Among other simple ideas rattling around in the head, I’ve become fascinated by certain tunes, tunes that simply won’t go away. I have no idea why some music delights and fascinates and some doesn’t, except to prove Duke Ellington’s proverb: “If it sounds good, it IS good.”
In this two-week series, I’ll post four songs, each one powerful (in my opinion) and each sung at least in part by its own songwriter. The common denominator in these four tunes appears to be simplicity—that is, each generates a maximum of emotion to a minimum of notes—you might say “more bang for the buck”.
I don’t really understand what’s going on, as I don’t have much musical training; and you may even disagree about the sparseness of notes. No doubt there are other tunes with as few or fewer notes—but they may sound, well, boring, not powerful. So what is it about these that pack such a punch?
My guess is that the tunes hint at something else—that they suggest other notes, melodies or harmonies that aren’t quite there, but that could be there. They also invite or even beg for interpretations from other musicians—and the others have been happy to oblige over the years.
This could be related to similar phenomena in literature or in visual art. Often, what gets left out creates more of a stir than if it had been included.
In Suzanne, the first in the series, Judy Collins helps songwriter Leonard Cohen because in those early days (1976) Leonard couldn’t sing for beans. I think Judy’s fascination with this song, and with Leonard Cohen as a songwriter and poet, helped to get Suzanne noticed.
I’ll also include a link to Suzanne where Leonard sings at a later stage in his life (2008). See if you agree that he has aged well vocally (sorry, this one has been restricted from embedding, but just click the link):
And a video of a more mature Judy (2009) performing Suzanne—in this one, it’s worth the wait to see her trademark smile at the last instant:
And an article about the woman Suzanne herself, who got Leonard on her wavelength and inspired the song:
Next in the series: Friday.
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