[Today: Willie and Ray sing the standards...]
It was a crazy idea at the time. Willie Nelson dipping into the Great American Songbook in 1978 was roughly akin to Wu Tang Clan deciding to do an album of show tunes today. But Willie had a ton of leverage with Columbia Records, because his 1975 album Red Headed Stranger – which the label had vigorously opposed and only grudgingly released – had sold gangbusters, and made him a star of the first order. And he used that leverage wisely, pushing through an LP of songs by the likes of Irving Berlin and George Gershwin that sold even more copies that RHS. His distinctive sandpaper croon is put to surpassingly good use here, and songs like ‘Georgia On My Mind’ ‘Moonlight In Vermont’ and ‘Blue Skies’ sound like they were written specifically for him. Stardust is ample evidence of Willie Nelson’s deft touch with even the most delicate tune.
Ray Charles is a titanic figure in music, and his trademark smile should be carved into any musical Mount Rushmore. After his death in 2004, a campaign was mounted to put his face on the ten dollar bill (my ‘signature’ can be found on the online petition) and The New Yorker featured a cover that visualized such currency [see below]. Charles was one of a handful of 20th century singers who could take any song and make it his own through the sheer force of his voice. Thus, Standards is a no-brainer – big songs sung with feeling by an important voice. This Rhino compilation assembles tracks he recorded for a variety of labels between 1959 and 1977, and serves as a towering reminder of the genius of Ray Charles and the power of the standard.
Sadly, the idea of the ‘standard’ song just doesn’t fit with the internet age and feels like a quaint relic from another time. The vast distribution networks that serve increasingly specialized musical tastes ensure that no one song can dominate public consciousness in a way that guarantees it will be immediately recognizable to an entire room full of people. With so much music flooding the open market, it becomes exceedingly difficult to point to any particular songs from the last decade and say with any confidence that they will be sung and enjoyed a hundred years from now. In other words, goodnight Casey Kasem…
Listen: Georgia On My Mind [Willie Nelson]
Listen: It Had To Be You [Ray Charles]
Listen: Moonlight In Vermont [Willie Nelson]
Listen: Moonlight In Vermont [Ray Charles]