Friday, November 03, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #3

Today's suggestion of the song you must hear comes from The Art Of Noise contributor and gentleman blogger in his own right Swiss Toni:

Dusty Springfield - If You Go Away

I discovered one of my favourite songs in the whole world entirely by accident. I had been a big fan of Scott Walker for many years when my new French girlfriend introduced me to the works of Jacques Brel. Because I hadn’t spent my sixth form years sat at a street table in an Orléanaise Café, smoking a Gauloise and discussing the works of Sartre, I was blissfully unaware of the great Belgian songwriter and had naively assumed that songs as good as Next, Jackie and Mathilde were all Walker originals and had been written to be sung in that magnificent honeyed baritone. In fact, they were rather sensitive translations of the original French by the poet Rod McKuen, and I subsequently took great pleasure in discovering every rolled ‘r’ of the original Brel versions of the songs.

It was through the chance purchase of a bargain priced collection of Brel covers that I discovered that many other English speaking artists had covered these songs too: David Bowie, Alex Harvey (a sensationally bonkers version of Next), Marc Almond, The Divine Comedy, Terry Jacks (although to be honest, Seasons in the Sun neuters the glorious sarcasm of Brel’s Le Moribund), Frank Sinatra... the list of famous artists paying tribute to the work of this Belgian chanteur was seemingly endless. Although the quality of the covers varied wildly, that compilation was well worth £5 just for introducing me Dusty Springfield’s version of If You Go Away - my vote for the greatest cover version of all time. Of course, I was already familiar with the song from Walker’s version of it (which can be found along with his other covers of Brel songs on Scott Sings Jacques Brel), but for me Walker’s cover had always lacked the punch of Brel’s tear-soaked original. Ne Me Quitte Pas is Jacques Brel’s signature song. It is delivered with such heart-breaking sincerity and has such emotional impact that it is hard to imagine that it could ever be bettered, but somehow Dusty manages it.

It’s that voice that does it; that heartbreaking voice. She delivers those pleading lyrics against some gentle orchestration with her icy cool and yet achingly fragile voice. It sends shivers down my spine and makes the hairs on the back of my neck prickle - always the sign of a great song.

She even sings a verse in French, managing not just to carry it off, but also to somehow sound even more vulnerable. It’s a song about despair, shredded dignity and desperation, and even more than Jacques Brel’s original version, Dusty sings it in a way that makes you believe that she’s lived it. If you’ve heard the original (and you really should) then you’ll know just what a tribute that is. If you aren’t in tears by her final spoken exhortation, then you’ve got a heart of stone.

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