Friday, February 04, 2011

Friday Songbook: The Very Thought of You

Like many in my generation, I grew up with an onerous level of exposure to 1) second-hand smoke, and 2) easy listening radio. ELR represented the degeneration of Swing Era music, the paunchy middle-age of the 30s jitter-buggers. In ther 60s every radio market had at least one such station, and its rating were usually pretty high. They played Como, Mathis, Sinatra, Doris Day, Nat Cole, etc. The preference was for the bland, the unimaginative, and the saccharine.

Some of that music can still make me cringe even now (and laugh, and then cringe again, harder). There has always been a trend, when it comes to the great songs of that era (by Rodgers, Arlen, Carmichael, etc.) to pack in the lush strings, the emphatic vocal climax, the grandiose emotionalism, all of which struck us kids as incredibly false. Our parents were listening to utter trash!

But songs that seemed utterly saccharine in the wrong hands became lovely sound-poems in the hands of those few who could "interpret" them with respect and humility. Here are two versions of Ray Noble's The Very Thought of You, first Billie Holiday's verison from the 30s with its easy swinging pace, then Nat Cole's from the late 50s, which despite the often over-used string section seems at once lush and yet still somehow understated. Holliday was an ensemble vocalist, "playing" the song along with the other musicians, while Cole typified the crooner era, the singer as a kind of romantic hero, out in front of the band, whose task is simply to provide the moody backdrop. I love both versions.

[Update: I just listened to Shirley Horn's version. It's pretty amazing. Again, an interpreter that really lets the lyric breathe.]


Glynn said...

I love this song - and I hadn't heard the Bille Holliday version before.

Anonymous said...

enjoyed these.

here is one i was listening to tonight... by david francey