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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Ink Spots - Jukebox Memories (2003)

There are few videogames that struck a chord with me like Bethesda Softworks’ sublime Fallout 3. The game is stunning both in terms of its ambitious scale, and its unique and bizarre mythology. Though Fallout 3 is set a few hundred years in the future, in the post-nuclear wasteland surrounding Washington DC, its character and tone screams 1940s-kitsch, with paraphernalia from the era strewn across the game world.

The 1940s feel is reinforced by the game’s soundtrack which comprises oddly sentimental Big Band tunes, jazz numbers and vocal groups. The music is played on one of the Wasteland’s many radio stations, Galaxy News Radio, presented by ‘Three Dog’ a tireless DJ ‘fighting the good fight’ to ‘bring you the truth, no matter how bad it hurts’. Three Dog reminds me of Super Soul, the blind DJ from the achingly underrated existential road movie Vanishing Point (1979), whose role, like Super Soul’s, is to act as narrator and commentator on the development of the story. It’s an odd feeling when you’re wandering around the maze of disused subways with no ammo trying to creep stealthily past a group of Feral Ghouls and the Andrews Sisters are blaring from your TV. Another group that features prominently on the soundtrack is the Ink Spots, and it is because of Fallout 3 that I had to buy their compilation album Jukebox Memories when I saw it for sale in Alnwick’s famous Barter Books.

Album-opener ‘Maybe’ is a slow jazzy number featuring Leon René’s trademark guitar intro that gets recycled as an opener to many a song by the Ink Spots. The vocal melody in this song is nostalgic and sentimental with haunting backing vocals and twinkling piano. This is one of the songs I fell in love with because of Fallout 3, and can’t help but think about Moira Brown sending me on another suicide mission to gather research for her book, the Wasteland Survival Guide. ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ is very similar to ‘Maybe’ – it has the same intro and structure, but is a little more melancholic than the former. It’s a heartbreaking song about loss and loneliness: “Been invited all day / Might have gone, but what for / Awfully different without you / Don't get around much anymore”. ‘I’m Beginning to See the Light’ features the vocals and piano playing of the fantastic Ella Fitzgerald. The song is a jazz standard, with other versions by the likes of Duke Ellington, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. With Fitzgerald on the keys, the group departs from their trademark intro and allow Fitzgerald’s playing to shine through. The vocal melody of ‘When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano’ reminds me of ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ as sung by the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. The song is a little too sentimental for my liking, and is one of the weakest songs in the collection. ‘Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall’ is brilliant: Fitzgerald is back on the piano and vocals, and though the song bounces along quite happily with its cheerful melody and swinging bass-line, the lyrics revel in self-indulgent misery:

Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine
Into each heart some tears must fall
But some day the sun will shine
Some folks can lose the blues in their hearts
But when I think of you another shower starts

Another song that was featured on the Fallout 3 soundtrack, and remains one of my favourites is ‘I Don’t Want to Want Set the World on Fire’ which is just beautiful, and is probably one of the greatest love songs ever written with lyrics of simple poetic genius:

I don't want to set the world on fire
I just want to start
A flame in your heart
In my heart I have but one desire
And that one is you
No other will do

I've lost all ambition for worldly acclaim
I just want to be the one you love
And with your admission that you feel the same
I'll have reached the goal I'm dreaming of

This is the song that introduces you to Fallout 3 when you first start the game, but it was also used as the first dance at one of my best friend’s weddings. So this song now evokes two distinct but equally good memories: the first is of two of my friends becoming Mr and Mrs; the second is blasting the hell out of a Supermutant Behemoth in the ruins of Washington DC with my trusty Combat Shotgun.

Though the Ink Spots are like the Status Quo of easy listening with their repetitive musical motifs, their songs are packed with innocence and charm that make them irresistible. Jukebox Memories is a fine collection of music that I won’t be getting rid of in a hurry.

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The Fozz said...

Fallout 3 was buggy, but still a great game. The soundtrack is brilliant. You'd probably like the music on BioShock IMO.

Jon Cronshaw said...

Yeah, there's some really nice stuff on the Bioshock soundtrack. I didn't really get into the game that much because I don't have the best eyesight and shooters don't tend to work well with me. Fallout 3 had the VATs system which meant that you didn't have to be a particularly good FPS player to enjoy it.

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