Eurotheory, Part One

According to my major key, tonic chorus theory, the first semi-final of Eurovision 2011 should have eliminated Albania, Turkey, Russia, Portugal and Serbia (non-tonic choruses).

The contest is in a rut of minor key choruses at the moment (the last five winners), so Poland, Georgia, Malta and Hungary (minor choruses, started on the tonic) should have been in with a chance. Greece had a chorus starting on the tonic minor, and with a big fat key change towards the end, so that’s good odds.

The countries that ought to have done even better, according to the theory, are Lithuania, Armenia, (minor key, but major key tonic chorus), Azerbaijan, Iceland, San Marino, Finland, Switzerland, and Norway (major key, major chorus starting on the tonic), with Croatia doing particularly well (major key, major chorus starting on the tonic and a big fat Eurokey change).

In reality, the eliminated countries were Poland, Norway, Albania, Armenia, Turkey, Malta, San Marino, Croatia and Portugal.

So my theory predicted three out of five eliminees purely on the basis of a non-tonic chorus. And I was really, really wrong about Croatia.

Of course, if one actually listens to the songs, and sees the performances, Serbia’s non-tonic chorus is overidden by its Bacharach-esque charm. It’ll do well.

Also, I think the songs are getting shorter (no data, just a hunch), and that makes the big Euro key change harder to pull off. A grand institution is under threat, folks.

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.

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.

Bolts & Blip & Plagi & Arism

My kids have lately begun watching Bolts & Blip.  It involves, as the opening preamble explains, lovable robots doing harmless battle with water and rust, in an arena on the moon. 

Imagine you were asked to write the theme music.  It kicks in at about 2:26 …

Yes, it’s the theme from ET:

mixed with the theme from Top Gun:

I can’t decide if this is laziness or genius on the part of Philip J Bennett.  I think it’s laziness.

What is original about Bolts & Blip is the suggestion that, in the future, water will be cheap.

Dun-Na-Da-Dun, Da-Da-Da-Dun …

Ron Grainer’s melody for the theme from Doctor Who does this:

Everyone knows that, right? And yet for years I heard the melody as this:

Audio demonstration here:

I thought the melody continued from the upper D to the B a third below.  Years later, I wondered what was wrong with my ears. Why couldn’t I hear the right melody, with the B an octave lower?

So I did a little sleuthing, and I was helped by the impressive geeky devotion that has been lavished upon the Doctor Who theme. God bless you all.

Here’s the first version of the theme, from 1963. Delia Derbyshire was the BBC Radiophonic Workshop whiz who worked from Grainer’s score, and painstakingly edited together sections of tape containing oscillation tones, white noise and the occasional real instrument. She sped the recordings up, slowed them down, fed them back onto themselves, and edited it all with a razor blade. Grainer, deeply impressed, wanted her to get a co-composer credit, but the BBC wouldn’t allow it.

Whose idea, though, was the portamento between the notes? Surely, with such big intervals, Grainer had the swooping on his original score? Was he thinking of a theremin?

You’ll notice, in this minimalist early version, that there’s an organ sound an octave above the oscillator noise, reinforcing the upper overtone.  So you’re really hearing this:

Mark Ayres is responsible for a wonderful, detailed analysis of later versions here, and his work explains my old inability to hear the tune properly. In 1967 the intro was shortened, and electronic rising arpeggios (spangles, they’re called) were added.  You can hear them over the bass line, right from the beginning:

The spangles drop down in the mix, so by 0:18 you can still hear the melody swoop to the lower octave. 

But all of this was before I was born.  By the time I was hearing the theme , it sounded like this:

By now, the intro had been shortened again.  And there it is, at 0:11, another electronic spangle, partly to hide an edit point, and covering up the crucial part of the melody!  I hear the B from the upper organ line take over.  It’s very difficult to hear the lower oscillator note any more, and if you hadn’t heard the earlier versions (as I, a mere child, had not), that note might as well not exist.

By the 1980s the theme had been re-recorded, its key shifting up to F# minor, then back to E minor, and its melody was much clearer, but it was too late for me.  I stopped watching the show around the time Peter Davison turned into Colin Baker, with the wrong version of the theme firmly ensconced in my scone.

Mystery solved, although it should be noted that it’s also quite hard to sing the correct melody.  That big interval is not typical of a vocal line.  Here’s John Barrowman, who might be expected to know the tune, and who is no slouch as a singer, getting it wrong in precisely the same way that I used to:

Perhaps this anomaly is true of most people my age?  John Barrowman is, I notice, only a couple of years older than I, although not quite so good-looking.

Game: Song Lyrics Referred To In Everyday Life Without Any Attachment to the Original Song – No5


This bit, from an episode of The Powerpuff Girls (entitled Mo Job, around the 5:30 mark):

Princess: Help! I need somebody!  Help! Not just anybody! Help! I need the Powerpuff Girls! HE-EEE-EEE-ELP!

A gag thrown in purely for the parents.

Although it should be pointed out that this is an episode heavy with quotations – the kind that tired writers produce – ranging from the “spicy meatball” Alka-Seltzer ad to Tennyson’s In Memoriam.

Ockerisms and Cringes to One Side …

Over on the twittersphere, I listed, thanks to Mike Lynch’s prompting, the most immediate irritants in Tourism Australia’s new ad.

  1. “There’s nothing LIKE Australi-AH”: it’s par for the course now in songwriting to emphasise the last syllable in Australia, as no Aussie does, but why emphasise “like”? There’s nothing LIKE Australia, but there are several identical copies, should you require one?
  2. The camel/mammal rhyme. I thought I hated this purely because every other corresponding line ends with a single syllable rhyme, but it’s been bothering me for over a week now, so there must be something more.
  3. Kangaroos travel in mobs, not herds. Are we suggesting that young tourists from Asia (Vietnam?) with such an excellent grasp of English would not know this?

I should let it go, I know, but I’m even more annoyed now:

“Darwin to Bass Strait”.  Bass Strait is a spondee, two syllables emphasised equally.  No-one emphasises the word “Strait” more than “Bass”.  And by stopping at the body of water, you’ve left out Tasmania.  Again.

That “duck-billed mammal”. If you’re looking to emphasise the unique qualities of a platypus, well, it’s a semi-aquatic monotreme, and it’s the only one.  It’s a swimming, egg-laying mammal.  The duck bill is not really what makes it special, because there are any number of other duck-billed animals.  A duck, for example.

The Contestants Are Dropping Like Flies! The Week, in Summary …

Dear. Sweet. Jesus. Did you see last night’s episode?  I can’t believe Des was eliminated!  Dessie, who sang that track, you know, the one that goes “Why are we heeeeeere?  What are we doooooooooing, it’s craaaaaaaazy!”

I don’t know what it’s called, it’s from some show or some movie, but he sings it beautifully and they eliminated him anyway!  We should have known, shouldn’t we, because last week he won the Bonus Invulnerability Round.  And so far this season, six out of the ten eliminees have been winners or runner-ups in the week before’s BIR.

Charlene was a bitch about it too.  Where does she get off saying that he was thin on his top notes?  I’d like to see her get up there, I bet people would rather go to another Julie Andrews concert than hear Charlene sing these days.

Anyway, courage all, because that now means that Brian is the leading contender of the four remaining guys for the Wild Card Exclusivity Challenge next week, especially because he ranked in the top three of the Prime Level Audience Vote-a-thon at the start of the series.  But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michael change the rules on that, right in the second-last episode, and make Brian have to go back to the same level as the other four guys.  They’re always doing stuff like that.

What track do you think he should do next week, though?  Like, an acty-dramatic sort of thing?  Remember, Leon won with that angsty “Do you see the face here, that I’m wearing, the face behind the face you see” number in 2009, and he wasn’t even that fanciable.

I know, some of you will say that it’s Brian, Brian the Ballad, and I agree, but maybe he’s better off mixing it up a little? It’s a pity there isn’t a kind of track that starts like a ballad and finishes like an actory sort of thing.  Does anyone know a track like that?  Maybe we could send it to him.

OK, I’m just going to say this once and then move on, OK?  Alot, really alot of you were tweeting last night about how what happened to Des was so unfair and that maybe this isn’t really the way to choose a leading man?  I know, I know how you could feel that, but this way involves us, yes?  This way, we get to be part of it all, and that’s a good thing.  Television and theatre have been living together for hundreds of years, and now we finally have a way that they can work together, with everybody enjoying the benefits.  Except Des.

Anyway, as long as Brian wears that purple shirt again, I think he’ll be fine next week, and another deserving theatre star will be on the stage by June.

Game: Song Lyrics Referred To In Everyday Life Without Any Attachment to the Original Song – No3

Condition: the phrase must have been coined for the song.
It cannot be a pre-existing expression that has become more widespread through song.


One recent episode of NPR’s Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me (with which I’m a little besotted) had a segment entitled:

It’s Not Easy Having Green

Now, I’m well aware that everyone who writes for Wait, Wait knows about the song, and that every NPR listener probably knows about the song, but my point is that, if you didn’t know about the song, you might be forgiven for thinking the phrase was a proverb or something.

And just think how the environmental movement (and lifestyle programs) would fare without the work of Joe Raposo.

His Name Is Vic Mizzy

As I write, it’s 4:30pm on Friday April 9 in New York, and The Addams Family musical has been getting some pretty bad reviews. Previews already revealed that the show’s producers paid for the rights to the famous opening music (major tetrachord, snap snap), and everyone has agreed that this is a good idea. Certainly kinder than asking Andrew Lippa, the show’s composer/lyricist, to come up with something original, which would defeat the purpose of the entire retreading exercise.

Thanks to the glories of the internet, I’ve been reading reviews all morning, and waiting for someone to mention Vic Mizzy, who wrote those four notes and two finger clicks. Ben Brantley’s review, in the New York Times, is titled “Buh-Da-Da-Dum (Snap Snap)”, and is careful to attribute the plotline (conservative parents of new boyfriend coming over, daughter begs wacky family to be normal for one night) not to La Cage Aux Folles, as everyone else has done, but to Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You. But no mention of Mizzy.

Terry Teachout quotes the theme in the Wall Street Journal – (“ba-da-da-DUMP (snap, snap)”) – and is highly critical of Lippa’s score. No Mizzy.

Many, many sub-editors (do they still exist?) have, with startling originality, used the words “ooky”, “kooky”, and “mysterious and spooky”. No mention of Mizzy.

Surely a tabloid rag like the New York Post would follow the crowd? Yeah, typical, there’s “ooky” in the headline, and I bet – oh, would you look at that? There he is, Vic Mizzy, final paragraph. Nice one, Elisabeth Vincentelli.

Here, then, is Vic Mizzy, on the set of Green Acres, for which he also wrote the theme:

He did Petticoat Junction too. The guy knew catchy.

A charmingly old-school official website here. And an online bio here.