Music Monday: Eleanor Rigby


I’m listening to the audio version of “Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin” by David Ritz. It’s one of this month’s freebies in my Scribd subscription. (The monthly selects have been pretty damn good on African American stuff!)  Aretha hates this biography (as the biography predicts), but it seems pretty positive overall. Maybe over the top. There’s a lot of quotes from collaborators and family and admirers about how awesome she was, but they tend not to give much insight in to what, technically speaking, made them so impressed by her. Now, don’t get me wrong, I remember loving Think in the Blues Brothers. And who doesn’t like Respect. If you don’t like Sisters are Doing it for Themselves, you are wrong:

But Franklin’s voice and performances didn’t essentially grab me. I like Lennox a lot more (in general and in Sisters). This may be my lack of understanding of Franklin’s idiom, i.e., the untutored ear problem.

In any case, I was delighted to find out that Franklin had covered several Beatles songs, including Eleanor Rigby. I love Eleanor Rigby (which was also probably, like for many people, my first exposure to a string quartet). It’s such a distinctive song on every level from lyrics to arrangement.

But…Franklin’s version has almost nothing to do with the Beatles version:

I don’t get why this arrangement exists. It seems like a completely different songs with most of the same lyrics rather than a reinterpretation. I know extreme reinterpretations exist and can be really interesting. I tend to be grumpy about them if I liked the original. For example, Beyonce’s Single Ladies:

doesn’t seem illuminated by Sara Bareilles…whatever…loungey?…version:

It seems competent. But it doesn’t do much for me after sorta laughing (because I think it’s a bit of humorous take).

Ray Charles’ version of Eleanor Rigby, in contrast, seems inspired:

I doubt it’ll be my canonical version, but it really is an amazing version. It captures the essence while reflecting it into a different idiom.

Contrast with this Alice Cooper version:

This is just the original arrangement, for the most part. If you prefer Cooper’s voice, I guess you’ll like it better.

Cássia Eller’s is sort of in between. I think it’s way farther from the baseline than Ray Charles’, but it’s somewhat closer than Franklin’s. It’s very weird! But hey, I keep finding these Brazillian covers:

Franklin still eludes me and maybe always will. But I’m still listening to the biography and will keep trying to train my ear.