April 21 2009

Harold Wheeler and the Dancing With The Stars band

harold wheelerIt has been a year since I tackled the subject of the Dancing With The Stars band, and it seems I need to do it again.

Back on April 15th of 2008 I took on the subject of the Dancing With The Stars band, and Harold Wheeler, the band conductor and arranger.   In the year that followed, this has been a rather large hot bed for comments that bring my intelligence into question.  The comments questioning the placement of my head in my rectal area aside, one commenter, Jeff D, made a point that actually got through to me and made me rethink my opinion on this whole matter a bit.

These arrangements are made for a standard “Big Band” format. That fits BALLROOM dancing.

And therein is the problem I believe.  Well, at least most of it.  This show has attempted to take popular songs from many different genres, and they leave it to the band to try to make them fit a format they were never built for.  I still hate the singers, but this one comment (notice the comment didn’t insult my intelligence, amazing how much further that will get someone) really made me rethink my stance on the actual band.  For instance, does anyone think The Clash were ever meant for ballroom dancing?  No, they weren’t.  Yet there was one of their songs a few seasons ago, being tormented to the point of painful, but I now hate it a little less because I finally see what was being done to it.

I still have problems with what seems like random changes in the tempo of songs that even seem to throw the dancers off their step.  And as for the singers… the singers are a whole different matter that just make me cringe.  I’m sure they’re fine for certain styles of singing, but a lot of times they just seem totally ill suited for what they are being asked to sing on the show.

John Ratzenberger and Edyta ?liwi?ska on Dancing With The StarsNow, there is one point where I do still have to wonder about the band and Jeff D’s comment (I’m not attacking him, it is just something specific I thought of), and that is when the band tackles songs by the band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.  Songs by this group seem to be a favorite on this show, popping up at least 3 to 4 times thus far.  For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are a California band deeply entrenched in the 1940’s swing era style of music, and you may have seen them in the movie Swingers some years ago.  You would think a band that plays in swing style wouldn’t need any “corrections”, but yet, there they are when the Dancing With The Stars band plays them.  It’s usually just a slight tempo change, but it is still a change.

Sure the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy issue is a small one, and I’ll forgive it, and I will say the commenter changed my mind a bit.  The producers are the ones who choose the music each week, and perhaps it is time someone, namely Harold Wheeler, sat them down and said, “You really think this song is a good choice for this show?  Sure it’s popular, but it doesn’t even come close to fitting the style we need.”  I doubt this will ever happen, but I can dream of a day where I stop cringing when I hear them twist another of my favorite songs in to some unrecognizable mess that makes me cringe.

As for the singers… my problems with them have nothing to do with the arrangements, but more so that they are being asked to sing songs that they have never attempted that particular style before in their lives.  What better time to try it out than on live TV?

One last note, in my original post I made a comment about my love of the version of the song “Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge.  Many people have argued in the comments that it is a horrible arrangement, but seeing as the original band, The Police, had to sign off on its use, I’m guessing they didn’t think it was so horrible.  In that particular case, yes, the song was significantly changed, but I felt the arrangement fit the context of the song’s subject matter far better.  It is a song about prostitution after all, and the guttural, growling version that plays in the movie makes a whole lot more sense than Sting’s original ascending vocals that have almost a melancholy tone to them. Yes, that is my opinion, as are all posts on this blog, and it is the one I’m sticking to on that particular case.  I’ll give a small victory to the commenters on the overall feelings on the main thrust of the article about the band, but I will never surrender my love of that particular version of that song.

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  • BJ R

    I agree with the analysis on Roxanne. I actually liked the movie version better than the original. Same way with Mustang Sally from The Commitments. Haven't ever seen Dancing with the Stars so I can't speak to that.

  • Mae

    Who is the group that performed on Dancing with the Stars on 4/28/09 show.

  • rdnzl

    Couple of things – on a heavily corporate show like this, I'm sure Wheeler has little to no say about how cheezy the arrangements sound. He gets an "assignment" and it comes like this: "Harold, we need a 120-second version of the theme from 'Cats' in the style of a tango. It needs to sizzle from bar 1, big hold on the ending, sax solo in the middle, quarter note = 142. By Tuesday 9 am." He doesn't get paid to say, ya know, I don't think that's gonna work so well. He gets paid to make it happen, and if that means it comes out sounding like a great big loaf of Velveeta, well, that's what you asked for. Some arrangers are better than others, but nobody can be handed a bag of crap and turn it into gold. And the show's producers are not musicians, and they have no interest in the integrity of the music. It's a show about skin and sexy poses, and that's it.

    BTW, BJR, the Police did not "sign off" on the use of Roxanne. Whoever owns the mechanical rights does, probably their record company. If they're even aware of it's use on the show, they heard it the same time you did. Hopefully, Sting and the boys didn't sign all of their rights away and get a little taste of the action when it gets played on TV, but I would not be surprised if they get nothing at all from it.


    Seems WEAK to me that you’ve changed you opinion about your original blog simply because someone commented how “wrong you are” regarding the highly credited and well respected musicians of the band. I’m sure if another commentor suggested how within the singers exists a Grammy winner, have hundreds of well recognized records and commercial work under their belt, not to mention three of which worked with MJ himself, you’d change your tune as well. What about if within the producers existed a musical experience of the highest caliber including credits in both the UK and the US, I assume then you’d just sit back and enjoy the show. Am I right? Probably not. My point is that it’s obvious you have not one leg on which to stand nor do you have an educated opinion about how a song should be represented on a show such as the one in question. An innovative show requires an innovative approach not to mention a fresh perspective (something one can’t add with one’s head up his or her canal) from the musical team you so demean. If you’ve admitted to having your head up your canal upon writing your first opinion then why continue to make slanderous comments about a job to which you have very little knowledge or respect for that matter. You are a funny guy! I will give you that. Cutting on other peoples abilities is certainly much easier than picking up your guitar and practicing isn’t it? I admit I don’t LOVE everthing I hear but the element of unedited, one take performance, Dancing with the Stars stamp of approval that makes air, deserves an applause and less ignorant comments like yours. Go write on something like Pinkberry.

  • cynthia

    harold is wonderful. plain and simple. this is not an operatic excursion nor a symphonic situation. it is what it is. just entertainment. and i am entertained.

  • I discovered your blog after watching the show for the first time and wishing I had that gig. Perhaps the lack of versatility could be compensated for with an additional female singer?

    (lame approach? ::shrug:: thought I'd give it a shot)

  • I too, would like to have that gig or even a gig like it. I live in LA and am a trained musician (singer) with degrees etc. But cannot seem to find a way into this business I so love. I am a great singer and musician (If I do say so) and think you would love working with me, so if by any chance you read this and your interest is sparked even a little. Follow through and you won't be sorry.