Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Critical Android Destiny Chronicles

And so the Destiny saga begins with The Critical Android exploring Bungie's First Person Shooter, Online RPG.

Catch the debut episodes on YouTube.

Great Video Game Music - Betus Blues - Super Meat Boy

Super Meat Boy is one of several independently developed games that grew out of the PC inspired revival of old school gaming in the late 2000's and early 2010's. Like the Super Mario games that inspired it, Super Meat Boy is simply about running and jumping to reach the end of a level, though it has significant differences in what you have to do and avoid to get to that ending point.

As it was so heavily inspired by games of the 1980's, it seemed necessary that it have a soundtrack to go along with it that fit the '80s retro aesthetic. And so, game creator Edward McMillen hired composer Danny Baranowsky to write and perform the music for the title.

The above track, "Betus Blues" plays during the second world of the game, "The Hospital." It's in my opinion, the best song on the soundtrack, but also stands out as a wonderful piece of gaming music in general.

The use of keyboards evokes the old, 8-bit gaming sound considering that all the music back then had to be synthesized with sound chips that were only capable of doing so much. All the instrumentation back then had to be small variations of "bleeps" and "bloops." Today you an actually have real instrumentation inserted into a game, but Baranowsky opts for a sound that is intentionally dated, and it works.

The percussion track is strong but the layers of keyboards are what really sells the song. The overall tone is somewhat dark and ominous, especially to start, but the tone lightens up around the 15 second mark. The real hook comes in at 29 seconds when Baranowsky lays out a melody that is immediately arresting and engaging. The rest of the song goes back into the much darker sound with the more electronic keys still popping up to provide something more than just atmosphere.

Like game music should be, it's relatively short, is fun to hear repeated, doesn't get old, and fits the spirit of the game exceptionally well. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Critical Play-through - Super Meat Boy - Part 1

The time has come to dive headlong into the world of live YouTube gaming with a play-through of Super Meat Boy for the PlayStation 4. You can view Part 1 here with the rest of the videos being viewable on the YouTube channel. Please, like, comment, subscribe, give feedback.

Audio levels on the microphone are regrettably lower than I would like, but that's one of the fault's of streaming footage off of the PS4 via Twitch, it's hard to get a good audio mix.

Otherwise enjoy the footage and thanks in advance for watching!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Retro Review: Ice Climber

Ice Climber was released for the NES in 1985, but most people only know of the game thanks to 2001’s Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Game Cube. In order to provide more characters from Nintendo’s past, the characters of Popo and Nana were added to the fighting game’s roster, and like Marth and Roy, introduced gamers to these characters for the very first time. Unlike Marth and Roy however, who were stars of games that were only released in Japan at that point in time, the Ice Climbers of Popo and Nana did have their game released stateside…everyone just forgot about them.

There’s a pretty good reason for this too, Ice Climber is a terrible game. The object is to help Popo or Nana scale a hazardous mountain where there's food at the top, but you’ll ultimately be leading yourself into the depths of a snow filled hell. The challenge in this game doesn’t come from the bears or yetis you can strike with your hammer, it doesn’t come from the icicles that threaten to impale your little climber. No, the challenge from this game comes entirely from the atrocious jumping mechanics.

Much to their credit, Popo and Nana have one hell of a vertical; little buggers... well... fleas…snow fleas really… When you press the A button they make Mario look like he’s got rickets. And they’re carrying giant hammers to boot. Remember what Mario was doing with a hammer in Donkey Kong? Couldn’t jump at all. Popo and Nana though, 20 feet in the air, easy. They’ll knock out chunks of the ice ceilings above them and make it up the mountain in no time. Or they would if not for the fact their horizontal jumping is weirdly terrible. If you’re not moving forward with any kind of velocity, then when you’re jumping, you’re going nowhere from left to right. And even when you are moving before jumping, you’re lucky if you get yourself another quarter of an inch horizontally in the air. No, if you want to make a jump you’ve got to be going all out before jumping and then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to jump far enough to reach the next platform.

Even then, sometimes you’ll just fall through the platform in general. See, you can’t just land on the edge of the platform, you’ll clip through it even if you clearly land on top of it. The “sweet spot” so to say for the game to register your landing is actually located several pixels inwards from the edge. The end result is you frustratingly launching Popo and Nana to their deaths by watching them fall through the edge of a platform that they very clearly landed on.

And ever since the Ice Climbers landed on Super Smash Bros. Melee, Nintendo has been trying to ram them down our collective throat. Ice Climber has been released on virtual console, was included as part of the 3DS Ambassador Program, and the game was included as a demo or”masterpiece” in Smash Bros. Brawl and Wii U.

The one good thing that could be said about the game is that it did allow for a simultaneous, co-operative, two player mode. If you and a friend wanted to, you could both scale the mountain and work together to chip away at the blocks; one of you as Popo, the other as Nana. At the time, this was unique considering most games made you alternate turns between players. Looking back at it now though, why would you want to play the co-op of Ice Climber when you could play Contra or Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers instead?

There's nothing very memorable about the music, the graphics, the characters, any of it. Even with low expectations in place because it's an old-school NES game, there are so many things this could do better. In the same respect there are so many other better things you could do with your time and money.

If it weren't for the simply awful jumping controls and mechanics, this game might be more enjoyable. Instead, they are frustrating, obtuse, and give you absolutely no reason to play this game.

Final Score: 2/10 or 1 Sad Popo out of 5 Sad Popos.

Sad Popo property of Pikamander2:

Terrible Songs That I Like - Born To Be Alive - Patrick Hernandez

What The Song Is - A 1978-1979 disco single by French singer and kind of songwriter, Patrick Hernandez. I say kind of songwriter, because "Born To Be Alive" is only a song in the sense that it is music with words. It was a huge hit for him across the world, topping the charts in his native France and hit number 16 on the American Billboard charts. It's also surprisingly one of the best selling songs in the history of France, coming in at number 20. For reference sake, Michael Jackon's "Beat It," is number 48 on that list, and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John's "You're The One That I Want" is number 5. ...Just go with it.

Why It's Terrible - Dance songs and disco tracks aren't exactly known for having a great degree of musical depth to them, but sometimes you can be surprised. For example, almost every Donna Summer song features an amazing vocal, Van McCoy's "The Hustle" sports a great drum track from Steve Gadd, and most Bee Gees tunes incorporate stellar harmonies and some inspired keyboards or other hook; like that bass on "Stayin' Alive." "Born To Be Alive" doesn't really have those things; it has a heck of a guitar lick but little more than that. It's a solid arrangement but, you can't really pick anything out of it and say, "Now that....that's outstanding right there." The lyrics are also completely forgettable outside of the title phrase. There's even a terribly missed opportunity for some sort of rhyme:

People ask me why
I never find a place to stop
And settle down, down, down

But I never wanted all those things
People need to justify
Their lives, lives, lives

I'm not saying a song has to rhyme, but after you go out of your way to say "down, down, down" you could at least try to rhyme it with something. Or do the reverse and rhyme something with lives, like I don't know, "People ask me why I never settle down and try to find a wife, wife, wife."

Why I Still Like It - Despite the absence of any real stand out elements, everything about the song blends really well. It has a kind of groove and energy that if you let it take over you, works its way into your soul. The best part about the song however is near the end of the track when the chorus is being repeated again, and there's a little start and stop in the music, punctuated by a crashing guitar chord.  Even that little moment is enough to bring the song up from guilty pleasure, to unashamed pleasure.

Final Notes: I'm honestly surprised this song doesn't make as many best one-hit wonders charts as it should. This song should not be nearly as fun as it is...but it is. Not to mention, it also helps lend some atmosphere to one of the single greatest cinematic achievements in the history of man kind, National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation:

Monday, December 28, 2015

Bad Ideas In Music - The Yes Christmas Song

In 1981, the progressive rock band, Yes, had said "No" to continuing on. Following the awful album and internal bickering of the 1978 album Tormato, the band went two big personnel changes, with vocalist Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman leaving and replaced with The Buggles, Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes. The album they released in 1980, Drama was a remarkable return to form for Yes, but the subsequent tour was disastrous with Horn's voice being thrashed by trying to sing in Anderson's range night after night, and not being a trained vocalist.

Yes broke up with founding member and bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White trying to form a band with Jimmy Page & Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. The band, tentatively titled XYZ (ex Yes & Zeppelin) never got out of the demo songwriting and recording phase, leaving Squire and White without a band. So in 1981, they did the only reasonable thing they could think of: make a Christmas song:

"Run With The Fox" is somewhere between the levels of awful, and so awful it's comical. It opens with a flute of all things, since Yes was so well known for their flute work (they weren't), and a simple piano melody. Squire's voice, which while powerful, doesn't have much of a range beyond being a full-throated yelp, carries the tune...kind of. He's a great harmony singer, but he's no lead vocalist. 

And then there's the lyrics:

Run with the Fox
Into the wild
Into the wild in the fold

Beware of the rocks
And be prepared
Prepare for love comes and goes

What rocks? Where are the rocks? Where are we even running? Are the rocks figurative? Is the fox figurative? If the fox is figurative, why are we running with it and not with something more um...symbolic of Christmas?

Every year the revolution
One more lost before begun
While we fight our mass confusion
Thus we walk before we run

Run with the Fox
Into the wind
Onto the dawn of tomorrow

Shit just got real in that verse. Now the world is apparently in a constant cycle of warfare with revolutions beginning and ending yearly, but somehow losing. But then again, the enemy in this revolution appears to be "mass confusion" probably over whether or not we're running with an actual fox or not, and if those rocks up ahead are literal. And we need to make sure of this since we're taking that fox all the way to "the dawn of tomorrow." That's a hell of a long run, fox or not.

Let us live to tell a story
Here on Earth and out in Space
Foreward on the road to glory
History records the chase

Okay well that's even more important than I thought it was. This is a story that will transcend Earth itself and so important is it that history itself will recall it. Somehow it's recording a "chase" though, implying we're not running with the fox, we're either running after it, or it's running after us.

Run with the Fox
And sing a tune, a dreamer's tune
Run with the Fox
Across the bridge of many ways
Run with the Fox
Onto the place where dreamers bathe

Well now he's just asking things that are impossible. 1) I don't know what tunes dreamers sing, though I imagine it's probably not that coherent. 2) Most bridges go two ways, some only one depending on its width. I've seen some that go three directions, but that's more of a rarity or novelty. None of them however, have led to a place where dreamers are able to bathe themselves.

Let's just be grateful that wherever that fox ran to, it ultimately did not lead Squire and White to bathing dreamers and instead led them to this:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Great Songs You Probably Don't Know

When you think of Irish rock, you probably think of U2, some of you may think of Thin Lizzy, but how many of you think of The Frank And Walters? Well, if you're American, probably virtually none of you. An alternative rock band that founded in 1990, The Frank And Walters never made it big outside of Ireland, scoring three top twenty hits there and one in the UK.

That one UK hit is from their 1992 album, Trains, Boats, and Planes. Please note that this has nothing to do with the Steve Martin, John Candy Classic, Trains, Planes, and Automobiles. Though you probably weren't really...well I'm guessing that wasn't a huge source of confusion for you. Just for reference sake though:

This is The Frank And Walters                This is Trains, Planes, & Automobiles

Close, but if you look hard enough, you'll spot the differences.

Anyway, getting back to that one song, it's called "After All" and it's really, remarkably good. It borrows from the jangle pop of the early '90s and bands like The La's, but it still has a bit of a rock edge to it. Overall the song is sweet, playing strongly off of a gentle melody, rich harmonies, and a chorus that hits with a one-two combination of hooks. The instrumental change-up introduces some string like keyboards and a slightly tougher vocal. The song eventually transitions into a wordless sing-along of "ba ba ba's" backed with a jangling guitar riff and more harmonies. 

It's a simple lyric, a sweet arrangement with an admirable build, and you probably haven't heard it before, so it'll be like brand new...despite the fact it's over twenty years old. Now if only it were on the soundtrack to Trains, Planes, and Automobiles.

Terrible Songs That I Like - Waiting For A Star To Fall - Boy Meets Girl

What The Song Is - A 1988 pop song by the duo of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, collectively known as Boy Meets Girl. The song was originally rejected by Whitney Houston who had already recorded two songs they wrote for her, "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." It was also offered to Belinda Carlisle who rejected it too. Eventually Boy Meets Girl released it on their own and it went into the Billboard Top 5 and topped the Adult Contemporary charts.

Why It's Bad - The opening lines are, "I hear your name whispered on the wind/It's a sound, that makes me cry." That should give you a clue right away as to the amount of emotional strength we're dealing with out of the lead singer. Other choice, campy lines include the chorus, "Waiting for a star to fall/And carry your heart into my arms/That's where you belong, in my arms baby, yeah." The keyboards are pretty over the top, and its sentimentality is so saccharine it's almost laughable.

Why I Still Like It - Boy Meets Girl knew how to craft a pop hook, I really can't deny that at all. When the chorus kicks in I am right there singing along with it despite all my better instincts. Towards the end of the song they make it even more of a fun and challenging sing along by singing in an even higher register to really capture just how much they're waiting on that star to fall. It's a fairly demanding vocal that's not too taxing, but provides enough of a challenge to make it fun to sing. There's also a damn good saxophone part in there too; DAMN GOOD.

Final Notes - As indicative of the '80s as this is, not all pop from that decade can claim to be this catchy and vibrant. Also to its credit, unlike the manufactured '90s pop that would come after it...this has a saxophone, a damn good saxophone. I'll just never say that this is a damn good song.

Pop Goes The Artist

Every so often an artist who's not known for doing things in the pop genre, goes ahead and releases a song that is much poppier than anything they've ever done. This isn't necessarily a bad thing by any means; sometimes it can be enjoyable and provide an entry point into their other material.

Today's example is one of the original punk rockers, Iggy Pop. The song is his 1986 cover of an old Johnny O'Keefe number, "Real Wild Child (Wild One)." It went into the top 10 in the UK and barely made a dent in the American charts, peaking at number 27 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. To put that into perspective, that's like finishing in the top 30 in a singing contest at your local county fair.

It deserved a lot better than that though. Iggy Pop diehards will probably scoff at how tame the song is by Iggy  or his former band, The Stooges standards, but it still has a bit of his rock edge to it. It's a simple song, it's not really complicated or anything, and it's an awful lot of fun.

Terrible Songs That I Like - One Good Woman by Peter Cetera

What The Song Is - A schlocky pop ballad from Peter Cetera off of his 1988 album, One More Story. It went to number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Adult Contemporary charts for a month.

Why It's Bad - Like most Cetera ballads either solo or with Chicago, it's terribly cheesy, drenched in too many keyboards for its own good and mostly sung in that whiny voice that he resorts to in these kind of slower pieces. It's also a lyrical mess, here's the first verse:

I am so in love with you
I just can't deny it
Everybody knows I can't deny it
Everybody knows
You can read me like a book
Just like a fortune teller
Everybody needs a fortune teller
Telling you the very truth

Apparently for lack of lyrics it needs to keep repeating words from line to line. Additionally, the bridge is way too slow, way too long, and extends the song out far longer than it needs to be.

Why I Still Like It: The chorus has one hell of a pop/rock hook. A substantial amount of credit has to be given to drummer John "J.R." Robinson who unloads a powerful, rattling drum fill to launch out of the verse and into the chorus. Their sound is crisp, crashing, and far beyond the rest of the song's sound. It's literally like the drums were just taken from another song entirely and thrown in here to give the song some pep...and it really does. On a subtler note, there's also a nice little backing guitar lick tucked away in the final line of the chorus that sprinkles a little more catchiness to it.

Final Notes: If you like Peter Cetera, you should be all over this song, if you can't stand him like I do...listen for John Robinson. Dude deserves some credit.

Ranking The James Bond Theme Songs

There are so many iconic, recurring features in the James Bond film franchise that even if you haven't seen many of the movies, you're more than likely familiar with what they have in common. Most people could tell you that Bond films involve spies, gadgets, guns, girls, and whether they realize it or not, a good chunk of them could probably tell you about the music. Each addition to the franchise has come equipped with its own theme song. Some of them have become popular radio staples, others have remained relegated to the opening credits of the films they came from. There are 24 films in the official canon as of 2015 and therefore, 24 songs. We're going to rank them all based on a combination of how strong of a song they  are in general, as well as how effectively they fit the image and style of the Bond franchise. Of course, music is a highly subjective thing to enjoy and differing opinions are what make debating things like Bond themes so much fun. Before we get to the numbered ranking though, there's one thing to get straight.

Special Mention: "James Bond Theme" - John Barry - From Dr. No

Bond's main theme is so memorable, instantly identifiable, and downright catchy that it transcends a numbered list system. The guitar riff, the atmosphere, the change in tone from slinky and stealthy to big and bombastic; it's Bond's leitmotif and is as cool today as it was back in 1962.

23. "Another Way To Die" - Jack White & Alicia Keys - From Quantum of Solace

If there ever existed a song within the Bond franchise, or music itself that displayed a textbook case of an identity crisis, this is it. Jack White throws in a number of gritty guitar lines, Alicia Keys gives her R&B style vocals, there's a healthy amount of piano, somebody tried to throw some traditional Bond elements in at places; it sounds like it's trying to be three different things simultaneously with none of them being worthwhile. It also sounds nothing like what you'd imagine a James Bond theme to sound like; something that could be forgivable if it were good otherwise.

22. "The Man With The Golden Gun" - Lulu 

The best thing that can be said about this theme is that at least it's consistent; unfortunately it's consistently bad. The horns that lead off the arrangement do help give it a distinct, Bond tone, but everything from the guitars to Lulu's singing sound terribly camp. It's fitting that many critics and websites consider this to be one of the worst Bond songs of all time, with the movie itself also being considered similarly. And if you're not familiar with Lulu maybe you'd remember her more for her 1967 number one hit, "To Sir, With Love." Nope? Moving on!

21. "All Time High" - Rita Coolidge - From Octopussy

Until the Daniel Craig films, "All Time High" was notable for being the only non-instrumental Bond theme to not include the name of the film in the title or lyrics of the song...and with a name like Octopussy it's pretty self-explanatory why that's the case. However, maybe trying to work the title in would've made it a better piece of music. You'd be forgiven if you had no idea this was from a James Bond movie as it sounds like a generic, early '80s ballad. It's not bad by any means, but it is completely forgettable.

20. "Die Another Day "- Madonna

Nothing says action/spy thriller like electronic dance music with voice samples that randomly say "Sigmund Freud" and "analyze this." The one thing this has going for it as a theme song are the string arrangements that actually evoke a good sense of tension and mood. The rest of the music only works well as a stand alone Madonna song, in which it actually is a good Madonna piece. To give credit where credit is due, it did perform well on the music charts, taking Bond back into the Billboard Top 10 for the first time in decades. Then again, 2002 Madonna was still extremely popular and could've read the phone book to a dance beat and made the charts with it.

19. "Writing's On The Wall" - Sam Smith - From Spectre 

Sam Smith cleans up at the 2015 Grammy Awards and the next thing you know he's recording a Bond theme. His voice is strong, the arrangement is evocative, but it's hard to escape the feeling that this very much sounds like Smith's previous work and is a personal piece about his relationships. A singer should bring their own style into the mix for a project like this, but not to the extent where it sounds like he's moping about his love life. It would've been a great addition to his next record, not to the list of Bond themes.

18. "Thunderball" - Tom Jones

"They call him the winner who takes all/And he strikes, like Thunderball." ...Just uh, how exactly does a Thunderball strike? They really had to force the title into the lyric here. The orchestral flourish that opens the song gets real repetitive real fast, but man can Tom Jones belt it out. The last note he sings is phenomenal and helps prop up an otherwise mediocre number.

17. "Moonraker" - Shirley Bassey

As of 2015 and the release of Spectre, Shirley Bassey remains the only artist to have recorded more than one Bond song, having given her vocals to three of them. This is not only the weakest of the trio, but is also one of the weaker themes in general. It's a moving ballad, that part can't be denied, but unlike her other tracks, this one doesn't do the Bond style and sound any justice. If it were sung by any other person it would be lower on the list, but Shirley Bassey remains an exceptional vocalist. Oh, and if you thought trying to logically work the term "thunderball" into a lyric was a stretch, "moonraker" isn't much better.

16. "You Only Live Twice" - Nancy Sinatra

Nancy Sinatra doesn't display a tremendous amount of range as a singer here but she does have a great edge to her voice. The musical arrangement is distinctly different for a Bond film but makes more sense considering the Asian setting it takes place in. Is it a  bad song? No, but there are better ones in the series.

15. "License to Kill" - Gladys Knight

Gladys sings the hell out of this one; all nearly five and a half minutes of it. "License to Kill" smartly copies the distinct horn section of "Goldfinger" and then lets Gladys go to town with her soulful vocals. It does drag on far longer than it needs to though. The song doesn't do anything in five minutes that it couldn't do in three and thus it gets a little dull as it continues

14. "Tomorrow Never Dies" - Sheryl Crow

The first 13 seconds of this song are some of the best ever recorded for a Bond theme. Now if only the rest of it were at that level. The arrangement and Crow's singing alternate between restrained verses and and a large, sweeping chorus. Like the movie itself, it's a middle of the pack song that doesn't do a lot of things wrong, does some things remarkably right, and leaves itself open to be loved by some and tolerated by others.

13. "For Your Eyes Only" - Sheena Easton

You can certainly tell this is from the '80s Bond pictures. This is easily one of the poppier themes, but in a good way. Easton nails the vocal, captures the emotion of the lyric, and similar to Crow, knows how to alternate between a hushed verse and full throated chorus. All that being said, it does sound like something you'd hear in the waiting room of a dentist's office. Not that there's anything wrong with that...welcome to the nature of '80s pop.

12. "From Russia With Love" - Matt Monro

An instrumental version of the song opens the film, a fully sung one closes it. It's a fairly simple track with an understated percussion performance and string arrangement. Lyrically it incorporates the title rather effectively and actually makes more sense with the end of the film as opposed to beginning. This track gets the most credit though for letting Monro's wonderful voice really be the driving force behind it all.

11. "Live And Let Die" - Paul McCartney & Wings

Hardly the most lyrically deep track that McCartney ever wrote, it at least contains an instrumental refrain that absolutely rocks. The whole song goes through three different phases; a calm verse, energetic instrumental, and kooky little bridge. The highs and lows of the piece really are like a musical roller coaster which is largely why the song is so fondly remembered and gets substantial radio play to this day. If anything, this is probably the most well known Bond theme and may suffer from a bit of over exposure.

10. "Skyfall" - Adele

If ever there were a more fitting choice for an artist to contribute to Skyfall  in 2012, it was Adele. Thanks to her album 21 sweeping the Grammys and her undeniable talent and voice, it was only natural to get Adele to do the next Bond song. Not only did she rise to the occasion, she also netted the Bond franchise it's first Academy Award for Best Original Song. "Skyfall" does everything a Bond theme should. Adele channels Shirley Bassey in her delivery, the lyric is fitting for the song and the film's atmosphere, and the musical arrangement sounds like James Bond. True story: I once had a co-worker who came into the office one day saying that he heard a song on the radio by who he thought was Adele, and that it sounded like it would be perfect for a James Bond film. ...You can probably guess what the song was.

9. "The World Is Not Enough" - Garbage

This one is definitely outside of Garbage's normal wheelhouse, but wow, they nail what a Bond song is supposed to sound like. This theme is smooth as silk, which is remarkable considering it has an alternative edge to it. Shirley Manson, Garbage's vocalist, lets her voice soar over the chorus and gives the song a sultriness that compliments the film's romantic subplots.

8. "Goldfinger" - Shirley Bassey

In many ways this is the definitive Bond theme, perhaps as identifiable with the character as his own recurring, instrumental leitmotif. Once again, points are earned for being able to work an otherwise unwieldy title into the song's lyric, but even more points for making it work so well. If this were a list that was ranking songs purely on the Bond aesthetic it would easily top the list, but in any other context, singing about a man named Goldfinger would be absurd. In context; it's absurdly amazing.

7. "A View To A Kill" - Duran Duran

By all means a product of '80s excess, but in the best possible way. It's the only Bond theme to top the American Billboard Chart and sports a surprisingly strong mix of John Barry's orchestration with Duran Duran's synthpop. The strings and keyboards give the song an appropriate degree of tension, and even if lead singer Simon LeBon's lyrics make virtually no sense on paper, they accomplish much in the way of imagery. Above all, it's ferociously catchy. For added fun, you can watch a live version where LeBon botches a note terribly at 2:54 seconds in: (sorry Simon!)

6. "Diamonds Are Forever" - Shirley Bassey 

Good gracious! For everything that "Goldfinger" does so well, "Diamonds Are Forever" picks everything up a notch. Bassey's voice is even better here than it is on her other themes and the arrangement is so dynamic. Listen to the ethereal opening and then notice how the more the song goes on the more elaborate the music gets. Every time Bassey sings the titular phrase more and more instrumentation is added. This is a breathtaking performance and it deserves just as much praise if not more than "Goldfinger."

5. "Nobody Does It Better" - Carly Simon - From The Spy Who Loved Me

Earlier in the list it was mentioned how Sam Smith seemed to inject too much of himself into his Bond theme. "Nobody Does It Better" definitely feels like a Carly Simon piece (even though she didn't write it) but she also makes it sound like it's being sung from the perspective of a Bond girl and her thoughts about James. The opening piano sets up a classy tone and the beautiful string section highlights the song's emotional pull.

4. "You Know My Name" - Chris Cornell - From Casino Royale

Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" succeeds in doing what "Another Way To Die" would fail miserably at; giving Bond a new, harder edge. Casino Royale  was supposed to represent a rebirth of the franchise with a new actor in the role; a grittier one with a more realistic take on the series. The theme echoes those ideas perfectly by taking Cornell's raw voice and combining it with grinding guitars and powerful orchestration. The song stands on its own too when listened to as a general rock song. Credit there can be given to Cornell who was also one of the best vocalists of the '90s grunge era.

3. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - John Barry 

Poor On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Of all the films in the franchise, this is the one that is the most misunderstood and under appreciated in almost every way. Most casual Bond fans either haven't seen it, or only know it as the one film that George Lazenby did. Enthusiasts on the other hand will be quick to tell you that O.H.M.S.S.  is easily one of the best, if not THE best Bond film ever made. Composer John Barry is at his best too with this instrumental theme absolutely capturing the excitement and action of being James Bond. It sounds completely different than the original iconic theme but it still somehow instantly evokes the spy. The way the main riff chugs along to the symphonic arrangement is so perfect that it doesn't need words to tell you what you're in store for if you watch the movie.

2. "GoldenEye" - Tina Turner

Listen to "GoldenEye" and think about who wrote it. Any ideas? What if I told you it was written by Bono and The Edge of U2. Bet you can totally hear that now. Tina Turner sings this with a great degree of power, rivaling Shirley Bassey in her own way. The programmed strings and horns work surprisingly well thanks to the production from Nellee Hooper, who had previously worked with Massive Attack and U2 among others. The melody itself is slinky, seductive, a little dangerous, and Turner knows it and captures it in her performance. It sounds like Bond, it's catchy, and it's utterly fantastic.

1. "The Living Daylights" - a-ha

a-ha was a hugely successful band everywhere but the United States where they remain a one-hit wonder. Because of that, it may seem laughable to American audiences to hear the guys who did "Take On Me" performing a Bond theme. Admittedly, they were picked to do it based only out of the producers' hope that their popularity would create another huge hit like Duran Duran's did with "A View To A Kill." They were partially right, though it completely misfired in the American market. Despite this, "The Living Daylights" is a staggeringly good song. John Barry's production and string contributions cement the Bond motif and from the opening seconds, create an air of suspense and intrigue. The lyrical imagery and singer Morten Harket's voice are haunting, and the song manages to deliver a series of great hooks. a-ha is a band that's surprisingly more artistically talented than many people realize and this track shows it. "The Living Daylights" is an exceptional Bond theme, and a remarkable pop/rock number, thus leading it to be the best song to come out of the franchise.

Why You Should Rewatch the Original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie

If you're a child of the '80s like myself, chances are that when you were very young, your parents took you to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it premiered in theaters in 1990. If you were indeed like me, you were obsessed with the cartoon, the video games, the toys; all of it. Furthermore, if you're still at this point, like me, then you left the Turtles movie having no idea what the hell happened during it.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a rather unique example of a film that capitalized on a popular culture kid's craze while doing virtually nothing to make it appeal to said kids. The film is dark in both tone and lighting, its violence bounces between slapstick and brazenly realistic, the humor is loaded with far more adult than kid jokes, and large amounts of the plot deal with loss, grief, and family issues. Perhaps the tone of this movie can best be summed up by this little fact: the first word spoken by the Turtles is Raphael saying, "Damn." That's right, the very first time we hear a live action turtle speak, and it's a curse word, all be it a minor one.

original-TMNT-comic Ardent TMNT fans will be quick to note that the darkness of the film should come as no surprise given that the original 1984 comic book series that the Turtles premiered in, is in fact, quite dark itself. The cartoon version of the four, shelled heroes that debuted in 1987 was the first time that they were shown in a more "kid-friendly" format, which is also where some of their most identifiable traits come from, such as the different colored headbands, love of pizza, their distinctly different personalities, and a different origin story for their master, Splinter. The feature film takes a lot of the concepts of the cartoon and sets them within the darker, more realistic tone of the comic. The result of this blending leaves us with a story that is full of frequently comical characters that deal with some frighteningly real threats to their well-being. The odd part about all this though is how despite it being marketed to them, kids aren't going to grasp the setting of this movie. Sure they might laugh once or twice at a quick slapstick joke, but really those are like the equivalent of some of the physical comedy in the Roger Moore, James Bond films. Regardless of whether a scene or two may be comically crammed out of place into a more serious film, it doesn't actually make the movie any more kid friendly. It's only thanks to the benefit of hindsight and maturity that the elements of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles start to come together. And it's within that hindsight that some of those same elements truly stand out even today:

1.) The Lighting -


As I mentioned before and I will mention again, this is a dark film; a vast majority of it takes place in dark areas or during the night. The Turtles' first appearance? At night, descending into the dark sewers. Raphael meeting Casey Jones: happens at night. Shredder's first appearance: in a dark room in the middle of the dimly lit Foot Clan hideout. Raphael's fight against the Foot: starts on a roof, ends in a dark basement. You get the point.

2) Shredder is a Gang Leader -


Here's something you're definitely not going to understand as a kid: everything Shredder says to the Foot Clan recruits in his big speech to them is based heavily on actual gang leader rhetoric. Shredder fosters their hatred of the outside world and helps them demonize it, presents the Foot Clan as a family that accepts them, projects himself as a father figure, and gives everyone a purpose they can unite behind. Congratulations, you just got an introduction to the psychology behind gangs and gang recruitment.

3) Danny's Subplot Compliments The Main Story -


As a kid watching this movie you may find yourself confused as to why the film goes out of its way to keep showcasing this red headed kid who joins the Foot clan. Danny, the son of April's boss, is at constant odds with his father (acting out as a rebellious teen) and seems lost, looking for a father he can respect. In terms of the main story, his presence helps move the plot at a couple of vital points and also gives Splinter a chance to explain some backstory. Even though he's a side-character to the Turtles, he is given a small character arc that's made a bit more substantive because of how the problems between him and his dad echo the movie's themes.

4) Loss and Grief -


Early in the film, Splinter mentions to the Turtles that he won't be around forever, a message that they seemingly shrug off. Later in the film, the central conflict involves the loss of Splinter when The Foot track him down and kidnap him. The Turtles don't know this, they presume he's been killed. The loss of their father triggers a substantial amount of grief, pain, tension, anger, and denial in them. Not only does this obviously move the story along, it also helps define the different respective characters of the Turtles by showcasing how they cope with loss.

5) The Farmhouse Scenes -


After the Turtles get their shells handed to them at April's apartment, they all retreat to her old family farmhouse on the outskirts of New York City. As a kid, this entire sequence seems dull and pointless; viewing it as an adult makes it much more understandable. The entire point of this section is to further develop character. Raphael is badly hurt and rendered unconscious, Leonardo is wracked with guilt for fighting with Raphael and causing him to storm out of the apartment leading to Raph being ambushed and almost killed by the Foot, Donatello is constantly bickering with Casey Jones, and Michelangelo is trying to be his normal, wise-cracking self; or as much as he can possibly be.

6) The Campfire -


Through the bond of their brotherhood and love, the Turtles channel Splinter upon Leonardo's insistence that their father is alive. The result is a touching little speech that Splinter delivers to them, which from their perspective are either words from beyond the grave, or his final words before leaving this world. Whichever they are, it's a moving scene and it's made all the more moving if you've lost a parent and know what it feels like to wish you had another chance for one last conversation with them.

7) The Humor -


Okay, time to lighten things up a little bit here. The jokes in this movie are ridiculously skewed towards the adult crowd, and not in the sense of "Oh kids will laugh but adults will catch the hidden meaning." No, these are just straight up references for adults. For example, when Casey Jones meets Raphael for the first time and they fight each other, Casey attacks him with a bat. Raphael grabs it, looks at it and remarks, "A Jose Canseco bat? Tell didn't pay money for this." Donatello compares Casey and April's bickering with each other to the show Moonlighting. Michelangelo does a James Cagney impression. Donatello and Casey have a discussion over who would end up with who on Gilligan's Island. Good luck getting a laugh out of all this kids.

8) The Puppeteering -


This is something fairly remarkable, but then again, not entirely unexpected considering who was behind it all. Even by today's standards, the costumes in TMNT are amazing. Essentially, all of the Turtles are a combination of costumes and puppet like faces. It's a marvel in itself how the actors were able to work in the suits so effectively but virtually all the thanks has to be given to the man who designed the puppets/costumes, Jim Henson. 

9) 9.95 -

Playing over the end credits, the song "9.95" by Spunkadellic is the epitome of late '80s early '90s excess, and it is AMAZING. Written and produced by Dan Hartman (a sorely underrated songwriter that you may know from his hit, "I Can Dream About You) the song combines '80s keyboards with a new jack swing delivery and sound. If you're the type of music listener who enjoys or doesn't mind dated musical styles, you're in for an absolute treat with this cheesy yet catchy number. 

10) The Musical Score -

Along with "9.95" the entire soundtrack is pretty much drenched in music that is very indicative of the time. That being said, a lot of the score is extremely effective. A perfect example of this takes place in the fight sequence in the antique shop below April's apartment. The fight between the Turtles and The Foot begins silly and cartoonishly with a backing music track to match. Once Casey Jones enters the fight though, the music shifts to a much more tense, keyboard fueled track, one of the foot soldiers accidentally sets fire to the place, and the sense of danger escalates quickly.

With all that in mind, if you haven't watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lately, now is the time to do so. There is no way all of this would've sank into your mind if you watched it as a kid but I encourage you to view it now with the benefit of maturity and a critical eye.

The Best Disney Animated Movie You May Have Forgotten About

Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty & The Beast, The Little Mermaid;  when people debate and discuss their favorite Disney animated features, these are the names that get passed around a lot. There's at least one film above all others though that despite being well loved by those who saw it, they forget about when it comes time to talk about Disney movies:


The Brave Little Toaster.  Released in 1987, much of the reason it's neglected comes from it not actually being animated by Walt Disney Studios and it never getting a wide theatrical release. The movie is actually based off a short story by Thomas M. Disch that Disney bought the film rights to and then gave to animation studio Hyperion Pictures; which was founded by a former Disney employee. Those who saw the movie owe their thanks to either cable TV airings on The Disney Channel or the original VHS copies. It wasn't a big budget production with the manpower that the main Disney animated features had the luxury of, but The Brave Little Toaster rivals and/or surpasses its big screen cousins in nearly every way. If you doubt this, examine the following exhibits for proof.

Exhibit A - The Staff


One of the film's producers, Donald Kushner, was a visual effects artist for Tron.  The screenplay was co-written by the late Joe Ranft, who would later join Pixar and help write Toy Story, do artwork for Monsters Inc., and co-direct and write Cars. Storyboard artist Roger Allers went on to direct The Lion King several years after this film and even John Lasseter, the current creative head of Pixar, was originally attached to this project. Basically, a staggering amount of Disney films came to life from the people directly responsible for this movie; a project that Disney decided against doing themselves.

Exhibit B- The Story
The Brave Little Toaster tells the tale of a bunch of household appliances who have been left alone in their house for quite some time. One day they finally decide to go in search of their master, otherwise known as the excessively happy redhead in the picture over there. What the appliances don't realize is that they've been waiting around for years for their master to return when in fact he and his parents moved out with no intention of coming back. At face level, the story is about Toaster and his friends trying to reunite with their Master but on a deeper level it's actually about losing your place in the world and coming to grips with what you thought was your purpose in life, no longer existing. Sound similar to any other movies part of this team would end up working on? (I'm looking at YOU Toy Story!")


Exhibit C - The Air Conditioner 

There's an air conditioner. He's played by Phil Hartman doing a Jack Nicholson impression. Things escalate quickly.

Told you.

Exhibit D - The Music Composer David Newman works with the New Japan Philharmonic to deliver a score that is as lively as the characters in the film. Even when the characters aren't bursting out into song, the incidental music is riveting. When they do start singing, that too is a treat to behold:

Exhibit E - The Junkyard Scene In case you haven't seen this movie and are now interested enough to watch it, this is your SPOILER ALERT.

The movie's climax finds Toaster and company in a scrapyard with a bunch of old, broken down cars. The car crusher powers up, a large electromagnet begins dropping cars onto the conveyor belt, and Toaster and friends are treated to the cars singing their stories about their worthlessness; hence the name of the song, "Worthless." At several points during the course of the film, the subject of the main characters being obsolete comes up, but this scene sends that point home by showing the ultimate fate of outdated machines. Some of the car's stories are sprinkled with regret and failure, making an already dark scene even darker. For a kid's movie in particular, these are emotionally heavy lessons to learn, but its presented in a uniquely artistic and memorable way.

Verdict - Watch it! There are a number of other wonderful things about The Brave Little Toaster including the voice acting, lighthearted humor, and emotional sentiments that make this film so very much worth watching. If you haven't seen it, make time for it, and if you have but haven't seen it in a while, now's as good a time as any to revisit it.    

Cartoons of the '80s and '90s That Actually Held Up Well

One of the sad, sad facts about growing up is coming to realize that the things you used to enjoy really weren't that great. Sometimes we're just too young to understand what quality is, and when an animation team is well aware of that fact, products of dubious quality result. For example, imagine you're a child of the '80s, you adore video games, and you're thrilled to watch The Adventures of Super Mario Brothers 3. You love it dearly, are devastated when it's no longer on the air, and think back on it fondly. Then years later you're in college, go to a local video store and happen across a DVD of the show. So you buy it, take it back home, put it in to watch it and you see this episode: The plot involves King Koopa invading the real world, taking the White House with George and Barbara Bush inside of it, and placing it under water in the Mushroom's not exactly Olympus Has Fallen.  So Gerard, Mario that is, has to rescue the President through the use of a frog suit and the accompanying musical number, "Do The Frog (Croak, Croak, Croak.)" Needless to say, this cartoon doesn't exactly hold up well for anyone looking to watch it today. It's not alone in it either; quite a few cartoons from this era suffer from this. There are some however, that were fairly remarkable when they debuted and are just as strong today.

1. ReBoot 

ReBoot debuted in 1994 as a product of a Canadian animation company called Mainframe Entertainment. At the time, ReBoot's animation was cutting edge as it was billed as the first entirely computer generated cartoon series. Even though much of the animation looks clunky and antiquated today, the writing is fresh and inspired. The series takes place inside a computer with many of the series' initial humor being derived from computer puns (the female lead's name is Dot Matrix and the antagonists are viruses named Megabyte and Hexadecimal.) The most remarkable feature about the show is how after a fairly mediocre first half of season one, the show starts to escalate in tension, humor, characterization, and narrative storytelling. By the time season 2 comes along, full narrative arcs are being constructed and season 3 gets so dark that the show is barely recognizable from its humble, happy beginnings. If you can get past the dated animation the writing will captivate you.

2. Beast Wars: Transfomers

Way before Michael Bay brought the Transformers to the big screen alongside Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf, there was the 1980's original generation cartoon series. Though it was unabashedly used to sell toys, it actually provided some decent storytelling for kids. Transformers fell out of popularity, as most fads do, but toy company, Hasbro hoped to repeat the success in the mid 1990's with a new line of toys. Instead of vehicles turning into robots, these Transformers would be "robots in disguise" as animals. The TV show that accompanied it was, like ReBoot, also produced by Mainframe Entertainment, and it is exceptionally well done. Beast Wars: Transformers' first season is episodic with no governing story line; it's just an ongoing battle between the heroic Maximals, and the villainous Predacons. Subtle hints at something larger are sprinkled through the season until everything goes to hell at the end. From there, seasons 2 and 3 feature story arcs that are as tightly written as the best seasons of Breaking Bad. Helping the show even more is an exceptional cast of voice actors that add a great deal of personality to the heroes and villains alike.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

At the time of this writing there have been three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, the most recent of which is presently airing on Nickelodeon. The original 1987 version though is the one that's the most iconic; and it's a beautiful mess. The first season of the show is only five episodes long, and there are so many animation errors that it's mind boggling. Sometimes the wrong turtle is wearing the wrong color, the wrong voice is coming out of the wrong mouth, and there's a stupefying amount of awful background animations. But, the show is often genuinely funny, much of the action is surprisingly strong, and there are some actual recurring story elements; a unique aspect to a Saturday morning cartoon. Later seasons iron out the animation problems, leading to a more carefully crafted cartoon. It's an iconic show for a reason and even if it's one of the weaker shows on this list, it's still worth your time.

4. Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron

There's a good chance you're not familiar with this short lived Hanna-Barbera cartoon that ran from 1993 - 1995. During the mid '90s, the company responsible for Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo and numerous other iconic shows and characters was trying to update itself for the times, and Swat Kats was part of it. The episodes follow the crime fighting exploits of T-Bone and Razor, two former combat pilots who were drummed out of the air force after being forced to take the blame for an operation gone wrong. Undeterred in their desire to protect their home, they get jobs at a junkyard and build their own jet and weapons from the salvage that comes their way. Also, everyone is an anthropomorphic cat. This stands in stark contrast to the fact that this show is pretty damn dark, with tertiary characters being killed off quite a bit; something that according to various fan sites, may have been what led to its cancellation. Swat Kats only looks childish but don't let its feline cast fool you, this cartoon has action and personality bursting out of the seams.

5. The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest

The 1960's cartoon, Jonny Quest is well known among fans of classic animation for being a uniquely inspired take on classic sci-fi and adventure serials and adapting them to a cartoon format. In subsequent years it has been referenced, parodied, and paid homage to countless times. The most prominent of these is the heavily referential The Venture Bros, which is also responsible for bringing the old Hanna-Barbera property back into public consciousness. There was an attempted revival of the brand in 1996 when the various Turner Networks (Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS, etc.) premiered The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. Advertising for it was massive and the show was greatly hyped for its blending of traditional and computer animation. Naturally, it's the hand drawn animation that has stood the test of time but more importantly, so have the stories. Like the aforementioned Swat Kats, this iteration of Jonny Quest was darker and grittier. It featured the titular young hero, adopted brother Hadji, their father Dr. Benton Quest, body guard Race Bannon and his daughter Jessie Bannon, taking on some pretty serious threats to themselves and the world. Take for instance the memorable villain, Ezekiel Rage; a former U.S. government agent who was abandoned by his bosses after his cover was blown and subsequently nearly killed in a car crash. His wife and daughter weren't so lucky though and Rage became twisted with....well...rage. It's an intense subject matter for a kid's cartoon, and considering all the supernatural and conspiratorial plots that the episodes have, it's probably the closest we've ever come to an animated version of The X-Files.

6. The Real Ghostbusters

When you have the future creator and writer of the sci-fi series Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski as one of your main writers and story editor, you know you're not exactly making a run of the mill kid's show. The Real Ghostbusters had a wildly successful run from 1986 - 1992 and is one of the few cartoon properties to do justice to the live-action source material it was taken from. Just like the film, the cartoon blends comedy with dark supernatural drama.  The Ghostbusters do battle with everything from the Sandman to the Babylonian god, Tiamat. The only quibble is the forced addition of the ghost Slimer, something that was obviously tone to make the show more "kid friendly." As a result, the cartoon does suffer a bit from his presence, but not enough to detract from its overall quality. If you really want something to tide you over until the female Ghostbusters reboot, this is your fix.

7. Batman: The Animated Series

This is a painfully obvious addition to the list for those who have seen the show, but in case you are one of the uninitiated, this is a must see.  In 1992 Bruce Timm changed the face of children's cartoon programming by delivering an animated version of Batman that was not quite as dark as the Tim Burton Batman and Batman Returns films of that time, but were as close as you could get and still be broadcast to kids. Timm brought together art deco and film noir, stylized it with some modern flourishes, and created a richly detailed Gotham City for the Caped Crusader to fight crime in. Film composer Shirley Walker was brought in to oversee that every episode had it's own orchestral score, and voice director Andrea Romano helped find actors and actresses to bring the people of this world to life. She once described her process not as finding "character voices" but as finding "voices with character." The result of this is arguably the definitive take on Batman and The Joker as provided by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill respectively. This show is responsible for bringing so much to television and the Batman mythos that it would require its own article to fully detail it all. Considering that Batman is bigger than ever thanks to the Christopher Nolan trilogy and the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film, if you haven't watched this cartoon, now's the time to do so. You will not regret it.