Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Best Instrumental Song (Which Isn't Really An Instrumental Song)

Have you heard of Mike Oldfield?

Have you heard his music?

The odds are the answer to the first question is “no” and the second is “yes” even though you don’t know the answer to the second question is “yes.” The answer to that second question is almost certainly "yes" if you’ve been alive in the past thirty years and like horror movies.

Listen to this:

See? You’ve heard of Mike Oldfield. Unfortunately, what you’ve heard by him is a really hauntingly beautiful song that will forever be linked, in people’s minds, with a possessed Linda Blair, since Mike Oldfield wrote the music that was used in The Exorcist.

I bring that up because The Exorcist was really my introduction to Mike Oldfield, and it happened at a time when I had not seen the Exorcist and had not heard of Mike Oldfield.

I have a sister – the sister that is, in fact, partially responsible for my nom de plume, “The Trouble With Roy.” That’s another story, for another time, because these articles tend to run long.

Well, really it's a story for now, because it relates. My sister has good taste in music. Her taste in music is almost as good as mine. And I would frequently borrow her tapes, back when people listened to tapes, and then her CDs when people listened to CDs. Now, people listen to MP3s and I don’t borrow them; I just download music illegally off the internet all day, but I’m crafty and use my work computer for it so they’ll sue my firm, not me. Clever, right?

Note to RIAA executives: The sentence preceding the words Clever, right? Is entirely false. Calm down. Nobody openly confesses to downloading music illegally. They just blame it on their grandkids.

So I once borrowed a tape from my sister, one of The Lemonheads’ albums. I liked it, listened to it for a while, then put it back. Later, I wanted to borrow it again. So I asked her if she still had that Lemonheads album, and she said “which one?”

“The one called The Trouble With Roy,” I told her.

She thought about that for a second and said “Do you mean It’s a Shame About Ray?”

I agreed that I probably did, but then pointed out to her, as I will now point out to you, that “The Trouble With Roy” would be (and is) a fine title for a song or album. So later, I actually wrote a song called “The Trouble With Roy,” (you could listen to it, if you dare, here, but you'd be better off listening to "The Big Mouth Frog Blues" which really is a very good song.) and then began using it for my pseudonym and still do that even though it’s not really hiding my identity anymore (the reason I started using it in the first place was because I want to be rich and live in Hawaii, but not famous. Rich but not famous – so buy my stuff and/or send money, but don’t bug me if you run into me at McDonalds. I’ll be polite but I’ll resent it.)(If you want the truth, I won’t really resent it all that much. I’m sort of a glory hound. I’m the type of guy who always wants to be the lead singer and the quarterback. At the same time, if I could.)

So that’s how I came by my pen name.

I came by Mike Oldfield’s music similarly, because I borrowed – it started as borrowing even though it became more permanent after I listened to it – her Mike Oldfield tape, which was actually a copy she’d been given by her then-boyfriend. The copy she had was labeled “Tubular Bells” and I was curious about it, so I listened to it on one particularly long drive, and I loved it, especially the song that the label said was actually called “Tubular Bells.”

I told her that I really liked the album, and she agreed with me that it was cool music and then told me this little tidbit: Tubular Bells” was the music from the movie The Exorcist.

Remember that I’d never seen that movie at that point. And that I thought the song on the album that I liked so much was called "Tubular Bells." So I didn’t know and I wasn’t sure how the music would fit into the movie. I only had a hazy idea what the movie was about. And I also wasn’t sure whether she meant the whole album or just the song “Tubular Bells” So her trivia, while interesting, also cast kind of a pallor on the whole album, even though I still really liked it, and really liked “Tubular Bells” the song.

I liked that song so much that I even included it on a mix tape I made for Sweetie when we began dating. (Yes, I made her mix tapes. You can snicker if you want, but you did it, too. Everyone did. At least my mix tapes were full of awesome music.) And I told Sweetie the story behind it, too, and she seemed a little confused (as she does by many things I say and do) because she’d seen the movie, but she accepted what I said, or seemed to (as she does with many of the things I say and do.)

Eventually, after several moves and law school and getting married and kids and babies and cats, I no longer had the tape. I’m sure I returned it to Sis at some point. Just like I’m sure she actually paid me for the car she “bought” from me. The tape and the payment probably crossed in the mail.

This is the car I "sold" Sis. I called it
Yes, I made mix tapes and named my cars.

Then, earlier this year, I thought of “Tubular Bells” again, almost out of nowhere. I remembered the song and really really wanted to hear it again. So I did what I do whenever I need something: I googled it.

And that’s when I learned that yet again another one of my great musical loves was based on a mistake. “Tubular Bells” was not the song in The Exorcist.

Well, that’s not right. “Tubular Bells” WAS the song in The Exorcist, but it wasn’t the song I liked. “Tubular Bells,” it turned out after some google investigation (Google-gation? Investigoogling? I like that latter.)

“Tubular Bells,” it turned out after some investigoogling, was the name of the song that Mike Oldfield had written which was so memorably used in The Exorcist. On the other hand, the song that I liked was a song called “The Bell,” which appeared not on the album Tubular Bells but instead was on the album Tubular Bells II.

^^^ Tubular Bells^^^

Tubular Bells, too.

Tubular Bells, Two

What made it even more confusing was that the song I liked, which I’d always thought was called “Tubular Bells” but was called “The Bell” prominently featured the words “and Tubular Bells” in it. (Which is why even though it’s an instrumental song it’s not really and it’s cheating, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Got all that? So for years I’d been worried that the song I liked had Satanic overtones, but it didn’t really. Instead, what I’d thought was a song called “Tubular Bells” was a song called “The Bell” about tubular bells. On the album Tubular Bells II.

Whew! My mind gets a little twisty just pondering that.

Anyway, with that worked out, I was all set to get the album, which I finally did. Seven months later. That’s how my life works. A CD costing $9.99 or so, I ponder for months and months and months before breaking down and buying it, and then feeling a little guilty about it. But yesterday, when Sweetie mentioned around 11 a.m. that it’d be nice to have a big screen TV, I told her we should shop for one and by 3:30 p.m. we had a 65” TV in our den. That kind of thing I don’t have to ponder, I guess. That’s a true story, too. The kids are all downstairs watching it, and I now own a TV that’s worth more than the first three cars I bought, and which I will never rest easy having in the house because it cost so much and because the kids can’t seem to stop touching it. Not the babies. They’re not allowed near it. No, the older kids are touching it. I had to ask The Boy: “Why do you have to touch the TV?” He didn’t have an answer. I don’t think I’ve ever touched a TV, unless I was turning it on. I've certainly never just gone up to a TV and touched it, the way The Boy did.

That’s not really the point, though. (As usual.) The point is that I now have the CD Tubular Bells II and can listen to “The Bell” all I want without worrying that Sis will take it back.

And I will listen to it a lot, because it's a great song. It’s hard to describe, but I'll give it a shot before I let you listen to it. It features a repeating melody, or two or three intersecting melodies – some bass, with a strummed acoustic guitar. And over that, Mike Oldfield slowly adds additional instruments, which play the theme, too, announcing each one as he does it. The announcement is part of what makes the song fun, because as I would listen to it, I’d do what my sister taught me to do (and I taught this to Sweetie and the older kids and I’ll teach it to the Twins, too): announce the instruments along with Mike Oldfield. (Okay, it doesn’t sound like fun, but it is, because we'd try to do it like Mike Oldfield does, announcing them in pompous voice, the voice Snape would use if he were the announcer.)

The instruments added, in order, are:

Grand piano
Reed and pipe organ
Glockenspiel (we always had extra fun with that one: glockenshpiel, we’d say.)
Bass guitar.
Vocal chords
Two slightly sampled electric guitars
The Venetian effect (whatever that is… it sounded kind of like the flute)
Digital sound processor

After that one, he’d come up to the last instrument to be added. With the song in full glory, he’d say

“And, tubular bells,”

and the bells would ring out, and we’d pantomime like we were hitting the bells.

Really, it was more fun than it looks on paper. Listen to the song – I've got a version of the song below, although it doesn't have all the instruments- -and when he says the bells part, raise your hand and act like you’re hitting a bell in front of you. When you do, you’ll realize that I’m right, that it’s fun, and that “The Bell” is The Best Instrumental Song (Which Isn’t Really An Instrumental Song.)

1 comment:

Wouter said...

It's Not Mike Oldfied who announces the instruments but Vivian Stanshall.

Google him if jou want to.