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Something so right, but what?

We had an amusing little discussion/debate in my songwriting class today. I brought in 2 recordings of Paul Simon’s song “Something So Right”—the original (from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon) and Annie Lennox’s (from Medusa). Lennox’s rearrangement is fairly radical—she exchanges the roles of the bridge and chorus in the original. I like to spend some time with the song in class because of the relatively sophisticated harmony and the flexible phrasing (and because I like it). I made an iMix with both tracks that you can bring up if you have iTunes.

After hearing both versions we had the inevitable debate about which was better. Most of the class felt that the original was best. I like Lennox’s quite a bit better. It’s pretty typical that my songwriting students will have the opposite opinion of mine in cases like this, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. Still, it was surprising how strongly some of them dislike Annie Lennox. She’s iconoclastic in that she insists that she will be herself, but not (as far as I know) in a preachy way. Whatever you think about her style and her material, she’s a superb singer who’s serious and sincere about what she does. What’s to hate about that, even if the music isn’t your thing?

The opinion of most of the class was that Simon’s idea of what was the chorus and what was the bridge made more sense, which I kind of agree with, though it doesn’t make a big difference for me. And then there was the heavily synthesized sound of Lennox’s version, which bugged a lot of the class. I said that Simon’s version sounded very dated to me, more so than other tracks of his from the same period. A student countered that Medusa dated itself more strongly because of the cheesy synths. I guess the other 90s albums with cheezy synths didn’t leave much of an impression on me. But in retrospect, what bother’s me about Simon’s track isn’t datedness, it’s clutter, especially after about the midpoint of the song, when the orchestra come in. There’s flute and pedal steel and echoey string glisses, and a weird two-beat feel that starts on the bridge but hangs around for the rest of the song. Also, the flexibility of the phrasing often verges on awkward, or forced. Lennox (and her producer) streamline all of that, so the phrasing unobtrusively serves the lyric and the orchestration brings out the richness of the harmony but stays out of the way of the gorgeous singing.

I have to laugh at myself when I get analytical with songs like that in class. Parsing a pop song in terms of the distinctive phrase length and harmonic rhythm to each section? How geeky can you get?

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  1. […] students don’t seem to find them terribly old fashioned (except, maybe, for Annie Lennox). When I ask the class to bring in music they admire, they often show up with old stuff, […]