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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.

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