When a woman sings Just like a woman and beats the bass issue

by Tony Attwood and Aaron Galbraith

In this series, the two of us play a game.  Aaron selects the theme and the various recordings, and then hands them over to Tony without instruction or comment.  And what Tony does is try to envisage the issues the arranger, producer, director and singer have to face, and how they face them.

Now what I (Tony) try and do is keep all the recordings that Aaron has provided and comment on them.   And that has certainly happened here, but just so you get the idea, in general terms the arrangements move from the ones I don’t like much, onto the ones I do adore.

The key decisions are instrumentation, and how wild or restrained the vocalist is going to be.

Hazel O’Connor and her arranger go for the full works, and for me it really does not work – the result has nothing to do with the lyrics.

So let’s move on and give the same problem to the lady who has sung on the fourth (or was that the fifth, or sixth?) best selling album of all time.

Sing Dylan songs among other things I guess and Stevie can do soft and gentle but here her impulse is to go for thrust and twiddley dee, plus a drum beat and no, not for me.  Just why it is not needed will become very clear in a few moments.  Do feel obliged to play the whole plodding thing…

Nina Simone tries a different route, with a “you won’t guess what this is” introduction.   But I wonder, what on earth does that intro have to do with the music?  Apart from allowing a bit of showing off.

Really this soulful version simply doesn’t need that show-off piano introduction, because the piano accompaniment is exquisite during the song.  Did the musical director actually say “can you give us a twiddly bit” at the start.    Mind you I also wonder if we need the organ.  Supposing this was just bass, drums and piano…

Certainly the word has got out that this is a song in which one can be expressive, and with Roberta Flack we begin to see exactly what restraint can do with this song.  I’m not at all happy with the bass, but if you can screen that out this is an exquisite version, because no one (except the bass player) is trying too hard.   (Had the musical director gone for a glass of refreshment during this take?  Or before this take?)

The problem however that Roberta Flack has is what to do with the middle 8.  More repeated notes from the bass is not what we want; but it is strange, the player does have a bow.  He just doesn’t want to use it much.   What’s worse is this bassist in here.  What a tragedy, Roberta is such a beautiful singer.

But fear not my dear friends, if you have made it this far, because now things get a huge amount better.    Judy Collins doesn’t let us down – ever.  And it is so illuminating to play this exquisite piece straight after the Roberta Flack piece.  Here is a musical director who knows something about, well, not to put too fine a point on it, musical direction.

Even the interlude between verses is perfect, and that allows the utterly exquisite Ms Collins to shine, which surely is the whole point.   Yes let’s have the occasional orchestral crescendo, but with a reason.

And hey the percussionist can have something to do because yes there is a middle 8 and because this woman through her entire career has had the most wonderful range, perfect at every point in her range.

Plus both arranger and singer know what’s what as the song draws to its end.  Listening to this I need to rummage in the attic to find those original Judy C albums.  They are up there somewhere.

Moving on, the “I’m not there” soundtrack has not reached the heights of recognition, rather the opposite in fact, and so you might be surprised we bring this along after the wonderful Judi.

But we need to because the wonderful Charlotte Gainsburg is available to make a recording.  Just how breathless can you get Charlotte?  You can almost imagine her asking the producer, “is this a level 6 breathless, or level 7?  Oh level nine you want?  Fine.  OK, let’s go.”

And the amazing thing is that she can do it.  To utter perfection.  I dare you to turn this off – there is just a desperate need to know what she does with this pain in here.  If you don’t feel the shivers listening to listening, then quite simply you are not listening and should be making a bacon sandwich and hosing down the patio.

Listening to this it just seems so obvious the song was written for Charlotte Gainsburg and no one else.  It wasn’t of course, but that’s how it feels.

Dare we go on?  I mean we have been to heaven, but is there a paradise?  Carly Simon is willing to take shot and either she or her people have one of the most workable of ideas – a pianist who knows how to mix parts of the original song with a meander of her own, and who is also the producer.  OK this this is cheating, because bringing in Julie Wolf is like moving into warp speed and reaching a planet no one else is can even see let along reach.

But anyone else could have asked her.  Here is Ms Simon, aided and abetted by Ms Wolf.

So as you might have realised the whole point of articles like this is that it gives Tony a chance to wander off into an alternative galaxy in which only geniuses are allowed to make records.

And how about this one from Norwegian singer Radka Toneff from her album Some Time Ago.

Now that is what you do with a bass.  And that is what you do when the Almighty (that Tony doesn’t believe in) has granted a lady a beautiful voice.

Oh if there was a heaven, this would be the musical accompaniment.

Untold Dylan: who we are what we do

Untold Dylan is written by people who want to write for Untold Dylan.  It is simply a forum for those interested in the work of the most famous, influential and recognised popular musician and poet of our era, to read about, listen to and express their thoughts on, his lyrics and music.

We welcome articles, contributions and ideas from all our readers.  Sadly no one gets paid, but if you are published here, your work will be read by a fairly large number of people across the world, ranging from fans to academics who teach English literature.  If you have an idea, or a finished piece send it as a Word file to Tony@schools.co.uk with a subject line saying that it is for publication on Untold Dylan.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with approaching 6000 active members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.  Not every index is complete but I do my best.

But what is complete is our index to all the 604 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found, on the A to Z page.  I’m proud of that; no one else has found that many songs with that much information.  Elsewhere the songs are indexed by theme and by the date of composition. See for example Bob Dylan year by year.

 

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2 Responses to When a woman sings Just like a woman and beats the bass issue

  1. Aaron G says:

    Tony..i’m so glad you ranked these as you did. That was my order too.

    I sooo wanted to like Stevie Nicks version as i’m a fan but i couldn’t.

    And Nina and Roberta should do better than they did. “you won’t guess what this is” introduction – too funny!

    Its funny cause a lot of people absolutely hated Carly Simon’s take..but those people are obviously wrong!!

    Radka Toneff was a name i didn’t know until starting this exercise but this version is exquisite…i may have to investigate more of her work, this is such a stunning version

  2. Larry fyffe says:

    Yes, it is rather disappointing that vocals were included with the music – really messed up most of the recordings.

    When will those producers and directors ever learn!

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