But I am not really here to talk about the show itself...I am here to talk about its title music. The song is Little Boxes, which was written by folk singer-songwriter and political activist Malvina Reynolds in 1962. Inspired by the houses in Daly City, California, the song is all about tell-them-apart-if-you-can, chocolate box house, suburban living and its values and expectations of conformity. The song is best known through the performance by Pete Seeger.
In the first series of the show, the original song (video above) aired as the title music for each episode; however, by series' two and three, a different artist or band was being used for each separate episode. Apparently the impetus behind this was because series producers were initially unsure as to whether they would be able to use the original, and therefore had several artists record the song before deciding which one to use. It has now got to the stage where performers are requesting to be included...and the role-call holds some very big names!
There has been an orchestral and instrumental version (by Maestro Charles Barnett - Season 2, Episode 5), a Spanish version with a disco feel (Kinky - Season 3, Episode 3), a rap version (The Individuals - Season 3, Episode 7), and even one sung partly in Russian (Persephone's Bees - Season 3, Episode 12).
Here are my top five in order of appearance (the clickable links are to the video for each on YouTube):
1. Death Cab For Cutie - Season 2, Episode 2
Death Cab For Cutie are Ben Gibbard, Nick Harmer, Jason McGerr and Chris Walla. They were formed in Bellingham, Washington in 1997 and took their name from a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band song, which appeared on their 1967 album Gorilla and in The Beatles' film Magical Mystery Tour. Their best known track is probably Transatlanticism, from the album of the same name - this song was used in the HBO show Six Feet Under, and several more have featured in The OC.
The McGarrigle sisters, who are of Canadian and Irish origin, hail from the town of Saint Sauveur des Monts (where I had a pen pal as a child!) in Quebec. They record in both French and English and their songs are based around folky vocal harmonies and often unusual timings.
3. Regina Spektor - Season 2, Episode 10
Can this woman do no wrong? Born in Moscow, Russia, moving to The Bronx, New York aged nine, Regina Spektor studied classical piano from an early age. She now makes quirky (typified by relatively unusual techniques such as the glottal stop) folk-influenced music, claiming to have written over 700 songs...although neglecting to write them all down!
Kidjo was born in Ouidah, Benin and grew up in the port village of Cotonou. In her early 20s she moved to Paris, due to the political conflicts in her home country, where she began performing. She is fluent in Fon, French, Yoruba and English (I haven't even heard of all of these languages!) and often uses traditional African vocal styles, such as the zilin technique of her native Benin, alongside jazzy stylings.
5. Joan Baez - Season 3, Episode 9
I'm sure Joan Baez needs little introduction...what a coup, getting her to sign up to this! Just in case...Baez is a Mexican-American folk singer and songwriter who, due to her father's job, grew up all over the US, Europe and Middle East (she was born on Staten Island). She is a soprano with a three octave vocal range and performed at 1969's Woodstock Festival. Baez is well known for singing songs with political and protest-based lyrics. On her live CD Ring Them Bells, reissued this year as a collectors edition, she is joined by many other big names, including Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who also appear in this Top 5.
Also worth a listen (in my rather humble opinion) are:
- Elvis Costello (The Man!) - Season 2, Episode 1
- The Submarines - Season 2, Episode 8 (nice backing to this one)
- Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice - Season 2, Episode 11
- Randy Newman - Season 3, Episode 1
- Man Man - Season 3, Episode 8
And I haven't even mentioned that others have included:
- Engelbert Humperdinck (!) - Season 2, Episode 3
- Donovan - Season 3, Episode 4
- Billy Bob Thornton - Season 3, Episode 5
- The Shins - Season 3, Episode 6
- The Decemberists - Season 3, Episode 10
Is it 4.20 already?