Posts Tagged ‘Cat Stevens’

Masterpiece: Rushmore

13 January 2011

[Today: A much richer soundtrack…]

At their core, soundtracks are really just big budget mix tapes, designed to set a mood. In my opinion, the very best among them is Rushmore, an album that checks every box on the soundtrack wish list: its whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, it blends together seamlessly, and (most critically) it’s full of great songs you either hadn’t heard or hadn’t paid much attention to before. Assembled by director Wes Anderson and Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh, Rushmore is a 56-minute master class on how to put together a killer mix tape.

The movie Rushmore is about a teenager named Max who has more smarts than common sense, and his interactions with the hyper-interesting people around him. The opening credits – a montage of the various high school clubs Max belongs to, including the Beekeeper’s Club – cracked me up because I helped found Springfield High’s first (and only) Peace Club. Like Max, I was a smart-alecky, love sick kid who didn’t have the slightest idea where he was going in life.

This soundtrack sets that mood perfectly, with a collection of British Invasion bands like The Kinks, The Who, and The Faces, along with forgotten gems by the likes of The Creation, Chad & Jeremy, Unit 4+2 and Cat Stevens, as well as offbeat additions by French chanteur Yves Montand and jazz saxophonist Zoot Sims. The whole thing is stitched together by short, upbeat yet baroque instrumentals created by Mothersbaugh on glockenspiel.

Wes Anderson originally envisioned the soundtrack as nothing but Kinks’ songs before coming around to the eclectic selections that eventually informed this album. That was a very good decision. When asked about working with Anderson, Mothersbaugh replied that “He makes great choices. He’s really into music. He’s interested in B-sides, things besides the hits. It makes for a much richer soundtrack than if you just make a deal with the record company about what they will give you.”

Rushmore is the opposite of a big-budget, paint-by-numbers Hollywood soundtrack. Anderson and Mothersbaugh’s soundtrack feels like it was built by hand, with loving care, from a great record collection. It’s an outstanding musical journey through the minefield of adolescence, and it gets my vote for the best soundtrack of all-time…

Listen: Concrete & Clay [Unit 4+2]

Listen: Here Comes My Baby [Cat Stevens]

Listen: Ooh La La [The Faces]


Further reading: The 20 Greatest Soundtracks Of All-Time

Masterpiece: Teaser And The Firecat

24 June 2010

[Today: I’m going back…]

I’m a child again whenever I listen to Cat Stevens, and I can’t think of a higher compliment to any artist. His music takes me back to the 70s with a clarity that’s nearly unrivaled. From his un-ironic beard and shaggy Jesus ‘do to his dopey, lovable humanist philosophy, his whole person is redolent of another time and place. A time when Nerf basketball and whiffle ball were favorite pastimes and my friends and I were starting to learn about complicated stuff like girls getting their periods (mens-tray-shun?) and parents getting divorced. It was a time when many parents, teachers and relatives looked and acted like extras from Hair. I was a dumb, naive little kid, but even I caught a whiff of the rampant sex and drugs that were being enjoyed at that time. It made me wish I was older so I could partake in the fun too.

Along with screwing and snorting and Nerf sports, the 70s were also about positivity, environmentalism, feminism, and (because the of the 1976 US bi-centennial) patriotism. In a nutshell, it was a time of personal freedom, and the music of Cat Stevens was a ubiquitous presence. His Greatest Hits was as common as the slip-n-slides that dotted nearly every lawn on every block during those summers. His mellow, peaceful croon provided respite from a brigade of 70s heavy rockers, even as his songs seemed to speak an adult language full of complex subtleties that were still far beyond my Looney Tunes level of comprehension. But while his Greatest Hits might have been his most popular and best-selling album, his individual records are each macramé tapestries of their times.

His 1971 album Teaser And The Firecat set the tone for the entire decade that followed, and spinning it is the next best thing to catching a time machine back to the 70s. Top 10 hit ‘Peace Train’ radiates good vibrations, while ‘Moonshadow’ (reportedly Stevens’ favorite of his own songs) and ‘Morning Has Broken’ are respectively mysterious and majestic. But it’s the lesser-known songs that make this album such a delight – ‘The Wind’ evokes fleeting youth (and was used to great effect in Rushmore), ‘Tuesday’s Dead’ is a seize-the-moment anthem, and ‘Bitterblue’ is an autopsy of love gone wrong. These are songs of their times – turbulent, peaceful, free-spirited, indivisible, broken times…

Listen: Tuesday’s Dead

Listen: The Wind

Listen: Peace Train

Weekend Playlist

25 January 2010

“Townes van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” ~ Steve Earle

Steve Earle | Townes

Bob Dylan | Together Through Life

Air | Pocket Symphony

Guns N’ Roses | Chinese Democracy

AC/DC | Black Ice

Jimi Hendrix | Live At Woodstock

Cat Stevens | Catch Bull At Four

U2 | Achtung Baby

M. Ward | Hold Time

Dave Alvin And The Guilty Women | Dave Alvin And The Guilty Women

The Allman Brothers Band | The Road Goes On Forever

Aerosmith | Rocks

Yo La Tengo | I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin II

The Hold Steady | Boys And Girls In America

INXS | The Swing

New Order | Substance

The Staple Singers | Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

Velvet Underground | White Light/White Heat

Red Hot Chili Peppers | Blood Sugar Sex Magik

The Mighty Imperials | Thunder Chicken