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!

Keith Emerson

The sad news today is that Keith Emerson, spearhead of the legendary trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer, has died aged 71.

The group could be regarded as the original pirates of classical music, taking pieces by Sibelius, Prokofiev, Bach, Bartók and – famously – Musorgsky‘s Pictures at an Exhibition, reworking them affectionately for rock band and a new audience.

By way of tribute, here they are in their most famous arrangement of all, Copland‘s Fanfare for the Common Man:

A full appreciation of Emerson’s achievements, especially with regard to his use of classical music, will follow in due course.

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 0’43”:

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: