Get Bach!
The Baronics
1996

Nothing says “respectable,” “significant,” and “serious” like classical music. And nothing says “pretentious,” “turgid,” and “snorefest” like rock musicians taking classical out for a spin. Need convincing? Let’s examine the evidence:

J’accuse!
Exhibit A: The radioactive remains of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” after Emerson, Lake & Palmer
blew it up real good.
Exhibit B: Just about everything else by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Exhibit C: Paul McCartney’s 1991 Liverpool Oratorio. Only Yoko liked it.
Exhibit D: Any doofus with an electric guitar who thought it would be cool to eviscerate Ravel’s Bolero.

I don’t know which band in rock’s distant past was the first to fall down this mine shaft, but I’ll bet it wasn’t Black Sabbath.

Can rock and classical ever make nice?
You betcha. The Canadians solved this problem in 1996/Les Canadiens dénouér ce problème dans 1996. In that year the Canadian surf quartet The Baronics released a selection of pop tunes from the Classical and Romantic eras, arranged for the reverberating surf guitar we older teenagers recall so fondly from “Walk Don’t Run” and “Wipe Out!”

The Baronics fearlessly tackled five of the baddest boys in the classical-music game, resulting in a totally whacked, straight-up sick party record. (Just kidding. Don’t play this thing at parties, after the first laugh subsides people won’t know what to do with themselves.) Here’s the set list, with some helpful notes on the composers for those Run-DMSteve readers who are still listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. And I know who you are.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Nearest contemporaries: Talking Heads
What Vivaldi would be doing today: Martha Stewart stunt double

Vivaldi is best known for The Four Seasons. When this experimental double LP of violin concertos was released in 1725, critics called it La Album Bianco. Concerto No. 1 in E Major, “Spring,” is the perfect introduction to the Baronical approach. “Spring” is not too fast, not too slow, and not too crowded; you can hear all the moving parts. You’ll enjoy the delicious solo in the middle and the steady Ringo-like drumming.

Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, “Summer,” showcases the band’s furious two-guitar attack. Actually, The Baronics’ two-guitar attack can best be described as “affable,” but compared to their usual work this track is furious.

Concerto No. 3 in F Major, “Autumn,” would fit right in at a luau on Kauai. It features two saxophone breaks, almost 20 seconds of pure Clarence Clemons/Born in the USA­-style playing. (Twenty seconds may not sound like a lot, but this piece isn’t even three minutes long. Antonio would’ve been amazed.)

As for Concerto No. 4 in F Minor, “Winter,” this is where you’ll learn to air-baton.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Nearest contemporaries: The Beatles
What Mozart would be doing today: Running Apple

Dave Brubeck has already given Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca a good jazzercizing, and of course The Beach Boys turned it into “Help Me, Rhonda.” This new version will keep your foot tapping, though the guitarists barely meet Mozart’s hectic pace and the drummer gets left several laps behind. Big finish, though. What we really needed here was a guest appearance by one of the master thrash-metal outfits. Megadeath would’ve done nicely, though I’m afraid if they had shown up for this session they would’ve killed and eaten The Baronics afterwards.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Nearest contemporaries: U2
What Bach would be doing today: Dividing the Lutheran Church

Bach, who couldn’t resist a practical joke, wrote his Inventions to torture his students. Kudos to The Baronics for choosing the trickiest Inventions, 1 and 13, bypassing the sissy-pants 2 through 12. The boys heroically rise to the challenge; even the drummer almost does well. In your face, Bach! W00t!

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
Nearest contemporary: Bobby McFerrin
What Pachelbel would be doing today: Only Oakland Raider who never breaks curfew

You know Pachelbel’s Kanon. You hear it at every wedding you go to, even the ones where the bride and groom are dressed as Klingons. Hearing The Baronics play the Kanon makes you realize how beautiful this tune is. This isn’t just a track off another obscure CD, this is a public service.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Nearest contemporary: Beck
What Beethoven would be doing today: Amy Winehouse

This is the only spot where Get Bach! falters, but the problem isn’t the band, it’s their choice of music. Beethoven wrote his Moonlight Sonata for a woman he was in love with. Sounds promising, but I have to wonder if Ludwig really knew his target market. How many women would be willing to engage in sex on top of a piano after hearing this doleful crawl through the dark? It’s tough enough listening to the Moonlight Sonata while someone tries to belt it out on the piano. Giving it the surf treatment only thickens the claustrophobia.

Mozart reprise
Forget Beethoven and his ideas on how to approach chicks. Surf and Mozart go together like Lego bricks! Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 as translated by The Baronics is more fun than catching a wave and shootin’ the pipe in front of a beach full of babelinis.

Bach reprise
The Bourrée was a dance the French did in their 17th-century mosh pits. Seems tame to us, but back then Bach’s Bourrée terrorized the Church and plunged Europe into the Dark Ages. The Baronics end this good-natured album with their good-natured version of the Bourrée, and even throw in some genuine English/French yelling. Bravissimo, Baronics!

In a future post we’ll discuss classical’s attempts to assimilate rock and roll, including string-quartet tributes to everything from The Cure to Pink Floyd and the endless Hooked on Classics series of disco drum-machine freakouts (which, wouldn’t you know, can all be traced back to Electric Light Orchestra).

Until then, appassionato non troppo!

Comments
  1. Laurel says:

    This is brilliant and hilarious. The Baronics were wise to stay away from Ravel’s Bolero, which, IMHO, is deserving of evisceration.

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