Hey there! Welcome to Teatro Triste del Clown.
This site started out as something else and then a few years ago, we got it into our head that we were going to write about every song in our music collection. Memo and I have been doing this for years – I’m going forward in the alphabet and just recently started on the letter J and Memo, as it happens, is also on the letter J. As of this writing. It might be a while before I update this pinned announcement again, so, well, yeah.
For a brief overview of my limitations as a music writer, click here. Memo writes with considerably more intelligence than I!
Our Webmaster, Christoph, joins us from time to time.
The Index of what we’ve done so far keeps growing.
If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a line.
Fan video featuring lots of Food:
“Big Bad World One” (the title is a score – Me:0, Big Bad World:1) is a song about unrequited love and food. The singer longs for a particular woman but would rather say nothing than risk rejection. He eats instead.
I think we’ve all been there.
All right, so when I first started listening to “Under The Pines,” I struggled with its meaning. It sounded like it might be from a horror movie or a video game. Little did I know that the explanation for the song is considerably more bizarre. No, seriously, press play on the video, hide it so you can’t see it, listen to the song first and then read what its all about because once you know you can’t unhear it. I think you’ll have more fun trying to piece it together.
The bass line in this song reminds me of “Lying Eyes” by The Eagles.
Maybe an official video:
“Creepy Doll” is a delightful little Twilight Zone of a tune.
Here he is performing it live with fantasy/horror/comic master Neil Gaiman:
While using music box-like sounds in a horror song borders on being cliche, I think Coulton makes good use of it here. The song sort of embraces some of the basic cliches of “what a twist” style horror (it reads as a tribute to those creepy movies) so the contrast being the sing-song verses and the harder rocking chorus enhance the overall flavor of the tune.
Anyhow, not to be skipped. Or the doll will come for you next.
Album cover video:
Even in the annals of quirky love songs, “Seahorse” deserves special recognition. Its basically a love song from the perspective of a male seahorse. While its not entirely scientifically accurate (Coulton’s site points out that the male horses bear the young but don’t rear them), its pretty close to the actual life cycle of the seahorse. I will go out on a limb and say this is the only seahorse love song out there, but I hope a reader will prove me wrong.
“Thing a Week” was an ambitious project by Coulton. He attempted to complete one new song a week for a full year. The results were released on four albums. Thanks to the magic of alphabetical order, we’ll be listening to them in the following order:
- Thing A Week Four
- Thing A Week One
- Thing A Week Three
- Thing A Week Two
Thank you, alphabet!
Thing A Week Four, the summer album and final set of songs, is the only one not included on AllMusic. Fortunately, Coulton has a Wiki with some supplemental information. All of Coulton’s songs are released on Creative Commons.
One last thing I should mention is that my friend who shared his Coulton collection with me via CD did so without including all of the songs, so every now and then there will be a puka in the collection. Sorry about that!
This set of songs opens up with the rather charming “SkyMall”, an homage to shopping using the titular airline magazine. He mentions several of the things you might choose to purchase during your flights and celebrates the fact that SkyMall will always be there when you remember you “should have brought something to read” for that long flight.
Official video, though not the original song:
Jonathan Coulton is one of the more interesting musicians this century, both in terms of the music he’s produced and how he’s distributed the music. Coulton’s subject matter is much greater than just “geek culture,” but its his songs that appeal to geeks that have helped him become one of the more popular indie artists of this century.
I was barely aware he existed until about two months ago when a friend of mine gave me a set of CDs with all his favorite Coulton songs. There’s a lot of them and all of them are worth a little bit of your time. You’ll no doubt recognize some of them (I did) as we go along.
“Still Alive” was composed for the popular video game Portal. Here’s the original version of it:
Its sung by and from the perspective of the games’ villain. If you’re familiar with Portal but have never heard the song before, you’re in for a treat – but why you’d not have heard the song is a head scratcher. Didn’t you finish the game? What about the cake?
The song was included on Coulson’s 2011 album Artificial Heart. Its one of the best loved and most popular video game related songs of all time.
Warning – 80′s Image Heavily Video:
“Don’t Say Goodnight” was released in 1984 and also received some airplay on MTV. Unfortunately, it sounds like a generic 80′s rock song that could have been performed by anyone. This is largely a fault of the production.
I don’t recall hearing it during the 80′s. I downloaded it a couple of year’s back because I wanted to hear something else by the band.
For a time in 1983, Michael Jackson and Jon Butcher were the only two black artists receiving airplay on MTV. His debut album that year, John Butcher Axis, was critically well received and were it not for the fact that his label and management completely dropped the ball, he and his band could have been huge. On my local hard rock station, I-95, they were touting him as the next Jimi Hendrix – and while that was at least partially somewhat racist hyperbole (“Black man playing guitar = Jimi Hendrix”), it was an imagine Butcher cultivated and had the chops to back up. The band spent the length of the Freeze Frame tour supporting The J. Geils Band. Seriously, they were set up for massive success.
“Life Takes A Life” is a terrific song with some powerful, intelligent lyrics (“things often take the shape of/the very men they’re made of” plays around in my head all the time). Its one of my favorite songs. Why I’ve never tracked down many more tracks by Butcher baffles me. It certainly doesn’t reflect well on me. We all let him down. Well, I did at least.
“Jane’s Getting Serious” was a minor hit for Jon Astley (no relation to Rick Astley) in 1987. Astley has had significant and lasting success as a producer (he’s especially adept at remastering classic albums for the digital age, most notably The Who’s back catalog).
I heard this song for the first time when visiting Cape Cod one summer and driving my friends up to shop in Provincetown. One of the girls in the car was a future beauty queen whom I had a massive crush on and she loved this song. She in no way associated it with me, but I sort of wished she did at the time. Oh, to be young and stupid again!
Part of the reason I didn’t date more for a certain period of my youth was the misguided belief that I should wait for certain girls to “come around.” This future beauty queen, for example. I ignored some pretty obvious come-ons from girls that I liked quite a bit because I was holding out for her. There’s shit that goes down in our brains that we can’t explain (especially when we’re teenagers) and the reason why waiting for her seemed like a good idea at the time now escapes completely. Just as well for the girls who were interested in me though – I was a teen douche.
Fortunately, we grow out of that.
Ironically, this song is about falling in love with somebody who is your best friend. Both Jane and the singer hang out constantly and its clear that both of them are developing feelings for each other. Its just a matter of time before they both admit it and live happily ever after.
The song was just quirky enough in 1987 to keep it out of the top 40, which is a shame. It doesn’t sound especially dated to me and the cool/odd lyrics and soundscape make it a cut above your typical late 80′s single.
Official video (single edit):
Superior Full version of song:
Jon Anderson from prog rock mainstrays Yes and Greek composer (“Chariots of Fire”) Vangelis teamed up for a time in the early 80′s as Jon & Vangelis. The album The Friends of Mr. Cairo was the second release by the duo.
The title track got a ton of airplay on our local AOR station (I-95, Danbury) in the early 80′s. Its ultimately a gorgeous tribute to the power of film, particularly to the classics gangster and adventure movies of the 1930′s and 40′s. There’s a bunch of voice actors recreating sections of classic films mixed in with Jon Anderson’s soaring tenor and Vangelis’ catchy, occasionally new age keyboard work. Its an extremely successful blend of styles and sounds. While I think Anderson’s participation in Yes was the element that got the song airplay – it was weirder than most of what you’d here on rock radio back then – the song is extremely appealing and grows on your with repeated listens.
The first part of the song is a collage of images related to classic films. The second portion of the song – which starts after the pulsing keyboards and piano hook that comprise the single edit of the tune – is a meditation on how those films have been an important part of Anderson’s life. I especially love the line “Fantasy would fill my life/ and I Love fantasy so much.” That resonates with me. I imagine it resonates with many people.