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Body and Soul: Vocal Approaches/Lyrics

By now, we've laid out one of those pictures with two sides.* On one side we have "Body and Soul" the framework for heroic solo instrumentalism.† On the other, we introduced a foundational post, where the song stands up in its earliest versions as a singer's tune.‡

The singers remind us that it's a song w/ lyrics, not just Johnny Green's work, a torchy melody wrapped around some tough chord changes that have lured the mighty tenors of the 20th c. into a titanic struggle with one another.

First, a couple of bullets:
  • Frank Sinatra, "Body and Soul" (1947). Another reference version. Blue-eyed soul worth knowing by heart.
  • Louis Armstrong and His New Sebastian Club Seranaders, "Body and Soul" (1930). We already cited this masterpiece as the beginning of the jazz versions of the song. Listen for Lionel Hampton on the vibes.
  • Sarah Vaughan, "Body and Soul" (1954). From the extraordinary slab, Swingin' Easy, which sports John Malachi on piano, Joe Benjamin on bass, and Roy Haynes brushing out an elegant and gentle groove on drums.
  • Billie Holiday, "Body and Soul" (1940). Includes some soulful bars at the intro and the break by Roy Eldridge, as well as a solid combo composed of Jimmy Powell and Carl Frye alto sax, Kermit Scott tenor sax, Sonny White piano, Lawrence Lucie guitar, John Williams bass, and Harold "Doc" West drums.
Today, though, the words of Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton draw us. If we discard the bad latinate grammar ("for you I sigh" or "my life a wreck you're making"), the song starts our sad and gets sadder. Rejected, the singer must offer more and more of themselves to prove their devotion. Loss yields surrender, and surrender escalates with more loss. It's excruciating. Each of the first three versions cited above turn on the third verse:

My life a wreck you’re making.
You know I’m yours for just the taking.
I’d gladly surrender
Myself to you body and soul.

Sinatra's version just plays the loser's version straight. Armstrong's ends with the heartbreaking grunt. Sassy's grows torchier with every verse.

But no one suffers in song like Billie Holiday. For all others, "Body and Soul" is a about giving up it up after it won't matter. Lady takes a sad song, flips one word -- "wreck" goes to "hell" without the author's permission -- in the first line of the third verse, and makes it one of spiritual loss.

My life a hell you’re making
You know I’m yours for just the takin’
I’d gladly surrender
Myself to you, body and soul

She's giving up her soul, not her body. In other versions it the other way around. And where others foreshorten the song, lyrically, she drags out Heyman, Sour and Green for all its worth:

What lies before me?
A future that’s stormy
A winter that’s gray and cold

Unless there’s magic
The end will be tragic
And echo a tale that’s been told
So often

With her recast version, we can almost re-read the entire song, line by line, as a version of "Crossroads Blues." In the face of a stormy future (no one sings about bad the promise of bad weather better than the Lady), she begs for a spell to stave off the too familiar sad ending.

Due to this dubscience, the final verse takes on its own totally new meaning:

My life revolves about you
What earthly good am I without you?
Oh I tell you I mean it
I’m all for you, body and soul

Earthly good? None. The tossed away remains of this Faustian bargain have no heaven, only hell. All for you, body and soul.

* Maybe it's a 7" rekkid, which the people have mislabled a "single" even though it's got an A side and a B side.
† Stop here and here.
‡ Stop here.


School of Ragtime

We're in a 'nothering field again, kings and queenz. We enter w/out as much preparation as we should, really just playas. But we're moved to come off of the wall and enter, even tough we're not ready.

But as we enter we find some of the same things, even if they're arranges differently: You start w/ the darktown swells, raising the standard*; then there's the wild creole style; there's the sexy allure of dance step instructions†; there's the tension between the old world and the new; and then there's the accusations about paving the road to hell.‡ Finally and never to late, there's a buncha scholars who think they missed it, so they go back to find their way back to the roots.

Here's a couple of bullets in the clip for you to marinate on.

  • Scott Joplin, "Ragtime Dance."
  • Air, "Ragtime Dance." We've been lissening to this one since it was an unnaground hit in the vinyl days. Best drum solo in the 70s, a real shoe tickler.◊
You must learn.

* Take partners do the "rag two step", I know you are enjoying yourselves,
You are representatives of dark town's wealth. Stop where you are!

† Ev'rybody now "form a line", Dance nothing but the real ragtime.
Do your best, "forward four steps", you are all very fine.
Let me see you do the "back step prance", Be graceful at ev'ry chance.
You are now enjoying the "ragtime dance". Ev'ry body sing.

‡ The hall was illuminated by electric lights, It certainly was a sight to see;

So many colored folks there without a razor fight... 'Twas a great surprise to me.

Notice. To get the desired effect of "stop time" the pianist will please stamp the heel of one foot heavily upon the floor at every word "stamp." Do not raise the toe of the foot from the floor while stamping. Author.


From Terence's Library

At the risk of being labeled a repeater pencil, what we're all about here is pulling together the threads into a fabric. Fact is there's so much things to say, that we are opening another store, one where we pull our loose and stray threads out before we weave them together here. It's mainly a copybook, but you may want to drop by to find out what we're working on.