Saturday, July 6, 2013

Smooth baritones of summer #2 Armstrong and Crosby

I meant to get this up Friday. Oh well.

This is not a great song. The melody is stolen and the lyrics are, well, disposable is probably the nicest thing anyone will ever say about them. That said, the lyrics work well for the point I want to make. There is no terribly profound meaning to be excavated here. You have a song about being musical being sung by two guys who were better at being musical than just about anyone else alive in the twentieth century.

This is one of those rare occasions where the medium actually is the message.

Because the lyrics are stupid, you can ignore them and notice how each man makes his voice work first against and then with the other mans voice. They can sound very distinct for a few bars and then turn around and blend like Scotch (Armstrong) and Soda (Bing). It's very easy to listen to but just try doing it yourself.

And here is the thing, Sinatra couldn't sing like that to save his life. And he knew it.

He used to say that his kind of singing was harder than Crosby's kind but that isn't really true. Sinatra was a genius with phrasing and he could go up to F#, which is a major third higher than Crosby could go*, which is to say, there were things Sinatra could do that Crosby couldn't. Sinatra also mastered the long-playing format that Crosby had only a few successes with. But it's nonsense on stilts to pretend that what Crosby could do wasn't hard. It was very hard and the fact that he made it look easy only makes it more daunting.

I love Sinatra, with some reservations, but Crosby was the more significant artist.

* It's telling that some Sinatra fans use range when trying to make the case for their man as neither Sinatra nor Crosby had much range (by serious singer standards that is, my own range is right between the two men's).

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