Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I have been counting songs in my music library.  A rainy weekend, my last post, and sheer obsessiveness prompted a search for multiple versions of the same song.  I found so many I limited the list to songs having at least five versions by separate artists (versus alternate studio or live versions by the same artist).  I came up with 36 songs which fit my guideline, the top three of which form the nucleus of the adjacent playlist.

Charles DeasThe Trapper and his Family (1845) 
depicts a voyageur and his Native American
 wife and children: Public Domain
Atop the list with sixteen separate versions is "Shenandoah."  Dating to the early 1800s, this song is associated with diverse regional and ethnic heritages –– and is arguably best linked to a specific story-song sung by Canadian and American fur-traders ("voyageurs") plying the Missouri River at the turn of the 19th century.  
By mid-century it had migrated from inland waterways to the ocean, becoming a popular sea chantey.  My favorite vocals are by Cowboy Nation (2008), Mustard's Retreat (1979), and Paul Robeson (1936).

My favorite instrumental performances are guitar works by Joel Mabus (1996) and Tony Rice (2000), and a riverine piano piece by David Glen Hatch (2002) that you could float on.

Three songs share the number two position, "All The Things You Are," "When I Fall In Love," and "I Still Miss Someone," each with nine separate versions:

  • "All The Things You Are" was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1939 musical, Very Warm for May.  I like the jazz versions by The Elmo Hope Trio (1955), Gerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond (1962), and Jim Hall & Ron Carter (1982) –– the Hall & Carter version being a masterpiece of intimate chamber jazz.
  • "When I Fall In Love" I first heard as a 1961 song by The Lettermen.  It was initially a popular hit by Doris Day (1952), but I prefer the versions by Carmen McRae (1959), The Bill Evans Trio (1959), and Blue Mitchell (1960).
  • Of the many versions of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" (1958), I favor the aching rendition by The Wilson Family Band (2006).

Coming in at number three is "My Funny Valentine," with eight separate versions.  It is from a 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical, Babes in Arms, a show that included another fine song: the original "Where Or When,” performed by Ray Heatherton and Mitzi Green.  The first "Where or When" I heard was the 1960 version by Dion & The Belmonts, and only much later did I learn it was one of several covers.  (Both the 1937 original and the 1961 cover are included as bonus tracks in the playlist.)

A classic instrumental version of "My Funny Valentine" is by The Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker (1952), and both Carmen McRae's 1955 and Morgana King's 1978 vocal releases are superb.  Morgana King, born Maria Grazia Morgana Messina, was also an actor.  You may remember her as Carmella Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974).

What does all this mean, these numbers, dates, lists?  Maybe not much, these are just songs in my music library; your collections will likely reflect different sensibilities.  And regardless of whose library we access, we can't say a song with multiple versions is any worthier than one with none –– though I do think oft-recorded songs have a timeless quality, being part of the ages, not era-bound.

Then again, some things should be left untouched, or at least approached with delicacy.  There are songs that stand sturdily on their own over time –– hard acts to cover, so sufficiently compelling that they speak to different generations while wearing their original outfits.  For example, Bing Crosby's original 1942 version of "White Christmas" has been covered countless times but –– with the certain exception of the Drifters' 1954 R&B version –– to little cultural benefit.

Perhaps a broader perspective will emerge if I return to the numbers and dates.  But not now.  Anyway, who's counting?


Unknown said...

Hey Kit, You know I have some listening experience with "\'I still Love someone'! Still love it. Listened to J cash do his version of 'That Lucky old Sun' earlier tonite. Had only heard by KD Lang and Tony Bennett before. Do you happen to know it's ancestry?

louise lortie said...

Thanks to you I know the all the words of "I still miss someone" The only song from Johnny Cash hows lyrics I know by heart. Still have to make up my mind wish one is my favourite . Will put the CD on tomorrow. Louise

Jan said...

When you say you counted songs in your "music library," what does that mean? Vinyl, CDs, MP3s, all of the above? And is your collection catalogued?

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