Remembering Steely Dan’s Walter Becker

Walter Becker, the songwriter, guitarist, bassist, and record producer, passed away on Sunday. He was 67. Becker is best known as the co-founder of the band Steely Dan, active between 1972 and 1981 and again from 1993 on. He played guitar and bass and co-wrote songs along with the group’s lead singer and keyboardist, Donald Fagen. Steely Dan’s music is a unique blend of jazz and rock. Filled with ear-catching harmonic sophistication, it …

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“No Surprises”: Christopher O’Riley Covers Radiohead

No Surprises, from the British alternative rock band Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer, has been described as “a lullaby of despair.” Its sweet, sensuous melody, laced with the delicate sounds of glockenspiel, meets lyrics infused with helpless desolation. The result is something which feels numbly detached. Recorded in a single take, the song pays vague homage to the Beach Boys classic, Wouldn’t it Be Nice. According to Radiohead singer-songwriter Thom Yorke, That childlike guitar sound set the mood for the whole …

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10 Musical Adaptations of “God Save the Queen”

On Monday, Britain celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Sapphire Jubilee, marking her 65 years on the throne. At 90, Her Majesty is the world’s longest-reigning monarch. The milestone reminded me of the nearly 140 composers who have created musical adaptations of God Save the Queen, an ancient melody that may have originated in plainchant long before it was attributed to the English composer and organ-builder John Bull in 1619. Here are ten of the most …

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Beginnings: Exploring the Music of “Chicago”

In celebration of the New Year, here is Beginnings from the 1969 debut album of the rock band, Chicago. You might associate Chicago with 1980s ballads like You’re The Inspiration, produced during Peter Cetera’s tenure as lead singer. (That song, written by Cetera and David Foster, offers a fascinating study in continuous modulations built on third relationships). But for most of its history, Chicago has been rooted in a much different, uniquely jazz-inspired sound. From its inception, Chicago was a rock band built …

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Can You Hear Coldplay in Steve Reich?

Recently, as I was listening to the thrilling final four minutes of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, I began to hear subtle echoes of Viva la Vida by the British alternative rock band, Coldplay. Take a moment and compare the pulsating rhythm and harmonic progressions in both examples and see if you agree. Interestingly, both pieces appear to have been written around the same time. (Viva la Vida was released on June 13, 2008 while the Double Sextet, written in …

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Musica Celestis: Three Pieces Inspired by the Harmony of the Spheres

It formed the ancient intersection of music, art, architecture, astronomy, mathematics, and mysticism. Originally developed by Pythagoras, the concept of the Harmony of the Spheres linked the movements of celestial bodies with universal vibrations. The sun, moon, and planets were believed to produce their own unique hum as they revolved around the earth. “Tones” of energy, expressed through mathematical relationships, manifested themselves in shapes and sounds. This supreme cosmic order was expressed in …

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Remembering Prince

Last Thursday, as news broke of the untimely death of Prince, we were all reminded of his enormous contributions, both as a cultural icon and as one of contemporary pop music’s most innovative songwriters. His work drew upon a wide variety of styles, including “funk, rock, rhythm and blues, soul, psychedelia, and pop.” In songs such as When Doves Cry, from the 1984 album Purple Rain, he turned the traditional structure of the pop song on its …

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