Thursday 16 May 2013

The All Rise Playlist

Among the many virtues of music, one that I particularly prize is its ability to lift you up when you're feeling down: there's nothing quite like going into a concert you almost couldn't be bothered to attend and coming out grinning, or coming home after a long day and spinning a disc that takes your troubles away. It is in experiences like this that my all rise playlist has its origins. That, and I stole the idea from one of my favourite TV shows.

About seven years ago when the show was much closer to its prime, there was an episode of How I Met Your Mother called The Limo. In it the character Barney, played superbly by Neil Patrick Harris, explains the secret of why he is "so psyched so much of the time": he has a playlist, a "get psyched" mix, that instead of rising and falling is all rise. Now I should stress at this point that with his appalling treatment of women and general behaviour that is light years beyond questionable, he is hardly much of a role model. And yet this didn't seem like such a bad idea. Except that the actual track featured in the episode, Bon Jovi's You Give Love a Bad Name never struck me as terribly lifting with lyrics like "shot through the heart, and you're to blame, darling you give love a bad name". Obviously Barney has different ideas as to what lifts your spirits than I do. Ditto, frankly, the various full versions of the playlist that have appeared.

Clearly I'd have to come up with my own. However I put the idea away for a while until a few years later I found myself wondering what it was that made another TV show, Chuck, so gloriously entertaining. After putting together a playlist of music featured in the show, I came to the conclusion that the soundtrack had a lot do with it and so I decided to try and create my all rise playlist. This post describes the result: what's on it and why (I've also created a Spotify playlist to go along with it). It's rare that it doesn't do the trick and cheer me up by the end. (However, before you go any further, you should be warned that it is mostly less high brow than this blog generally is and it gets extremely cheesy at times.)

Florence + The Machine - Shake It Out

It's probably fitting that I came to the first song on the playlist via How I Met Your Mother last year. It came at the end of an episode as the protagonist Ted once again was at a low ebb in his love life but had managed to spin it into a hopeful beginning. And while arguably we've had rather too many of those as the show has dragged on a little long, the song made the sequence work. Although it starts off the playlist it's actually one of the most recent additions but with lines like "it's always darkest before the dawn" I think it makes a nice overture.

Copland - Fanfare for the Common Man (Leonard Bernstein & the New York Philharmonic)

Who doesn't like a good brass fanfare (non brass players, maybe, I suppose) and there can be few finer examples than this from Copland, especially when played by the NYPO under Bernstein.

Van Halen - Jump

If ever a song might have been purpose written to appear on an all rise playlist it is surely this, from the title to the music that underscores it.

The Polyphonic Spree - Light & Day / Reach for the Sky

There was a time a few years ago when you couldn't watch an American TV show without them turning to this for a happy ending. Still, there's a reason it's a classic.

Cake - Short Skirt / Long Jacket

I mentioned the TV show Chuck in my introduction, and it is the reason this song appears on the list as (in an instrumental version) it serves as the theme music. As such, it brings a slew of happy memories whenever I hear it. Though why this story of an ordinary guy who accidentally winds up a spy is so great is probably the subject of a whole other blog post.

R.E.M. - Shiny Happy People

This choice shouldn't need too much explaining. Certainly not (in my view) the best song on Out of Time but it has a catchy way about it and it is cheery. Possibly a little too sickly cheery but then a little of that doesn't go amiss on a playlist like this.

Don Ellis - Indian Lady

There is nothing I know of quite like Don Ellis's album Electric Bath. Indeed, it deserves a whole blog post of its own, which is why I wrote one two years ago. There's not much to add to what I wrote then:
It is also toe-tappingly good..... It opens with Indian Lady, a rich wall of sound and a rising, wailing brass call..... There is too the rich colour added by Mike Lang's fender piano. The track is also a frenzy of activity, with a vast amount going on, perhaps in part why I hear new things on repeated listens, and yet this is accomplished without it feeling cluttered. There is a crazy passion and a somewhat psychedelic, even kaleidoscopic feel. Much like the opening of Mahler's 8th symphony it leaves you feeling like you've been hit by a train, in a good way, if such a thing is possible. That's not to say it sounds anything like Mahler, it doesn't, but it has a similar sort of effect.

Jacques Loussier Trio - Bach Brandenburg Concerto No.5 3rd movement

I don't imagine too many people would argue with Bach's ability to lift the spirits. For me, though, Jacques Loussier adds an extra special something with his jazzy interpretations and nowhere more so than with the 5th Brandenburg. I'm very grateful to Radio 3's Bach week some years ago for introducing me to this. There are certainly other Bach pieces and interpretations that provide more of a spiritual lift, but in terms of reliably bringing a smile to my face I find this hard to beat.

Mike Post and Pete Carpenter - The A-Team Theme

If you're of a certain age you will have watched the A-Team on a Saturday afternoon and you'll be able to quote the opening narration backwards (or maybe that's just me). Regardless, the A-Team's unadulterated silliness, from Murdoch's invisible dog to B.A.'s fear of flying, earns it a place on the list. (Note, the version on my playlist is the actual theme including spoken introduction lifted from my DVDs, the version on the Spotify playlist is unfortunately not.)

Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

This is another song that found its way onto the playlist via a fun if rather silly TV show: Bones. I was familiar with the song already, but its use prompted me to add it (it's actually the most recent addition). It features when the show's emotionally reserved lead character, played by Emily Deschanel, performs it at an open mic night. It's a very happy occasion until the show's producers rather nastily undercut it. However, the fact that it was able to build things up so well for the fall made it an excellent choice.

The Beatles - Twist and Shout

It would be difficult, indeed it would be wrong to try, to assemble an all rise playlist without including The Beatles. For me Twist and Shout wins for several reasons. First and foremost it's a fun track, one that's hard not to sing along to (which has on at least one occasion led to mild embarrassment after running into a friend while listening to it on my headphones). It also comes at the end of the album Please Please Me which works pretty well as an all rise playlist in its own right.

Michael Nyman - Musique a Grande Vitesse, 5th Region

I came by this after attending a ballet inspired by it, not something I do very often but the Royal Ballet tripple bill in question was an especially fine evening. As the title suggests, it was written for the opening of a new TGV line in France in the 90s. I find it a remarkable work, vividly recreating a train journey from the countryside rushing by to slowing for urban areas. The fifth and final section is a thrilling finale, punctuated by snare drums, and fits well on the list.

Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No.9, 4th movement (exerts)

Classical purists may well want to lynch me for this, but I've taken the scissors to Beethoven's masterpiece since the Ode to Joy (which is as good a way to finish an all rise playlist as any) comes in a movement that is twenty minutes at the best of times and that's a bit too much for the playlist. Plus it has its non-rising moments. This also explains why I've chosen Charles Mackerras's recording with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. It's good but not my favourite, however it does have the advantage of being broken down into nine bite-sized chunks, making it an easy matter to splice together the most rising parts.

The playlist is still to some extent a work in progress and doubtless will always remain so: more tracks may get added or perhaps I'll find ways to further tweak the order for maximum effect. Still, it's remained fairly stable and now seemed as good a time to publish it as any.

You can listen to almost the whole playlist via Spotify here (sadly The Beatles are absent). Suggestions for what would be on your all rise playlist are welcome below via the comments.

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