Sep 162022
 

One Great Cover looks at the greatest cover songs ever, and how they got to be that way.

Puttin On The Ritz

If you’re blue, and you don’t know where to go to
Why don’t you go where Harlem flits?
Puttin’ on the Ritz

Spangled gowns upon the bevy of high browns
From down the levy, all misfits
Putting’ on the Ritz

That’s where each and every lulubelle goes
Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Rubbin’ elbows

Come with me and we’ll attend their jubilee
And see them spend their last two bits
Puttin’ on the Ritz

When Irving Berlin wrote those lyrics in 1927, he was writing about the fad of the day, where poor black people would get dressed to the nines and parade up and down Harlem’s Lenox Avenue (which today is also known as Malcolm X Boulevard). Berlin used the word “lulubelle,” which was a slang term for a black maid, and Thursday was traditionally the maid’s day off. It was a gentle satire with a remarkably intricate rhythm, and while it didn’t coin the phrase “putting on the Ritz,” it certainly did popularize it.

Continue reading »

Jun 032022
 

One Great Cover looks at the greatest cover songs ever, and how they got to be that way.

Close to You

You know that old TV and movie trope where the shy wallflower with “potential” gets a makeover and is miraculously transformed into the coveted bombshell? Think of the Carpenters’ 1970 cover of “(They Long to Be) Close to You” as the sonic embodiment of that notion. Okay, it’s more of a get a new hairstyle, dress cooler but leave the glasses on version because you know, this is the Carpenters we’re talking about here, but you get the idea.

But seriously, when it comes to angst-ridden, idealistic love ballads about unrequited desire and quietly lustful appreciation, they don’t get much better than “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” Written by the legendary songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “CTY” (let’s just call it) is that contradictory but always revelatory musical combination of sugary and majestic, cut from the same frothy, infatuated, occasionally eye-rolling cloth as Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” while eliciting “Dancing Queen”-levels of respect for its production and execution. From Richard Carpenter’s iconic opening piano flourishes to sister Karen’s towering vocal (understatement), it expertly straddles that line between non-threatening pap and soul-crushing tearjerker with consummate skill (’tis the eternal mystery-magic of the Carpenters).

The duo so completely inhabit the song, which is to say they freakin’ own it, that it is easy to forget they were not the first artists to record it. No, the first “CTY” out of the gate wasn’t even by an actual musician, but by a hot and debonair actor playing a doctor on a TV show. Yup, welcome to the glorious state of pop music in the USA in 1963.
Continue reading »