The Borrowers – Robbie Williams: Party Like A Russian

What tune does it use?

The Dance of the Knights from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet.

Arguably Prokofiev’s most famous piece of music, Romeo and Juliet has some fantastic music and tunes – and the Dance of the Knights is one of its most impressive calling cards. It has recently gained extra exposure as the opening titles for the BBC programme The Apprentice.

How does it work?

Williams uses the two heavy bass notes from the start to power the chorus:

A bigger sample gets used for the first chorus:

Then some snippets from later in the dance are incorporated:

The Prokofiev material appears to be replayed throughout, and Robbie adds a big male chorus for some bits, but unfortunately the bluster of verse and chorus, plus some really clunky rhyming (Russian – concussion!), mean the song itself is relatively unmemorable. The posturing in the video takes away from the music – of which Prokofiev’s contribution is arguably the most memorable.

What else is new?

Williams made far more effective use of a sample in his UK no.1 hit from 1998 Millennium, where a loop of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice tied together with a beat and a much more memorable chorus:

Prokofiev is no stranger to pop music, and has been used by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on a number of occasions. Here is their slightly foursquare take on the Dance of the Knights:

A much more effective Prokofiev transcription can be found with their transcription of the Scythian Suite – its second movement, The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits:

Where can I hear more Prokofiev?

The playlist below gives an introduction to Prokofiev’s symphonies and includes his Classical Symphony and Symphony no.5 – with brilliant tunes at every turn:

The second album is music for the stage, a brilliant collection under Claudio Abbado that includes Alexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kije (with the brilliant Sleigh Ride as used by Greg Lake!) and the Scythian Suite:

Let’s also not forget Peter and the Wolf…here voiced by none other than Alice Cooper in a new version!

The Borrowers Christmas Special – Greg Lake: I Believe in Father Christmas

 

What tune does it use?

The Sleigh Ride (or Troika from Prokofiev‘s score for the 1934 film Lieutenant Kijé.

How does it work?

Lake lifts the entire melody and uses it at the end of the first verse, from 0’50”:

Then after the second verse the tune appears once more :

Finally after the third verse we hear it again, by which time the song has built through a crescendo with a sizable orchestra and chorus:

 

Here is the original:

 

and here it is when the tune really gets going:

 

What else is new?

Prokofiev is a popular composer for lovers of pop music, and it is quite possible you hear his music more often than you realise. His Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet, for instance, has been used as the theme for the BBC show The Apprentice since it started in 2005:

 

Greg Lake, of course, is no stranger to arranging or manipulating classical music. Here is arguably his most famous piece of work in that area, the rocking out of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man as part of Emerson, Lake & Palmer:

The Borrowers – The Orb: Little Fluffy Clouds

 

What tune does it use?

The third section of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint.

Ask any electronic musician worth their salt who their greatest influences are and the chances are it won’t be long before they come round to mentioning Steve Reich – which our interview with John Tejada has already confirmed!

Reich’s talent for taking pop-friendly melodies and looping them almost to breaking point (a technique often labelled as minimalism) has been one of the single biggest influences on electronic music up to this point, especially in techno, which often uses similar principles of repetition and expansion.

How does it work?

The Orb use a direct sample of the first recording of Reich’s Electronic Counterpoint, a piece written for guitarist Pat Metheny in 1987. He recorded it by setting down seven channels of guitar loops and two of bass guitar, before playing along as a tenth ‘person’. Yet The Orb place this music in context with a beautiful dub bass line and a host of ambient sound effects, most notably a clip of an interview with Rickie Lee Jones. The section of music they lift from Reich comes from the third section of Electric Counterpoint:

The Orb sample it directly here, as the beginning of their ‘chorus’:

and again nearly a minute later:

Here is the whole of the third section from Reich and Metheny, sat in the same key of A major:

 

What else is new?

Little Fluffy Clouds came to symbolize a lot of what was right about the so-called ‘ambient house’ style of the early 1990s, which acted as a springboard for Aphex Twin and a number of today’s leading electronic producers. Reich himself got involved later on, commissioning a remix album from such electronic luminaries as Coldcut, DJ Spooky and Four Tet. Here’s a remix of a section of Reich’s masterpiece Drumming by Mantronik:

The cross-over between Reich and techno goes back a long way too – and one intriguing spot is that Japanese producer Ken Ishii – now a widely respected techno artist – played cello on the first recording of Music for 18 Musicians, made for ECM in 1978. Now if you haven’t heard that particular piece, I suggest you stop what you’re doing right now and watch this!

Or you can go some way to sharing one of the great live experiences in music in this live performance:

Likewise if this is your first encounter with the music of The Orb, I should direct you towards their Top of the Pops performance of the wonderful, peerless Blue Room, heard in edit form below. Definitely the first band to play chess on the program!

The Borrowers – Plan B: Ill Manors

What tune does it use?

A figure from the Symphony no.7 by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, known as the Leningrad Symphony. This massive piece lasts well over an hour but Plan B, who obviously knows it well, takes a brief bit of music from the last of its four movements.

This is an opportunistic sample, the kind the best hip hop and rap artists are very clever at utilising, and Plan B (aka Ben Drew) makes a whole song from it. This is despite using a very small musical figure – only nine notes, with a slightly longer bit of the sample added at the end of each fourth repetition.

There are very few pieces of Shostakovich that have had this treatment so far, partly because the composer died relatively recently (in 1975) and so his music is still well in copyright. That Plan B managed to get permission to use this sample is an impressive achievement in itself – that he went on to build such a fractious song on it is another.

How does it work?

Plan B takes the figure from the Shostakovich symphony in this clip, some five minutes in to the last of four movements:

You can hear that the sound is processed, the softer orchestral sound now much harsher, as though it has been processed to sound rougher and tougher. Plan B uses the nine-note motif to go round and round in circles, adding the extra bit at the end of each musical phrase before adding a big rhythm and bass line at 0’28”:

Then he takes a bigger bit of the Shostakovich, starting at 5’05” in the original:

Then the chorus kicks in. Now the Shostakovich sample is dwarfed by a serrated bass line, the music tense and angry:

Then, at 2’52”, where he says “I’ve had it with you politicians”, the sample is refracted so that you can hardly hear it – but when the chorus kicks in again at 3’16” the raw aggression is back!

This song surely provides the proof – if it were ever needed – that classical music is not comfy and cosy! Plan B uses this for an upfront song that bristles with attitude, and the result is electric.

What else is new?

The Leningrad Symphony is one of Shostakovich’s very biggest orchestral works, it is set in four massive movements (sections) that tell of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, but which also end up as a defiant statement in the face of those horrors.

Take the composer’s depiction of the approaching invasion, about seven minutes in to the symphony, where Shostakovich uses a snare drum in an obsessive and almost unbearable repetition as the orchestra plays a march tune:

Around seven and a half minutes later, the full horror of the army is upon us:

The whole piece can also be heard on Spotify here:

The Borrowers – Village People: Go West

What tune does it use?

The much-loved Canon by the 17th century composer Johann Pachelbel.

Pachelbel (1653-1706) was a composer and organist who seems destined to be celebrated for just one work. He seemed to specialise working in very strict forms such as the chaconne* and the canon, whose rules dictate that once the harmonic progression is heard it must be repeated with almost exact precision for the rest of the piece. What happens above this progression is up to the composer.

This way of working fits in perfectly with pop music, because a lot of pop songs use the same chord progressions throughout – so to make a song over a predetermined chord sequence is a great challenge. The Village People did it in their use of Pachelbel’s Canon:

So did Pet Shop Boys, in their cover of the same song:

Even Kylie Minogue and her production / writing team of Stock Aitken & Waterman used a very similar sequence for the chorus of I Should Be So Lucky. Indeed Pete Waterman went as far as to describe it as ‘almost the godfather of pop music’. Having listened closely the references are not quite as obvious…but Pete’s comment illustrates how it was inevitable Arcana would be mentioning this piece early on!

Yet another pop song to use the chords is an altogether different dance track, The Farm’s 1990 hit All Together Now. It even adopts the same key as the Village People:

How does it work?

It really is as simple as a direct lift of the chord progression from the whole Canon. Village People take the chord structure as outlined in the clip below:

They even keep it in the same key as the original:

What else is new?

The Canon has been arranged for literally hundreds of musical combinations – but it is worth remembering it is not the only piece of note by Pachelbel. Here is his Chaconne in F minor, for instance. Who can spot any pop tune that uses this? I can’t yet…but it wouldn’t sound out of place in a record by any band from the so-called ‘Canterbury scene’!

Glossary

*chaconne – a form of music commonly used in Pachelbel’s time, where a repeated, pre-determined cell of chords and / or bass-line would become the foundation for a whole piece