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Imperfect Interpretations: When the Song Sung Isn’t What the Song Said (Part 2)

Part I of this two-part post about the tremendous difference a given artist’s interpretation can make on the experience of music examined the Bob Dylan song, “One Too Many Mornings,” and how its mournful, lonely qualities were finally teased out most hauntingly and fittingly, given the lyrics, by Jerry Jeff Walker. It was as if Walker’s own history, psyche and voice quality made him the perfect purveyor of the song, kindly delivered to him by Dylan, whose own solo version was quite creditable itself, but who later veered off into rocked up, full band versions that didn’t match the song’s lonesome wail.

Here, we will examine the opposite phenomenon of an original song and artist who were interpreted, wait, let’s make that “misinterpreted,” by another (very talented) artist who, given her particular gifts and sensibilities, should probably have steered clear of this song...

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Imperfect Interpretations: When the Song Sung Isn’t What the Song Said (Part 1)

Music lyrics, like the Bible, like poetry, are subject to all manner of interpretation. They’re comprised of words, God bless ’em, and to the everlasting intrigue and contentiousness of humankind, words can have nearly infinite shades, contexts and emphases as they are filtered through each individual person’s consciousness.

And you at least double the intrigue when you add a singer’s and arranger’s musical interpretations to the words on a lyric sheet. This is when hearing the same song from different artists can be a vastly different experience.

I think it’s safe to say that our natural bias in music is to prefer songs as we originally heard them, from the first singer to give them expression...

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The Art of Song Interpretation: “Both Sides Now” From Four Sides

Although I lack data to support this assumption, I would bet money on a natural human inclination that among songs we are drawn to upon first hearing, that is the version we will prefer for the rest of our lives, no matter how many cover versions follow as other artists explore a great song’s nearly inexhaustible interpretive possibilities.

That said, sometimes we experience a huge “Wow!” as we listen to a cover version of an old favorite.

Sometimes the “Wow!” occurs because an artist brings a different musical genre altogether to a song. Jimi Hendrix’s take on the “Star-Spangled Banner” may be the most dramatic example there, but “Wows! can also happen when a female covers a male’s original song  (or vice versa), or a young artist covers an old artist’s song (once again, vice versa), or any artist goes louder or softer, faster or slower, or emphasizes lyrics that open up another dimension to a song we ...

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