Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Songs #308 and 309 - It's Wednesday, but it's also TWOsday!

Song #308 of 9999                                                Song #309 of 9999

Title: Russians                                                       Title: I Believe in Father Christmas
Artist: Sting                                                             Artist: Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Year: 1985                                                              Year: 1975
Album: The Dream of the Blue Turtles                Album: N/A - single release only

Drat drat drat! I hate when I miss an opportunity with my blog. A few weeks ago, I posted two songs by Green Day recorded ten years apart and called it "Transition Monday." I could have done the same thing with the two songs I'm featuring today but I didn't think of it. So okay, I could just feature them together on TWOsday, right? But that was yesterday and I used two Marillion songs from the same album—WEAK. *sigh*

So okay, what's the connection between "Russians" and "I Believe in Father Christmas"? It's Sergei Prokofiev of course! Melodies quoted from the Russian composer's 1934 film score for the Soviet film Lieutenant Kijé show up in both of these hits.

For Sting's lament on the Cold War, he borrows a solemn melody from the second movement of the five-movement concert suite called "Romance." Prokofiev wrote the melody while living in Paris but finding himself longing for his homeland. (He would move back to Russia in 1936.) Unlike the angular melodies and shifting tonality of his early works, the melodies in Kijé are lyrical and contained. Sting uses the melody as a bit of propaganda, tugging at the listener's heartstrings while having just sung the line "I hope the Russians love their children too." In 1985, this seemed like a bold statement; now, it seems kind of cold-hearted and crass. It's one thing when your synth patches sound dated, but what happens when your message follows suit? Perhaps if the USA and its allies had helped the countries of the Soviet Union land on their feet instead of letting them fall into poverty, this song could have a more positive legacy.

Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas," recorded several times over the years as a solo work and with his bandmates Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, utilizes the primary melody from movement four of Lt. Kijé, the "Troika." A troika is a sleigh pulled by three horses or a Russian dance involving a man and two women who mimic the movements of horses pulling a sleigh. The melody has become strongly associated with Christmas and Lake uses it to good effect in his song, also a lament, about the commercialization of Christmas. Despite its triumphant ending and Lake's wish for all to have a Happy Christmas, he ends the song by grumping "the Christmas you get you deserve." Heh.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome perception of tying these two songs together. I know I was profoundly touched by Sting's Russian's song when it first came out due to the strained relationship we had with the Soviet's. In 1986 Genesis came out Land of Confusion which only added to the paranoia of possible imminent war. It seemed we were always hearing of someone defecting into U.S. My favorite ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, became a U.S. citizen in 1986. I can definitely hear Sergei Prokofiev's - Troika/Romance (from Lieutenant Kije Suite, Op. 60)in Sting's song. Thank you too for pointing out another Russian composer to someone who knows more about "pop" music and less about Russian classical (except for the more familiar Russian composers i.e Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky.) The only epic Russian movie I have ever seen was Dr. Zhivago (extraordinary cinematography). However, Lara's Theme was written by a French Composer ~so that doesn't even count.