Music: Godzilla’s greatest hits
Free Press Music Columnist
The latest incarnation of “Godzilla” hits cinemas exactly one week from today. And, as the most famous “daikaiju” (a word which, I know, sounds like a sneeze, but is actually Japanese for “giant monster”) wreaks destruction on the world anew, it will be Alexander Desplat musically accompanying countless tiny, screaming humans going SPLAT! under the big lizard’s foot. Desplat may seem like an odd choice to compose music for “Godzilla,” being better known for his almost genteel scores for thoughtful motion pictures like “Philomena,” “The King’s Speech” and the last three Wes Anderson films. But whatever his pedigree, Desplat joins an illustrious and sundry group of musicians who have provided Music to Destroy Tokyo By.
It was iconic Japanese composer Akira Ifukube who delivered the stentorian chords that underscored the radioactive monster’s original stomp through town in Ishiro Honda’s original “Gojira,” which first seared its way into the Japanese imagination in 1954. (The film would have similar effect on the American psyche two years later, when it was released on this side of the Pacific as “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!,” with footage of actor Raymond Burr appended.) Ifukube (who would have been 100 this year) didn’t just provide music for Godzilla — he gave the big guy his distinctive roar, by running a contrabass through a primitive amplifier.
When Godzilla was resurrected by Roland Emmerich for his much-hated 1998 revival, British composer (and frequent Emmerich collaborator) David Arnold was the man tasked with providing monster music. Nowadays, you can hear Arnold’s music in TV shows like “Sherlock” or films such as “Paul.”
Of course, Blue Oyster Cult had a daikaiju-sized hit with their song, “Godzilla,” in 1977. Originally found on their fifth album, “Spectres,” “Godzilla” was co-written by famed rock critic Richard Meltzer, and echoes the anti-nuclear weapon subtext of the Godzilla films in lyrics like:
“History shows again and again
how nature points up the folly of men.”
Canadian satirists, the Arrogant Worms, aimed for comedy when they penned their look at Godzilla’s effect on romance in “Tokyo Love Story,” from their 1994 album, “Russell’s Shorts.” The song is sung from the point of view of a fellow whose girlfriend has just been stepped on by Godzilla:
“Our love was so true,
but now shes 3’2”
and she used to be 5’11”.
Her death was unintentional,
but now shes two-dimensional.
My angel is truly in heaven.
She’s the one I’d kiss and hug
‘til she was crushed like a bug.
I guess it’s hard to
see a monster above you.
She said she’d save her heart for me,
but now it’s there for all to see.
And her last words to me
were: I — aaaaargh!”
Rapper Pharoahe Monch found himself on the bad side of Godzilla — or at least, the lawyers representing the creature’s original studio, Toho — when he used an unlicensed sample from Ifukube’s “Godzilla Theme Song” in his biggest hit, 1999’s “Simon Says.” Monch was forced to remove the sample from further pressings of his debut solo album, “Internal Affairs,” which is nowadays out of print anyway, thanks to a feud between the artist and Geffen Records. Apparently, rap albums, unlike giant, radioactive reptiles, sometimes don’t come back.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog. He also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog: http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog. You may find him on Facebook as well.
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