Monday, November 12, 2007

Why don't you get a past?

Welcome back to the working week and the beginning of what should be a rather engaging and fun series (that I hope all you readers feel privy to take part in yourselves) that will cover this whole week.

I have this friend in town, Cind-- er, Grandma Cyd, that is, and every Saturday night on WSUM she does a show from 8-10 CST called "The Heavy Petting Zoo" which is categorically defined as makeout music for those wishing for a nice Saturday night in, but is more coolly defined (by me) as two hours of some of the best music of all time (all 1930s-1950s stuff really) that hardly ever gets the attention it deserves anyway, let alone college radio.

Due to her exceedingly good taste in music (even if she isn't really up to speed on probably eight ninths of the music I put on this blog regularly), we developed a fast friendship and a few months ago we went to get a dinner at this new restaurant in town called Azzellino's, which bills itself as this authentic 1930s eating experience.

Intriguing, right?

Well, it had its charms, even if it wasn't largely attended, but the real death blow for the place came when, instead of playing standards of the era, who should pop on the restaurant's sound system but Michael Buble?

We both kind of looked at each other with horror and derision and then started lampooning Buble, but it raised an interesting question for me? What of these young whippersnappers or modern popular artists that try taking on the old American standards? Is it worth doing? Is it a genre that should be left as is and not trifled with? Who does it for the right reasons? If not Michael Buble and Rod Stewart trying to cash in on easy money, what about the tribute albums or soundtracks that feature modern takes on old classics?

Heavy questions indeed, but who better to ask than the host of the Heavy Petting Zoo?

This week, Grandma Cyd and I look at three selections apiece from five albums where modern artists ventured into that hallowed ground (well, one of them didn't go too far back with song selections, but did with style selections... but more on that later in the week).

She opted we call it "Under the Covers." I liked how suggestive that sounded.

Away we go.

Under the Covers, Day 1/5

I kind of like how these old "biopics" are being done now -- in terms of "De-Lovely" and "Beyond the Sea" telling the stories of Cole Porter and Bobby Darin, respectively, in kind of a musical style. Not that either movie was completely mind-blowing for me, but they both at least were interesting, and I'm also a big Kevin Kline fan, and I think he did a great job as Porter.

The film's real quirk was its employment of modern stars for the soundtrack (and appearances in the movie) doing a number of Cole Porter classics. Robbie Williams, Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette, Elvis Costello and Natalie Cole were all among the ranks to show up for a Porter tune and it made for an interesting soundtrack/Porter tribute album.

Well I thought it did, at least...

Here's how the dialogue went for the three selections we offer you today...

Alanis Morissette - Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)
(SEE Alanis' part in the movie)
Grandma Cyd: Is it edited or does it start with the ‘Chinks and Japs’ line?
Paul: I don’t think that’s on this one, no.
Grandma Cyd: You hesitated!
Paul: No, it’s not on this one.
Grandma Cyd: That’s the thing about this song – I have a few versions, Billie Holiday’s and Leslie Hutchinson’s, but if I play it on the show I always have to edit that opening out.
Paul: Well, here you go. You can play this on the air, completely unadulterated.
Grandma Cyd: It doesn’t really sound like her.
Paul: No? Were you one of the zillions of girls that had Jagged Little Pill when it came out?
Grandma Cyd: No, I wasn’t.
Paul: Pretty much every girl in my high school had that. I don’t know, she’s got that tremble in her voice, that’s on display here.
Grandma Cyd: Yeah, the shivering bravado. I don’t really like that. It sounds like she was in a meat freezer. Although my whole mindset on this from the beginning is that I don’t really think modern artists should be doing these songs.
Paul: Oh, ha. Well this should make for a fun week’s worth of reading.
Grandma Cyd: Well, this does have nice parts. I like the orchestration here.
Paul: Alright then. I’ve heard other versions – I have Ella’s, but I only started really listening to the lyrics with this version. It really is pretty clever. I love the “Lithuanians and lets” line, and the bit about the beans in Boston doing it. I'll tell you what -- I only have two Alanis songs on my computer and this is one of them.
Grandma Cyd: What's the other one?
Paul: "Uninvted," the song she did for the "City of Angels" soundtrack. Sentimental reasons.
Grandma Cyd: Ohhh!
Paul: No, not like that.

Elvis Costello - Let's Misbehave
(SEE Elvis' part in the movie)
Paul: Ah, Elvis Costello. This is becoming his schtick now. Showing up on these albums or doing ones of his own that are just totally left field musically. It’s kind of cool, but I wonder when it will be a bit too much. You’re a college radio DJ – you must be an Elvis fan. I think that’s a job requirement.
Grandma Cyd: I’ve only heard like one of his songs.
Paul: Oh.
Grandma Cyd: This is a nice arrangement though, it’s got kind of a Benny Goodman feel to it. (Instrumental break comes on) You could tap dance to this part.
Paul: If nothing else, you can tap dance to this.
Grandma Cyd: Well it sounds like it would fit nicely into a movie, you know?
Paul: Yes. Now if only there were a movie this could be in. Say a biopic of Cole Porter. That would be ideal! It’s funny though, Porter’s a pretty inviting songwriter. All these “Let’s” songs. He’s one for the suggestions.
Grandma Cyd: (checks CD titles) I think these are the only two “Let’s” songs he ever wrote, actually.
Paul: Well… “Let’s” make up more titles then.
Grandma Cyd: You know, I could see Squirrel Nut Zippers doing this song.
Paul: And on that note…

Sheryl Crow - Begin the Beguine
(SEE Sheryl's part in the movie)
Grandma Cyd: This doesn’t sound like her.
Paul: No, it sounds like a Bebel Gilberto song to me.
Grandma Cyd: Yes. It’s interesting, because I kind of like her, but this really sounds like nothing else she’s done.
Paul: I liked her. I kind of stopped caring around “Soak Up the Sun.” But I’d liked “If It Makes You Happy” and “Leaving Las Vegas” was a phenomenal song.
Grandma Cyd: Yeah, she really has kind of a classic sound. This sounds more like a torch song.
Paul: This is like, full on romance music right here. This is sexy time music.
Grandma Cyd: Perfect for my show.
Paul: There you go. We’ve found one you can definitely play.
Grandma Cyd: It’s interesting though, the tempo is really slower. I have versions of Perry Como and Artie Shaw doing this and it’s a bit more upbeat. This is… what’s the word? Not allegro. Moderato?
Paul: I call it latin jazz. Gilberto-esque.
Grandma Cyd: It really sounds like nothing else she’s ever done. A friend of mine made me a Sheryl Crow mix a couple years ago. Nothing like this was on it.
Paul: She’s actually really good with covers. She did “D’yer Maker” for a Led Zeppelin tribute back in the 1990s that I thought was pretty good. She should do a covers album, it kind of suits her. Better than “Soak Up the Sun” at least.
Grandma Cyd: She did "Mother Nature's Son" for the "I Am Sam" soundtrack. I've never heard the Beatles' version, and I never heard of that song before she sang it and I really liked it. My friend Liz's dad heard it and said she did it better than the Beatles. So... an example, perhaps, of how doing lesser known songs will make a more successful cover because you're no longer trying to live up to a legend of sorts.
Paul: Well... no one does the Beatles better than the Beatles. But it was a good cover. She definitely should do a covers album.

Overall? The sentiment seemed to be favorable, if not outright applaudable. But hey, that's just two people's opinions. What say you?

Oh and Happy Birthday to Grandma Cyd, who turns 93* today. Leave her some good birthday wishes if nothing else.

*= age is subject to speculation with the whole "grandma" title.

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Blogger Cynthia said...

I should add that the Sheryl Crow version of "Begin the Beguine" is so far the only arrangement I've heard that had a clearcut Latin feel to it. Though Artie Shaw's arrangement is a classic, without the strong bassline to bring out the dance feel, something is lost on the song. Yay to Sheryl for bringing it back!

6:01 AM  
Blogger Any major dude with half a heart said...

I thought it was a good version. And I think the Robbie Williams rendition of the title track is really good.

The highlight of the album though is Kevin Kline and that Barrowman (?) dude singing Night And Day. It's my favourite version now, simply because none I've heard has ever really quite sounded right. Not Ella's, not Sinatra's.

I really enjoyed that series.

11:27 AM  

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