My colleague Dan Harper blew my mind with a casual mention of Richard Thompson singing “Oops! I Did It Again,” so of course I had to go find it. And you know, I liked it. Thompson deemed it “a pretty good song,” and, hearing it sung by a singer I really like, and unburdened by the “oh no, more bubblegum pop” expectation I bring to top-40 radio (do we still have top 40, or am I dating myself?), I agreed.
I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise. Hey, one of my favorite songwriters, Ira Gershwin, said, “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella [Fitzgerald] sing them.” IMHO, they hold up pretty damn well no matter who is singing them, but it’s true, a great singer can make a mediocre song great, or at least “pretty good.” (And vice versa–I heard a version of Joni Mitchell’s “River” the other day that really should never have hit the airwaves.)
I wonder how far we can take this. I recently tuned in NPR and stumbled on an analysis of the Song Most Likely to Make Amy Scream and Reach for the Dial, “Light My Fire.” Lord, how I hate that song. But I didn’t change the station, because the speaker, one of the songwriters, was walking us through the process of writing it, and that was interesting, plus I only had to listen to his playing the piano and talking, not the original with those noodling instrumentals and that pompous Jim Morrison voice.
Of course, at the break they did play the original, and I shuddered and turned it off. But now I wonder if even “Light My Fire” could be redeemed if someone else sang it.
Nah, there’s only one way to make a line like “no time to wallow in the mire” bearable, and that’s to listen to it in the same state the band was no doubt in when they wrote it: seriously stoned.