Both of these come courtesy of, obviously, the performing artists but also of the great ukulele site Ukulele Hunt. First we have a classic little girl sounding like a big girl performance:
I know what your thinking, Hey Jules, she's not that little. Yes, she's an adult. But she looks like a little girl and that is part of her appeal. That gathered, stretch-tube top, for example, is beyond trashy—I would think some hookers would be ashamed of wearing such a thing—it is only her aura of innocence that redeems it.
Anyway, the performance. She sings it in D, which is the key Fats Waller wrote it in (horn players must hate this number as that would be a lot of sharps for them). She has a deep voice for such seemingly little woman. Listen for the low notes. She hits a G—that's the space below the second ledger line beneath the staff. She hits it on the word "lips" in the phrase "when I'm taking sips from your tasty lips" at 2:09. That is quite some ways down for a woman. The highest note she hits, by contrast, is a D sharp (the second line from the top of the staff sharped) and she makes it sound higher than it really is by singing it in a breathless, whispery voice that must be quite hard on the vocal chords. That is a unquestionably a high note but lots of female singers can go well past that with about as much effort as most of us need to go past a task we don't feel like doing.
All of that, perhaps needless to say, adds to the sexiness of the performance. You get the sense of a girl right on the edge of womanhood playing with her new-found sexiness like a reckless girl playing with matches.
Finally, there is the echo. Is that all coming from her room? I'd like to think so but ... . That is the big difference between modern vocal performances and the greats. When you hear depth and colour in Sarah Vaughn's voice it is because of her ability to use her body as an instrument. When you hear it in a modern pop singer, it's usually some electronic trick.
One of the great things about the ukulele is that it tests the gravity of the song. Play Whole Lotta Love on the uke and it will sound like a joke even if you mean it seriously. A good way to test the legitimacy of any song is to play it on the ukulele and see if it starts to feel ridiculous. If it doesn't then it deserves its reputation for profundity. This one passes the test:
Yes, yes, I know, a lot of what seems like greatness here is just willful obscurity. It's typical of a lot of Bob Dylan, John Lennon and other 1960s era songwriters. The lyrics often lazily gesture in the direction of ideas or emotions the songwriters are too lazy or unskilled to really confront. And it is reasonable to suspect that some of the seeming "greatness" about Dylan songs is something that we project onto the consequent vagueness; you can't understand the lyrics so you imagine they must be profound.
And that is all true. Even on his best days, Dylan never comes withing shooting distance of the lyrics of the classic era of popular American songwriting. You'd never rate Dylan the equal of Fats Waller. never mind of Cole Porter, but, to his credit, neither would Dylan himself. And, for all that, there is a lovely Psalm-like quality about the song. Dylan has written a lament that most moderns can understand even if we have to forget that some of the lines in the song make less sense the more you think about them.
And it is a surprisingly religious song. None of this makes any sense at all if we don't at least want to believe in some sort of transcendence. Again, critics will point out that there is a half-hearted quality about it. This is a song that can be listened to in the same spirit that people do yoga or sit in candle-lit rooms and "do Buddhism" so they can feel spiritual. It is the sort of religion that appeals to those who want the feeling for a few minutes but never want to think through the full moral implications of really believing there is something that transcends our existence.
And yet I think Dylan himself really does believe and that means we don't have to be like the hordes who sit and sway and then light up a joint and feel self-satisfied about own profundity. There is a way to hear this song and be reminded of your absolute dependence on God. That's pretty rare in a pop song.