It's Sunday morning and I'm losing a fight with a cold and/or allergies, and I'm taking the lazy way out by blogging someone else's material...in this case (because, really, most of my stuff is
stolen plagiarized borrowed from someone else) some music videos from Scott Bradlee's Post-Modern Jukebox. SBPMJ (hereafter referred to as PMJ for purposes of brevity) is one of the most imaginative and musically gifted groups around, and they probably don't get as much publicity as they should. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that I've mentioned them before on the pages of this here blog-like thing.)
PMJ's gift is taking songs by other artists and reworking them in ways that often elevate the musicality of those tunes, or transform them into a completely different genre. The musical genius is compounded by the absolute attention to detail in the videos the group assembles.
We're fortunate that many of their performances can be found on YouTube, but I'll save you the clicks as well as the mental/psychic effort of deciding on the standouts by presenting the following list. Trust me; I know these things.
Barbie Girl - In the style of class Beach Boys
This song was originally recorded by the Scandinavian pop group Aqua in 1997, and a few years ago was voted "Worst Song of the Nineties" by those Rolling Stone readers with the mental wherewithal to work a mouse and browser. It also prompted Barbie maker Mattel to file an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit claiming copyright infringement. And, of course, the lyrics do not stand the test of time insofar as they are egregiously anti-feminist. (Here's the original video.)
Other than that, it's a wonderful little song...at least in the hands of Master Arranger Scott Bradlee.
Morgan James, the lead singer in this performance, plays the part of Barbie with a self-awareness that sustains the overall ironic tone of the arrangement. Her vocal chops are astounding, especially in the section where she simulates a theremin.
Blurred Lines - Bluegrass Version
Musically-woke readers are likely wondering why an historically squeaky-clean Gazette would include a song with frankly pornographic lyrics (and I won't stoop to linking to the original video) that has been dubbed by some as the most distasteful song of 2013, the year it was recorded by Robin Thicke. Blurred Lines was co-written by Pharrell Williams (!) and Thicke (who later claimed he was stoned on Vicodin and that Williams did most of the lyrical damage). This song was also the subject of a [successful] copyright infringement lawsuit (appeal pending, as they wont to be). Gee, we seem to have a trend going here.
Well, the reason I've included the song in this list is (1) that genre-bending thing I mentioned at the top, and (b) the way PMJ has completely reworked the lyrics so they are much less offensive (IMO, anyway; I never underestimate the ability of some folks to be offended). You'll have to google the original lyrics yourself to see what I mean.
Single Ladies - Chicago-style
Let's switch gears and exponentially up the sophistication level of this list. Beyoncé sold about a gatrillion copies of this song beginning in 2008, and it's still probably the Beyhive's anthem. Also, AFAIK, no one has sued her over the song. [Original video here]
The lyrics are nothing special, but the real treat in PMJ's arrangement is the choreography, instantly recognizable by anyone even vaguely familiar with Bob Fosse's work. Even the costumes evoke films such as All That Jazz and Chicago.
Shake It Off - Motown-style
Bey's only competition among a certain demographic is Taylor Swift, who released Shake It Off in 2014. It debuted on Billboard's pop chart at #1 (only 21 other songs have done that). It also was the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit that was dismissed by the court almost as quickly as it was filed. People in the music business apparently love to file lawsuits. [Original video here]
PMJ's treatment puts a classy Motown spin on the tune and lead singer Von Smith, while not exactly pulling off the prototypical Motown look, certainly has the vocal chops to outdo the original artist (sorry, Swiftians, but you know in your heart of hearts that it's true). Make sure you stick around for the break at the 2:36 mark in the following video for proof.
Thriller - 30s Jazz Cover
This is perhaps the most logical, intuitive rework in this list. Lead vocalist Wayne Brady brings the spirit of Cab Calloway to life and it's the most natural thing in the world for Cab to croon the lyrics to Michael Jackson's 1982 classic. [Original video here, as if it's not already playing in your mind]
The genius of this arrangement is the inclusion of the diabolic tap dancers; no Thriller cover is complete without dancing.
Happy - Speakeasy Jazz Cover
Speaking of Pharrell Williams, he does compose non-smutty music, as evidenced by this 2013 song which was included on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, much to the chagrin of parents worldwide. [Original video here, if you're a glutton for punishment]
PMJ's version features the phenomenal Gunhild Carling, and not only does she sing and dance, but she plays ten (10!) different instruments on this video...including a trumpet balanced vertically on her lips, and three trumpets played simultaneously and in three-part harmony.
[If you want to see more of the amazing Ms. Carling, check out her PMJ-accompanied cover of Never Gonna Give You Up. Getting Rickrolled has never been more fun.]
Bad Romance - Twenties Gatsby Style
The only unusual thing about this cover is that Lady GaGa didn't do it this way herself. I mean, I could totally see her loving this arrangement, especially in light of her elegant collaborations with Tony Bennett. [Original video here]
It's hard to decide which is better, Ariana Savalas's vocals (and whistling) or the stupidly fast tap-dancing feet of Sarah Reich. But what's up with the disappearing horn section at the end?
Forget You - Thirties Jazz Style
OK, confession time. CeeLo Green's 2010 hit is the only song on this list that's in regular rotation on my iTunes playlist. And, in case you wondered, it's the "clean" version (if you're curious about why I make that distinction, you can look up his Wikipedia entry). [Original -- and clean -- video here]
PMJ's arrangement is classier without losing any of the intensity of Green's incredible vocal range. LaVance Colley matches him falsetto for falsetto.
We could go on and on. There are literally scores of additional PMJ videos on YouTube. Scott Bradlee appears to be a tireless arranger, and his musical interests range far and wide. Check out his Gershwin/Queen mashup (Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue) or this performance of Peggy Lee's Fever using an even dozen different musical styles.