Editor’s note:Arachnophonia (“Arachno” = spider / “-phonia” = sound) is a regular feature on our blog where members of the UR community can share their thoughts about resources from the Parsons Music Library‘s collection.
Danny Elfman is such a prolific composer, known for commonly working alongside filmmaker Tim Burton. Arguably, the best and most diverse collection of his work can be found in his music for the 2005 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” His score explores a variety of styles, from Bollywood to the sugar-pop of the 1960s. While the piano score struggles to capture all of the complex work and sound behind the “Main Titles” (Elfman at his prime, in my opinion), it does an excellent job providing a solid basework for solo playability. The piano adaptation for the “Finale” is perfectly captured and successfully leaves what it intends to bring – a feeling of finality and completion at the end of a wild ride.
This playlist began as a discussion with a friend online a couple months ago. I had shared a song that I’d had stuck in my head and my friend said that it was their least favorite song by the group because (and I quote) “SHA LA LA is a terrible lyric 🙂”. The discussion that followed was all in good fun, but led me to want to research songs that have nonsense syllables in them just to prove that “sha la la” is NOT (necessarily) a terrible lyric.
Vocals like “sha la la” in songs are called non-lexical vocables. Basically, they are nonsense syllables which may or may not be mixed together with meaningful text and they appear in all manner of different musics. This, of course, led to me being extra geeky and having a lot of fun creating a playlist highlighting a variety of different songs that use nonsense syllables in this way. In point of fact, it goes all the way back to at least the middle ages with songs using things like “fa la la” in them – but I decided to stick to more modern examples for playlist purposes. Which means this playlist starts with some scat singing (from circa the 1920s-1940s) and goes on from there.
Your mileage may vary in terms of your tolerance of the non-lexical vocable, but I maintain that sometimes one doesn’t need an actual word to create musical meaning and that non-lexical vocables can be super fun!
Harry Styles’s self-titled debut album marked the transition in Styles’s career from popular member of the boy band One Direction to his own solo work following the hiatus and eventual separation of the teen musical group. During his time in One Direction, Styles amassed an enormous fanbase from around the world, and the split of the group shocked these fans. Zayn Malik was the first member to separate from the group, which may have led to the eventual collapse of the group as a whole, and he started to release his own music in 2015, creating his own solo album in 2016 titled Mind of Mine. Eager and attentive fans turned their attention to the other members of One Direction to anticipate which teen sensation would begin releasing their own music next. Harry Styles would soon find that both himself and his music would become the spotlight of these fans, as his self-stardom rose above all other members and continues to this day.
Harry Styles would lead this craze, as Styles’s first solo album connected well with varying audiences. The album was teased with the release of its first single, “Sign of the Times,” in April 2017, projecting a combination of soft rock and pop music into a wistful ballad that was a completely new sound for Styles. This single is famously accompanied by its music video that was released a month later in May 2017, in which Styles flies over a body of water quite majestically. The full album would follow this video with its release four days later, meeting the anticipation of fans.
Harry Styles would achieve a new musical direction for the artist, as fans and critics were surprised with the range of musical styles incorporated throughout the album. Songs featured throughout the work include a mixture of pop, British pop, rock, and soft rock styles, being influenced by famous and innovative artists like Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones. Overall, I enjoy how each song on the album feels different and refreshing, never becoming too stale in their approach and delivery. There are 10 tracks on the album, and some stand-out pieces to me include “Only Angel,” “Ever Since New York,” and “From the Dining Table.”
Lyrically, “Only Angel” is a strange dichotomy between the love Harry Styles has for himself and love for the girl he references as “angel.” He begins the song by singing “Open up your eyes, shut your mouth and see/That I’m the only one who’s been in love with me,” expressing to listeners that Styles is confidant in being himself and that rampant tabloid exposure on all of his romantic partners are typically blown out of proportion, and he seems to be telling his audience and the media that his public relationships are often misunderstood. This is then contrasted with the chorus of “She’s an angel, only angel/She’s an angel, my only angel,” in which Styles is turning his attention towards his romantic partner that he refers to as an angel. What I particularly like about this song is not the lyrics however, but more towards the production of the Rock pop composition of the piece. This song comes across to me as a modern-day pop version of Elton John.
“Ever Since New York” is a tribute to Styles’s late stepfather who passed away following a battle with cancer, after Styles was delivered the terrible news of the affliction while staying in a New York hotel. The song deals with Styles’s grief in the aftermath of his stepfather’s passing, and the feelings he carries with him about how people try to support him, by singing “Oh, tell me something I don’t already know.” This emotional ballad is characterized by the driving force of the instrumentation, which upon initial hearing does not immediately indicate to the listener that this is a song about missing someone who has tragically passed away. However, Styles chose to allow the production and orchestration of this piece to be more gospel-like in nature with a sonic depth of sound surrounding the lyrics, indicating that Styles did not intend to make this piece overly dramatic but rather a strong remembrance of his late stepfather.
Finally, “From the Dining Table,” is another emotional love song but directed towards Styles’s lost love and longing for a past relationship. This final piece to the album relates to the first piece of the album, “Meet Me in the Hallway,” in numerous ways. First, both subjects of the song and lyrics are reflections on a past relationship, in which Styles implies that he put more effort into it and that he is the one who still cares for the lost romance, indicated by the chorus line “Why won’t you ever be the first one to break?” Another connection is that both song titles refer to a sense of home, in which it can be implied that Styles and his partner were living together, and he is referring to significant places in the home that meant something in their relationship. Finally, both songs feature similar instrumentation, characterized by an acoustic guitar and emphasis on Styles’s vocals. The change in orchestration is different across both songs, but the similar feeling of vocals paired with acoustic guitar only emphasize the feeling of longing and desperation that Styles is singing about.
Overall, this album is a great listen and while it may not be perfect in my eyes, it certainly won the hearts of many fans that were longing for more music from the most prominent member of One Direction.