Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Roy Orbison vs. Linda Ronstadt: "Blue Bayou"

Yuck. I don't like that negativity just hanging there. So let's cleanse our palates a bit. Ladies and gentlemen, here's Roy Orbison, with his 1963 classic "Blue Bayou."

Now the thing about Roy Orbison's Monument records is that they're equal parts schmaltz and genius. The harpsichord, the kitschy harmonica, and those bell-like background vocals (what are they singing anyway?): that's the schmaltz. That valley-of-dry-bones beginning, and of course Orbison's vocals: they're the genius. And the thing is, it's really hard to imagine one without the other. It's a perfect marriage of schmaltz and genius. ...More about that voice. Not only can it make the schmaltziest musical bed sound like the sexiest honeymoon mattress or the barest prison cot... Well, it can do that. That bare quaver, that muscular weepiness: he's crooning from another dimension entirely, about a set of emotions the merely earthbound know in their marrow, and yet can only occasionally summon to conscious articulation.

About that arrangement. The Tanuki's old enough (young enough?) that his first exposure to the song came in Linda Ronstadt's 1977 cover. Her arrangement, despite being pretty California-mellow, is a little more tasteful than Roy's, I always thought. And she can summon a pretty good ache with her voice, too. I don't think anybody can hold a candle to Roy, but she does her honest best, and her version's worth hearing. So here she is in her bloomers, surrounded by muppet frogs, backed by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

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