Some Thoughts on Why I Bother
Why devote a page to MIDIs? Why this interest in tinny synthesized music that, for all intents and purposes, sounds almost exactly like elevator music? Why would anyone want to recreate the entire Metallica and Nirvana repertoire on a synthesizer? (Why would any self-respecting fan of Nirvana, for that matter, want to hear it?) I can trace this fascination to a few years ago when I was in a department store in Cebu City with my brother. Someone unseen in the music section was hammering out a jawdroppingly flawless version of Green Day's "Basket Case" on a Casiotone! I must say I was intrigued by the punk-pop song's transformation into background music (albeit not very soothing) for a dentist's office.
Since then I've been listening to Muzak with a somewhat more critical ear. Indeed, you won't hear any of the collected MIDIs here in any elevator; the song selections are too off-kilter from the mainstream. Most of them were also clearly made by unknown people with great technical ingenuity (and an expensive synthesizer, perhaps), and enough creativity to substitute different synth instruments for various sounds. Some were chosen for their flawless reproduction, right down to each high hat; some were included for the sequencer's improvisations on the original. So yes, they are all pretty much downright cheesy, but you cannot help but wonder and be amused. Of course, you'll appreciate the MIDI versions better if you know the originals very well.
Just click on the song to play; your browser should automatically download the MIDI file and play it. However I would recommend saving it to your hard disk instead (just right-click on the file and choose a directory where it can be saved) and using an external MIDI player. (Quick, download 'em all before I run out of space and have to put them in .zip form instead.) By far, the best MIDI player I've ever used is Wingroove. I have no idea how it works, but the playback is absolutely stunning. It's not just the difference between mono and stereo, but between 2D and 3D -- it's that good. Yamaha's S-YG20 Player comes with an excellent sound driver as well. By far the player with the most robust features -- karaoke-enabled interface (lyrics at the bottom!), playlists, etc. -- is VanBasco's MIDI Player. Works great with the Yamaha sound driver.
Bananarama: Venus ***
- Hilarious karaoke version of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman-engineered hit, complete with farting noises.
Beck: Loser ***
- You know, I'd bet that Beck would actually love this karaoke MIDI version. He could use it as a B-side; hell, he could have made it himself! Now you can practice your white-boy-rapping to this track. Ready, one, two, three: "In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey..." Sequenced by David Daigneault.
Bjork: Human Behavior ***
- It's clumsily off-tempo pretty much all the way through, but don't let that discourage you from hearing this courageous and charming attempt to translate Bjork's swoops and growls. Sequenced by David Brooks.
Peter Cetera: The Glory of Love ***
- Now, if Kenny G had tacked on this version to any one of his albums, it would still be released as a single on any lite-jazz station. Good cheese, though slightly moldy. Actually, this is probably more entertaining than Kenny G on any day.
Christopher Cross: Sailing ****
- Technically impressive rendition of the chubby guy's smooth hit, and the sort of track you would hear at less discerning lite-jazz radio stations worldwide. Now, if a saxophone were used in place of the vocals, that talentless purveyor of treacly pop-jazz Kenny G would get away with releasing it.
Cutting Crew: I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight ***
- That damn pan flute strikes again. Still, it's an accurately detailed version of the original -- indeed, accurate enough to cast doubt on whether Cutting Crew was an actual band or just some guy with a synth.
Dick Dale and his Deltones: Misirlou ***
- Shrill and tinny, but I can't help but be amused thinking of the sequencer playing everything rapidly.
Derek and the Dominoes: Layla ***
- Rousing attempt to capture Clapton's guitar licks. Alas, it cops out and drops the piano coda altogether. And I was so ready to play air piano too.
Dire Straits: Sultans of Swing ***
- "He can do the honky-tonk like anything." Mark Knopfler's guitar licks are nicely rendered here by HitBit.
Double: Captain of Her Heart ***
- Lite-jazz version of an already lite-jazzy song. Inoffensive.
The Eagles: Hotel California ***
- An interestingly loose, though unfortunately repetitive, interpretation of the vocals, thanks to the piano lead. Obviously someone who didn't bother to listen to the original and notice that Don Henley sang each stanza differently. The "guitar" solo at the end is kind of cool, though.
The Folk Implosion: Natural One ****
- Lou Barlow would still hate it, but this MIDI does a great job of capturing the sinister groove of the original. Nice distorted bass rumble at the beginning.
Aretha Franklin: Respect ***
- A lot of fun. The programmer could have let loose a little bit more with the lead piano, but this version still swings.
Debbie Gibson: Lost In Your Eyes ***
- Wonderfully bad, and true to the spirit of the Gibson original. The video actually placed a computer-generated twinkle in one of her eyes, which just about says it all. Sequenced by Renegade.
The Human League: Human **
- What happened to the deep "Please forgive me?" That, my friend, is what is called a lost opportunity to take something cheesy and make it even cheesier by substituting some deep bass rumble. Oh well. Nice drums, though.
Billy Idol: Rebel Yell ****
- Programmed by Hands On, this is a fantastic MIDI. Listening to it, I can't really see Elton John swinging that axe, though.
Jamiroquai: Virtual Insanity ****
- Excellent. The choice of harmonica to stand in as the lead vocal makes it closer to Stevie Wonder's spirit than Jay Kay ever envisioned.
KC and the Sunshine Band: That's The Way I Like It ***
- Kind of cool, because it sounds like a marimba band playing.
Lenny Kravitz: Are You Gonna Go My Way **
- Somewhat pallid version, but it still rocks. A bit.
Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven ***
- Yee-ha! The biggest, swaggering cock-rock group of them all gets the tinny synthesizer karaoke treatment here. Of course they sound completely emasculated! What did you expect? (It also sounds longer than usual, as if an extra stanza was tacked on.)
Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories: Stay ***
- Very pretty interpretation of the hit from the Chick with Those Glasses and That Dress Who Walks Around an Empty Apartment and Sings to Ethan Hawke. It's clear the programmer listened pretty close to the vocals, because every note is transcribed here.
Madonna: Cherish ***
- Sweet karaoke version of the already chirpy original.
Madonna: Into the Groove ***
- Not the version from the Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack, but the one from The Immaculate Collection, so it has that Shep Pettibone piano solo in the middle. There's this long silence at the end of the track, though.
New Order: Bizarre Love Triangle ***
- Slightly disappointing at first, but it kicks in after the first minute. Note that this is not just the single off the Brotherhood album, but the more complicated remix from Substance. Pretty impressive.
Oasis: Champagne Supernova ****
- Utterly amazing version. Our unknown keyboard genius clearly had a lot of fun soloing at the end. Sequenced by David Daigneault.
Oasis: Live Forever **
- Hmm. The drums are all wrong, and the MIDI doesn't exactly communicate the melancholy of the original song. Uh, but what did I expect? Still, the last 30 seconds show an inventive use of reverb. Sequenced by David Daigneault.
Oasis: Wonderwall ***
- Very good karaoke interpretation of the Noel Gallagher song. You can sing along, too.
The Police: Every Breath You Take ***
- It's not clear why the vocals keep getting replaced by the pan flute, of all instruments. The only logical connection here is that both Sting and Zamfir have only one name. Not too bad, actually: check out the Stewart Copeland piano embellishments on the bridge.
Prince: Kiss ****
- An incredibly unfunky interpretation of the classic Prince single: no groove, no hips. It sounds like a bad joke, as if a flutist and a rockabilly band got together. Great stuff.
Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody ****
- A cheesy song made even cheesier, with all the bombast a lone synth could muster. Pretty complicated to sequence, as you can probably imagine. Sequenced by LowCPM.
Queen: We Are The Champions ****
- Utterly bizarre lounge-jazz version of the Queen anthem.
Sade: Smooth Operator ***
- Surprisingly clumsy, particularly since the saxophone parts sound exactly like someone playing a keyboard. [slap!] There I go again; what was I expecting? Just imagine a not very technically proficient band in some smoke-free hotel lounge. Actually that's a bit mean, since there are some good keyboard solos here.
Santana: Oye Como Va ***
- Allriiiiiiight. The congos could have been brought up in the mix a bit, but there is enough creative improvisation to make it worthwhile. Programmed by Doc Doc.
Simple Minds: Don't You Forget About Me ***
- It's not very difficult to imagine a loser like Kenny G playing this, if he also played the pan flute.
Soundgarden: Black Hole Sun ****
- Remember how John Woo's film The Killer would have all these saccharine moments where Chow Yun-Fat would play the harmonica? If Woo was a Soundgarden fan, then he would have the hero play this piece. Sequenced by Anthony Peters.
Styx: Babe ***
- Aahhhhh. Brings back sweet elementary school memories.
Swing Out Sister: Breakout ***
- Sounds a lot like the original, which I guess says a lot.
Tears For Fears: Shout ***
- Aaargh! Enough with that flute already! The beginning's all wrong, too, but it gets better: an interestingly minimalist rendition.
Van Halen: Panama ****
- Wow. As if Eddie Van Halen went solo and learned how to play the xylophone as well. Let's see Diamond Dave do a flying kick to this.
The Ventures: Hawaii Five-O **
- The unknown sequencer could have done a better job with the brass -- it just doesn't sound bright enough -- but owning a MIDI version of this slightly campy classic track is worth it.
John Waite: Missing You ****
- It'll make you wonder: maybe John Waite really did have a synthesizer instead of a backup band on the original. Excellent job.
Anita Ward: Ring My Bell ***
- Nifty bass-poppin', and this time the pan flute doesn't sound out of place since it sounds like Ward's tiny, breathy voice. A cheesy song made even cheesier.
since before March 13, 1998.
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