Heat Miser vs. Jesus
January 1, 2009 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Hi, this is Mr_Zero's daughter. I just listened to King Herod's Song from Jesus Christ Superstar. Recently, my dad had me watch The Year Without Santa Claus which features two catchy tunes by the Miser brothers. Is it me or does King Herod's Song sound just like a double speed Miser song? I have limited music understanding as I have only played violin for 4 years. However, the two songs sound very much alike to me. Has anybody else made this correlation?
posted by Mr_Zero to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Oops. Here are the two songs.

King Herod's Song

Heat Miser's Song
posted by Mr_Zero at 6:55 PM on January 1, 2009

What a cool question! I don't have a large music theory background, but I'd call them both vaudeville. Compare this, for example.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:07 PM on January 1, 2009

- or probably also inspired by ragtime.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:09 PM on January 1, 2009

I was ready to pounce on Andrew Lloyd Webber because Waters of Pink Floyd accused him of plagiarizing (comparison on youtube). But it appears that Jesus Christ Superstar debuted in 1971 and the Christmas special during the 74 holiday season. The film version of Superstar came in 73. I would say it is the other way around, and it looks heavily "borrowed" but I wouldn't go so far as to say it was actionable plagiarism, just lazy.
posted by geoff. at 7:18 PM on January 1, 2009

I learned the entire score (bass) for a theatrical production of JCSS and to me, King Herod's song always brings to mind Billy Joel's Dont Ask Me Why.

Like Solon and Thanks mentions, I attributed it to the Vaudeville gimmick as well, rather than Billy Joel blatantly ripping off the score from JCSS.
posted by jtoth at 7:19 PM on January 1, 2009

I really don't see either plagiarizing/being lazy. They're just borrowing from the same musical traditions - they're similar in the same way two baroque pieces are, and probably sound copied if you haven't heard a lot of the vaudevilley ragtime style. I had a ragtime piano book, and I can see strong similarities.

Both the Heat Miser song and Herod's are referred to as ragtimes on google searches. There might be a more specific genre they fit into, but I can't name it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:28 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

As Solon says, both songs are evoking the same musical style/genre, but that's about it.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:39 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

"When I'm Sixty-Four" has a similar feel. I agree with those chalking it up to an old-timey pastiche.
posted by lore at 7:48 PM on January 1, 2009

Solon is correct. The feel of the songs is similar, they're both two-beat vaudeville show tunes. But the chords (the harmonic structure) and the melodies are different. So it's not plagarism at all, they're just similar stylistically.
posted by pianoboy at 7:55 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also think it's a similarity of genre, both songwriters drawing on the vaudeville tradition in this specific song style, which seems to be called "ragtime two-step."

It is a bigger phenomenon than just a similarity between two songs. I can remember that ragtime song style wasn't that unusual in the early 70s at all. There was a bit of a trend for a ragtime/vaudeville revival - perhaps because vaudeville was fairly recent and influential in the family memory and family history of the people in the creative culture at the time. "When I'm Sixty-Four" is a really interesting example to note, because McCartney's father had been a music-hall ragtime piano player in this stage-song tradition. He grew up hearing the music, as did many other people who entered show business as performers, singers, and writers, so it's not too surprising people in their middle age in the 70s would be drawing parodically on the music they could remember as being the established popular tradition of their childhood. Think of the movie "The Sting," which sent Scott Joplin's then fifty-some-year-old recording of The Entertainer to the top of the Billboard charts, or even the Muppet Show - the theme itself, but also the entire show, which was a Vaudeville pastiche in istelf, and characters like Ralph the Dog (the world-weary piano player) and Fozzie the Bear (the comedian with the slapstick shtick). Woody Allen used a lot of ragtime in the soundtracks to his movies in the 70s and early 80s (the 1969 trailer for Take the Money and Run uses some, at the end). Heck, you could barely get through an episode of "Laverne & Shirley" or "The Carol Burnett Show" without seeing a self-consciously Vaudevillian top-hat-and-tails tap routine.

Some other things found along the search for 70s ragtime links...
Ragtime from a Tony telecast featuring the musical Ragtime from 1998, based on a 1975 novel by EL Doctorow.
Tony Orlando's New Ragtime Follies album compiles songs from his TV appearances and other recordings in the ragtime style.
posted by Miko at 9:36 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, it gets much grainier. It's really interesting how ragtime got to be so trendy in the early 70s. From a 2003 book called Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History," by Edward Berlin, we get this quick summary at the end under the heading Ragtime Reclaimed"
Through most of the revival period ragtime was sustained by a coterie of diehard fans, record collectors, and devotees of traditional jazz and honky-tonk piano. In 1971, it conquered a segment of the classical public, a public already disposed to value the art of past eras. For most Americans, however, ones whose grandparents had been the music's major support, ragtime was only a quaint, old-fashioned novelty. Before the mid-seventies were reached, however, ragtime was reclaimed by the masses.

Ragtime's return to the public is no less remarkable than its acceptance by the classical world, and the phenomena are linked. Shortly after the Rifkin recording and the Scott Joplin edition stirred interest in ragtime, Gunther Schuller - composer, performer of classical music and jazz, and director of the New England Conservatory of Music - obtained a copy of the Red Back Book, a ragtime-era collection of stock band arrangements and piano rags by Joplin and several others....in 1973 Schuller performed and recorded selections with some of his students, a group called the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble. A movie producer, hearing the Schuller and Rifkin recordings, was intrigued by the fresh "new" sound and decided to use Joplin rags in his film The Sting, a fortuitous, if inappropriate, decision. ("Inappropriate" because the music evokes the atmosphere of a period quite different from the film's 1936 scenario. A result has been that to most people today ragtime represents the late 1920s and 30s). The film won numerous awards in 1974, including "Best Picture of the Year" and "Best Musical Score," and with the awards came an undreamed-of mass acclaim for Scott Joplin's music. For much of 1974 Scott Joplin's The Entertainer was on the popular best-selling charts, anachronistically appearing alongside the current rock hits. It was heard everywhere - on radio, in supermarkets, in TV commercials, on concert stages, from the practice room of virtually every piano student in America. In its wake came a host of other rags...for a while in the 1970s, they all played ragtime.
How interesting! This jibes with my memory perfectly - as a kid in the 70s, I knew how to plunk out only a couple piano tunes - Heart and Soul and The Entertainer.

This question intrigued me because I could hear the similarity, too, and sort of knew that these song styles shared common roots and were popular around the same time, but didn't imagine any starting points quite as specific - nor had I ever connected the dots to see that these musical styles were part of a much broader cultural revival of turn-of-the-century entertainment forms and styles in the early 1970s. This has really helped me get a better grip on that time period, from a musical-history standpoint.

I have limited music understanding as I have only played violin for 4 years.

And yet, you have a pretty formidable ear for aesthetics to be able to notice what is a very real stylistic connection based on only two examples. You heard the hallmarks of a style and now it's in historical context - from there on, you're into the realm of dissertation-type work. I'd say that's pretty good musical understanding.
posted by Miko at 10:17 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Vaudeville + '70s musicals? You could also link this to "All for the Best" from Godspell (musical 1970-1971, movie 1973) -- wait until it speeds up around 1:52.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:59 PM on January 2, 2009

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