Thursday, January 12, 2017

Zrbo's Favorite Songs of 2016

The year I gave up on popular music.

This was a strange year for me musically. It would seem that I just didn't hear anything new this year that caught me ear. That's due either to me not paying as much attention to pop culture as I used to, or the other more pressing matters that affected the global stage this year, or perhaps my own interests solidifying into what I already listen to. Either way, you won't find much music from 2016 on this list. Here we go.

5. "Hee Haw"

This didn't gain very much viral fame as it frankly deserved. It basically sums up our current state of things. Washington has been reduced to a Hee Haw singalong.

4. "Flashbeagle"

Hear me out. When I was very little I was obsessed with Snoopy and the Peanuts. To this day I still have a bunch of Snoopy paraphernalia lying around. One of my earliest Snoopy related memories is dancing like a maniac to "Flashbeagle" while some babysitters looked on. The song comes from the animated special "It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown" created around the time that Flashdance and aerobic rock were greatly in vogue.

There's actually two different videos of Flashbeagle circulating around. There's one here that's basically the straight song as it appeared in the animated special. But the second video, posted above, is much more entertaining. It's got parts of the animated special but it's interspersed with "making of" segments. While it's kind of neat to see how they rotoscoped the quite impressive moves of Marine Jahan (also Jennifer Beals' body double for Flashdance) the real gem is here is the shots of the vocalists singing in the studio.

You've got schlubby Joey Scarbury, "known" for "Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe it or Not)", and Desiree Goyette, known for voicing various animated figures such as Nermal and Betty Boop. I love how we're led to believe we're watching the actual studio recording, with Desiree looking particularly over-enthused. But then the illusion is ruined when at 40 seconds Desiree looks straight into the camera completely ruining the notion that this was not pre-planned.

I haven't even got to the animated bits yet though. It's fascinating to see how Snoopy is the "cool" one wearing his ripped aerobic gear, but the dance floor is still straight up from the disco era complete with the multi colored lighted tile floor. You can sense the transition that was taking place in American dance floors as the new 80s style dance was being performed in aging disco clubs. Even the adults in the room (adults in a Snoopy cartoon?) seem to be in awe of Snoopy's "new" style and moves. Am I reading too much into a Snoopy cartoon?

The song is incredibly cheesy but I just love how Desiree and especially Joey are giving it their all. Then there's the little things like the crashes of thunder and epic string flourishes that give the song a decidedly epic 80s dance floor feel. I distinctly remember seeing this version of the video when I was younger and I'm terribly glad that someone made it available online.

3. Stevie Nicks - "Stand Back"

I've known this song for years but as I was driving across a bridge back in March it came on the radio and it just lodged itself deep in my skull. It's really all about that snazzy keyboard riff, provided by Prince in a perfectly Dave Chappelle-ready story.

And then there's the video. On the shortlist for "videos most indicative of their time" we've got some serious early 80s music video tropes. There's no less than billowy drapery, big hair, synchronized dancers that look like they just came off the set of All That Jazz or possibly the video for Beat It, berets a la Red Dawn, various neon lights, and even a treadmill because aerobics!

Then at around 2:40 we change venues from a darkly lit studio to something resembling the men's condo from Three Men and a Baby. What I love is how sincere everyone seems to be taking it. They are really *feeling* that jam. It's a great video and a great song from start to finish.

2. Echo Image - "Things I Know"

Isn't it great when you discover new music from a band that you thought were no longer producing music? That's how I felt earlier this year when I discovered "Things I Know" from Norwegian synthpop group Echo Image. Having only released one album back in 2001 they seemed to disappear from the music world. Well, it looks like I wasn't paying enough attention. Back in 2010 Echo Image released "Things I Know", and now it looks like they released a compilation album back in April, with possibly more to come.

The strange thing about "Things I Know" is that it sounds exactly like Echo Image did back in 2001. If you didn't tell me this was a more recent song I would have thought it was just a B-side I had never heard from their heyday. And in this age of the post-2016 election it wins my award for favorite chorus of the year:
I feel the world is not my own
But I believe the things I know
I feel the world is without love
And died long ago
Who can resist the part near the end when criminally underused Trine Bilet drops in to sing the chorus while the trance euphoria kicks in? Not me.

1. Overwatch - "Victory Theme"

Not the most interesting number one, but let me explain. The game Overwatch is easily my favorite game of the year. Because I've been playing it so much I hear the music a lot. The whole soundtrack is great. The World Could Always Use More Heroes is just utterly triumphant, and Rally the Heroes is this bit of music that plays near the end of a match that just perfectly matches the tenseness of the finale of any given match.

However, my personal favorite is the Victory theme. The reason I've heard it so many times it because it plays at the end of every match. Many Overwatch fans will tell you they like the Victory theme too, but most of them are referring to the part near the beginning where the horns and percussion blast triumphantly.

Me, my favorite part occurs immediately after this, when the game throws you into a post-match lobby while you wait a bit until the next match starts. That's when, at around 32 seconds, that wonderful synth line kicks and manages to be simultaneously tense and vaguely calming. In particular there's this little bit that starts around 56 seconds. That part right there is my favorite piece of music this year. I have had that little synth riff running through my head nonstop for months now and every time I play a match it's right there waiting for me. Game of the year and music of the year, all in a nutshell.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Two things about "Stand Back". Upon hearing the song for the first time back in the day I thought the chorus was saying "Scum Bag, Scum Bag" possibly in reference to oh I don't know - maybe Lyndsey Buckingham ? But I was wrong - a state not altogether unfamiliar to me then (and maybe even now). The second was that palm muted guitar that chugs away - I used to work at a liquor store and in the back room there was a timer that activated the lights in the parking lot which made a grating sound that matched the tempo and rhythm of that chugging guitar. Other than that I can't think of the song in any other context.