197: Paul Simon, ‘Hearts and Bones’

Posted by jeff on Jun 6, 2014 in Rock, Song Of the week

Paul Simon – ‘Hearts and Bones’

4306971_640px“Hearts and Bones” (1983) was Paul Simon’s fifth solo album, following three consecutive hit albums and a mediocre success (“One Trick Pony”, #12, buoyed by the hit ‘Late in the Evening’), and preceding a megasuccess (“Graceland”). “Hearts and Bones” reached #35 on the charts, left little impression on the listening public, and discouraged Simon to the point that he thought his creative juices had dried up.

The album has since grown in prestige, at least among critics. That it was a commercial failure is almost enough to make me esteem it above its populist/popular younger brother, “Graceland”. But it’s not that, really.

Paul Simon Carrie Fisher Wedding PhotoI’ve been listening loyally, hundreds of times each, to every Paul Simon release since the beginning, since ‘Sounds of Silence’ unwittingly invented Folk Rock. I interviewed him in the spring of 1967, when ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘I am a Rock’ were big hits (ouch). Jewfros weren’t so common back then. “Hey, Art, this guy looks like you,” said Paul. I was 18, and it was a moment of glory.

But my admiration for “Hearts and Bones” isn’t for its underdoggedness, or from my knee-jerk snobbery. It’s that good. I don’t want to argue about why I think “Graceland” isn’t such a great album. We come to praise Paul, not to trash him. “H&B” the album, and especially the song, are works of rare beauty – consummately crafted and emotionally searing. They are the pinnacle of Simon’s pantheon corpus, scaling heights rarely achieved in popular music in our times.


Eddie, Debbie, Carrie

It’s as beautifully produced a song as Simon has ever made. Production is one of Paul Simon’s overlooked talents—the aural palette, the sonic composite. One of Simon and Garfunkel’s unappreciated gifts was for painting beautiful sound pictures (together with engineer/producer Roy Halee, who also recorded ‘Like a Rolling Stone’). Listen to “Bookends” or “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” with headphones (as I’ve done three or four bejillion times). The beauty of the texture, layer over layer under layer of weavings and surprises and nuances and tapestries. Beauty for the ears.

My understanding is that although Simon was of course the creative artist in the mix, he and Garfunkel and Halee were equal partners in the studio. Simon’s first four solo albums were made under the tutelage of Phil Ramone. They evolved soundwise from the bare-boned acoustic first album (but, oh, what compositional wonders Paul can create with two or three acoustic guitars! and a modest rhythm section) through the band-based “Rhyming Simon” to the “Bridge”-like broadly canvassed “Still Crazy”, then stepping back into a live club sound for “Pony”. “H&B” reunites Simon with Halee.

02Technically, the song ‘Hearts and Bones’ is rather unassuming. A very simple AABA structure, mostly in 4/4 time, except at the start of the second sentence in each verse (“On the last leg”, “These events” “Easy time”) where he adds two beats and simultaneously shifts the accent from the backbeat to stressing each beat (ᴗ/ᴗ/, ᴗ/ᴗ/, // ᴗ/ᴗ/), creating a momentary reverse movement. Note that we don’t have the bass drum guiding us through that section, enabling the fluid shift.

The instrumentation employed is standard Simon. The first verse is based on two (three?) acoustic guitars, one heavily strummed Everly-style to provide the rhythmic counterpart to the pattering hand drum. Two or three background voices and a strange little creak which becomes rhythmic provide the ambient colorings, followed later in the first verse by some touches of electric guitars, a Fender Rhodes filler, and a marimba for good measure–all backing Paul’s unadorned, very naked voice.

downloadMost people who talk about the song like to address the autobiographical elements. The memorable opening line, “One and one-half wandering Jews” according to even Simon himself, refers to him and his soon-to-be wife Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia of “Star Wars”, the author and subject of “Postcards from the Edge”.

Carrie’s father was Eddie Fisher, son of Jewish immigrants, a pre-rock teen idol, with 35 Top 40 singles in the early 1950’s. Confession: his song ‘Around the World’ (theme song from the Oscar-winning film “Around the World in 80 Days”, produced by Fisher’s best friend Mike Todd) was the first record I ever bought.

Rainbow over Desert Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Rainbow over Desert Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Carrie’s mother was Debbie Reynolds, an über-shicksa (raised a strict evangelical), a peach-cheeked (“Isn’t she adorable?”) actress-singer. They married in 1955, America’s most beloved couple (except for a few spoilsport old Jewish relatives of Eddie). In 1956 Eddie and Debbie co-starred in the musical comedy “Bundle of Joy”. In 1957 she starred in “Tammy and the Bachelor” and had a #1 hit with ‘Tammy’. In 1958, Mike Todd died in a plane crash. In 1959, Eddie began consoling his widow, one Elizabeth Taylor, in the biggest Hollywood scandal of the decade. Dream couple Eddie and Debbie divorced, Eddie and Liz married. In 1960, Eddie appeared with Liz in the steamy “BUtterfield 8”. She won the Oscar for Best Actress. They say that Debbie even voted for her. Who says Hollywood isn’t an enlightened town?

Paul Simon is of course himself Jewish. Hence the opening line of the song: 1+½ =1½.

Paul Zollo’s fascinating book “Songwriters on Songwriting” includes a great interview with Simon.

PS: That was one of my best songs. It took a long time to write it and it was very true. It was about things that happened. The characters are very near to autobiographical. It’s probably the only track that I really like on that album.

Ironically, the song was copyrighted 1982, whereas Simon and Fisher were only married in 1983. So the song presages a failed relationship. Well, they’d been together on-and-off for a decade, so they knew each other pretty well.

PS: Had “Hearts and Bones” been a hit, I would never have written “Graceland”. So for me, it was a tremendous flop. In “Hearts and Bones” the language starts to get more interesting. The imagery started to get a little interesting. And that’s what I was trying to learn to do, was to be able to write vernacular speech, and then intersperse it with enriched language, and then go back to vernacular. So the thing would go along smoothly, then some image would come out that was interesting, then it would go back to this very smooth, conversational thing. So that was a technique that I was learning… I don’t know where it came from.

Wandering Jew

Wandering Jew

Carrie Fisher is half-Jewish, so…and Wandering Jew is a flower, isn’t it?

Q: Was it a conscious move to get Jews and Christ into the beginning of a love song? The next lines discuss wandering together in the Blood of Christ mountains.

PS: No, it wasn’t conscious. [Pause] In fact, I thought it was actually funny. One and one-half anything is funny.

That’s what we call emotional disingenuousness, a very fine example of why we shouldn’t listen to artists explicating their own work. It’s not funny at all, Paul.

Wandering Jew

Wandering Jew

Q: It’s your only song, with the exception of “Silent Eyes” that discusses being Jewish. And once you said that you try to keep spirituality and religion out of your songs–

PS: Yeah, but it seems to come in all the time. Not so much religion but spirituality.

Q: Do you think that your Jewish consciousness has anything to do with your abilities as a songwriter?

PS: I don’t know that there’s a connection, no.

Q: I ask because so many great songwriters are Jewish–

PS: That’s so. I guess it’s not a coincidence, but I don’t spend a lot of time connecting the two things. But maybe their words…brain and heart, you know? I think one would have to strain to make the connection. I don’t think there’s an obvious connection, but I think everything is explainable and connected. So there’s a connection, but I don’t know what it is.

19300001351540132783449434545_950That’s what I would call historical disingenuousness. In the middle of the twentieth century, Jews comprised less than 3% of the American population and perhaps 80% of the great songwriters. You need to do some pretty tricky self-denying calisthenics to jump through those statistical loopholes.

But of course in the end it comes down to The Song. ‘Hearts and Bones’ is a work of utter beauty, describing the disintegration of the very core of two people’s shared life, about the emotional essence (heart) coming undone from its framework (bones). The soft and hard, that which can only feel pain, and that which can only be broken. The vital and the inflexible, the palpitating and the rigid. The pulsating, quivering, throbbing passions within us, and the structures and strictures and scaffoldings that hold it all up. It’s about how they cohabit within us – intimate, interdependent, synergetic, yet profoundly and inherently separate. Like a married couple.

ezekiels-vision-valley-of-dry-bones.jpg.crop_displayI have a couple of degrees in poetry, so if I had to, I could parse images such as ‘rainbows in the high desert air’, or perhaps even describe how the rhythm  guitar breathes life into “The arc of a love affair/His hands rolling down her hair/Love like lightning shaking till it moans.” But ultimately I would have no words to describe the beauty that is this song. It’s incandescent and transcendent and ineffable. It deserves to be listened to, cried over, appreciated, and loved.

One and one-half wandering Jews free to wander wherever they choose
Are travelling together in the Sangre de Cristo
The Blood of Christ Mountains of New Mexico
On the last leg of the journey they started a long time ago.
The arc of a love affair, rainbows in the high desert air
Mountain passes slipping into stones
Hearts and bones

Thinking back to the season before, looking back through the cracks in the door
Two people were married, the act was outrageous
The bride was contagious, she burned like a bride.
These events may have had some effect on the man with the girl by his side.
The arc of a love affair, his hands rolling down her hair.
Love like lightning shaking till it moans
Hearts and bones

She said why, why don’t we drive through the night
And we’ll wake up down in Mexico?
Oh I, I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ about Mexico.
Tell me why, why won’t you love me for who I am, where I am.
He said, “Cause that’s not the way the world is baby.
This is how I love you, baby. This is how I love you, baby.”

One and one-half wandering Jews returned to their natural coasts
To resume old acquaintances, step out occasionally
And speculate who had been damaged the most.
Easy time will determine if these consolations will be their reward.
The arc of a love affair waiting to be restored.
You take two bodies and you twirl them into one
Their hearts and their bones, they won’t come undone.
Hearts and bones

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

165: Paul Simon, ‘Jonah’
158: Paul Simon, ‘Surfer Girl’
136: James Taylor, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – ‘Wonderful World’
090: The Cyrkle, ‘Red Rubber Ball’
078: Paul Simon, ‘The Late, Great Johnny Ace’

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196: Ray Charles, ‘You Don’t Know Me’

Posted by jeff on May 23, 2014 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

ray charles 16Ray Charles – ‘You Don’t Know Me’

You can’t imagine how different it was in The Good Old Days – i.e., the Eisenhower Years. Today, anything goes. Can you imagine Cole Porter watching Jerry Springer? Back then, nothing went. Not between the birds and the bees, not between The North and The South, certainly not in the recording studio.

The world was orderly, coherent and predictable. People knew their place. Crooners crooned. Violists violed. Polkadeers dotted polkas. Saxophonists smoked weed and wore sunglasses. Morally upstanding ‘coloreds’ sang in church, while their lapsed younger brother sang the blues. Hillbillies sang Country & Western. Believe me, it was a pretty tidy place back then, the world was.

imagesAnd then came Elvis Pelvis and got things all shook up. A white boy singing black music. Who ever heard of such a thing? Well, just create a new pigeonhole for him to roost in, call it Rock & Roll, and try to keep Suzie from listening to it. Well, good luck.

Elvis had grown up sneaking across the tracks to eavesdrop on some of those younger church-raised blues musicians who were adding drums and bass to the gumbo, what Billboard monickered Rhythm & Blues. Separate charts, separate drinking fountains. Musical segregation. Fats Domino may have made the original, but all Suzie’s going to hear is Pat Boone. Never the twain.

lossy-page1-1200px-Nixon_meeting_with_Ray_Charles_in_the_oval_office_-_NARA_-_194452.tifThen came Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and leading the pack, Brother Ray – infusing R&B with a whole lot of gospel fervor, and not a little big band sheen. Let’s call it Soul, just so we’ll have a label for it.

Ray Charles (1930-2004) grew up in rural Georgia and Florida. As a child, he witnessed his little brother drowning in a laundry tub. He was blind (glaucoma) by seven. His father died when he was ten, his mother when he was 15. He studied classical music at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, but played ‘Jingle Bell Boogie’ at their Christmas parties.

poydvfyncovzbyHe hit the road, Ray, at 15 and bounced around from Seattle to Miami, made enough regional recordings to get himself signed to the brand-new Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegün and Jerry Wexler, and in 1955 scored his first nationwide R&B hit with ‘I Got a Woman’, with his signature gospel moans and bouncy horn-driven arrangement.

He continued in the Soul vein (‘This Little Girl of Mine,’ ‘Drown in My Own Tears,’ ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So,’)  through the 1950s. He finally broke into the white charts with ‘What’d I Say,’ followed by a move to ABC-Paramount Records, where he was granted artistic control (a first for a black artist on a major label) and a series of slightly tamer pop hits (‘Unchain My Heart’, ‘Busted’ and ‘Hit the Road Jack,’). Spanning both labels, he made a variety of excellent big band albums  (“Ray Charles at Newport”, “The Genius of Ray Charles”, “Genius + Soul = Jazz”), many of them in collaboration with arranger Quincy Jones.

Sid Feller, Ray Charles

Sid Feller, Ray Charles

So Ray pretty much invented soul and then cornered the market. Not bad for a blind boy from Greenville, Florida. But the guy just didn’t know his place. Instead of leaving well enough alone, in 1962 he had to go and invade Nashville, dressing a string of Country and Western classics in his jazz/pop/soul style, but with fiercely personal interpretations. Something new under the sun.

Arranger Sid Feller brought him 250 Nashville songs to choose from. The resulting albums, “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” and its sequel “Vol. II” were landmark music back then, and they still glow today.

Arrested 3 times for heroin

Arrested 3 times for heroin

It has been said that “the album’s integration of soul and country music bent racial barriers in popular music, amid the height of the African-American civil rights struggle.” That’s 20/20 hindsight. I was subjected to ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ some 11 bejillion times on AM radio. Even today I leave the room when it comes on. Nothing personal against it. It’s a fine song. Just, you know, 11 bejillion times is tsu fill for anything. At the time, the song wasn’t perceived as a statement, it was music. A hit, five weeks at #1 on the white charts.

Check out ‘Born to Lose’, ‘Careless Love’, ‘Hey, Good Lookin’’, ‘Your Cheating Heart’.  Ray Charles: “The words to country songs are very earthy like the blues, see, very down. They’re not as dressed up, and the people are very honest and say, ‘Look, I miss you, darlin’, so I went out and I got drunk in this bar.’ That’s the way you say it. Where in Tin Pan Alley will say, ‘Oh, I missed you darling, so I went to this restaurant and I sat down and I had dinner for one.’ That’s cleaned up now, you see? But country songs and the blues is like it is.”

But most of all, check out ‘You Don’t Know Me’.

folderIt was written in 1956 by Nashville songwriter Cindy Walker from an idea by Eddie Arnold. Jerry Vale had #14 hit with it on the country charts, followed two months later by Arnold’s own version hitting #10. Here’s Eddie singing it live at the Grand Ole Opry. Here’s Cindy herself singing it in 1964.

Ray transformed this simple, honest ballad of unrequited love to a masterpiece of heartbreak. I’ve listened to it 2.5 bejillion times over 52 years, and it still wrenches my stomach every time. We’ve all been there, even if it was back in high school: loving her to the core of your soul and her not even recognizing it – it’s a pain that never dies. Ray brings it all to the visceral surface, even after half a century.

Feller: “He listened to all of them to see which ones he could make a Ray Charles record with. A Ray Charles version.  Not copy a country & western singer’s version. So in other words, by hearing the original, he knew what he didn’t want to do. So consequently, he made up his own things, and some of the things he made up, you know, the melodies themselves are interpretations. Some of the ballads, that were so beautiful, he just made it sound like Ray Charles made it up, even though he was singing the exact melody of the original. And yet when Ray Charles sings it, it sounds like a brand new song.”

rock_roll_011_ray_charlesHere’s Ray’s original recording of ‘You Don’t Know Me’. Here’s a video of Ray singing it live from back then.

Ray’s recording has spawned more versions than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill. Elvis Presley. Jackie Wilson. Willie Nelson. Van Morrison (with his daughter Shana). Alison Krauss & The Jerry Douglas Band. Michael McDonald. Here’s Meryl Streep, proving yet once more that there’s nothing she can’t do stunningly well. Here’s the fetching Norah Jones with Wynton Marsalis. Here’s Ray singing it with Diana Krall.

richard_manuelAnd of course we can’t wrap this up without paying homage to Richard Manuel of The Band. Rewind Ray Charles back to 1960, his first single for ABC, a Grammy-winning recording of ‘Georgia on My Mind’, a country-ish reading of the Hoagy Carmichael classic. We wrote recently about The Band’s ‘Rockin’ Chair’ and its roots in the Hoagy Carmichael ‘Rocking Chair’. The Band covered ‘Georgia on My Mind’ as well, and Richard’s version belies comparison with Ray’s. Ray is Ray Charles. Richard isn’t Pat Boone. He’s one fine, moving singer.

Likewise with Richard Manuel’s ‘You Don’t Know Me’, performed here by a 1983 post-Band regrouping. Ray inspires Richard. Both versions are moving.

Richard Manuel, and all of us, have been schooled by Brother Ray in soul, in pain, in passion, in all the emotional intensity that great music can awaken in us.

One more time. 2.5 bejillion and one. Ray Charles, ‘You Don’t Know Me.’

You give your hand to me and then you say, “Hello.”
And I can hardly speak, my heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell you think you know me well.
Well, you don’t know me.

No you don’t know the one who dreams of you at night;
And longs to kiss your lips and longs to hold you tight.
Oh I’m just a friend, that’s all I’ve ever been.
Cause you don’t know me.

For I never knew the art of making love, though my heart ached with love for you.
Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by, a chance that you might love me too.

You give your hand to me and then you say, “Goodbye.”
I watched you walk away beside the lucky guy.
Oh, you’ll never ever know the one who loved you so.
Well, you don’t know me.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

193: The Band, ‘Rockin’ Chair’
120: Sam Cooke, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’
 080: Tim Ries w. Norah Jones, ‘Wild Horses’

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195: Hoagy Carmichael, ‘Skylark’

Posted by jeff on May 9, 2014 in Other, Song Of the week
Crazy Loon

Crazy Loon

Hoagy Carmichael, ‘Skylark’

“…crazy as a loon, dah dah-dah-dah, dah dah dah.”

Earworm. Five days, bouncing between my ears, occupying my mind, filling my brain.

It’s got to be old. No one today uses phrases like ‘crazy as a loon’.

Google ‘crazy as a loon lyrics’: John Prine song. Never heard it.
YouTube ‘crazy loon’: This clip shows where loons got their reputation for odd behavior, but I’ve seen some drunken white fraternity boys dancing a whole lot more embarrassingly.
Sounds old. Tom Waits? Close, but no cigar.

Skylark with earworm

Skylark with earworm

Chronicler of extreme neurological phenomena Oliver Sacks, in his wonderful book “Musicophilia” writes: Sometimes normal musical imagery crosses a line and becomes, so to speak, pathological, as when a certain fragment of music repeats itself incessantly, sometimes maddeningly, for days on end. These repetitions–often a short, well-defined phrase or theme of three or four bars–are apt to go on for hours or days, circling in the mind, before fading away. This endless repetition and the fact that the music in question may be irrelevant or trivial, not to one’s taste, or even hateful, suggest a coercive process, that the music has entered and subverted a part of the brain, forcing it to fire repetitively and autonomously (as may happen with a tic or a seizure).

Gypsy serenading the moon

Gypsy serenading the moon

“Subverted a part of the brain.” Go, Oliver! (Did you know that “”poet”” Rod McKuen–as bad a writer as Sacks is a fine one–had a #76 dance hit in 1962 called the ‘Oliver Twist’. I suggest you not listen to it, but if you insist…)

I have almost no memory for things I don’t care about, which is most things. But music I remember. (See the previous paragraph.) “…crazy as a loon, dah dah-dah-dah, dah dah dah.” I don’t know the song, certainly not well. I can forget to take out the garbage (even under penalty of severe repercussions), I can forget the one item on the list for which I went to the grocer. But once I know it, I don’t forget a song. I’m afraid that if you gave me WSAI’s Top 40 for this week in 1962, I could reconstruct some 80% of the lyrics. It spooks me. It maybe explains why I remember so little of anything else. There limited space up there, right?

I was once paid to translate the lyrics of a fat, spoiled 17-year old girl with delusions of stardom. The songs were – surprise! – fat, spoiled, and adolescent. When a certain fragment of this music insinuated itself into my ears incessantly, sometimes maddeningly, for days on end (sound familiar?), I said to OD, “I don’t get it. It’s stuck in my mind — there must be some musical quality to this crap!?!” “No, no,” he said, “Think of it as used bubblegum that got stuck to your brain.” Yummy-yummy-loveinmytummy subversion.

L to R: Carmichael, Mercer

L to R: Hoagy, Johnny

“…crazy as a loon, dah dah-dah-dah, dah dah dah.” I got it. I don’t know how, but thank goodness, I got it. ‘Skylark’, 1941, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Hoagy Carmichael.

I don’t feel too bad for not having caught it immediately. I don’t know the song intimately, and most of the versions I know are instrumental, especially many treatments over the years by Lee Konitz.

It’s a ‘Standard’, i.e. a member in good standing of The Great American Songbook, the canon of the most popular songs of the 1920s-1950s, often from Broadway and Hollywood. The genre has been called America’s classical music, because of the songs’ rich musical content, careful phrasing, and detailed composition –  and their lasting value. The era as such ended with the advent of rock and roll, but notable music in the genre has continued to be written till today (Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach).



I learned the GAS literally with my mother’s milk. Well, almost literally. She had that stuff going in the background of my childhood. Unfortunately, because she would sing it and play it pretty awfully. Fortunately, because when I discovered jazz later in life, I had that entire repertoire neatly boxed in the basement of my mind.

We mentioned Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981) in a recent SoTW, his ‘Rockin’ Chair’ being an acknowledged inspiration for The Band’s ‘Rocking Chair’. Hoosier Hoagy studied law but not music. In the 1920s he was making ‘hot jazz’ hits such as ‘Stardust’ and ‘Rocking Chair’ with the Dorsey brothers, Gene Krupa and buddy Bix Beiderbecke. In the 1930s he rode the big band wave, with hits such as ‘Heart and Soul’, gaining a reputation as a witty, folksy, sophisticated singer-performer-writer – a prototype for our Randy Newman and Tom Waits. In the 1940s he appeared as an actor in Hollywood movies, always performing at least one of his songs.

Meadow in the mist

Meadow in the mist

Hoagy usually collaborated with lyricists, most notably Johnny Mercer (1909-1976), who grew up in Georgia rubbing shoulders with black playmates and enthralled with their church music. He followed a route similar to Carmichael’s, from hot black jazz to Hollywood, both singer-songwriters who were phenomenally successful in their songwrighting. Mercer’s lyrics include Academy Award winners ‘Moon River’ and ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ (both with Mancini), ‘On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe’, and (with Hoagy) ‘In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening’. Other famous Mercer-Carmichael collaborations include ‘Lazybones’ (1933, written in 20 minutes, selling 350,000 copies in three months) and our earworm SoTW ‘Skylark’.



Carmichael wrote the music in 1941, but Mercer struggled with the lyrics for a year before he was satisfied. He had begun an intense, long-lasting on-again-off-again affair with the then 19-year old Judy Garland. The song is said to reflect that relationship.

‘Skylark’ is indeed an impressive amalgam of passion and craft. The lyrics are witty, urbane, sophisticated, as affective as they are clever. It’s full of the familiar-yet-exotic: the loon, the gypsy, the will o’ the wisp (which if like me you didn’t know are atmospheric ghost lights, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes, resembling a flickering lamp and said to recede if approached, drawing travelers from the safe paths at night.) Even the skylark itself – it really does have a beautiful song.

L to R: The Mercers, The Carmichaels

L to R: The Mercers, The Carmichaels

It’s no wonder that the song has been recorded by literally hundreds of fine artists.

Gene Krupa & His Orchestra (with Anita O’Day) – 1941, the original. I. Love. Anita.

Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (with Ray Eberle) – 1942, the hit version of the era

Hoagy Carmichael – 1956

Ella Fitzgerald (with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra) – 1964, the First Lady of the GAS

Dianne Reeves – a lovely contemporary reading

And I can’t resist including here a rare opportunity to hear three of the most significant vocal jazz groups ever reading the same song:

The HiLo’s – 1955 (arr. probably Gene Puerling)

The Singers Unlimited – 1975  (arr. probably Gene Puerling)

The Real Group – 1995, with bass Anders Jalkeus singing a lead!



The song reminds me just how good those standards could be. So, thanks to my mother for spiking my milk with such music. Thanks to Hoagy and Johnny for writing it, thanks to the myriad of wonderful artists for recording it. And thanks to the mysterious impulse that wormed that crazy loon into my ear so that I’d go back and take a look at this beautiful piece of American popular classical music.

Skylark, have you anything to say to me?
Won’t you tell me where my love can be?
Is there a meadow in the mist
Where someone’s waiting to be kissed?

Skylark, have you seen a valley green with spring?
Where my heart can go a journeying
Over the shadows and the rain
To a blossom covered lane.

And in your lonely flight
Haven’t you heard the music in the night?
Wonderful music,
Faint as a will o’ the wisp, crazy as a loon,
Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon

Skylark, I don’t know if you can find these things
But my heart is riding on your wings
So if you see them anywhere
Won’t you lead me there?


If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

193: The Band, ‘Rockin’ Chair’
045: Julie London, ‘Bye Bye, Blackbird’
029: Eva Cassidy, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’

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114: Luciana Souza, ‘Morrer de Amor’

Posted by jeff on May 1, 2014 in Brazilian, Song Of the week, Vocalists

The lyrics of this song are in a language I don’t understand, and I know almost nothing about its background. But the rendition is of such utter beauty and unspeakable perfection that it’s emotional eloquence transcends any need for explication. I’m just going to turn off my analytical brain, close my verbose mouth, and hope that you’ll be as moved by it as I am.

It’s ‘Morrer de Amor’ as sung by Luciana Souza, guesting on an album by the composer of the song, Oscar Castro-Neves.

I’ve written about Luciana a number of times recently, and intend to continue to do so. In SoTW 099 I talked about her first CD, a Brazilian jazz CD in which she fronts a quintet as composer-vocalist; I think it’s a great, groundbreaking album, and contemporary vocal jazz would do well to put it at center stage as a model to be devoutly emulated. In SoTW 100 I discussed her two brilliant CDs of duets of Brazilian music with a single guitar. And in SoTW 108 I compared her version of Michael McDonald’s romantic pop ballad ‘I Can Let Go Now’ to the original.  In SoTW 081 I paid tribute to composer-bandleader Maria Schneider’s masterpiece ‘The Pretty Road’ in which Luciana contributes a stunning vocal solo from within the orchestral fabric.

Read more…

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