08 March 2011

In praise of 'cover versions'

I think it's probably an evolutionary trait that as people get older they find more in the world that they disagree with, so that eventually death comes as a welcome release from a world gone unrecognisably mad.

I think I'm a long way off that yet because what's exercising me today is the modern orthodoxy that pop singers aren't really authentic unless they write their own songs. I suppose the thinking is that they can't give the same commitment to someone else's words, someone else's experience. But music - or any art - is all about communicating the experience of one person to another. If singers can't inhabit someone else's words and music, why should we, as listeners, be able to be moved by their experience?

Why, above all, should we expect the best singers to be - by happy coincidence - the best songwriters? And I'm not pining after a golden age of my youth in thinking this, but rather of a golden age before I was born, the days of tin pan alley when professional songwriters wrote a song on spec, or occasionally with a particular singer in mind, and the singers brought it to life.

It's too late to go back now, I know. We're stuck with an imperfect mixture of great singers and rubbish songs (I mean you, Amy - some of your songs are real stinkers) or average singers with superb songs (and my example here is from Brazil: Zeca Baleiro - a great compositor whose songs deserve a much better rendition than he can give).

I'd love to be able to clinch the argument by saying that Frank Sinatra never wrote his own songs, but I bloody hate Frank Sinatra.

Anyway, that's my current annoyance with these times we live in. Fortunately it's trivial (though not too trivial for a blog post - is anything?) and it's not enough to make me want to die, you'll be pleased, I hope, to hear.

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