December 14, 2013

Musical Influences: From Louis Armstrong to Radiohead

Radiohead Louis Armstrong1

If you’re anything like me, you often wonder where your favorite artists get inspiration from, what artists they listen to and try to emulate.  When I learned not too long ago that Radiohead’s heartbreaking, beautiful song, “Life in a Glass House” from their 2001 album, Amnesiac, was largely inspired by Louis Armstrong’s rendition of the classic “St. James Infirmary“, I essentially flipped out.  Radiohead and jazz?  Radiohead and Louis Armstrong?  Alternative rock and classy, “old people” music?  I was indeed surprised.  But, as I am learning, Radiohead — and many other favorite artists of mine — have incredibly eclectic tastes in music.  After all, we’re talking about a band who have cited The Pixies, Phil Spector, Charlie Mingus, and, yes, Louis Armstrong, as influences.  For “Life in a Glass House“, in particular, one can hear the underlying, whimper-like trumpet as heard in that old Armstrong song.  In both pieces, the trumpet is, in fact, like a cat perhaps purring along and looking down on the sad tales that are being told.  These are “heavy” works, not the more rock-oriented, slamming works of Radiohead such as “15 Step” or even “Optimistic“, nor like Armstrong’s later classic, “What a Wonderful World“.  No, these are rather somber sounds, ones that, just on first listen, find their way into the listener’s insides and wrench them in all sorts of way.  However, if you haven’t ever heard them (or not in a while), they demand a listen, preferably side-by-side, as their sheer musicianship will utterly amaze you.

Here’s Armstrong’s rendition of “St. James Infirmary“:

And Radiohead’s “Life in a Glass House“:

ALSO, some Radiohead-related news:  Jonny Greenwood’s complete score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s challenging, perhaps-not-perfect but ultimately beautiful film, The Master, is now available.  It’s somewhat haunting stuff but, like the two tracks above, great:

Listen to the entire score here

By Zach Weg


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