Tony Soprano – A Shakespearean Homage

Macbeth, King Lear, Tony Soprano; what do they all have in common? are they the same beast? are they cut from the same cloth? You would be a fool not to think so. From  the theatre to the TV screen, I want to take a look at The Sopranos and appreciate it for the Shakespearean masterpiece it really is, specifically focusing on the big man.

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My time watching The Sopranos opened up a new world of appreciation. The sheer magnificence of the writing alone is a spectacle to behold. David Chase, the director and lead writer of the show, instantly hooks and reels you in like a fisherman with an array of complex characters and story-lines. The more you fight the urge to binge-watch, the harder it becomes. However; these binge-watching sessions are more than rewarding. The more I watched, the more I became exposed to a plethora of Shakespearean characters, themes and story-lines; and it isn’t just in Tony we see this, throughout, the resemblance is uncanny.  The sopranos is more than just a TV show, it is the greatest show in the history of television. It focuses on the complexities of one man’s life as he juggles both of his fragmented and corrupt “families”. I found that the more the Sopranos progressed as a series, the richer the tapestry of Shakespearean similarities unfolds and reveals itself. We see fathers fight with fathers, brothers killing brothers and friends betraying friends. The Sopranos might just be even more of a masterpiece than we initially thought.

Like the classical plays of Shakespeare, The Sopranos is riddled with great themes. The show’s themes act as the mold which defines every drama’s story; in the case of The Sopranos, the themes are the first point of connection between the writing of Chase and that of Shakespeare. We see the mutual themes of loyalty, love, guilt, revenge and greed scattered throughout the show. For anyone who has dabbled in the works of Shakespeare, they will be more than aware of such themes running throughout his works. The connection between the two is indisputable as the show’s themes coincide with that of the historic literature. An extra special connection between the two are the inter-family feuds. The Sopranos puts a heavy onus on father-children battles throughout it’s six-series span. Conflicts between parents and children are also a pivotal part of such Shakespeare plays as Hamlet, King Lear and Henry IV in which we see children attempt to defy, usurp and fight with their larger-than-life, patriarchal fathers.

Another similarity between the two writers is the way that they focus on gender. It is stereotypical of Shakespearean male characters to be obsessively vulgar, frequently stressed and manically protective…ring any bells Sopranos fans? As for the female characters, they all tend to be the most powerful and influential individuals throughout the show. This isn’t only something we experience only through Shakespeare however, female dominance has been one of the more popular themes to dominate literature over the last few hundred years. However, David Chase doesn’t let history stand in his way when it comes to powerful male figures and in Tony, we see an all too familiar beast.

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I don’t feel that there is a stronger connection between the works of William Shakespeare and David Chase lies within it’s lead role, Tony Soprano. Arguably one of the greatest characters of all time, and, the first ever major anti-hero of a television series. Anti heroes are a necessary requirement for all of Shakespeare’s best plays and now, thanks to the introduction of big Tony Soprano, a necessary requirement for all of the best shows on television. The traditional definition of an anti hero is the narrative’s protagonist who doesn’t conform to the stereotypical attributes of a ‘hero’. So, in other words, that main character who is a complete and utter bastard but you just can’t help but love. Majority of the time they tend to outdo even the villains in terms of their actions; however, they are the character we just cant help but come crawling back to. A few examples in modern television include Breaking Bad’s Walter White and Peaky Blinders’ Tommy Shelby; These are both lead roles which are marred with an array of obsessive tragic flaws that define their characters, however when compared with Tony, they seem somewhat minuscule.

One of the stronger connections between a Shakespearean anti-hero and Tony Soprano can be found in a comparison with Macbeth. Soprano, like Macbeth, acts like a king ruling his own miniature kingdom of  madmen and fanatic females. Also similar to Macbeth is the way that David Chase chooses to expose Soprano. Many of Shakespeare’s great anti-heroes struggle to express themselves in front of their loved ones and associates. They are often found expressing themselves either on their own in soliloquies and monologues or with random characters who are completely detached from the character’s inner-circle. The way Chase chooses to portray Tony in this light is somewhat reminiscent of this Shakespearean style. On the outside, Soprano seems like he has everything he could ever need; however, his one-on-one psychiatry sessions with Dr Melfi expose the sensitive side to the thick skinned mobster and appear to mirror passages from Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth.

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In fact, Tony’s sessions with Dr Melfi reveal more than one Shakespearean comparison. If we look at Tony as a demanding father figure, expecting only the utmost from his children then like in King Lear, Melfi acts the jester or ‘fool’, a character that tells Tony the truths he simply cannot bear to hear. This is not the first time we have seen a Shakespearean-Mafia comparison however; in Baz Lurhmann’s portrayal of Romeo and Juliet we see the Montague and Capulet families portrayed as gun-wielding gangsters; a portrayal we see mirrored in the deteriorating relationship between the families of Jersey and New York once Johnny Sach’s death leaves a power void. Often referred to as the ‘Italian-American Hamlet’, Tony, like most of Shakespeare’s greats, floats through these conflicts and feuds, unscathed and confused.

Like all great anti heroes, he is the character who you struggle to like but is impossible not to love. Having a character a great anti-hero that leaves you between a rock and a hard place is a fantastic writing ploy that always acts as a proud example of the author’s capacity. When The Sopranos ended, in my opinion, the show left the normal realm of pop culture and was greeted at the pearly gates of high-culture entertainment. From start to finish, you are pummeled with only the highest standard of characters and the most paramount of narratives. In a way, Tony’s character himself acts as the leitmotif of the show. He is such an important character that his personality and behavior can be seen as a theme within itself. Like such plays as King Lear and Macbeth, the show is realistically an homage and a tribute to its lead role; with the other character’s just floating around in their world like pawns in a game of chess; ultimately working to die for their king.

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There is no doubting that Tony Soprano is one of the greatest anti-heroes in history. His tenacity, his passion and his ambition are rivaled by none and, his king-like presence ensures that he would have slotted right into one of the many great plays of Shakespeare with ease. However, I want to go as far as saying that big Ton is greater than them all. The one factor that separates Tony and puts him above all other great anti-heroes is his ending. Chase ensures that Tony’s demise is not certain. Although some believe dead, no one will ever know the real fate of the larger-than-life Mafiosa boss. This element of ambiguity takes Soprano up and beyond the elite; beyond the realm of kings and into the realm of the unknown, the realm of immortal characters. Unlike Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear, Tony Soprano’s fate is unknown. Although James Gandolfini ceases to exist in our world, he lives on through the omnipresence of Tony Soprano, the ultimate Shakespearean anti-hero.

He might not be as eloquent as Hamlet, as infatuated as King Lear or as benevolent as Macbeth, but he certainly wouldn’t hesitate to whack them all…

Sam Creedon.

Track Of The Week #22 – Nate Dogg ‘First We Pray’

Pioneer. Visionary. Icon.

I think it’s safe to safe that nobody did it quite like Nate Dogg. The West Coast singer and rapper defined the West Coast music scene in every sense possible. He was regarded to have been one of the founding fathers of gangster rap and went on to create the genre we know today as G-Funk.  Unlike most gangster rappers, Nate Dogg carried an air of composure and nonchalance.; an air that separated him from the rest and one that gave him the ‘Certified G’ status that everyone craved but no one could match. The Dogg went on to release six studio albums and a bunch of bootleg tapes, alongside collaborating with such other G-Funk/Gangster rappers as Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Kurupt, 2pac and many more throughout his illustrious career. In my opinion Nate Dogg was one of the Hip-Hop artists to have been very unlucky in missing out on a place in the music hall of fame as his contribution to the genre was unprecedented. Sadly, the multi-talented pioneer passed away in 2011 from a series of strokes in his spiritual home of LA.

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This week’s track of the week ‘The Hardest Man In Town’ comes from Nate Dogg’s 1999 album ‘Ghetto Preacher’. The song and album were released on K-Town Records, a German Hip-hop record label which had long term affiliations with Gangster rap and the west coast as a whole. ‘First We Pray’, like all of Nate Dogg’s songs, sees the Dogg lace a perfectly composed, bouncy and hard-hitting bass line. His serenade is met with the bars from the kingpin himself, Kurupt. Together the two create a harmony quite like no other, on packed with lyrics about gang-banging and murder, but yet, at the same time, an essence of class. Like most G-Funk, ‘First We Pray’ offers that multi-layered synthesized musical goodness that we so dearly crave; without forgetting to mention the heavy kick of the beat, combined with the fiery but composed lyricism.

As mentioned before, Kurupt wasn’t the only artist to work with Nate Dogg. The supreme West Coast icon worked with a plethora of hip-hop talent and will be remembered by all as the legend he truly was.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #21 – The O’Jays ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’

What goes down better than a glass of OJ? How about a smooth-sailing, seamlessly composed number from a band by the same name. The O’Jays are one of the most famous and reputed soul groups of all time and their contribution to the genre is unparalleled. They initially made their mark in history by becoming the first black male group to perform in a stadium and arena setting but then went on to dominate the ears of fans around the world. With such hits as ‘Backstabbers’, ‘Love Train’ and ‘I Love Music’, The O’jays were hitting highs on every level. The dynamic trio started in the early sixties and continued to produce chart-topping hits for decades to come. Having an impressive seven singles reach top twenty in the charts and an ever mightier eight albums,  the group set a precedent quite like no other. No to mention, a generous handful of these albums and records went gold.

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To anyone who hasn’t heard this week’s track of the week before; or, at least thinks it sounds familiar; it will be down to the famous 1978 remix sang by the reggae outfit, Third World. The original O’Jays version was released back in ’73 on Philadelphia records and the song carries a cerebral and warm chiming feeling which is synonymous with the album as a whole. However, ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’ is unique to the rest of the album as it is more of a celebration rather than a protest. The 1973 featured album, ‘Ship Ahoy’ was in fact a bold and potent outcry for the inequalities in society. With the majority of the songs protesting about greed, racism and inner-city differences, ‘Ship Ahoy’ could have very easily have been perceived as one heck of a miserable album. However, thanks to the unbelievably smooth serenade of The O’Jays, they manage to make even the most dark and serious topics a pleasure to listen to. Daryl Easlea of the BBC stated how he thought that “Never has an album so angry sounded so sweet”. This for me is where ‘Now that we found love’ really stands out. Although sounding just as harmonious and melodic as the rest of the album, ‘Now that we found love’ acts as a celebration of and metaphor for the progress of civil rights and the start of a relationship, separating it’s message entirely from the other songs on the LP. The song is a perfect example of fine Philly-soul and the immaculately assembled social message, masked and polished as a love song, is a classic which was been recognised through the ages. Previously mentioned covers include that of BT Express, Martha Reeves, Heavy D and the more notable, Third World.

The O’Jay’s were renowned for being one of the most influential soul groups of all time and both ‘Now that we found love’ and ‘Ship Ahoy’ don’t even scratch the surface when it comes to the depth and magnitude of their music.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #20 – Lyn Collins ‘Think’

Also known as ‘The Female Preacher’, Texan born soul singer Lyn Collins’ career was short but sweet. With only a handful of albums and releases, the soul and funk artist didn’t spend much time in the spotlight, however, when she did, it was among the greatest to ever to do it. Signed to James Brown’s own label, People Records, Collins was a personal favourite of the Soul-giant. Her career started from the early age of fourteen when she married a promoter for the James Brown revue band. Collins plucked up the courage to send Brown a demo-tape and he instantly warmed to her ability. After being placed among the roster of the Godfather’s backup singers, Collins had to be patient in working her way to the front. However, there was one thing which made Collins stand out from the rest. Her deep, wailing and powerful vocals sent shivers down the spines of the entire soul community. Her style was further from the stereotype of the traditional soul-female singer and more similar to that of James brown himself. The power in her voice was unrivalled and carried a heavy, gospel inspired tone, hence the nickname ‘The Female Preacher’.

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Brown saw Collins as somewhat of a female protégé, and, like many of his protégés, Brown demanded that they expressed empowerment, attitude and of course, diversity. The godfather of soul was wanting to create an entourage of powerful female musicians with Lyn Collins leading the way. Now when it comes to empowering and funky songs, it doesn’t get much better than this week’s track of the week ‘Think’. The song is a forceful and energetic statement about the treatment of women, turned into an explosive and funky classic. The Female Preacher throws her screaming vocals over this infectious groove laced with heavy bass-lines and tight interludes of powerful horns. For me, it doesn’t get much better than this, and, i’m not the only one who thinks this. Believe it or not, ‘Think’ is actually one of the most sampled songs of all times. The song has been sampled in a nearly two thousand separate songs. Just a few of the artists to sample include J Dilla, Kanye West, N.W.A and Lauryn Hill; the list is endless.

Collin’s individuality lead for her to become one of music’s original divas. However, being in James Brown’s revue meant that she would only receive any money in royalties. Henceforth it never came to much surprise that her career was very short lived as she only managed to release a handful of albums. She unfortunately passed away at the young age of fifty six from a rare heart condition. Although gone, this inspiring and feisty vocalists legacy will live on thanks to ‘Think’, one of the greatest funk numbers of all time.

Listen & enjoy here –

 

Track of the week #19 – Manu Dibango ‘Soul Makossa’

Hailing from Cameroon, Manu Dibango is a critically acclaimed saxophone and vibraphone virtuoso. Throughout his career, the eccentric musician has blended the styles of jazz, funk and traditional Cameroonian music across a staggering seventy two albums. Dibango has been described by many as one of the largest and most influential contributors in African musical history. Many critics place his influence as up there with the likes of such famous African musicians as Fela Kuti and Ali Farka Toure. Dibango’s musical career started in the early fifties where he traveled around Belgium, France and the Congo experimenting with a plethora of funky and diverse sounds. His real success came in 1972 however, when Dibango released the album ‘Soul Makossa’ named after his the album’s main track and, coincidentally, this week’s track of the week.

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Dibango’s influence on African music really is no joke. He single-handedly infused up and coming African disco with the traditional Cameroonian makossa sound, creating a groove quite like no other. This week’s track of the week was exactly the kick start that the disco scene needed. The funky, upbeat and energetic composition led to fellow makossa musician to produce a wave of peppy and vivacious dance music.  Dibango ensures that he bears an element of continuity in each song, they all follow a similar pattern. However, when your music is described as “entrancingly, groovingly, hip-rollingly gorgeous” perhaps that’s repetition isn’t such a bad thing. The track ‘Soul Mokassa’ is the perfect example. The song is a fine amalgamation of all African disco elements;  rolling bass lines and exuberant horns guarantee a scorching and fiery number. Diabango laces the funky rhythm with the catchy line ‘Mama-se mama-sa ma-ko-mo-ko-ssa’ and what can only be described as “a ridiculously pimped out sax riff”, a riff which can easily catch you off guard; So, if you don’t like sudden noises, brace yourself as it’s not exactly subtle, however Dibango’s undeniably boss aurora guides you through the track like a walk down a beach on a hot summers day.

As the weather picks up and the sun begins to look promising, it’s music like this which ensures a speedy transition between spring and summer. Thanks to Manu Dibango and ‘Soul Mokassa’, we have a world of feel-good, amazing African dance music to enjoy.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #18 – Damian Marley ‘The Master Has Come Back’

This is a name which needs very little introduction. Damien Marley is the three time Grammy, MOBO and Vibe award winning prodigal son of the ultimate musical father, Bob Marley. Marley’s life has always possessed such a rich vein of musical talent thanks to his accomplished and proficient heritage. The young Marley, also known as Jr Gong, was born in Kingston Jamaica back in 1978. He was born in a time where his father was beginning to reach all corners of the earth; however, it was only the connections on his mother island of Jamaica that were needed for his musical success. Damian, along with an array of children from other star-studded reggae artists, started his own musical group called the Shepherds at the tender age of thirteen. It was from this that his individual talent was spotted and inevitably flourished. Jr Gong went on to become the most successful and decorated Marley child of the bunch, releasing an impressive four solo studio albums and collaborating on a further five. Marley’s success peaked back in 2005 when he released his third album ‘Welcome To Jamrock’; the album single handedly won two Grammys and earned a level of recognition like no other as the album went on to be described as arguably the best reggae album of the twenty first century.

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Now fans of Damian Marley will agree that his style of reggae stands out from most. Some would even say that there is no way that it could even be considered as reggae. The album has been described as Marley’s way of “Unleashing a towering, bulletproof torrent of abuse at the inequalities of his home country of Jamaica” and, through his lyrical aggression, it is clear to see. The album, like Jr Gong’s style, is renowned for its thundering bass lines and fiery lyricism. ‘The Master Has Come Back’ is one of the finer examples. Sampling Bunny Wailer’s 1976 hit ‘Bide Up’, the explosive and powerful party anthem delivers on every level. The song has it all. Enchanting bass lines meet sweet reggae melodies; whilst hardcore lyricism is met with triumphant vocals. This mighty single was written by Damian himself whilst it was produced by his also multi talented brother, Stephen. The song peaked at a not-so-impressive #74 in the UK charts but who needs charts when you’ve got ears, even the dullest people cant help but recognise Jr Gong as the legend he is.

With the sun creeping back out, it’s no wonder that albums like this are starting to reappear. ‘The Master Has Come Back’ carries a perfect blend of hip-hop and reggae that infuses like no other. The combination of hard kicks and feel-good sprinkles cements Damian Marley position as the ultimate prodigal son.

Listen & enjoy here –

Track Of The Week #17 – Finley Quaye ‘Even After All’

There’s smooth, and then there’s Finley Quaye smooth. For anyone growing up in nineties Britain, there’s a good chance that the mellow and soulful singer’s voice played some part of your childhood summer soundtrack. Quaye’s music floated in and around households like a warm breeze; however, like the British summer, Quaye’s presence was short-lived as only one of his albums was only really able to pick up any momentum. The Edinburgh-born singer won the the MOBO for best reggae act and the BRIT award for the best male solo artist, an impressive haul for any artist. His fusion of funk and reggae ensured that he delivered a sound which was unique for the UK, even in the nineties. Quaye’s life unfortunately spiraled out of control after his success. Violence, substance abuse and bankruptcy all crept into Quaye’s life. The singer’s career is now marred by countless reports of violent outbursts and drunken altercations. His music, although impressive and unique, acts as a potential reminder of what could have been for one of the best singers to come out of the UK.

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Contrary to the image Finley Quaye has now developed for himself, ‘Even after all’ offers a soothing, blissful and melodic insight into the more docile side of the nutter in question. The song immediately warms the ears with soothing guitar reverb that carries you into a sweet, summer daze. For me personally, the song carries an extra special air of nostalgia as it played a big part in my early summers as a child. However; this sense of enjoyment is not exclusive to myself as the song carries warm and soulful charm which resonates with everybody. Quaye serenades the mesmerising composition with an amazing almost Nina Simone-like voice. The infusion of reggae and soul guarantees success in this case as we see a melting pot of vocal and instrumental ability create a sweet, honey-glazed sound like no other. The song was released on Quaye’s first studio album ‘Maverik a Strike’ back in 1997 on 550 Music record label. The album went gold after three weeks and then went on to become certified multi platinum.

For me, ‘Even After All’ is Quaye’s greatest record to have ever been written. The song is the perfect start and end to everyday and goes down a treat with both the sun and the rain. It is for these reasons why ‘Even After All’ is my track of the week.

Listen & enjoy here –