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The Late Movies: Happy Birthday Liberace, Jonathan Richman, Krist Novoselic, Janet Jackson, Richard Page, Robert Fripp, Boyd Tinsley, and "Pet Sounds"

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Today happens to be the birthday of tons of famous musicians. Here's a little roundup of tunes by Liberace, Jonathan Richman, Krist Novoselic, Janet Jackson, Richard Page, Robert Fripp, Boyd Tinsley, and The Beach Boys (whose album "Pet Sounds" was released today in 1966). Other notable musical birthdays today -- unfortunately left out of this wrapup -- include Pervis Jackson of The Spinners, Billy Cobham, Barbara Lee of The Chiffons, Simon Katz of Jamiroquai, and Ralph Tresvant of New Edition. I'm telling you, May 16 is some kind of mega-birthday for musicians. Enjoy:

V?adziu Valentino Liberace - 1919

In this 1978 show, Liberace performs "Blue Danube" in Las Vegas, with the colorful Dancing Waters behind him. Sparkly.

Jonathan Richman - 1951

I saw a YouTube comment that summed Richman up nicely: "Either you love Jonathan Richman or you've never heard of him." My favorite song of his is "Vincent Van Gogh." Here's an early version, performed with The Modern Lovers live in Toronto. The sound quality isn't great, but the dancing and 80s sweater are fantastic. See also: this version from "Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love." I prefer the version on the hard-to-find "Rockin' and Romance."

Krist Novoselic - 1965

Novoselic was Nirvana's bassist, and he wrote ultra-catchy bass lines for songs like "Lounge Act," "Heart-Shaped Box," and my favorite, "Sliver." When I was in high school, this was the go-to bass line you learned when you first got your hands on a bass:

Janet Jackson - 1966

Remember this one? You thought I was going to post "Rhythm Nation," but no, I totally went back-catalogue to "What Have You Done For Me Lately":

Richard Page (Mr. Mister) - 1953

Page was the lead singer and bassist for Mr. Mister. It was a real tossup trying to choose between "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings" to post here. I guess "Broken Wings" is the canonical Mr. Mister song, though, so here goes:

Robert Fripp - 1946

Fripp is best known as the only permanent member of King Crimson, though he did amazing work with David Bowie and Brian Eno (among many, many others). Two highlights: he played the iconic lead guitar line on Bowie's "Heroes" and the guitar solo for Eno's "Baby's On Fire." Here's a solo performance of Fripp's "Soundscapes" -- give it a few minutes to get going:

Boyd Tinsley - 1964

Tinsley is best known as the violinist for Dave Matthews Band, though he's been a musical fixture of Charlottesville, Virginia for decades. In "Ants Marching," the second single from DMB's "Under the Table and Dreaming," Tinsley's violin line forms the primary riff, and he takes frequent opportunities to solo. Check out this live performance from Central Park:

The Beach Boys - "Wouldn't It Be Nice" - 1966

Today also happens to mark the release of The Beach Boys' seminal "Pet Sounds" album in 1966. My favorite cut from that record is "Wouldn't It Be Nice"; here's a video set to outtakes of the recording session, explaining how the complex arrangement came together:

See also: "Wouldn't It Be Nice" used in "Roger & Me" to terrific effect. Amazingly, May 16, 1966 also saw the release of Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde." A good day for music.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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