Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: I don’t plan on looking at too many of the Sinatra tracks, just the few that I really like. This Irving Berlin piece appeared on Shadows in the Night in 2015.

Tony: My late father played piano and saxophone in dance bands, and I was brought up listening to the classics of bygone days, including this track, which became one of my favourites, even though I spent most of my early years listening to rock n roll.

But I’m sorry to say I don’t find Bob adds anything much to this gorgeous song.  He sings, the orchestration is perfect, but for me it doesn’t add anything to all that I already knew about the piece.

Aaron: George Gershwin called Berlin “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived”, and composer Jerome Kern concluded that “Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music.”

Tony: The first thing to know about Gershwin must always be that he wrote “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” which single-handedly started a revolutionary dance movement that spread across the whole of America and Europe – rather clever for a single song.

And later he wrote “White Christmas” which would be enough for anyone  – although it is reckoned he wrote over 1500 songs all told – more than Dylan in fact.  Actually I think he is the only person who has written songs of note who has written more songs than Bob.

And the third thing about him is that he could only play in F sharp – although I think later he did learn to play in other keys.   And all this for the greatest songwriter who ever lived!

Aaron: In the UK this song was used as the theme song for Birds of a Feather. In the US it was famously used in one of the funniest scenes in the Golden Girls.

The song has been covered by many artists of great renown. Here are three of my favourite versions:

Willie Nelson from December Day: Willie’s Stash, Vol. 1 in 2014

Tony: This is a rendition of the song that really gets much closer to the whole essence of the song in my opinion – although it is quite different from the many hit versions of the song.   There is a need, and again of course this is just my opinion, to feel the loss and loneliness that is inherent in the song, and I am not sure that this is here in this version.  I’m not sure of the guitar at the end either.

Aaron: Harry Nilsson from A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night in 1973

Tony: This guy had one of the most beautiful voices ever, and he seemed to lose his way in life in a manner that I could never fathom.  He died so young – aged 53 – but at least we have unbelievably wonderful early recordings such as this, to remind us of what a staggeringly wonderful voice he had.  I still have the LPs I bought of his music as a youngster.

Aaron: Art Garfunkel from Some Enchanted Evening in 2007

Art Garfunkel had that sort of voice too, which made this a natural song for him as well.   This is an utterly beautiful recording.

And since I don’t normally get a chance to write about Art Garfunkel I am going to slip in one of those recordings that whenever I hear it brings tears to my eyes – literally, so I have to stop typing.

That is not just a beautiful song but a staggering rendition.  It was written by Jimmy Webb, the only person ever to have received Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration.  If you have a moment, please listen through to the end – there’s a live version after the recorded version.

OK that last bit has nothing to do with Dylan, but Dylan showed us how much he valued the great songs from the classic American songbook, so that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Previously in this series…


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