Friday Jukebox: Absolutely Killing It
I think I am supposed to let other people here write these but I so enjoy writing about music (and so detest the places I end up emotionally when I try to write about politics) that I scarcely want to tackle anything else. I’d post music here every day if it wouldn’t quickly get tiresome. Needless to say, posting new songs once a week has proven an interesting challenge, as I like to try to stay thematic with the work. I’ll probably run out soon, as I’ve used up a bunch of ones that interest me: superior covers, accidentally ignored music, and intentionally ignored music.
This week though, I stumbled across a new category: the definitive performance. By which I mean a performance that seems to render all other attempts at the song either inconsequential or just not good enough. The categorization dawned on me after hearing Big Mama Thornton and Buddy Guy crush “Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog”:
I’ve heard other versions of the song (including, as we all have, Elvis’s) never once finding the song as compelling as I do here. Perhaps it is because the song makes more sense coming from a woman, especially this particular woman, whose delivery is pitch-perfect. Perhaps it is because the playing is so simultaneously subtle and sublime. Perhaps it because the song comes off as being both clean (in its performance) and dirty (in its sound).* Perhaps it is because of all of this.
Everybody has their own definitives though. There are probably people for whom this particular song is sacrilegious, even if this originally was Thornton’s song. They’re Elvis people, and as far as they’re concerned, it was Elvis’s performance of it that made the song what it is. Maybe they even go so far as to argue that he improved it. Although that is a position I disagree with, I’m sure it is out there.
Needless to say, as a result of taking in this particular performance, I don’t have much interest in other interpretations of the song. That isn’t me trying to be snobby. I’d certainly give another attempt the opportunity to take the throne, but if I never heard another version, I’d still feel as though I’d lived a fulfilled life. Fortunately for me, I have this version. Another example from my life is Kaki King’s “Gay Sons of Lesbian Mothers” (you can listen to a version here); my first exposure to it was a video of it being performed in what seemed to be a bookstore. The album version doesn’t match that one. Neither do any of the versions available on YouTube. They’re good, they’re just not the one, if such a concept makes sense. A definitive song then is the one that you’d want on a desert island if you had to take it.
So what have you go for definitives? We’ll almost certainly disagree, but the exploration is part of the fun.
*Apologies here: I am terrible at describing at what I’m hearing. The words that come to mind when I hear this song are both “clean” and “dirty” but I recognize those are unquantifiable abstractions that likely make sense only to me.