Archive for the ‘Four Simple Tunes’ Category

The fourth and final in the series:  This tune is so simple that it’s probably the most powerful of the four.  It’s quintessential rock, and this ahead-of-its-time performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 turned a page in musicology.  It also made him some enemies:  Should Dylan go electric or stay folk?  As it turned out, he could do any darned thing he wanted. 

Notice the booh-ing from the crowd as Dylan leaves the stage, and the frazzled Peter Yarrow coming forward to smooth things over.

Previous simple tunes in the series:

#1:  Suzanne  by Leonard Cohen with Judy Collins

#2:  Jersey Girl  by Tom Waits

#3:  No Woman, No Cry  by Bob Marley



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Too many good people we meet (good friends along the way) love this tune for us to ignore it.  Marley’s tunes were often simple and powerful, but this one stands near the top.

Here is Bob in 1979, two years before his death from cancer.  This live performance, with (pretty good) video, is a diamond-in-the-rough.  It’s a bit more abstract than earlier recordings, and Bob may have been under the spell of something.  But, this is about the music.  Cut away the rough spots for the brilliance of the diamond.


Here is another version, with Bob a little less carried away.  Please click the link:


Last and final installment:  Friday.

Previous Simple Tunes:

#1, Suzanne by Leonard Cohen with Judy Collins

#2, Jersey Girl, by Tom Waits

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Here is the second installment of simple tunes:  Tom Waits’ Jersey Girl.  Tell me what it is that makes this one work.

Never mind that you can’t stand the alcohol-soaked voice of Tom Waits.  The song is pure gold, no matter who sings it.  Bruce Springsteen borrowed it, made millions, and if you’ve heard him first maybe you like Springsteen better; but he ain’t got a clue.  The song belongs to Waits.

Here is a live-in-concert version, somewhere in Italy in 1986; and a second song, The Heart of Saturday Night, tags along.  YouTube deleted a better recording of this performance of Jersey Girl, to my frustration.

Update:  They deleted that one too (so what if it’s copyright infringement?  This is art!).  So here is a collage, with film clips from that concert, and with better audio because it’s a recording studio performance.  A little smoother (if that’s possible for Waits) than his gutsy on-stage gig, but I’ll take the guts any day.  Sorry.


Below is a second, more electric version by Waits.  He does a little stand-up routine about the origin of the song before he gets into it.  Tune in around the 3:50 mark for the music alone.  Sorry, no Springsteen.  The videos were that bad.

Next in the series:  Monday.

First in the series:  Suzanne by Leonard Cohen, with Judy Collins.


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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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