Monday, April 25, 2011

All I Ever Really Needed to Know about Classical Music I Learned from TV and Movies

While heading out on a driving trip this weekend, my fiance and I thought it might be nice for a change of pace to listen to some classical music. In this misguided and clearly halfhearted attempt to feel more superficially cultured, I was surprised to find how many of the songs to which I could hum along with ease. When had I found the time to learn so many of these treasured pieces of classic music?

After reveling briefly in what I assumed must be my well-trained classical ear, I took a quick break from patting myself on the back to consider where exactly I had previously heard these tracks. Summer concerts in the park? Excursions to the community symphony? With all the reality TV watching and daytime napping that goes on at our place, these seemed to me like highly unlikely scenarios.

Suddenly, it occurred to me--childhood movies and TV! Of course. By mindlessly engaging in unspeakable amounts of passive entertainment as a child, I had accidentally gleaned a lifetime’s worth of classical music knowledge. Well, a lifetime for someone who knows nothing about classical music. But, I digress. I knew there must be others like me: others whose sole knowledge of classical music and opera stems from hours spent during our formative years parked in front of a glowing television screen.

This list is by no means comprehensive, nor is it completely exclusive to kids who grew up in the 90s. However, it is just pretty thorough for everything I could think of in a single sitting. As always, feel free to add your own favorites or bash my glaring omissions in the comments section.

Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King--Inspector Gadget Theme Song

Film nerds (and, let’s face it, regular nerds, too) may also recognize this music from its presence in last year’s acclaimed movie The Social Network. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” served as the basis for the music playing during crew rowing montage. While others left the film pondering the larger implications of social networking in our increasingly technological world, I was far more concerned with why the team was rowing frantically to the theme song from Inspector Gadget.

Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2--Donald and Daffy Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Now that I think about it, “Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2” has a more musical ring to it than “that dueling piano song played by popular cartoon ducks in a combo live-action/cartoon feature film.” I doubt that was Lizst’s runner-up title, yet it’s all I’ve ever known this piece to be.

Mouret’s Rondeau--Intro to Sesame Street’s Monsterpiece Theater

Some might argue it is also the theme to PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, but these regular installments of the Sesame Street versions are probably more memorable to those of who were children when it aired. Sesame Street does a lot of parodies that I can only assume are more for the benefit of parents forced to watch along. Just in case the children have a sliver of a chance of catching a reference, though, the parodies are always very literal--like in this case, creating an intro that looks almost exactly like the real Masterpiece Theater.

Largo al Factotum from Barber of Seville--Mrs. Doubtfire

The opening scene of Mrs. Doubtfire captures Robin Williams’ voice talents and general craziness in a focused way: by allowing him to fittingly channel his cartoonishness into an actual cartoon. Williams provides the semi ad-libbed voice-over for the animated footage, beginning with the well-known “Largo al Factotum” (many of us think of it as the Figaro song) from Barber of Seville. His operatics leave something to be desired, but he makes up for it with enthusiasm.

Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever--”Be Kind to your Web-Footed Friends” as seen here in Wee Sing in Sillyville

Most of us are familiar with Stars and Stripes Forever on its own, but the second version it has the added bonus of hosting alternate, nonsensical kid-friendly lyrics. Those of you who were fans of the Wee Sing series may recognize the above clip from Purple Sillyville resident Pasha’s home.

If you have no idea what this means, I suggest you watch Wee Sing in Sillyville immediately. I would love to say you won’t regret it, but that’s not a lie I’m willing to put in writing. Let me say instead you might regret it, but if you can sit through the above clip, you could probably manage to sit through the full 58 vaguely racially-conscious minutes.

Tchaicovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies--Original Tetris Music Number 1

This one is more popular on a mainstream level, so it’s safer to venture some readers may also recognize “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” from a family Christmas outing to see the Nutcracker ballet or at least a viewing or two of Disney’s 1940 hit Fantasia. However, if for some reason you managed to not encounter it in one of those areas, you probably know it as Music 1 from the NES version of Tetris.

Verdi’s Anvil Chorus--Tiny Toon Adventures

If the title alone doesn’t ring any bells, try watching the video to jog your latent Tiny Toon memories. The second I saw an anvil make hilarious yet undoubtedly painful contact with a cartoon child audience member, it all came back to me.

And for our cross-generational readers, you may also enjoy:

Barber of Seville--The Bunny of Seville

Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours--Fantasia’s Dancing Animals (Or, for the less cultured and summer camp joke-prone, Alan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”)

Cross generational runners-up: Rossini’s William Tell Overture (Lone Ranger Theme), Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Disney’s original Fantasia), and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (Looney Tunes’ “What’s Opera, Doc?”)

Monday, April 18, 2011

How to Impress your Friends at Karaoke, 90s style

Hello, fellow children of the 90s! Here, in this slightly abashed small font, I will make undue excuses for my long absence. These excuses include: moving across the state, getting a new job, getting engaged, planning a wedding, and taking on some paid writing gigs. Thanks to the frequent badgering from my loyal fans, however, those excuses have now been deemed paltry and unacceptable.

So without further ado, I would like to announce that Children of the 90s is officially off hiatus! Daily posting has become nearly impossible, but check back frequently for fairly regular updates. I’ve missed all the readers. I’m glad to be back!

Karaoke is one of those love-it or hate-it kind of enterprises. When a friend suggests it as an evening activity, there is usually a split opinion between those who relish the spotlight and others who prefer to bask in the shadows of anonymity. With the power of liquid courage, though, it seems nearly everyone likes karaoke. There’s just something about the situation that can prompt usually shy people to belt their hearts out in front of a rowdy crowd.

To infuse a little personal story, my then-boyfriend (now fiance) planned a big karaoke bar birthday for me during which he proposed to me in front of all of our friends. Romantic, of course, but that’s only if you skip past all of the embarrassing karaoke moments that preceded it. By that point in the night, I had thoroughly mildly humiliated myself performing Mariah Carey’s “Always be my Baby” and “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. Because I did not know of the momentous occasion to come, I did not realize that all of my friends came armed with video equipment. This meant that in addition to the documentation of the proposal, we now also own endless video footage of me belting it out like Ariel, minus the shell bra.

If only I’d had the foresight to select one of these songs instead, perhaps our future children would be impressed when we broke out the home movies. Instead of thinking their mom a nerd, I could gain some valuable street (living room?) cred for breaking it down to Busta Rhymes or making it all the way through “It’s the End of the World as we Know (and I Feel Fine)” with no mistakes. Alas, what’s done is done, but I’m hoping by sharing my experience, I can save you from similar karaoke humiliation.

While many of these songs are by no mean cool, they are incredibly fast and difficult to sing accurately. If you can make it through one of these sans slip-ups, there’s a near guarantee someone at the next table will buy you a drink to applaud your valiant effort. Here are just a few suggestions to impress your friends with your flawless renditions of super-fast 90s songs:

One Week (Barenaked Ladies)

If you are not a rapper but still want to impress people with some fast rhymes, consider this white-bread alternative. Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” features a very quick pace, numerous pop culture references, and some obviously improvised rhymes.

As with most of these songs, there seem to be certain lines that everyone knows, regardless of their overall familiarity with the song. In this case, you can count on the whole room to join in on “Chickity China, the Chinese chicken/Have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin’.” It’s all I can do to not just launch into the whole song from memory. It’s just so darn catchy.

90s Karaoke Level of Difficulty: 6. If you can get on a roll, you can probably make it through the song. Trip up on a word or two, though, and you’re probably going to get booed by the guys in the back.

Summer Girls (LFO)

I used to dream that someday I would be in a contest-like scenario that required me to accurately spout off all of the lyrics from LFO’s hit song “Summer Girls.” Unfortunately, such a life situation has yet to arise, yet I am confident that if faced with this conundrum, I would pass the arbitrary test with flying colors.

“Summer Girls” was a hit at the height of popularity boy-band and teenybopper music fare. The song relies heavily on unrelated content to make up for laziness in rhyming. In retrospect, someone probably should have just gotten these guys a rhyming dictionary and we all could have been spared a few minutes worth of random pop culture callouts and references to historical figures like Paul Revere.

90s Karaoke Level of Difficulty: 7. Those non-sequitors make it incredibly difficult to remember what comes next. Without the aid of handy context to guide your lyric memory, you’re stuck remembering each individual line word-for-word.

It’s the End of the World as we Know it (REM)

“It’s the End of the World as we Know it” came out in 1987, but it gets a free pass for maintaining popularity long after its release. With its signature stream-of-consciousness style, “It’s the End of the World as we Know it” has the perfect combination of factors to create the ideal impressive karaoke song: upbeat, catchy tune paired with impossible-to-remember to references and name-dropping.

90s Karaoke Level of Difficulty: 8. While we can all run in from other rooms to shout out the requisite “Leonard Bernstein!” it’s tough to get through the rest without flubbing on at least a few lyrics.

Semi-Charmed Life (Third Eye Blind)

Semi-Charmed Life was a very popular mainstream song, and we loved it as children for its upbeat tempo and great energy. Little did we know, of course, that the song detailed a descent into the dark world of crystal meth addiction. To be fair, perhaps the fast pace of the lyrics should have clued us into the content. I mean, it’s called speed. You can’t get much more literal than that.

90s Karaoke Level of Difficulty: 5. The lyrics themselves aren’t too difficult, but you better time your breathing right. Otherwise, you’ll pass out before you get past all those initial drug references you never knew about.

We Didn’t Start the Fire (Billy Joel)

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” is a clear knockoff of the REM song above, but somehow both managed to achieve relative popularity. Apparently people love to rhythmically chant a century’s worth of events so much that one song isn’t sufficient to achieve the lyrical equivalent of cramming for that US History final exam.

Joel wrote 1989’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” lyrics before working them into a melody, which is why “melody” is such a generous description for the music that drives this song. On the plus side, this song gave lazy high school history teachers an easy research project: assign a group of students a chorus and make them learn about it. I may or may not have enacted this allegedly hypothetical lesson in my own teaching endeavors, so I can vouch that it was equal parts planning-free and lazy. Thanks, Billy Joel!

90s Karaoke Level of Difficulty: 7. On the other hand, if you ever learned anything using this song in high school history, you may have an unfair advantage over those of us who learned the old fashioned book learnin’ way.

Give it Away (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Bonus points on this one if you agree to perform shirtless splattered with silver body paint waving a wide aluminum ribbon like the Chili Peppers do in the music video. While devoted fans can breeze through this one, alternative poseurs will probably belt out the repetitive “Give it away, give it away, give it away now,” and mumble through the rest.

Level of 90s Karaoke Difficulty: 6. See above.

I Want You (Savage Garden)

Known to many children of the 90s simply as the “chica cherry cola” song, “I Want You” is one of those songs to which it’s probably best to just hum along. One glance at the words may catapult you into an endless sea of confusion. With lyrics like “Where your crystal minds and magenta feelings/Take up shelter in the base of my spine,” it’s probably best we all refrain from all singing and simply chime in at “chica cherry cola”.

If you’ve even vaguely familiar with any Savage Garden songs (“Truly, Madly, Deeply” or, lord help us, “The Animal Song”) you probably realize “I Want You” still represents

Level of 90s Karaoke Difficulty: 5. If you are not embarrassed to admit you owned this CD and listened to it more than once, you probably still have those lyrics floating around in your head somewhere.

Anything by Busta Rhymes

To transition seamlessly from cheesy soda reference laden Australian Pop to some pretty hardcore rap can be difficult, so we’re just going to take that leap quietly and pretend these songs could peacefully coexist at the same 90s karaoke showdown.
This particular single (the incredibly NSFW Break Ya Neck) is actually from 2001, but it’s a great example of Busta Rhyme’s rapid-fire rap style. If your karaoke attempt at this song could manage to get in even every other word with some semblance of accuracy, the guys at the next table would probably spring for the next run just out of pure respect.

Level of 90s Karaoke Difficulty: 9. If you can make it through “Break Ya Neck” without stumbling over a single word, let me know, and I’ll bake you some cookies.

Monday, April 11, 2011

UPDATE--Children of the 90s will be going off hiatus soon!

I know we have been on hiatus for a long time--just wanted to let the readers know that the blog should be back up and running soon! Children of the 90s will be back...possibly not as frequently, but I'd still like to keep it going. Thanks to all the fans for your patience. I will let you know when the new posts will start up again! I miss all of the fans and readers and after a long hiatus, I have decided to get back in the blogging game.
Please feel free leave a comment with any suggestions for topics! Check back soon for updates!

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