Monday, March 3, 2014

Pink Was Somewhere Under the Rainbow

Somewhere along the line, we have lost our way with the evaluation of singers. We have come to the conclusion that having "a good voice" makes one "a good singer." Worse, we have decided that people with the ability to sing loudly have "good voices". (I blame a certain flock of singers in the eighties and nineties for this; they were both good and loud but the public in general can only really seem to remember the loud part.)

We all  need to face the fact that "a good voice" is in the ear of the beholder. I just still think that "loud" should not be the only criterion (which it often seems to be), but I am not going to try to argue that I know what a good-sounding voice is and that you don't. That would be stupid.

But, a "good singer" is a good musician. Having a good voice does not cover it. You can put a Stradivarius in the hands of a novice fiddle-player, but that won't make him a maestro. Substitute the "good voice" (often, people will refer to a singer having a "good instrument") for the Stradivarius, and you will see my point. Having a good instrument does not make one a musician.

That said, I had the misfortune of hearing Pink sing "(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow" on the Oscars last night. It was not horrible. It was worse than horrible; it was mediocre. But it sure was loud! She has a big voice (a good instrument) and she "belted it out". Problem is, that song shouldn't be belted-out. To me, Pink sounded like the proverbial bull in a china shop. But that is what we do, today -- we belt things out. It's one of our few forms of expression, it seems.

I also could have done without the usual so-hip-that-they're-cliched ornamentations; I think Harold Arlen had it pretty well figured out when he jotted the notes down. No, I'm not against interpretation of music; that's what keeps music alive. I just think that if one is going to interpret, one should be adding something other than volume and slippy-slidey phrasing to a melody. Pink added absolutely nothing to one of the best American melodies ever written. (If she were as good a songwriter as Arlen, she might have a shot -- but, let's be honest...)

I like Pink -- don't get me wrong. I think she has talent as a pop/rock singer/songwriter. She also has a better "instrument" than I do, that's for sure. I just think she was way out of her depth and she hypnotized everyone with volume and intensity like a lot of her contemporaries do.

It seems, as evidenced by another nominee for best song (Karen O's ridiculously anemic performance on that ridiculously sterile song from Her) that we have two modes for our performance preferences these days: loud or weak. (Give me ten of Pink's performances for every half of one of those.)

What happened to restraint? -- a performance that is neither wimpy nor bombastic? To me, that place is the balancing act that is all art. To me, that is what Judy Garland did so long ago. It can be done again, if people stop thinking in extremes.

Remember? Listen to the harmonic motion in the orchestra; listen to the ego-free delivery of melody by Garland; the warmth and sincerity; the adherence to the melody that was carefully married to the harmonic structure of the song by one of our greatest songwriters. Then, go back and listen to Pink. Is it all one guy's opinion? Sure -- but...just listen.


  1. Thank you for this. Whatever happened to phrasing? Elocution? Presenting the SONG to the AUDIENCE?

    1. And the arrangement, Lincoln! The motion in the harmonies and the delicate, organic flow of the progressions... My father was an arranger who could do that and I'm still on a quest to learn how to arrange like that. It is such a particular style from the 30s and 40s... A golden age of arranging. The song, indeed... It's all about the ego of the performer now.

    2. Oh, and great to hear from you, as always!

  2. Thanks for your insightful analysis and explanation of how and why many of us feel Pink's cover of "Over the Rainbow" at the Oscars missed the mark. With all due respect to Pink, her version seemed forced, like the song was merely a vehicle to showcase her talents, yet was emotionally devoid of the song's message; it lacked the ethereal feel, the heart and soul - if you will - Miss Garland's version imparts to the audience via her interpretation of the song. Miss Garland's version cordially invites you along to ponder an idea, then warmly envelopes you along an optimistic journey to a fascinatingly wonderful place you can't help but hope truly exists. Again with all due respect, Pink's version makes me feel like it's a trip I hope I can get out of going on if it's as harried, rushed and somewhat cacophonous as she oft times makes it sound.

    1. Very well said, indeed. Again -- I too, like a singer who can "rock" the way Pink can, but, I would hate to hear interpretations like Garland's fade from memory. Too many performances like Pink's might have that effect -- like an air-horn sounded at a symphony. Thanks for the visit and for the comment!