression wanders ambivalently through key centres, a nice touch.

8. Queen Victoria’s Fuzz – Livermore & Cast

The police are back, and they’re still jokes, led by a Queen Villain: “My blunderbuss bent, and a touch of waratah scent”. Livermore’s rhymes are true, and the images are specific, true to the period. There’s a kick-line finish, and the bad guys are given no more motivation than Iago was: ” … no grand parade, it’s just the way I’m made.”

9. If I Was A King – English

Ned in the Garden of Gethsemane (“Oh Lord, you’ve lost your touch”), with another balls-out vocal (high C sharps up to high Es!) over a minor key vamp in the middle.

10. Die Like A Kelly – Slater

This is the only song I knew prior to listening to this album, thanks to Geraldine Turner’s performance on ABC TV’s Once in a Blue Moon, back in 1994. That was a theatre ballad performance – this one is Renee Geyer at two in the morning. The caterwauling has the unintended effect of making Ellen Kelly’s grief all about herself, and not about her sons’ impending deaths.

11. Band Together – English, JPY, White, Chambers

“The people gonna come and band together … the people gonna have that family feeling”.  It’s not explained precisely who “the people” are, and if anyone (the fuzz?) is not included. The people are a bit like Hair‘s tribe: if you have to ask, you ain’t one of them. This singalong at the end, utterly without irony, feels icky.

12. Finale – Jon English

A whooshy, electronic ending for our hero. Also very Superstar – a choir, with a few sprinkles of Holst and Ligeti, sees him off.

It’s immediately apparent, all these years later, that the fate of Ned Kelly (the show, not the man) deprived us of two valuable musical theatre writers in Flynn and Livermore. Flynn (who also composed the score for Sunday Too Far Away) had real composing chops, and could write honest Ozrock – a combination rare in Aussie musicals, then and since. Flynn eventually moved abroad, conducting orchestras in both the UK and USA. He co-wrote three new songs for the revised Ned Kelly in 2000, and died in 2008.

Livermore remains better known for theatre roles and television presenting, despite all the writing entailed by his one-man shows, on both the large and Clarendon-scale. I wish, though, we all knew more of his lyrics: based on the evidence of this show, he had real craft, and he could do the modern Tim Riceish vernacular without resorting to cringey undergraduate jokes.

At Last. A King Kong Musical.

NYC - Queens - Astoria: Fly ID presents King K...
Image by wallyg via Flickr

Many music theatre buffs will be disappointed to learn that a King Kong musical is in the works, its hairy heart set on Broadway.  Broadway is becoming more and more a theme park, they will say.  Disappointing, they will say, that a playwright like Craig Lucas should have to pay the bills with such tosh.  They are right, of course.

History buffs will point out that it was ever thus.  In the 1930s, a script and score would be written around established comedy teams, and in the 2010s, apparently, scripts and scores will be written around an established big robot ape.

Students of economics will point out that said ape is an Aussie creation, and that I, as an Aussie, should applaud any steps to lessen our appalling balance of ape deficit.  Also Aussie Roger Kirk is the announced costume designer.

But I’m disappointed that the score won’t be original: “new music and period songs” sounds to me like, well … period songs, and it was the original songs that saved many of those silly 1930s pre-fab shows.

Besides, look at Sonny Tilders, the creature designer, doing so much of the songwriter’s work for free:

When he scratches his nose, for instance, it will have to be done in one fluid, controlled motion where all the muscles up his arm will move at once and he has enough control not to accidentally punch a hole in his face!


Lights up on Ann Darrow, provocatively displayed upstage right on a stunning divan, her arm thrown back languidly behind her head.  She wears naught but a gossamer-thin negligee and a look of worry.

Suddenly, to the blare of trumpets and thunder of cellos, Kong’s terrific paw bursts through the fabulous smoke glass window behind her!

Ann:  Aw, Gawd, ya dizzy chimp!  That ain’t no way to pitch woo to a lady, see!

Kong sings.

Kong:  When Kong scratch his nose,
It never shows
The trouble, the trouble
To which mighty Kong goes
When Kong scratch his nose

When Kong need embrace
Like in this case
He lucky, he lucky
To not punch hole in face
When Kong need embrace

Carmen Pavlovic, the CEO of Global Creatures, says “Kong does not pick up a microphone and serenade Ann. That much I promise you”, but I’m pretty sure this will change her mind.  I say we get John Goodman for the voice.