Monday, February 22, 2010

A Foggy Day in London Town: The Royal Renditions

by Pa Rock
Music Critic

The vagaries of my iPod supplied the impetus for this evening's post. The little silver iPod contains my entire music library, in excess of 4,000 songs, and goes with me everywhere. I have a station for it at work and at home, and use earphones at the gym. It has become a ubiquitous part of my life.

One of the albums that has a home on my iPod is Judy Garland's live performance at Carnegie Hall. It is a double album actually, recorded on April 23, 1961. Many of the songs were written by Harold Arlen who was in the audience that night. The album is pure Judy at her absolute best - a truly classic recording.

Rufus Wainwright is an admirer of Judy Garland. He is also an openly gay male who talks of of growing up "wanting to be Dorothy—on good days. On bad days, I wanted to be the Wicked Witch." In 2006 he paid tribute to Judy Garland by performing the exact same concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a daring move, one that could have been a huge embarrassment both to himself as well as to Judy's legacy, but young Wainwright carried it off beautifully. I recently purchased his two-disk recording of that concert and added to my iPod's repertoire.

My iPod is habitually set to shuffle, which means that the songs play in a completely random order - or at least I thought it was completely random until today. This morning as I was banging away on the computer at work, I was treated to Judy Garland's "A Foggy Day in London Town." It was bold and full and throaty - and so captivating that I was drawn from my work to listen. "Foggy Day" was Judy at her very best, and the audience roared their approval.

Judy's song ended and I began to mentally drift back to work. But when the next song started, I was surprised to hear the Rufus Wainwright version of the same song. Wainwright, the son of singers Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle, has a rich musical heritage. He has been praised by Elton John as "the greatest songwriter on the planet," which is mighty heady praise considering the source. In addition to all of that, he is a passable singer, but certainly no Judy Garland. Garland belted out her ballads, Wainwright merely sang them. She was the queen of the stage at Carnegie Hall, and he was but a sweet-voiced prince.

Still, it was fun to hear the two versions of "Foggy Day" presented back-to-back. But the comparison didn't end there. As Wainwright's version of "Foggy Day" ended, a third variation began playing - this one by Michael Buble, the scrappy Canadian who has cornered the Frank Sinatra niche in contemporary music. Buble is an amazing singer, with a vocal range and strength that places him high in the ranks of the world's great balladeers, people like Sinatra, and yes, Judy Garland. The King was in the house, and he kicked butt all over foggy London town!

The entire experience, Judy and Rufus and Michael - took less than fifteen minutes, but it was a profound education on the impact that a vocal artist can have on a song. Enjoy the lyrics and imagine your favorite singer bringing them to life.

A Foggy Day (in London Town)
by George and Ira Gershwin

A foggy day in London Town,
Had me low, had me down.
I viewed the morning with such alarm,
British museum had lost its charm.

How long, I wonder, could this thing last?
But the age of miracles hadn't past,
For suddenly I saw you there.
And through foggy London town the sun was shining everywhere.

A foggy day in London Town,
Had me low, had me down.
I viewed the morning with such alarm,
Your British museum had lost its charm.

How long, I wonder, could this thing last?
But the age of miracles hadn't past,
For suddenly I saw you there.
And in a foggy London town the sun was shining everywhere.

1 comment:

Mike Box said...

Existential import available via Youtube.