Sunday, January 4, 2009

Song For You: or: We Need a Supreme Court of Pop Songs

Song For You

I thought your comments on Song For You were superb. It was a flash of meta insight to note the dimension of the song being sung to an audience when the idea of the song is to explore and qualify and undermine that.

I understand your disdain for belted out versions say by Christine Aguilera or by Whitney Houston. I have some trouble with their performances of their performances, if I can put it that way. But both, for me, convey some of melismatic beauty and emotion and lyricism of the song. It needs, I contend, a big voice.

I'd have thought the perfect person to sing Song For You would be Ray Charles because he is such a transcendent interpreter, as is Cassandra Wilson. But I thought his voice was shot by the time he recorded it--too creaky and croaky and strained. He couldn't evoke the song's sweet beauty--maybe what you (mis?)take for cheesiness. Neither could Willie Nelson, though usually he's a wonderful interpreter. The song got away from him. Karen Carpenter was too flat and unemotional. Leon Russell, who wrote the song, should have had the interpretive edge, but he couldn't sing it.

Song For You is challenging. It needs an interpretive genius with the right kind of musicality and voice to do it ultimate justice. As I said, it needs great melisma since it is full of melodic sweeps and slopes and great ranging emotional peaks and valleys consistent with when it needs to be belted (public performance), toned down and contemplative (think of the first two lines) and hushed (intimate message). As well, in its complexity, the message to the beloved needs as well at times to be full and passionate and declaiming, and to the audience quiet and sad too at times.

I have not heard a defintive version yet, though Christine Aguilera and Whitney Houston make good starts. They both need better producers who can get them to be less histrionic and faux while still evoking the song's lyrical beauty and emotional ranges and sweet melodicism.

Michael Buble, who I like a lot, also makes a good start but does suffer at times from too much hip and cool. At his best, he's a good singer with an interesting and appealing voice and a good interpreter. One who I think could sing the hell out of Song For You would be Dolly Parton, if her voice still is good. Also I think of Julio Iglesias.

By the way, Chris Notez, who sang it under Bizzy Bone, had the start of a beautiful version, but it got drowned out by the rapping.

This all started between me and someone else over Donna Summers's version. I found it underwhelmimg. She did not get close to the song's interpretive demands and possibilities.

Itzik Basman

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