You Never Know When, Where, and How

In Sweet Smell of Success, many of the songs have an ironic under-layer; sometimes the singer is aware of the irony, others times they’re not.

All through the scene-song “I Could Get You in J.J.,” we already know Sidney can’t get either of them in J.J.’s column, that in fact Sidney is a two-bit con man. We also already know that Susan has had dinner with J.J., even as Sidney is promising to get her in J.J.’s column.

Dallas’ gorgeous ballad “I Cannot Hear the City,” is straight-forward the first time we hear it, but when it returns late in Act I, it takes on a double-meaning, also reminding us that Dallas really doesn’t understand how the Big City works… as we watch J.J. slowly realize he’s being lied to. Dallas is in the big leagues now, and he’s really not ready…

I’ve already blogged a bit about Sidney’s big “aria” in Act I, “At the Fountain.” It’s another brilliant exercise in subtle irony. This big, gorgeous music camouflages the needy, creepy lyric. As I wrote in my other post:

More so than the movie ever does, this helps us understand why Sidney goes along with everything J.J. wants. Sidney is metaphorically at Schwab’s soda fountain, and he fancies himself a “star” being “discovered” by J.J. He thinks he’s the next Lana Turner. It’s ironic that in the earlier scene in the Voodoo Club, Sidney’s bullshit agent’s pitch to Susan includes the line, “The Voodoo Club could be your Schwab’s,” but it turns out to be Sidney’s Schwab’s instead. He thinks.

But also notice, Sidney thinks J.J. looked into his soul and saw greatness. (No, J.J. looked into Sidney’s face and saw an easy mark.) Sidney thinks meeting J.J. was Fate. (No, J.J. looked into Sidney’s face and saw an easy mark.) The grand, powerful emotion of the music takes us inside Sidney’s head. This is how he sees himself.

Dallas’ clubby, sexy “One Track Mind” works both as an authentic period jazz number, as Brubecky as the real thing, but this is also Dallas’ case for the nobility of impoverished happiness (we’re to assume Dallas wrote this song), in stark contrast to the previous scene in which we learned, in waltz time, about the dozens of famous, rich, and powerful people who frequent the Hunsecker penthouse. Notice that J.J.’s music is all old-fashioned – a hymn, a waltz, a vaudeville number…

Subliminally, the music tells us that J.J.’s penthouse world is old, creepy, oppressive, isolating, while Dallas’ world is new, adventurous, romantic. The penthouse is (musically) minor and dissonant, while Dallas’ club is major and playful. These are two very distinct worlds that Susan has to choose between. And when J.J. realizes she’s made that choice, all hell breaks loose.

Likewise, “Rita’s Tune” is a companion piece to “Somewhere That’s Green,” an ironic charm song about how little this women needs to be happy, all while we know she won’t get even that. But “Rita’s Tune” is even darker and more ironic. It succeeds brilliantly on three levels at the same time: 1.)  as a great, period pop tune celebrating domesticity; 2.)  as unintentional irony because we already know Sidney’s a louse and bad shit is coming; and 3.)  like “Somewhere That’s Green,” it’s such a naked, honest, simple plea, and we know she won’t get any of what she needs. She won’t get killed, like Audrey, but she’ll come damn close.

As the song begins, we either know or suspect that Sidney’s about to pimp out his “available” girlfriend, then we watch Rita sing of domestic bliss, and then we actually watch Sidney pimp her out to Otis Elwell, in exchange for getting an item in Otis’ column. That’s some heavy irony. And then after Sidney leaves, the writers drop one more irony on us, as Rita admits to Otis that yes, he does recognize her because she was pimped out to him two years ago. Holy shit.

Another example of shattering irony is “Don’t Look Now,” J.J.’s old vaudeville number, which he performs on his telethon.

This lyric is a fictionalized version of the real 1880 vaudeville staple, “The Fountain in the Park” (usually known as “While Strolling Through the Park One Day”). This number serves both as a J.J.’s famous signature song from decades ago, but also as a postmodern song-and-dance that slyly, almost subliminally, describes the danger of New York nightlife. The nostalgic music and choreography work ironically against the deceptively dark lyric, which literally describes the brutality taking place during the song, as Lt. Kello and his thugs beat Dallas unconscious. You just don’t notice that’s what it’s doing…

J.J. starts the song, with a startlingly honest intro:

Magicians always tell you
They’ve got nothing up their sleeve,
But why would someone tell you that,
Unless it’s to deceive?
There’s always been a lie
To misdirect the eye,
Since Adam did his magic tricks for Eve.

Here, the song itself is the magic trick – the music and dance misdirect us from the dark, violent content of the lyric.

Don’t ever trust a gent
Who pulls a bird from someone’s ear,
Who makes his living
Making you believe that he’s sincere.
He’s looking for a chump,
Expectin’ you to jump,
When he pours on all the charm and says,
“I need a volunteer.”

Underscoring continues as Sidney and Kello arrange the beating of Dallas over the phone. Dallas is the chump, the lyric is telling us, the “volunteer.” And J.J. is the guy “who makes his living making you believe that he’s sincere.” It’s both a conventional song and it isn’t, at the same time. This is the territory of the neo musical comedy, the new form that uses the conventions of old-school musical comedy for more ironic, more socio-political aims. Sweet Smell of Success is not a neo musical comedy – it’s a thriller – but this number works on the same principle.

J.J. sings the first verse now, surrounded by a chorus.

Don’t look now
But somethin’ that you had is gone.
It’s somethin’ you depend upon.
Don’t look now…

Is J.J. talking to Dallas? Or Sidney…? Or is it a warning to the rest of us? Maybe it’s the writers reminding us that everyone loses in this story. And in life…

Take a bow;
Someone made a fool of you.
You’re standin’ there without a clue.
Don’t look now…

Again, which of J.J.’s victims is the object of this? Or is it all of J.J.’s victims, and all his victims to come…? Everybody (else) is a patsy…

He took you to the cleaners,
Don’t you know.
He walked you like a dog,
The so and so…

Say “bow wow,”
A piece of what you had is gone;
The magic act goes on and on.
You’re wonderin’ when, where and how?
Well, don’t look now.

The magic act – J.J.’s column and the power it brings with it – goes on and on. Both the opening and closing numbers tell us that “on and on and on it goes…” The closing also tells us, “There no end to the column…”

There’s a short dialogue scene in which Sidney lies to Dallas to get him to the docks, where Kello will beat him up. The chorus continues the song, with a lyric that mixes the benign with the sinister, set to a sweet, swinging, old-fashioned softshoe:

Strolling along the avenue,
Cutting across the park,
Rushing to make a rendezvous,
You could become a mark.
Somehow the magic will find you,
Find you alone in the dark.

You could become the “mark,” the sucker, the victim of a con or a crime, alone in the dark. Are Kello and his goons “the magic [that] will find you”…?

Maybe we get to pick our spots,
Maybe we choose the date,
Maybe we get to call the shots,
Maybe it’s up to fate.
Somehow the magic will find you,
Find you alone,
Alone in the dark.

Are they talking about dying…?? Is this a threat…?

Don’t look now,
But somethin’ that you had is gone;
The magic act goes on and on.
You never know when where and how…

Now we start to wonder if “somethin’ that you had” is your health or even your life, as Kello and his Goon beat Dallas to the beat of the music, while the chorus continues:

He’ll make your bunny disappear
Along with your hat;
He’ll saw your girl in half,
And then he’ll leave her like that.

What the fuck…?

So don’t look…
Don’t look…
Don’t look now!

Don’t look, he says, because if we pay attention, people like J.J. can’t get away with nearly as much. The whole script and score are this rich, this complex, this subtle, this beautifully crafted. It’s been such a joy working on this show! I love my job!

Long Live the Musical!
from The Bad Boy of Musical Theatre

Icona Pop Celebrate Female Empowerment On New Joyous Single, ‘Girls Girls’!

Fear not, the ladies of Icona Pop are still at it (thankfully)!

Since breaking out with This is… Icona Pop in 2013, the talented Swedish duo – Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt – have been in the habit of releasing one-off singles every few months. Last year, they dropped four tracks: “Someone Who Can Dance,” “Brightside,” the Louis the Child-assisted “Weekend,” and “Windows” with Felix Snow.

This week, Icona finally deliver their first new single of 2017, the unapologetically fun “GIRLS GIRLS” – an uplifting, summertime bop that sees them putting their signature chanty vocal stamp over a tropical, four-on-the-floor drum progression and charted vocal samples. “Girls, girls, wanna feel it/ Hearts pumping, overheated/ Girls, girls, live and breathe it/ Hearts broken million times, around/ We dance it off/ Girls, girls, wanna feel it/ Never get enough (yeah),” Icona declare on the hook.

It’s all about the joys of being, well, girls – a female empowerment anthem of sorts, yes, with even more additive melodies than your typical dance-pop affair. WELCOME BACK LADIES!

“Girls Girls” by Icona Pop is also available on Apple Music and Spotify!

from Jon ALi’s Blog

ALMA Teams Up With Martin Solveig On Shimmering Dance Anthem, ‘All Stars’!

Calling all stars, the summer jams are pouring in on this lovely #NewMusicFriday!

My girl ALMA, whose be burning up the dancefloor with her very own “Chasing Highs” and “Don’t You Feel It” with Sub Focus, is back at it again with yet another fierce collaboration: “All Stars” with Martin Solveig!

The bright, and shimmering dance-pop track is the official follow-up to the French producer’s Ina Wroldsen-assisted single “Places,” which manged to be his highest-charting single since 2015’s “Intoxicated.” The song offers up a more familiar aesthetic from Martin‘s back catalog (see “Hello” and “Hey Now“), as ALMA‘s full-bodied voice stretches and soars to glorious heights in the verses before coming back down to the ground for the thumping post-chorus drop.

We all stars, we are one/ We light up the night like a black sun/ We all shine, we are chrome/ And we are shimmering/ Come on, come on y’all (hey),” ALMA sings on the infectious hook. “We all stars, we are one/ We light up the night like a black sun/ We all shine, we are chrome/ And we are shimmering/ Turn on, turn on (turn on)…

It’s a welcome return-to-form for Martin and another outstanding vocal feature for ALMA, as he continues her worldwide takeover with various collaborators. LOVE! LOVE!

“All Stars (feat. Alma)” by Martin Solveig is also available on Apple Music!

from Jon ALi’s Blog

DJ Khaled Brings The Summer Heat With Rihanna & Bryson Tiller On ‘Wild Thoughts’!


Before releasing his star-studded Grateful album next week, DJ Khaled rolls out the highly-anticipated music video for “Wild Thoughts,” his steamy collaboration with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller!

Shot in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, the Colin Tilley-directed clip boasts a hot summer night vibe throughout as RiRi, Khaled and Bryson carry that motif with their colorful outfits and, transporting us to a warm and joyous Floridian night.

Wild, wild, wild/ Wild, wild, wild thoughts/ Wild, wild, wild/ When I’m with you, all I get is wild thoughts,” RiRi repeats throughout the smooth summer grove, which samples the 1999 Carlos Santana smash “Maria Maria.” Really, the song and music video is a big homage to “Maria Maria” (with fresher beats, obvi), and I really ain’t mad at it at all. A solid jam that without a doubt will be embedded into our brains all summer long… WIN!

“Wild Thoughts (feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller)” is also available on Spotify and Apple Music!

from Jon ALi’s Blog

Calvin Harris Catches ‘Feels’ With Katy Perry, Pharrell & Big Sean On Island-Light Bop!

Calvin Harris has been slowly revealing cuts from his forthcoming star-studded album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 single by single. So far, we’ve heard the Frank Ocean and Migos-assisted “Slide,” the throwback “Heatstroke” with Pharrell, Young Thug, and Ariana Grande, and most recently the Future and Khalid-led “Rollin” – And as promised, they’ve all been sonically designed to make you feel fucking incredible.

The latest called “Feels” brings together Pharrell, Big Sean, and Katy Perry to give fans another star-studded banger. It’s another feel-good, summertime jam that follows a similar structure to that of “Heatstroke“; Calvin‘s laid-back production backs Pharrell‘s soulful verses and provides proper aid to Katy‘s brief hook much in the same way as the composition of “Heatstroke” complemented Young Thug‘s verses and Ariana‘s quick melody. The only minor difference with “Feels” is that it infuses a more sun-kissed, island-lite soundscape than its predecessors.

Don’t be afraid to catch feels/ Raindrop carved thrills, (yeah)/ I know you ain’t afraid about this/ Baby I know you ain’t scared to catch feels/ Feels with me,” Katy croons. While I was expecting something a bit more grand from such big names, I do kind of love the subtly of it all.

Feels” caught, indeed!

“Feels (feat. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry & Big Sean)” is also available on Apple Music and Spotify!

from Jon ALi’s Blog

Demi Lovato Takes The Lead On Jax Jones’ Latest Club Smasher, ‘Instruction’!

Step one: Report to the dance floor!

It’s always reassuring to see a newcomer rise above an initial hit. For the London-based Jax Jones, his breakout Duke Dumont collaboration “I Got U” could’ve been a one-time smash hit, but the fresh faced talent has kept his light shining bright with a consistent run of fresh original material and remixes galore.

Following “House Work” with Mike Dunn and MNEK and the RAYE-assisted “You Don’t Know Me,” his latest called “Instruction” finds Jax upping the ante on Summer 2017, collaborating with UK rapper Stefflon Don and the one and only Demi Lovato.

This marks the second time Demi has teamed up with an EDM act this year, the first being “No Promises” with Los Angeles-based trio Cheat Codes – is it too soon to call her Queen of Dance Collabs?

Instruction” is an infectious club smasher that effortlessly blends Demi‘s strong pop sensibilities with Jax‘s own uplifting blend of melodic house music. “All my ladies!/ Wind to the left, sway to the right/ Drop it down low and take it back high/ Bitch, I don’t need introduction/ Follow my simple instruction,” Demi declares over the island-lite, House pulsations.

Teaming up with a rising UK DJ-producer is easily one of the smartest moves Demi has made yet, and the song is a total winner – GET INTO IT!

“Instruction (feat. Demi Lovato & Stefflon Don)” by Jax Jones is also available on Spotify and Apple Music!

from Jon ALi’s Blog

Majid Jordan Remain Loyal With PartyNextDoor On Sultry New Tune, ‘One I Want’!

Majid Jordan: Round II is coming!

Following the release of the a-little-more-personal “Phases” in May, the Toronto duo – Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman – are already back at it with the official follow-up called “One I Want,” which finds them linking up with their fellow OVO Sound family member PARTYNEXTDOOR!

Blending both of their signature styles seamlessly, MJ and PND provide us with a potential summer anthem on the subtle yet effective production, which finds them reflecting on their current success, while declaring their loyalty to a former love. “Fifty bands later you the one I want/ Hundred bands later you the one I want/ Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh/ Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh,” they croon across the thumbing, synth progressions and spaced out drum beats, giving plenty of room for their smooth vocals to shine.

It’s a chilled-out summertime affair, more sunny-day-by-the-pool than banger-on-the-dance-floor, if you will – and what it lacks in immediate impact is without a doubt made up for in replay value. I am very here for it.

“One I Want (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR)” by Majid Jordan is also available on Spotify and Apple Music!

from Jon ALi’s Blog