Listen to the FREE Neon Dreams Playlist!
By Lance Rich - Tuesday, November 14, 2023
Music is such an important part of life; it is the soundtrack to our lives. And as I was writing Neon Dreams, songs kept popping into my head! I’d be writing about an era—the 1960s for example—and I could almost hear the sounds of the Rat Pack.
One of the interesting things to me about public spaces is how the music and sounds of a location form such a integral backdrop to the experience. Casinos are no stranger to this; slot machines with their electronic bells, whistles, and sirens form a very specifically curated jukebox designed to illicit very specific responses. Modern casinos even have dedicated staff positions to create playlists based on venue and time of day.
Over the course of many hours one afternoon—while I was procrastinating actually writing the book—I curated a five-hour playlist that has since been narrowed down to this much shorter list. Every song is inspired by a chapter in the book and allows you to join me on a sonic tour through the Neon Dreams of Las Vegas.
A look at some of the songs, and why I included them:
"This Town" by Frank Sinatra and "History Repeating" by Propellerheads
Sinatra is associated with Sin City about as much as any singer. I open the playlist as he croons "This Town". I love Dame Shirley Bassey and her massive voice—it’s theatrical and dramatic. She’s also played Vegas many times over the years. What I love most about "History Repeating" though, is the pairing of Bassey’s big voice with the late 90s cool of the pulsing electro Big Beat by Proppelerheads. This retro fusion transcends decades. If anything on my playlist is a statement about the city of Las Vegas itself…the lyrics here say it for me: ‘It’s all just a little bit of history repeating.’
"Las Vegas" by Strange Radio
One of the first podcasts I ever listened to was a mid-aughts pod called The Strip Podcast. The show featured fantastic interviews and the latest Vegas news (and gossip) all delivered weekly to my first generation iPod. "Las Vegas" by indie band Strange Radio was the theme song for the show.
"Magicians of the Century" by The Siegfried and Roy Collection
is actually from a Siegfried & Roy souvenir album and, if I’m honest, is pretty silly—but it becomes an earworm. Dance around the living room and take a shot when the 90s house beat stops and the dramatic narrator intones “Magicians of the Century.” By the way, this isn't the song I wanted to include the most. That title belongs to "Bless The Beasts", a Gospel-tinged barnstormer written by veteran Feld Entertainment orchestrator Jerry Bilik. This is a song that I loved at the end of the S&R show. It played during the part where Roy and a tiger flew on a mirror ball at the end of their show.
It’s unfortunately not on Spotify or Apple Music, but you can enjoy it on YouTube:
"Efx" by Michael Crawford
I never saw the show EFX at the MGM Grand - though there was plenty of magic in it! I love this title song soooo much. It’s dramatic and theatrical… and maybe a little cheesy! It’s important to say, this show would not have existed if Siegfried & Roy at The Mirage hadn’t been such a hit!
"Eclipse" by Cirque du Soleil
"Eclipse" is a song from the Cirque du Soleil show Nouvelle Expérience, and it was co-opted by a lot of magicians in the 90s. That show has an important and often forgotten role in Vegas entertainment. In late 1992 the show set up its circus tent in the parking lot at The Mirage where it performed for a year. In Neon Dreams, you’ll read some of my conversation with John Schadler, the vice president of advertising at The Mirage; we spoke initially about Siegfried & Roy. But, he also told me about the difficulty in launching a Cirque show in Vegas at a time when nobody had any clue what Cirque du Soleil was. How times have changed! ‘
Dreamscape" by Darren Romeo
Darren Romeo, a singing magician, has a pretty unique Vegas tale - Which is shared in segments through Neon Dreams. Dreamscape is the song he opens his show with. And, I’m a sucker for a dreamy swirling synth!
"Dreams" by Grace Slick
"Dreams" by Grace Slick is crazy dramatic! It sounds like it could have been from EFX. And, the album cover itself is magical.
"Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland was a twentieth century American composer whose music really seems to personify and illustrate American scenes. I was introduced to Copland when I was in high school band, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. I’m no classical music expert! But, as I was writing about the earliest days of the barren desert valley that was Las Vegas circa 1905, I kept hearing a song in my head. I had to Google “lone trumpet”, “drums”, “majestic”, “classical” and eventually I got there: Fanfare for the Common Man. In early 2022, as I was finishing the book I played this playlist in the car as David Sandy and I drove from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. This Copland piece came on while we were in the middle of the desert - surrounded by sand and mountains…And it was perfect. For me, this captures the majesty of the landscape.
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"Sing! Sing! Sing!" by Louis Prima
The Vegas of the 1940s and especially the 1950s was really becoming America’s adult playground. One reviewer once said that the two greatest entertainers ever to play Vegas were Louis Prima and Sammy Davis Jr. So I’ve included two entries from them. As the story goes, Louis Prima and his wife (and act partner) Keely Smith were expecting a baby and desperate for money. They called a friend at the Sahara. The showroom was booked, but they secured two weeks in the Lounge, which was a bit of a downgrade for a star of Prima’s stature. It was the start of a long and legendary career as a ‘Lounge act’. I included Sing! Sing! Sing! In the playlist. The song is most associated with Big Band man Benny Goodman, but it was written by Louis Prima!
"That Old Black Magic" by Sammy Davis Jr. and "I Want to Be Evil by Eartha Kitt
Sammy Davis Jr. Is, in my opinion, one of the greatest song and dance performers ever! His take on "That Old Black Magic" really swings! I first knew of Eartha Kitt as Catwoman from the 60s TV series; but she was quite a star as a cabaret performer. She played frequently at the El Rancho in the early days of Vegas where quite often Lucille and Eddie Roberts, a husband and wife mentalist team, opened for her. "I Want to Be Evil" is slinky, sexy, campy fun.
"Can-Can" by Johann Strauss Orchestra
When the French revues showed up in town, and specifically the Folies Bergere in 1959, the brought the most famous of the French dances; the Can Can by Strauss.
"Magic Bird of Fire" by Salsoul Orchestra
I am a sucker for remixes, reinventions, and mashups. Here are a few examples:
In the 70s, it would seem, putting a disco spin on classical music was all the rage. Here’s my favorite example - and one used by Siegfried & Roy - Stravinksy’s Firebird gets a 4-on-the-floor beat in "Magic Bird of Fire" by Salsoul Orchestra.
"Toxic Las Vegas" by Britney Spears and Elvis Presley
There are few icons or anthems more associated with Vegas than Elvis and "Viva Las Vegas". The Baz Lurhrmann movie Elvis came out as I was writing the book and I loved it. As with any of Baz’s movies it’s frenetic and epic, stylish and excessive, and has a kick ass soundtrack. So, I think the choice of mixing Britney Spears' "Toxic" with "Viva Las Vegas" was especially clever given the control Colonel Tom Parker is depicted as exerting over Elvis during his career, which is mirrored by the control Britney’s conservatorship had over her - which was pretty topical at the time the movie was made and released. Oh and also… the song, "Toxic Las Vegas" is really good!
"Spring 3" by Max Richter
Max Richter creates really beautiful music contemporary classical music. (I’m surprised I’ve not seen an ace assembly yet to "On The Nature of Daylight".) I was intrigued when I heard of his project called "Recomposed: Vivaldi - The Four Seasons" in which he takes the themes and music of that composition and bends it in exciting ways. Naturally - I added "Spring 3" to my playlist which all magicians would immediately recognize as Lance Burton’s music. Hearing this ‘recomposed’ version makes the piece seem new again.
"Themes from Born Free" by John Berry
"Themes from Born Free" is really a gorgeous piece of music by the prolific film composer John Berry. Before Siegfried & Roy used the aforementioned "Bless the Beasts" song in their finale - it was this!
"This is Going the Distance" by Bill Conti
Picture a Vegas magic act you saw in the 80s… Likely, a song from Rocky was used during it: "This is Going the Distance" by Bill Conti
"Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" by Brandon Flowers
In the early to mid-aughts, three Vegas hometown bands made it big in the mainstream market: Imagine Dragons, Panic! at the Disco, and The Killers. On one of the solo projects from The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers comes, "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas". What a haunting song. There’s a tinge of sadness, but I think it is cautiously optimistic too. Flowers’ incredible tenor bellows, “Give us your dreamers.” Also worth checking out, from the same album, is this music video for "Only the Young" which was filmed at the Le Reve Theater:
"Girl from Rio" by Anita
Has there ever been a more stereotypical ‘cheesy magician’ song than "Girl From Ipanema"? I don’t think so. The song was probably cool once, and then it fell into the elevator music category. And then I heard "Girl from Rio" by Anita on a TikTok reel. And suddenly, it’s everywhere. It’s cool. To echo Shirley Bassey from an earlier entry on this playlist…’It’s all just a little bit of history repeating.’
"Vegas" by Calvin Harris
Las Vegas entertainment is always evolving. The aughts brought an onslaught of nightclubs featuring celebrity DJs like Calvin Harris, whose entry here, "Vegas", is a perfect song to play as you’re getting hyped to go out for the night.
"Nexus" by Brian Tyler
Brian Tyler is an acclaimed film composer who scored the new spectacle Awakening. You can read all about the creation of this show in the book as you listen to as to Nexus from the soundtrack. Honestly… this song does kinda pump me up! I like to play it before I head out onstage. At the least, put it on and take some bows in front of your bathroom mirror and imagine the applause. Trust me, it feels great!
If you haven't read Neon Dreams yet, please be advised there are some SPOILERS coming up!
"Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" by Emma Stone
On the flight out of Vegas after attending the 100th Birthday Party for Gloria Dea - the first magician on the Las Vegas Strip - I watched the movie La La Land for the first time. It’s a movie I’d been wanting to see since it came out and was such a hit with audiences and critics - but I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. As I watched the movie on the plane - by the way, an iPhone screen is absolutely the wrong way to take in the incredible cinematic achievement that this film is - I was really captured by the song "Audition" which Emma Stone sings late in the movie about her elderly aunt. The song whose chorus says “Here’s to the fools who Dream” captures the essence of my conversations with Gloria. It’s become such a moving piece to me.
"You Couldn't Be Cuter" by Margaret Whiting
I’ve included "You Couldn’t Be Cuter", sung here by Margaret Whiting because it is a song that Gloria, as a child magician, performed her act to.
"Dream Chaser" by the Judds
For as long as I can recall Wynonna Judd has been my musical home. My interests - and this playlist - run this gamut from classical, pop, rock, electronic - but for this penultimate song I’m going home. This song, "Dream Chaser" by The Judds (who by the way have their own long Vegas story) is, as they say, three chords and the truth. Wynonna, who was just 19-years-old in this recording, sings, “I’m a dream chaser, a stargazer that’s what I am.” That line is like a mission statement for all of the amazing characters - past and present - who populate this book.
"The End" by Justin Hurwitz
And lastly, "The End" by Justin Hurwitz, is another entry from La La Land. In 90 seconds this song builds from just one instrument to a massive ninety piece orchestra which illustrates so nicely the evolution of Las Vegas from the smallest spec on a map to the spectacle city we know today.
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