Friday, December 31, 2010

ABC's United Kingdom

'United Kingdom' was the final track on ABC's fascinating but commercially catastrophic second album, Beauty Stab (1983). It's a fantastic song, full of love of country but also of incredible anger and sadness about the state of the industrial north of England that had come to a head under Thatcher. ABC were from Sheffield where Threads would be principally set a year later, and that sense of the late height of the ruinously expensive Cold War raging on while people are pauperized on the home front hangs over Beauty Stab and 'United Kingdom' in particular.

Sadly, the return of hard times now (with the probable incompatibility of our basic, post-hunter-gatherer economic model with a livable planet standing in for the Cold War!) makes this song very relevant again, and it really needs to be much more widely known and heard than it is. My little vid. tries to help with that.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Toy Story 3's slight surprise: no tragedy of the common toys

What's the problem with toddler daycare room in Toy Story 3? The toddlers play too roughly with the toys.[1] Why's that? We're told that it's just because they're too young and don't know how to play with toys properly yet. I was slightly surprised not to hear another explanation explored: that the problem is that the toddlers don't own the toys. Rather, the toys are effectively every kid's property, so nobody's property in particular, and people/toddlers tend to trash (or use up as fast as possible) what they don't have the incentive to look after that private/personal control and ownership affords (or what they can't exclude anyone else from using).

TS3 does make it clear that the best outcome for a toy is to be with a specific (non-creepy kid) owner, but it doesn't push in the direction that (when watching for the first time) I thought that it was going to. Everyone's a jerk/creepy kid when it comes to public/non-excludable goods: the tragedy of the commons, and so on. I'd been primed to expect the appearance of such vaguely skeptical and 'right wing-y' notes in Pixar films by things such as The Incredibles,[2] and was surprised (I currently can't decide whether pleasantly or not) to see that dark note go untouched in TS3.

I know that Pixar tend to spend years refining, rewriting, and polishing their wonderful scripts (whereas many big Hollywood films barely seem to have a script!). It would be interesting to know whether they ever seriously entertained the 'tragedy of common toys' idea, whether it was around in some early drafts of TS3's script, and if so when exactly it got chopped. Anyone (a Pixar insider perhaps?) know anything about this?

Anyhow, TS3 is a great film, but I do wonder whether it might have been a little better still, and also a little more troubling (as The Incredibles definitely is for example) if they'd found some way to squeeze in the common toys problem.

Update: A reader has suggested that daycare-aged toddlers are in fact quite destructive of their own toys (hence that my point doesn't work). Maybe that's right, but the 2-3 years olds I actually know are pretty zealous about their toys. They occasionally break one, but they get upset when they do, try not to have that happen, and go absolutely ballistic if someone else accidentally breaks one of their precious items. So, while my reader has helped me a complexity that might indeed have given Pixar pause, I think my basic point survives.

[1] That basic point is slightly contradicted by the end of the movie where the toddlers' play area's problems are somehow alleviated by the toys cooperating with/treating each other better, or something. But it's not clear how that's supposed to work: Ken and Monkey getting the party started doesn't obviate being painted with, having heads and tails ripped off, having springs irreversibly deformed, and so on. We therefore set aside this final piece of Pixar, make 'em laugh prestidigitation for the sake of the argument here.

[2]The Incredibles was roasted by acidly bonkers feminists, and feted by completely mad conservatives. For some relatively sane and temperate dialogue about Pixar's alleged conservativeness, with The Incredibles as Exhibit A, go here and here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

top 20 songs for 2010

I've probably listened to or even heard of only about 1% of the music that was released this year, and my in fact ears this year have been largely turned to various, fascinating thematic podcast mixtapes (e.g. from here) as well as to lots of early '70s music that was either almost completely new to me (Labelle, Judee Sill, Jobriath) or that I'd heard before but not really appreciated (Neil Young, Modern Lovers). So, I don't pretend that my selections for 2010 have any special, objective merit!

At any rate here are 20 tracks released this year that rocked my world for at least a few days each, and that I still like come the end of the year. For me, overall, 2010 is the year of Robyn. She gets 4 tracks in my top 20 and it was actually painful for me to not be able to squeeze in further great tracks from her such as Get Myself Together. Arcade Fire are the only other repeaters on my list, but their 2 excellent tracks seem to me to be head and shoulders above the rest of their 2010 output.

Update 1: I haven't been able to confirm that Nest's track is a true 2010 release. It was definitely a download link on an up-to-date music site such as stereogum some time this year... but, if I've been misled, delete it from the list and consider the remainder my 'Top 19'.
Update 2: In the light of the Guardian picking Janelle Monae’s album as the best of the year I finally got around to checking out some tracks from her on youtube for the first time. Oh. My. God is she good. Too late for my list, she’ll have to be my Ms 2011.
Update 3: Yikes, I forgot about Wild Nothing's ('Is this The Chills?') treat, Chinatown. That should definitely be on my list.
Update 4: Just got a wonderful xmas present email from Tracey Thorn w/ a download link for a great new song, a nice photo, and a live-at-home performance of 'Singles Bar'. Terrific stuff. Thanks. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt have devoted fans for excellent reasons. It's insane that Tracey's album hasn't received more end o' year love than it has (Alex Petridis was the only one of the Guardian's many music critics to list 'Oh, the divorces!' at year's end that I noticed. Grrrr.)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Kraftwerk Live on late night US TV in 1975

Staggeringly great. Has to be seen to be believed. Autobahn live in '75! On mainstream network TV!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hang with Me (how to finish a song)

Here's the original 2003 version of the song, Hang with Me, which Robyn has made famous:

Evidently the song's writer (and Robyn's regular collaborator) Klas Ahlund channeled his inner Benny Anderson, and saw (his wife-at-the-time) Bruna's record as just ver. 1.0 of the song. Robyn's version adds:
  • the scatty B-section ('If you do me right, I'll do right by you...there'll be time for that too') of the verses
  • the whole chorus/central tension of the song (yes you can HwM/But don't go falling in love with me)
  • the little key-changes to bridge out of the chorus
And much else besides (e.g., R's version adds chords or at least lots of inversions even to the bits of the underlying song that are preserved from its first version, but I haven't figured all that out yet).

And here's a snippet of it performed on Gossip Girl:

R's HwM is the finished version (ver. 5.2 perhaps) of the underlying song: it's what others will now cover, not the 2003 original. It would, however, be interesting to hear a hipster lo-fi cover of the full/finished song. Does Paola Bruna do one?

Note that the underlying song is further improved from its acoustic version on Body Talk v.1 to the dance-pop version on BT v.2. E.g., the first couplet[1] is ingeniously sharpened from 'Will you tell me once again/How we're gonna be just friends' to 'Pray tell me once again/...' That slight archaism (used idiomatically and non-religiously but nonetheless colored by its religious associations) is not just the perfect short syllable for the song, it also resonates with pop history (like a living on a save a little save a prayer) and with the church-singing that public singing about romantic love grows out of in the West. Further, there's a touch of an aria from a popular Bach cantata in Robyn's n-part harmonies in the dance-pop version's choruses, as if to confirm that the late lyric change is on the right track, but all of that remains to be figured out. For this and other reasons (e.g., it'll be quite an achievement to play a good approximation of dance-pop HwM's arpeggiation manually), I suspect that HwM is going to be huge with geeks at conservatories.

In sum, HwM exhibits always improving/refining song-craft of a very high order. HwM also demonstrates that a non-native English-speaker's command of English can be better than almost all natives' where it counts, while the non-native speaker's distance from the song's language can nonetheless occasionally allow him or her to make interesting, rule-breaking discoveries, e.g., 'headlessly'.[2]

In some respects the big trick here is one that's very familiar, and that many of us associate with Bacharach/David and with Abba and with Quincy Jones (producing for Lesley Gore as well as for MJ): pop music is music for kids - for the kid in all of us - but it's often done best by people quite a bit older who really know what they're doing both musically and lyrically (Ahlund is 39, Robyn is 31, and her band's members aren't spring chickens). Such figures can end up making something slightly paradoxical: stellar music for kids that's exhilirating precisely because it's so pregnant with adult-apprehended meaning and technique.[3]

[1] The couplet recurs in the pseudo-'middle eight' of the dance-pop version. The acoustic version of HwM in fact never quite solves its own middle eight problem: a kind of jerk/hiccup in the strings and in Robyn's vocal gets us back to the final double chorus. What would Uncles Benny and Bjorn say about that? I therefore conjecture that (i) fitting the song into dance-pop's more metronomic frame created the opportunity and pressure to better solve HwM's middle eight problem, and that (ii) that led the writers to reuse the opening couplet, which in turn recommended the couplet's last lyrical polish. At any rate, the final version of HwM is near-mathematically perfect and beautiful. In my view it's going to reward a lot of subsequent study, much as, say, Promises Promises, Dancing Queen, and Rock with You do.

[2] It would be interesting to think through witty tracks like Robyn's Fembot from this dual, super-competence+distance perspective.

[3] Moreover, HwM's natty video successfully testifies that Robyn is one of those rare pop-figures (Elvis, Beatles, Jackson 5, Abba, MJ, Madonna, Gaga) who appeals to children, teens, hipsters, adults, grandparents...

Friday, November 26, 2010

2010 should be the year of Robyn

Rarely has a pop-star been as appealing as Robyn. I have a personal bias: Robyn's facial structure often reminds me of Frida's from Abba (see Anni-Frid Princess Reuss of Plauen at left!), but one would have to be completely blind/deaf to pop-charm to not be moved and impressed by Robyn on Xmas TOTP or in her Be Mine vid. In 2010 Robyn has returned with her Body Talk project spread over three cds. That project has both chamber pop and Kraftwerk-inflected, bratty hip-hop sides, which will grow on different people at different rates I suspect, but in an era of ear-scraping, gimmicky, shouty, chanty pop, a couple of relatively simply sung, song-of-the-year (in any year) candidates (from Robyn's heart-breaking-chamber-pop strong suit) goes a long way:

Who doesn't want to hang with Robyn in this vid.? But who could trust themselves not to fall recklessly headlessly in love with her? Pop genius!

Three gems from Body Talk's final installment:

Body Talk's overall menu of songs may not be quite polished enough for it to go down as an all-time classic (I'm not convinced yet that it's Abba: The Album or Off The Wall or Lexicon of Love or Night Falls over Kortedala), but it's very, very good, and a candidate for pop-dance album of the year.

Monday, November 01, 2010

De facto-ism in New Zealand Law

I've long argued that the de facto marriage concept introduced in New Zealand's Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA), which was passed in 2001, is a disaster. The short version of that argument is here:

The full version of that argument, which includes a general discussion of a philosophy of law I call de facto-ism, is here:

The place of de facto-ism in NZ law has been in the spotlight for the last few days because of the extraordinary, The Hobbit-induced wrangling over another piece of de facto-ist NZ legislation, the Employment Relations Act (ERA) 2000. I discuss that development in a pair of footnotes which are perhaps best seen in a book manuscript-context here (opening at p. 204):

The provocative bottom line for me is that Warner Brothers effectively freed the film industry in NZ from one aspect of (Margaret) Wilson-ian de facto-ism. Perhaps an exceedingly glamorous, foreign, married couple (e.g., Ellen de Generes and her de jure partner Portia de Rossi), could strike a similar blow against the de facto marriage regime that Wilson inflicted on NZ, i.e., by very publicly conditioning a move to NZ on PRA S 2D(1)(c) being amended (and not just for the film and entertainment industry!). Well, we can dream.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Can you believe it?"

The best scene in Mad Men Season 4, Ep. 13 ('Tomorrowland') - the climax of the whole season, maybe of the whole show so far - was Peggy and Joan's smoking, cursing, laughing together at events and their lots.

Christina Hendricks (Joan) gets lots of attention for her Monroe-/Jayne Mansfield-esque figure, but to me she's principally an amazing facial actress - Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Stephane Audran are good reference points for her. Elizabeth Moss (Peggy) acts in a more balanced way, through her face and body and limbs, but opposite Hendricks her facial acting blossoms.

At any rate, in this crucial payoff scene, where the characters really spoke for the shocked audience as well as for themselves, Hendricks and Moss were on fire, bouncing off each other, their eyelines so exact and locked in, their mutually translucent skin making every other face on the show look like a mask, and so on. Related bouquets: the precision camera-work and editing captured everything with minimal fuss; the lighting people performed their usual miracle of making an ostensibly fluorescent-lit, totally interior room seem realistically lit yet still warm and flattering to faces and complexions; shrewdly chosen costumes - Joan in black and Peggy in dark-gray - made them business-like and adult; and thank god for cigarettes. (Cigarettes are so so good for visuals and acting, pointing scenes. I mean, just look at the images above.)

The upshot: in some respects, and regardless of what Matt Weiner wants or thinks or plans, Mad Men is Peggy and Joan's show now. And if it isn't? Well, we'd pay money to watch a post-Mad Men, rise and rise of Olsen Holloway in the '70s show.

Jan. 2011 update: Fabulous interview with Elizabeth Moss here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Turning to Austen

One of the great pleasures of reading Austen is that she combines incredible control and wit with a lushness of vocabulary and grammar that makes most modern prose seem boring and puritan. It is as if the word went forth in the 1970s to every burgeoning, creative writing program that the only verb that should be used to mount dialogue is an unadorned 'says' or 'said'. And I've heard plenty of modern authors essay that this is one of the most golden rules of good writing.

It's a pleasure then to be only a couple of pages into, say, Pride and Prejudice and already people are replying, crying, scolding, sneering, whining, etc. often with an adverb in tow, e.g.,

"Do you not want to know who has taken it?" cried his wife impatiently.

"I do not cough for my own amusement," replied Kitty fretfully.
Go Jane.

I've long suspected that this layer of authorial pointing in Austen's texts is partially responsible for their great adaptability to the screen. Returning recently to Emma, one of Austen's last novels, I was struck by its great freedom of stage-directions often enclosed in parentheses within direct speech. There's a real sense of Austen pre-directing scenes that the reader is supposed to be mentally staging. E.g.

"A better written letter, Harriet (returning it,) than I had expected.”

"I trust, at least, that you do not think Mr. Knightley looking ill,” turning her eyes with affectionate anxiety towards her husband.

"For my part, I would rather, under such circumstances, fall short by two than exceed by two. I think you will agree with me, (turning with a soft air to Emma,) I think I shall certainly have your approbation, though Mr. Knightley perhaps, from being used to the large parties of London, may not quite enter into our feelings.”

"I have the honour of being acquainted with a neighbour of yours, (turning to Emma,) a lady residing in or near Highbury; a family of the name of Fairfax."

“Oh! very delightful indeed; I can say nothing less, for I suppose Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Frank Churchill are hearing every thing that passes. And (raising his voice still more) I do not see why Miss Fairfax should not be mentioned too."

"He never can bear to be thanked. But I thought he would have staid now, and it would have been a pity not to have mentioned. . . . Well, (returning to the room,) I have not been able to succeed. Mr. Knightley cannot stop. He is going to Kingston. He asked me if he could do any thing. . . .”

"These amazing engagements of mine—what have they been? Dining once with the Coles—and having a ball talked of, which never took place. I can understand you—(nodding at Mr. John Knightley)—your good fortune in meeting with so many of your friends at once here, delights you too much to pass unnoticed. But you, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) who know how very, very seldom I am ever two hours from Hartfield, why you should foresee such a series of dissipation for me, I cannot imagine."
Perhaps the most vivid example of Austen's directorial tendency in Emma occurs in the crucial and justly famous Box Hill scene. The garrulous but constant Miss Bates self-deprecates that she'll play a game of 'telling things' at its meanest, 'three dull things' level.
Emma could not resist.
“Ah! ma’am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me—but you will be limited as to number—only three at once.”

Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush shewed that it could pain her.

“Ah!—well—to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend.”
That's already half-way to a winning screen version with Sophie Thompson (sister of the famous Emma T.) outstanding as the humiliated Miss Bates:

most of Austen's continued cultural success is traceable to her plotting skill, the vividness of her characters, the general depth of her insight into the minutiae of human interaction, and the like. But that she doesn't write stupidly bifurcated texts - dialogue over here, description over there - that she's always authorially describing and directing the dialogue helps a lot too. Insofar as we are allowed to project personal traits and destinies into new cultural settings for light sport, to that extent one feels certain that Austen would have made a great writer for the screen.

Friday, October 08, 2010

High GHG Drifters

The original Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) mixes anti-war sentiments with genocidal fascism. Klaatu tells Earthlings to shape up - give up war and immediately start to learn and practice peace - or the galactic robot police will kill everyone:
'This Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.'[1]
The hapless 2008 remake didn't seem to know what it was saying by the end, but it had two basic novel ideas:
  • Extend the galactic police force's powers so that they can kill all the humans without toasting (and in fact pointedly, pristinely preserving) the rest of the planet
  • Broaden the aliens' essential interests from galactic order to order down on Earth as well, i.e., the remake's aliens damn humans not just (or even especially) as unrepentantly aggressive and dangerous generally but also as environmentally cavalier/dangerous to other life on Earth specifically
Richard Curtis's ghastly, self-defeating 10:10 campaign film:
expresses the same genocidal fascist fantasy/temptation as the two DtESS films, and even shares the 2008 remake's exact emphasis. Yet reactions to the DtESSs have always been muted, whereas Curtis's film was an overnight, sensational disaster. Why?

On the one hand, the details almost certainly make a difference: we don't see Klaatu and Gort et al. butchering kids. And presumably the lifespan of Curtis's film would have been extended if Curtis had eschewed direct, Cronenberg-style explosion shots in favor of, say, just 'horrified reaction' shots (thereby leaving us to infer what happened), let alone if Curtis had told a much less (or even non-)violent story.[2] On the other hand, genocidal violence, whether eco-inspired or not, just does seem easier to take when the Final Solution-bearer is external/impartial rather than one/some-of-us. We've plenty of cultural practice with the former case from the Torah and Old Testament generally, but that practice absolutely doesn't transfer to righteous, eliminationist forces that are one/some-of-us. Rather, it's conventional wisdom that some-among-us will always fancy themselves as Jehovah/Yahweh-figures judging and damning us all, and that such people always have to be monitored and, if necessary, stopped. The moral seems to be that while environmentalists can try to point to Nature's judgment on human civilization, say, they can't, with profit, be caught imagining that they are avenging angels of that judgment.[3] That said:

or even this. Slightly illicit, avenging angel fantasies are big business, and a big part of the business in which Richard Curtis makes a living in particular.

[1] Update: imdb's ecarle reminds me that Klaatu depicts his home world as ruled by pervasive terror of summary execution:

"For our policemen, we created a race of robots...In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor... The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies"
Dirty Harry raised to the power of Robo-cop on every corner. Very peaceful, no fire-power in that picture, no sir.

[2] E.g., suppose the 'no pressure' speeches mention the superheated, acidic surface of Venus as a model for a high-GHG earth. When the red-buttons are pushed, people simply disappear. Later it's revealed that they've been teleported to:


The 20-25 people inside the room, including many of those we've earlier seen disappear, are gathered nervously around the room's single large window. 3/4 of the room is fairly empty, but every few seconds, a new person pops into existence including - Bing! - one of the schoolchildren from earlier.


Close up on an external digital thermometer with dual Celsius and Fahrenheit displays. It ticks over from 460 to 461 °C, 860 to 861 °F. Some more droplets of sulphuric acid rain hit the thermometer's exterior, melting part of the Fahrenheit display. Focus drops back (or Cut) to regretful faces of climate change skeptics of various ages pressed up against the large window. We hear the sound of another person popping into existence behind them. Bing! The heavily accented Tottenham Football coach from earlier starts in mid-prattle.


Faces of horrified school-children, including the child who just materialized pushing in past adult legs to get a view out. Their eyes widen as more sulphuric acid rain and smouldering, dissolving crud spatters and slides down the window in front of them while, from somewhere behind them, the adult, know-nothing, Football coach voice prattles on...

[3] To be sure, lefties, let alone enviro-lefties in particular, are probably a minority of apocalyptic fantasists, especially in the US. The Timothy McVeigh/far-Right/quasi-secessionist end of US political life is currently booming, much as it did during the Clinton years.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

"No, it's not."

Mad Men Season 4, Ep. 9 ('The Beautiful Girls') was extraordinary. While remaining true to a set of characters, it meditated on the overlapping destinies of 5-6 micro-generations of women. Apparently, Sondheim's Follies, which opens and closes with the number 'Beautiful Girls', is an important reference. Will have to check that out now.

At any rate, the episode climaxed with a remarkable series of Resnais-meets-Demy, female tableaux, anchored by the amazing facial acting of Christina Hendricks. Just, wow.

I don't pretend to know what to think of the final image of Peggy, white-gloved (like Betty), smiling. She's less touched by Sally Draper and Miss Blankenship than the others of course, but evidently there's a lot more going on than that. Peggy looks the best pulled-together she ever has in that final shot. On the one hand, she looks like she's off to the Country (white privilege) Club, which, given the racial themes of the ep., would be somewhat disappointing. On the other hand, her hat/bonnet is halo-like, and the light that flares up off the closing elevator doors creates angels' wings for her. A Catholic icon or an astronaut like Blankenship? I dunno, but either way this is impressively suggestive cinematography.

And is Mad Men secretly, actually Peggy's memoir/novelistic reconstruction of her time with Don Draper (written when, say, she's herself an '80s, eminence grise of the ad. world)? Probably not, but that possibility, among others, was certainly opened by the end of this extraordinary, gut-twisting, brain-bursting episode. For some reason too, the end of the ep. made me think of (is soundtracked internally for me by) this piece by Olafur Arnalds:

One flaw with the ep.? Megan (Jessica Pare) half swallows her lines before and after Sally's heart-breaking 'No, it's not'. Of course, Megan is supposed to be a little awkward, unformed, not especially poised, possibly vaguely promoted above her abilities because of her looks (although I don't quite get those beyond her impressive, but somewhat generically runway model-ish height and figure), etc.. So her verbal clumsiness is arguably a feature of and not a problem with Pare's performance. Still, the near-('80s Valley-girl-to-early-Anne-Hathaway) lack of enunciation, the speaking from the back of her mouth and in scattered sentence fragments grates. It makes Megan (and Pare) stick out like a proverbial sore thumb on Mad Men. The end of ep. 4.10, indicating a wider role for Megan on the show therefore currently looks to me like a mistake, even setting aside the dread that a Don-Megan 'ship inspires.

Update October 5: The end of ep. 4.11 confirms that Mad Men has indeed made one of its occasional blunders (comparable to some about Betty last season), this time with Megan. Having been quite inarticulate and apparently unsophisticated up until this point, Megan is now quickly and implausibly revealed as a college grad., as super-calculating and worldly, and as, in fact, pretty much just a plot device to heighten Don's damage-done-already to Faye. Having Faye breach her Chinese wall at Don's suggestion was enough: it's a fateful self-betrayal by Faye that was well set up over a couple of eps. The additional element with Don and Megan then and there is insane, soap-erific overkill. And, realistically, that they actually have sex brings to a head that the show has gone to the well of spontaneous, causal sex too often. It's become a crutch for the writers at this point. Don going out for a bite with Megan and having a good time (i.e., her surprising us and him with her depths, etc.) would still have been unnecessary heightening for Don's situation with Faye, but it would at least have satisfied basic believability. Badly done Mr Weiner. Badly done Erin Levy (the official, sole author of ep. 4.11).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Step Inside Love

The stunning opening to Cilla Black's original tv show:
This is a very fine performance and arrangement of a White Album out-take that Paul McCartney gifted to his scouse friend and fellow George Martin producee. McCartney's original demo. had traces of Jobim in it:

but Cilla's version rotates that influence 90ยบ through Bacharach's appropriation of that tradition, surprising/climaxing with a trace of Bond/John Barry in the chorus. Marvellous stuff that anticipates some of where McCartney would go post-Beatles.

It would be interesting to know how much of Cilla's arrangement McCartney was responsible for. And if the answer to that question is 'a lot', whether he'd have thought of developing the song in that direction without Cilla's Bacharach-laden example in front of him? At any rate, here's a snippet of Paul and Cilla setting up to record the song:


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Les Bonnes Femmes (1960)

In the light of his death last week, I finally got around to watching Claude Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes (1960). Just as advertised (by various Obit. and Appreciation writers), LBF's a great film - ingenious, frightening, maddeningly elusive but also unbearably direct, unforgettable. It seems obvious in retrospect that LBF is an important influence (directly or indirectly) on the intellectual 'shock' cinema that stretches from Haneke to directors such as Noe and Breillat.

I'll need to think the film over a lot more to be sure, but, right off the bat, LBF appears to fit beautifully with Psycho and Peeping Tom as a panel in a 1960 horror triptych about men and women as largely, mutually uncomprehending, alien species (though distance from self or self-incomprehension is also important in these films) in something like a state of war, or, perhaps better, a parasite-host symbiosis or a zoo-animal/-keeper relation. The last is the key, cruel suggestion of the terrific zoo scene in LBF (although the audience isn't in a position to decipher that suggestion properly as it's made, i.e., first time through[1]). [Update: I used to have a clip of the scene here, but it's been removed from youtube, so a couple of images will have to do.]:

P, PT, and LBF all argue that only various sorts of social norms and self-delusions prevent the horrifying facts about ourselves from being obvious to all concerned. LBF's coda flags explicitly that those self-delusions can include novel and film conventions and expectations about romantic heroines and pretty Parisiennes in particular, i.e., factors that have shaped and distorted our view of the film we've just been watching. On the one hand, that coda practically demands that the audience rewatch LBF immediately (I immediately rewatched about half). On the other hand, some viewers will inevitably react angrily to this sort of meta-manoeuver, resent that Chabrol has so manipulated them, and so on. Indeed, LBF was a financial and critical failure in 1960 (according to imdb, it led some Parisian viewers to break their cinema seats), and it wasn't released in the US (in NYC) until 1966. At least LBF didn't effectively end Chabrol's career in his home-industry the way PT did Powell's.

LBF is dee-pressing, and brilliantly nasty, albeit in a way that's fairly familiar to us these days from Haneke, Breillat, et al.. But Chabrol got there first, in something like the way Hitchcock did with Psycho. 1960-vintage Chabrol and Hitchcock was quickly out-stripped in the explicit sex and violence stakes by imitators and acolytes, and by the directors' own later selves (some contemporary viewers may be incredulous at LBF's pre-film, R-18 certificate -'Ce Film est interdit aux moins de 18 ans'). But both P and LBF are such artful and pure examples of the film sub-genres they founded that they're hard to improve upon in any case, and the subsequent jading of our palates in fact only makes them more watchable now.[2]

LBF wobbles slightly and almost falls over first time through (at about the half-way point in my case). We flail and lose patience as we're left suspended, not knowing how to understand/read what we're seeing. That's risky, but Chabrol's risk-taking pays off big time by the end of the film, and on subsequent viewings. Les Bonnes Femmes is a masterpiece, probably the original brainy, malevolent masterpiece.

[1] Indeed, first time though we're tempted to exactly the wrong (or at best strictly one-sided) analogy: biker guy is like the caged animal. Some reviewers, apparently eager to demonstrate their superiority to Chabrol's relatively open-textured film, overlook this and falsify which conclusions LBF allows anyone to draw, as it were, in real time, e.g., Mick LaSalle's intemperate remark: "The women go to the zoo and see a lot of beautiful animals in cages. We get the analogy. The gals don't." But, as we've seen, LBF initially, principally signals that the biker guy is (perhaps guys in general are) the caged animal. That is, this important scene, like others in LBF, opens up multiple meanings, and an alert audience has no choice but to try to juggle these partially competing ideas (keep them all aloft) as the film unfolds and springs its traps. Taxing the audience in this way is a signature of a certain sort of potentially great film-making, albeit a sort that's not to everyone's taste (e.g., some people simply dislike all demanding films). At any rate, LaSalle's dismissive yawn at LBF is quite unwarranted. It's also very revealing. One of Chabrol's most famous films, Les Biches (1968), explicitly asks 'Who's the hunter, and who's the hunted?'-type questions. A reviewer for a major metropolitan paper in 2000 should have been able to be sensitive to and non-reductive about different possibilities from Chabrol.

[2] Modern audiences have to work a little bit to appreciate P's and LBF's original 'hot stuff'/scandalous sides. The upside of that distance, however, is that it takes the edge off the films' contents and makes them more acceptable and accessible to broad audiences than before. Hard-R '70s films and their indie/foreign extreme successors today, by way of contrast, remain beyond the pale for many people. It's just a fact that Looking for Funny Games with Mr Straw Dogs Irreversible Goodbar rarely comes to a multiplex or a dvd-player anywhere near most of us.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

At least it wasn't The Omen

Act MP David Garrett says that he took the idea of stealing the identity of a long dead baby to procure a fraudulent passport for himself from Frederick Forsyth's 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal (filmed by Fred Zinneman of High Noon fame in 1973). Another '70s pop-culture phenomenon that prominently featured shenanigans about dead babies was The Omen. Wiki summarizes the beginning of its plot as follows:
The infant son of Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife, Katherine (Lee Remick), dies shortly after birth in Rome. Out of concern for his wife's mental well-being, Robert is coerced into substituting the dead child for an orphan whose mother died at the same moment by Father Spiletto (Martin Benson), without telling her the truth. Katherine and Robert name the child Damien (Harvey Stephens). Shortly afterwards, Robert is named U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain.
It later emerges that Damien is the anti-Christ, and that the Thorns' dead infant son was in fact murdered (by, as it were, anti-Nuns). The plan is for the anti-Christ to be raised as a child into the friends-of-a-US-President family then, once grown, for him to use those connections to become US President, or Helen Clark, or some such thing. That plan comes to something like fruition in Omen 3: The Final Conflict, the first and only Hollywood film to have two Kiwi leads (Sam Neill and Lisa Harrow).

Coincidence? I think not. Dream bigger darling Mr Garrett: Roger Douglas stabbing someone in a cathedral, Rodney Hide drowning under ice, fending off Sensible Sentencing Trust wolves, the permutations are endless. Photoshoppers and youtube parodists, start your engines.

Update Sept 24, 2010: Garrett has resigned from Parliament and, according to the NZ Herald, claims that dark forces are at work within the ACT party. The Herald also reports that ACT MP Heather Roy, denies being behind the leaks that doomed Garrett:

'She laughed off the comments about dark forces, saying, "I think everybody might have been reading too much Star Wars."'
Wrong answer. Not dark enough. Try harder. Oh, alright....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Without a Love Story

I tend to enjoy quite simple mash-ups, and this is a good 'un of that kind.

This blog entry captures part of why this mash-up is affecting, but I believe that the mash-up's burying of the vocal in the track (amid lots of pre-echo wash fx) is also a factor. That blurring of the lyric allows gender and sexual orientation ambiguity to creep in: in this version of Swift's song it sounds as though the singer's daddy is telling her to stay away from Juliet. Meta-mash-ups beckon, e.g., add some Kanye West interjections, some Taylor Swift responses, while U2 continues to chug indefinitely underneath...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Lexicon of I'm not in Love.

10cc's I'm not in Love (which was a UK #1 in June 1975) was one of the quintessential, fantastic singles and sonic achievements of the ’70s. It’s on the very short list of songs/records from the period that consistently still blow people away (e.g., Benny and the Jets, Heroes, I Feel Love, Dreams, Wuthering Heights, Trans-Europe Express, and a few others). Its almost underwater sounding beat, the massed backing vox, its cut-up-ness and general unearthliness still amaze.

The standard reading of the song – the singer’s in love alright though he doesn’t want to say it, admit it etc. – gets at something that was in the air a lot in the years after INIL came out. Let me explain.

There’s a great, double-edged scene in Annie Hall (1977) where Annie (Diane Keaton[1]) is ticked off that Alvy (Woody Allen) never says he loves her. Alvy wittily defends his approach to the L-world by saying that it’s too puny etc. for him, and opining that, in general, any word in a real, public language would falsify and diminish his feelings for her etc.. Alvy then launches into saying that he lurrrffs Annie, loaves her, etc.. That’s all quite winning, but it also does register as an evasion. We (and esp. female viewers!) effectively know at that point that Annie and Alvy won’t make it/will eventually split up.

‘New sensitive males’, Alan Alda-ish, Alvy Singer-ish guys, and their downsides became a big, ongoing topic of cultural discussion from the late ’70s on. Part of INIL's power at the time, I suggest, was that it was a leading or at least v. early indicator of that cultural formation: ‘whiny INIL guys and the women who love them too much’ perhaps. And since those questions about men and child-men after feminism haven't gone away since, INIL still 'works' as a piece of stinging observation.

After influencing things like the intro. and feel of The Bee Gees's How Deep is Your Love and the whole production of Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are in the late '70s, in the 1980's INIL musically begat at least:


And half of 10cc itself revisited INIL territory in:

In the '90s, the sound of INIL (and of Paul Mauriat's orchestra) was all over Air's first couple of albums. And INIL itself was on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's (in my minority and at-the-time-socially-suicidal view, preposterous) The Virgin Suicides, for whose score Air were otherwise largely responsible. Consider the final party scene from that film:

That's not INIL in that scene (it's Air), but it might as well be.

A Japanese documentary on INIL is up on youtube, and even though only about half of it is in English, it's pretty interesting and worth watching, e.g.:

[1] How much of Keaton was there in Annie? Ahem, Diane Keaton's family name is 'Hall' (she assumed her mother's 'maiden' name, 'Keaton', for Actors' Equity purposes after college), and her standard, affectionate/'friends call her' name is/was 'Annie'. To say this is not to deny, of course, that Keaton is one of the greatest Hollywood actresses. In the same year as AH, Keaton had the lead in the truly frightening drama, Looking for Mr Goodbar, the Irreversible or Requiem for a Dream of its time. This was an astonishing double for Keaton: giving arguably the best comic, female, lead performance since Stanwyck/Dunne/Hepburn in the same year as the (no-ifs-ands-or-buts) most out-there, hard-R-rated gritty, dramatic performance ever (and Hollywood studios have never gone that dark again). Having dazzled previously in small roles in the Godfather films in particular, Keaton now had two leads that added up to one of the greatest acting years of any film actor ever. It was popularly believed at the time that Keaton's Oscar for AH was in part an award for both her big 1977 roles. That's probably right: the combination left almost nothing to chance. Still, in my view, Keaton probably would (and certainly should) have won the Oscar even if she had had only one film out that year. She was just that good in both cases, and each case was a truly fascinating, industry-peak film.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The New

A fun line from the Hollywood Interview:
With his rigorously intelligent, highly organized, painterly visual style, Christopher Nolan is the new David Fincher, who was the next Ridley Scott, who was called the heir to Kubrick, who revered Ophuls and Welles, who adored Sternberg, who worshipped Murnau.
This emulates a much longer line of alleged influence that humorously traces all original 'cool attitude' back to Marlowe or Bernini or whomever (due to some pretentious know-it-all, maybe Pynchon? Wolfe? Foster Wallace?).

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Madonna's Holiday II: Performance

In my previous post I focused on Holiday's music and lyrics. But what of Madonna's performance? Your own mileage from M's vocals may vary, but for me her Holiday vocals are terrific: they're characterful, but in a non-showy way that doesn't compete with the groove and that sells the vibe of the music. Most memorable for me are the various 'Oh yeah's, 'Hol-i-daye!'s and 'It would be-ee so-o nice's that occur as little response-line (see my previous post for discussion of Holiday's call-and-response structure) sub-dramas throughout the record. In the final third of the record especially, M's voice rasps a little as it tickles quickly across the runs of notes on these occasions, which I find incredibly fun and even moving.

Madonna's voice isn't a Donna Summer or Annie Lennox (or even a Shannon) powerhouse, but it is the voice of a dance music true believer. She really does want to 'let love shine' through the medium of the sort of time-out from life's pressures that a truly celebratory dance record affords. We need a Holiday. Yes, we do. And, by God, we've got one while this record plays. The upshot is that Holiday is a 6+ minute record that everyone wishes would never end. Interestingly, as far as I'm aware, no one else has ever been able to cover Holiday with any profit, let alone with real authority. This is surely in part because Madonna herself has consistently and very publicly explored new versions of the song, effectively stamping herself all over it - see examples below. But it also may simply be the case that Madonna's original recording maximized the potential of the underlying song, which would have been a trifle coming from anyone else. (Tellingly, Holiday was offered to and rejected by at least two other artists before Madonna and her producer 'Jellybean' Benitez grabbed it with both hands.) We provisionally conclude that what appears to be true is true. Madonna nailed her parts on the record, and 'Jellybean' Benitez (with a crucial assist from Zarr's piano) aced the rest.

Of course, performance on an original record isn't the whole story about a lot of the best pop music. In addition, there's at least what you look like and, if you're v. lucky, how you move and perform, especially live. Holiday entered a recently MTV-ed world relatively unloved and without an official video, but this setback in fact ended up foregrounding Madonna's strengths in post-(recorded performance) dimensions of pop success. Not having a video to sell Holiday for her led Madonna to perform (normally with her brother Chris Ciccone and her friend Erica Bell[1]) as a live dancer on every North American and European TV show that hosted lip-synching acts that would have her. Many of those performances still astonish: Madonna's dance-training is evident, and she's in constant motion in a way that sells both the record and herself as something new and interesting. Her work ethic and entrepreneurial/take charge drive was also apparent. Message received: v. sexy, possibly destined to give certain sorts of puritan feminists fits, but no foolish floozy this one.

While M. in 1983/1984 has a version of what we might call the 'cool but approachable, white-girl, club chick' look of the period (think Bananarama, say, in their fondly remembered Shy Boy video), M's not trying to 'be cool' or just 'be seen' or, as in Bananarama's own case, just half-heartedly shuffle towards being mobile. Rather, she's a hard-working dancer in action (who's obviously watched a lot of Soul Train growing up!), and that action is highly aerobic. It's worth noting that aerobics classes were huge, and growing and differentiating fast in the early '80s (think Jane Fonda workouts, the cheese-ball Travolta movie Perfect, and the like). In an only slightly subterranean way, then, Madonna's highly aerobic dance performances for Holiday are part of that explosion, building a new bridge between night-time club-culture and a woman-centered, day-time world of classes and exercise.

Consider in this light the following fragment of a performance of Holiday on a French magazine show:

While a lot of club-kids (perennially, at least for a period) aspire to be aloof, posing, quasi-decadent night-people, M. herself is happy to get her leg above her head for you. By a pool. In the sunshine.

Or consider M's performance of Holiday on Top of the Pops early in 1984:[2]

The crowd starts whooping as the aerobic energy from the stage starts to hit them, particularly when tightly choreographed, snaky, sensuous, sideways movements suddenly accompany the lead-off Chorus, after the Intro has been accompanied by a sucker-punch combination of more relaxed movement and dancer smiles all around. By the time we come back from the piano solo, Madonna (and Chris and Erica) are at the front of the stage, arms raised in triumph like they've won the World Cup! But then they surprise us again by breaking back into further cool, choreographed moves. We are so there. It's a landmark pop moment/performance, electrifying, and star-making in a way that's hard to appreciate these days, i.e., post-Madonna. A sexy, cool NYC chick, but one who, like Elvis and MJ, could really move, and who had every beat and gesture planned, truly stood out in 1984. There'd never been anyone like her.

Holiday was born in and designed for clubs, i.e., environments similar in scale and kind to the TOTP studio. On one level, then, Holiday's success in that setting shouldn't have surprised. But what of live performances in vast arenas, before 50K+ people? Would Holiday scale up? In early 1984, one wouldn't have necessarily expected Madonna's dance-pop to be especially at home at something as big and messy as Live Aid, but in fact she ruled the (admittedly rather shambolic) US end of that mid-1985 event (her final 'Now I know you're mine' from Into the Groove sounded downright sinister to some ears that day!). At any rate, as her opening number at Live Aid, Holiday got Madonna off on the best possible foot:

A personal favorite among Madonna's many stunning Holidays is the rocked-out version from the Who's That Girl? tour in 1987, i.e., from the first relatively rough/relatively fallow period for Madonna (both professionally and personally) since her 1984 breakthrough. Just because your latest music is uninspired[3], your current movie stinks, and your marriage to Sean Penn is on the rocks, doesn't mean you can't still slay 'em live (and arguably be in the best voice and dancer shape of your life):

Watch the whole thing: 'Let's have some order here'. At this point, M. on stage is a whirlwind and something like the best Howard Hawks gal ever (which is to say, a serious candidate for 'best gal ever' period, let's face it), notwithstanding that her movie in that vein was a disaster.

Other notable Holidays include the performance recorded in Truth or Dare from the Blonde Ambition tour:

and a performance in Brixton in 2000 at which Madonna described Holiday as having for her a special connection with London (presumably referring to 1984's TOTP triumph):

Lastly, consider a fan's omnibus history of Holidays:

In sum, although it may be, in various ways, overly simple and naive, Holiday has been a perfect vehicle for Madonna. Its uncluttered aerobicness has always allowed her basic, formidable and attractive personality to shine through, while the convincing 'we'-ness/egoless-ness/persona-free-ness of its lyric sidesteps the principal liabilities of that (wannabe then actual) superstar personality (too much ego, about which a supplicant audience ends up knowing too much, general insufferableness, and so on). Performing Holiday live has been an on-going showcase for Madonna's interpretive chops and for her dance and performance skills more generally, but I suspect that M. especially continues to love Holiday because of the holiday from ego and talking about herself and persona-generation that it represents. Each time she sings Holiday, Madonna gets to be partly reborn as that before-she-was-famous club-kid who just wants to lose herself in dancing, and who wishes we were on the floor with her.[4] It would be-ee so-o nice. We are so so there.

Many people have tried to create sunny, inclusive, utopian dance tunes that appeal explicitly to what's universal in us, and many have failed. Madonna's first big success, however, does precisely that, making a foundational, dance-pop standard for the ages.

[1] Important early solo performances/lip-synchs of Holiday include spots on Solid Gold, hosted by glamorous Marilyn ('Up, up, and away') McCoo, and, especially, on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. The latter isn't currently available on youtube, but it's downloadable here. Madonna's notorious 'I plan to rule the world' interview with Dick Clark after that performance, is downloadable here.

[2] The TOTP performance was broadcast on Thursday, January 26, 1984, a day before Madonna (w/ Chris and Erica) performed both Burning Up and Holiday on The Tube as part of a special broadcast from Factory Records' famous Hacienda Club in Manchester. Bizarrely, however, the Hipster-reality-distortion-field that still surrounds both The Tube and Factory/Hacienda has caused numerous people, e.g., here, to misrepresent M's Hacienda spot as her 'first UK TV appearance' or 'her first appearance outside NY' or whatever it may be, and quite generally to pretend that her much more successful TOTP appearance (much more widely seen, much better lit, shot, and sounding, and so on) never happened.

[3] Although that's a relative judgment - relative to Madonna's hardly putting a foot wrong up to Who's that Girl? For example, I like Causing a Commotion a lot (and love its 'silver screen' 12" remix). It would be a crown jewel in other acts' allegedly Imperial Periods. But it's definitely second- or even third-tier Madonna. It's the sort of stuff that can be a 'fan favorite', but it's not world-beating or new-fan-making.

[4] One of Madonna's other, early signature songs, Into the Groove, makes this pre-fame, happy, but also touchingly yearning and lonely club-kid idea of Madonna that's implicit in Holiday, completely explicit: 'I'm tired of dancing here all by myself/Tonight I want to dance with someone else!' ITG's an amazing song and record, but that little bit of explicit auto-biog. and persona-generation makes it, I believe, less distinctive and useful overall to Madonna than Holiday is. That is, ITG is on one level just more confessional/talking-about-herself stuff, and why shouldn't M. want a break from all that? Moroever, insofar as ITG does self-describe, to that extent it raises questions of age-/status-appropriateness that Holiday doesn't. That is, it's hard for someone who's been enormously successful for 20+ years to sing convincingly and explicitly about being dance-partner-less, whereas Holiday's giddy, utopian wishes always work. In sum, M. has excellent reasons to treasure Holiday, and to simply enjoy performing it more than she evidently does ITG.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Madonna's Holiday I: Music and Lyrics

Released without a stand-alone video in September 1983, Holiday became Madonna's first hit (and first signature song) early in 1984. And whereas Madonna has recently signaled her skepticism about or even disdain for some of her other early hits and signature songs, e.g., Into The Groove, she's evidently still very fond of Holiday, citing it as her favorite among her own (not necessarily self-written) songs in an interview in 2005. In this note I take a close look at this terrific record, focusing on Holiday's music and lyrics. In the sequel I discuss how Madonna made Holiday a pop landmark by getting out there and selling it and herself to the world.

Holiday is musically very simple:
  • Just four chords (in D-maj) arranged in exactly one 4-bar pattern: IV,V|V,vi|IV,V|iii,IV
  • Each bar in the pattern has the same timing: 3/8 for the first chord, 5/8 for the second chord, i.e., the second chord in each bar is always a quaver ahead of the beat.
Since the first and third bars of the pattern are the same, the overall 'feel' of the pattern is (counted out): theme and theme and up and stretch; theme and theme and down and relax (repeat). That is, given its moderate-quick tempo, Holiday 'feels' very aerobic, or very like an aerobics class. This is crucial, in my view, and I'll make much of it in the sequel.
In part because of its extreme musical simplicity/directness, Holiday isn't musically especially original or forward-looking. Indeed, Holiday is more or less exactly like the direct musical offspring of Chic's Good Times (from 1979) and ABC's Look of Love (from mid-1982). Let's focus on Holiday's LOL-lineage:
  • LOL bounces around the same four chords as Holiday – IV,V,vi,iii (only in C-maj)
  • LOL's main verse pattern is the same as the final two bars of Holiday's sole pattern, i.e., IV,V|iii,IV with a 3/8, 5/8 timing within each bar, and essentially the same timbre (muted-chiming, synth chords) picks out the basic changes in both H and LOL
  • LOL's and H's tempi, synth bass-lines, and string section embellishments are very similar, although in each dimension Holiday is simpler, more metronomic, and more synthetic/electronic than LOL.[1]
Important musical differences between LOL and H include:
  • Madonna's beat is a gloriously stiff Oberheim drum-machine, whereas ABC's rhythm track employs God's own army of electronic wizardry and low-flying orchestral percussionists, courtesy of Trevor Horn and Ann Dudley
  • Holiday is fleshed out by a buffet of interlocking, Chic-/Nile Rodgers-style, disco guitar figures
  • Holiday musically climaxes with a delightful piano part due to Fred Zaar. After plinking away in the background for 16 bars or so, Zaar finally breaks out into a solo, bringing the track joyously home.[2] That piano overall is similar to piano in Nick Lowe's I love the Sound of Breaking Glass (from 1978), and Steve Nieve's piano parts in Everyday I Write the Book, a near-contemporary (July 1983) single from Elvis Costello and the Attractions. More generally, Zaar's solo is in the lightly vaudeville piano tradition that occasionally surfaces in the Beatles, as well as in things like Thunderclap Newman's Something in the Air, and then persistently in the mutant pub-rock piano of Nieve, Jools Holland (Squeeze), in Eddie Rayner's playing for Split Enz, and even in Benny Anderson (Abba) at least some of the time. This style of piano is very different from Ann Dudley's brilliant, cod-classical for ABC (and Benny Anderson much of the time), let alone from the (Korg M-1) 'House' piano that dominated dance music for years after about 1988 (and has arguably never really gone away).
It's worth mentioning at this point that the remix of Holiday on Madonna's first greatest hits package, The Immaculate Collection should be avoided at all costs. It barbarically omits the piano solo, thereby decapitating the whole track, and it coats the whole song in various kinds of obsolete audio processing whose micro-latencies destroy the precision-timing and stiffness of the rhythm track.[3] Throughout this note, I therefore discuss just the original single mix of Holiday, which was collected on Madonna's first album, and which was sensitively edited for radio and for lip-synch performances.
As we've already seen, Holiday has little musical structure to speak of. Thus, almost all of the variation in the song, e.g., all verse/chorus/middle eight structure, etc., has to be created solely by the vocal line and the lyrics. Holiday doesn't disappoint in this regard, and its basic structure so conceived is as follows: Intro/Chorus/Verse1/Double Chorus (with responses)/Verse2/Chorus (with responses)/Middle 8 (just 4 bars really)/Intro/Chorus (with responses)/Intro (with responses)/Intro (with principal novel variant responses)/Intro+piano solo/Intro to fade (with various responses).
The key to Holiday from this structural-lyrical perspective is its call and response structure, which develops throughout the song. We originally perceive the Intro:
just as itself. But by the end of the song it's become a 'call' handled by backing vox, and we hear both Madonna and the piano respond to it. Similarly, in the case of the Chorus, we initially hear mostly just its 'call' part:
If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be,
it would be so nice
Although the last response line is in place here, the full response side only gets filled in second time through, i.e., in the double Chorus after the first verse. For still another example, we don't originally hear the vocal in the Middle eight (just 4 bars) as a series of responses. But as the Middle eight's constituent parts get recycled as responses to Chorus and Intro calls in the final third of the record, all becomes clear. In sum, by the end of Holiday, we hear its bobbing and weaving vocal parts and apostrophes in place, and zippered together in a way that's immensely satisfying, even exhilarating

From the top, then, and, to be clear, writing all the calls to the left and all responses to the right, we get -
If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be,
it would be so nice
Verse 1:
Everybody spread the word
We're gonna have a celebration
All across the world
In every nation
It's time for the good times
Forget about the bad times, oh yeah
One day to come together
To release the pressure
We need a holiday
Double Chorus (with responses):
If we took a holiday
Oh...Ooo hoo hoo hoo
Took some time to celebrate
Come on let's celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be,
it would be so nice
If we took a holiday
Oo yeah oh yeah
Took some time to celebrate
Come on let's celebrate
Just one day out of life
Just one day out of life!
It would be,
it would be so nice
Verse 2:
You can turn this world around
And bring back all of those happy days
Put your troubles down
It's time to celebrate
Let love shine
And we will find
A way to come together
And make things better
We need a holiday
Chorus (with mixed responses):
If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Come on let's celebrate
Just one day out of life
Just one day out of life!
It would be,
it would be so nice

Middle eight:
Ooh yeah oh yeah
Come on let's celebrate
We have got to get together
Chorus (with mixed responses):
If we took a holiday
Ooh yeah oh yeah
Took some time to celebrate
Come on let's celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be,
it would be so nice
Intro (with mixed responses):
Oh yeah oh yeah
Come on let's celebrate
Just one day out of life!
It would be so nice
Intro (with principal novel variant responses):
Holiday, Celebration
Come together in every nation
Holiday, Celebration
Come together in every nation
Intro+piano solo
Intro (with mixed responses) + piano continuing to go nuts:
We've got to get together
Take some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be so nice
Intro (with principal novel variant responses) (repeat to fade).

Is there anything to these lyrics behind all of this busy, ingenious structure of Intro and Chorus call patterns, zipped and unzipped with varying responses? Probably not. In effect Holiday revolves tightly around the twin concepts Holiday and Celebrate/celebration for its whole length (perhaps drawing on the 'Holiday, Holiday, Holiday, Celebrate!' chorus of Change's A Lover's Holiday (1980)). But spinning though that so gracefully and unmechanically that a song with an unrelenting groove and a single chord progression nonetheless ends up powerfully expressing freedom and release is a significant achievement in my view. It may look easy to write and perform a lyric that invites and urges everyone 'all around the world' to get up and dance and 'get together' - to speak in a plausible 'we' without seeming obnoxious or ridiculous - but evidently it isn't. (I hail and discuss the significance of Holiday's egoless-ness in the sequel.)
The super-positivity that Holiday hymns became a key theme within dance music over the next 20 years (sometimes forming the attitudinal raison d'etre for whole sub-genres, e.g., Hi-NRG, Happy Hardcore, Italo, etc.), but rarely, if ever, was that theme as well articulated and demonstrated as Madonna and her producer managed in Holiday.

[1] And whereas Holiday had a train journey on its single sleeve, LOL has lately (and deliciously) soundtracked Virgin Rail ads.
[2] According to wiki, Zaar was a friend of Madonna's and her producer 'Jellybean' Benitez's, and his part was a last-minute, at-home/extra-studio addition to the track.
[3] 'Jellybean''s straight remix of Holiday for Madonna's 1987 You Can Dance collection of dance versions is OK in my view, but the 'drier'/less processed sound of the original mix is still better. 'Jellybean''s 'Dub version' remix of Holiday for the same collection is more interesting: it's just a classic, largely instrumental, 'separate all the parts', 12" mix. If you're a fan, everything from the piano to the layers of Nile Rodgers-ish guitars to the backing vox to the drum-machine cow-bell on Holiday is worth hearing in (near) isolation. For me, then, Holiday (Dub version) 6:56 uniquely, nicely complements Holiday's original mix.