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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

End My Thrill - Billie Holiday v The Smashing Pumpkins

Billie Holiday 'You're My Thrill' vs The Smashing Pumpkins 'The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning'

Written by Jay Gorney, Sidney Clare, Billy Corgan
Arranged by IronicHide

© Decca 1950
© Warner Bros 1997

Hurm, I'm late to this Watchmen party, aren't I?

(Technically, I probably read it before you did but that's a micturating-up-a-wall contest for another day.)

Remember when the first trailer hit? I do. Yes, it looked like the entire film was in slow-motion but it sure put some of the iconic panels from the book right up on the screen, all moving around and being real and that jazz. Squee.

Given that Watchmen references Bob Dylan, Wagner, Devo and Philip Glass among others, the idea that the trailer ignored all of these in favour of using The Smashing Pumpkins was a joke. Literally. 'The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning' is used in Joel Schumacher's campfest Batman Forever, based on other popular (DC) comic characters. The choice seems to be screaming "For all the literary weight of the source material, this is a comic book movie" (and is even nerdier when you consider that the trailer premiered before Chris Nolan's pompfest The Dark Knight). 

Any old how, the music, with lines chopped to fit the images, sold the trailer to me. I went back to that old bedroom in Brentford and dug out my Batman Forever CD (alongside Tron: Legacy, Slumdog Millionaire, Moonraker, and Heat in the category of soundtracks I own but don't actually have the movie to watch). That Pumpkins track became my jogging tune of choice for the remainder of 2007. Good, chuggy stuff.

Before and after seeing the Watchmen movie, I had, and hold, a lot of reservations about the choices that were made in it (definitely, a chat for somebody else's blog or somebody else's mother to listen to) but there appeared an obvious mashup opportunity to bring the book and the film together, if only to catch the wave of merchandise and popularity in 2008. (Missed that, yeah.) 

The Pumpkins would represent the movie and it was an immediate choice, without review, to use Billie Holiday's 'You're My Thrill' (a favourite tune for the nostalgic and self-doubting retired superhero Nite Owl) with it. Holiday's track was cut, roughly, in to two parts, with the first half inverted to drown the bass notes and bump up the vocal, and the whole song slowed by about 25% to fit. This goes against my normal rule that, when mixing two tracks, it's better to speed up to match the faster song, making the mashup shorter and one's work on display to the public for as little time as possible.

'The Beginning...' was an easy instrumental to make, having at least four different passages each a couple of bars long without Billy Corgan singing. Once chopped, I could use them like Lego bricks to work with Holiday.

I later discovered that Philip Glass's 'Pruit Igoe' (from Koyaanisqatsi, referenced in the book and used in a second trailer) actually fits 'The Beginning...' much better. You live, you learn, babe.

Almost the entire mashup was made in under an hour. That was 2008, I could have caught the brief uber-popularity of Watchmen (remember the t-shirts in HMV?). I could have cobbled together a silly video for YouTube and by now you would be watching me on TV, in awe of my godliness. Them's the breaks.

Unfortunately, I have spent the last three years tweaking this thing. Some tweaks worked - individually highlighting notes from the double bass on 'You're My Thrill' and de-amplifying them, duplicating Holliday's line "Where's my will" and substituting it in to the final chorus (the original changes key at that point). Other tweaks didn't - four hours' work adding 'Pruit Igoe' and Alan Moore reading Rorschach's diary in to the mix. And some tweaks - just how long should the breath before the final chorus be? - I still don't know about.

So, as ever, enjoy or don't. Use the box below to quibble. Or don't. Just be thankful I didn't write this blog without a reference to Dr Manhattan being naked.

(And, yeah, of the many options of a title for this mashup, I went with one that sort-of references the deathwish of one of Watchmen's moral objectivists. Ronch.)

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