The Way Dorothy Fields Looks Tonight

Dorothy FieldsRembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, a man so great we know him by his first name, was born on this day in 1606. Under normal circumstances, I would have given the day to him. But it is hard to do that when Google has spent the whole damned day hocking their doodle of him. He is unquestionably great, and I really like his work. However, I prefer Vermeer. It isn’t that I think Vermeer is better. From a technical standpoint, Rembrandt is certainly better. To me, he is very similar to the best of the High Renaissance, which is a very great compliment. But there is a certain magic in the way that Vermeer uses light that I find very compelling. Rembrandt is undoubtedly more realistic. But what does my opinion matter? You’re reading a man who is most inspired by pre-perspective religious painting.

The Italian composer Giovanni Buonaventura Viviani was born in 1638. His work is pre-Baroque. You can definitely hear where it is headed. Here is one of his sonatas played by the Chicago Early Music Consort with period instruments:

The American composer Jack Beeson was born in 1921. He is that fairly rare creature: a modern composer who wrote operas. Here is the second act of his opera Lizzie Borden, which is in English, but is demanding music:

Linda Ronstadt is 67 today. She is such a fine pop singer. Here she is in the video for her version of Bob Haggart’s and Johnny Burke’s “What’s New”:

Wrestler and iconoclast Jesse Ventura is 62. Guitarist Joe Satriani is 57. I admire him, but often think of the line from Amadeus, “Too many notes.” Still, here he is with “Flying In A Blue Dream,” which is quite nice once he gets into it:

And actor Forest Whitaker is 52.

But the day belongs to one of my favorite lyricists Dorothy Fields who was born on this day in 1905. She is best known for the songs “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and, of course, “The Way You Look Tonight.” Here is the original version of that last song sung by Fred Astaire. It is not my favorite version at all, but what matters is the song. It is always great:

Happy birthday Dorothy Fields!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

3 thoughts on “The Way Dorothy Fields Looks Tonight

  1. "The Way You Look Tonight" is really a lovely song. And I don’t mind Astaire’s singing one bit. His voice is weak but he always sounded earnest. It’s great that you singled out a songwriter; we tend to remember singers instead. Both are important.

    Here’s one of those "I think I remember something, and lo & behold, when I look it up, I actually remembered it right" moments, and it has to do with songwriting.

    YEARS ago, the local paper’s house Nazi (every paper has one, but few have in-house Communists for equal time), did a piece on a DJ who played many old standards. The DJ had a great observation on old songwriting versus modern pop. He mentioned that a song like, say, "Stardust" was great no matter who did it, as long as they had a modicum of proficiency. Some would do versions he or I might like better than other versions, but it was written to be sung by anyone with the right range. The DJ compared this to a song like "Satisfaction," which only the Stones can do true justice to. They wrote it for their performing style.

    I thought this was terrifically insightful, even if the house Nazi was quoting it. (Yes, some rock songs have been covered effectively by other artists, but usually the creator’s original performance is the best one.) The house Nazi included the quote as part of her all-out war on every liberal social trend (such as those dang loud Rolling Stones.) I didn’t have the impression that the quoted DJ felt modern songwriting was inferior, just different, and his tastes tended to the older stuff.

    Well, your post here made me think of that article, and search engines be praised, here it is: http://www.startribune.com/featuredColumns/16008062.html

    Not only did I remember it correctly (the DJ is NOT dissing modern songwriting), but I’d kept straight in my memory the tastiest details. The DJ worked (works?) for the Como zoo — which has free admission and is government-supported. His show aired (airs?) on KFAI. That’s Minnesota Public Radio (which the house Nazi conveniently omits to mention.)

    So the anti-government extremist is attempting to make the point that modern music, which she dislikes and which was made popular entirely by market competition, is inferior to older music made available to listeners via public radio, and a DJ with a good enough job/benefits working for the government that he can devote his free time to discovering and sharing that music with others.

    It struck me then, and does now, as one of those "George Will/William Buckley are occasionally lucid" pieces where a writer’s passion for a subject trumps their ideological blinders. And, yes, I know "blinders" is a cliche, but I mean it just the way the word is defined; those things horses are given to keep them from looking anywhere but where their owners want them to look.

    Anyhoo, the DJ is right about the differences in older/modern songwriting, the article is unusually harmless for our local paper’s house Nazi (she hates Muslims, gummint, and sex, although I’m not sure in which order), public radio kicks ass, zoos are kinda creepy but at least free ones teach kids to love animals . . . and "The Way You look Tonight" is just a lovely, lovely song. So there.

  2. @JMF – I’ll check the article tomorrow. The one thing I would say about modern pop songwriting is that it is more written by committee. It is designed to please and it does. But I find it generally more generic. The distinction is good. Here’s a comparison. "Heroin" has never been done well since the Velvet Underground. Even Reed’s version with his kick ass bands have failed. The truth is that the songwriting just isn’t that good. "I’m Waiting for my Man" [i]is[/i] great songwriting and even I can do a passable version of it.

    Similarly, and I don’t want to get all elitist and "bright" on you, ;-) but pretty much any song by Paul McCartney can be sung by anyone. This is not generally true of Lennon, even on some songs I love like "Strawberry Fields Forever." This isn’t to put down one art form in favor of another. There is a distinction between a song that can be performed and a song as it is performed.

    And of course: Will and Buckley are/were often very insightful. They are/were very intelligent. That’s what makes their clear self-interested political writing so hard to swallow.

  3. If this site ever gets more responses, a fun thing to do would be polling people for their favorite cover songs. (Not favorite crooner versions of standards; that’s a good subject for discussion by itself, but probably one most people wouldn’t be familiar with. And, by the way, the winner should be Sinatra doing "Witchcraft.")

    One could ideally have different fans of different eras in modern pop identifying their faves, and there are some good ones out there. A guy that pops in my head immediately is Leonard Cohen. His songs are intensely personal, but he keeps himself distanced as a performer the way Dylan did, so artists are free to do his songs (his old ones) without the weight of Cohen’s originals over their heads. (I can’t imagine anyone else doing "Democracy" or "Everybody Knows.") Nowadays, when you hear cover bands doing "Hallelujah," they aren’t doing Cohen; they’re doing Buckley’s version, and he owns it in his grave.

    I remember reading that Dylan admired Hendrix’s version of "All Along The Watchtower." As well he should. Don’t remember him saying he loved the cheesy white-trash Guns’N’Roses version of "Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door," but I enjoyed that one. Torii Amos had a good version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" I heard recently and found suitably spooky. You or anyone else who enjoys pop music could make other suggestions.

    Ultimately I think the oldie-loving DJ is correct. Maybe you can do "I’m Waiting For My Man," and "Heroin" does have dumb lyrics, but both songs are made special by the guitar/drum work of the original band members — and, damn it, I can sing any awful TV jingle Rogers & Hammerstein song easier than I can do the Velvet Underground. Thanks, paranoid anti-gay parents who made sure I was protected from that gender-bending Loud Reed, Iggy Pop, David Bowie stuff . . . by ensuring I only listened to cast albums of Broadway showtunes. "I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No!" Good Lord. And I know every single word to every single song like that. Unintended consequences. . . .

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