Aug 302009

Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All songs will only be available for one week, so get them while you can. After you listen, discuss this week’s tune in the comments.

Randy Newman seems to be the songwriter of choice for over-the-top emotive sings. Linda Rondstadt has covered his songs, and Harry Nilsson has done a whole album of them. So ol’ Bobby Darin, musical slut whose hits range from “Splish Splash” to “Mack the Knife” is unlikely to grasp the subtlety that Newman’s songs require.

And he doesn’t, not really. Every cringe-inducing production flourish is here, from soaring strings to a superfluous gospel chorus (listen to them repeat “Jesus” three lines in for no obvious reason). What redeems this performance, rising it above “Barry Manilow sings the classics” level is simply that a good singer is a good singer, and even singing about the slave trade, Darin’s effortless charm oozes through.

To be honest, I wondered whether Darin even KNEW this song was song by a slave ship captain, recruiting Africans by promising that in American they’ll be “as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree.” Apparently he did though, a socially conscious singer who wanted to begin his first album for Motown records with a statement song.

The release – titled simple Bobby Darin – was the last before his untimely death in 1973. That context renders “Sail Away” with a whole other meaning, one unrelated to slaves, Africans or colonialism, but a gospel song about heaven (for which the singers are far more appropriate). I’m not saying Bobby meant it that way – and Randy sure didn’t – but, as they say, timing is everything.

Bobby Darin – Sail Away (Randy Newman) [Buy]

What do you think? Discuss this song in the comments section below.

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