These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You
June 11, 2010 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I've never been much into (post 1940s) pop music, but I love American standards (Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers, etc), and I've really enjoyed some of the albums that have come out recently, in which performers like Rod Stewart and Carly Simon have sung standards. What other unexpected performers should I listen to, if I want to hear people not generally associated with such songs perform them.

NOTE: I am NOT interested in "rocked out" or highly improvisational versions of these songs. What I like about Stewart and Carly is that they stay true to the boundaries of the genre.

Examples: Carly. Rod.

Note: recommendations don't have to be pop singers. I would check out an opera signer or country-western singer whatever. I'm just looking for people besides Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and company. I already KNOW about them and have hundreds of their recordings.
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Am I Not Your Girl? - Sinead O'Connor
posted by corey flood at 8:24 AM on June 11, 2010

I love Harry Nilsson's As Time Goes By, it might be just what you're looking for.

Speaking of Country Singers, you might love KD Lange's album with Tony Bennett.

KD Lange does an amazing job with this very thing. I thought of her because of her cover of Cole Porter's So In Love. Oh man, it's so good. Her voice is like buttah.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:30 AM on June 11, 2010

Pat Benatar, True Love.
posted by jet_silver at 8:32 AM on June 11, 2010

Melody Gardot
Maude Maggart
Nellie McKay

All three do covers of standards, but also sing new songs in the style of the American Songbook. The Nellie McKay link goes to her latest album which is a tribute to Doris Day.
posted by kimdog at 8:34 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this qualifies as unexpected, but the Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle Orchestra trilogy--What's New, Lush Life, and Sentimental Reasons--are Da Bomb. I don't even particularly *like* standards and I like those albums. (It's not unexpected to me because I came to Linda Ronstadt via these recordings, and not her earlier, apparently wildly successful pop-rock career. I'm always a little bit, "say wah? Linda Ronstadt, a ROCK star?)
posted by drlith at 8:37 AM on June 11, 2010

George Michael -- Songs from the Last Century.
posted by ericb at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: Jesus, pazazygeek, that KD Lange cover is AMAZING. Thanks. She clearly needs to do a whole album like this.
posted by grumblebee at 8:40 AM on June 11, 2010

Some of the songs from Red Hot + Blue are really great.
posted by alchemist at 8:44 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Linda Ronstadt?
posted by violette at 8:49 AM on June 11, 2010

Willie Nelson's Stardust might be worth investigating.
posted by philip-random at 8:55 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Willie Nelson- Stardust
posted by kimdog at 8:55 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not exactly what you're looking for--or you might already be familiar with it--but you might enjoy The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, which is the closest contemporary songwriting to those you cited. Some examples:

Busby Berkeley Dreams
The Book of Love
Papa Was a Rodeo
All My Little Words
I Don't Believe in the Sun
posted by dobbs at 9:02 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Michelle Shocked. (Sort of. They're Disney classics but sung in a standards sort of way.)
posted by alms at 9:06 AM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: dobbs, I don't get The Magnetic Fields. I only listened to the first two, but I don't hear "standards" in them. It sounds folksy to me. (I like it. I LOVE folk-inspired pop. But how is it supposed to be American-songbook-esque?)
posted by grumblebee at 9:12 AM on June 11, 2010

grumblebee, listen to Jonathan Schwartz on the weekends from noon to four on WNYC—he plays lots of standards and similar by a wide variety of artists. I've heard many of the folks mentioned here on his show. Also, he tends to do this really cool thing where he'll play a few different versions of a song all in a row, which is fascinating to listen to.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:20 AM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, ocherdraco. I will definitely do that. Sounds right up my alley. iPods and the like have pushed radio out of my life.
posted by grumblebee at 9:29 AM on June 11, 2010

Caetano Veloso's A Foreign Sound is a tribute to American songwriters, focusing on standards. The arrangements by Jacques Morelenbaum are fantastic. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. I love his version of "Something Good." The album has some modern songs too, but nothing too brash.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:32 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't see how I can possibly mark a best answer in this thread, but these suggestions are wonderful. Please keep them coming.
posted by grumblebee at 9:33 AM on June 11, 2010

grumblebee, Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields draws comparisons to Cole Porter for the wry humor and his romantic themes. I think some of the best examples are with one of his other projects, The 6ths (1 2 3), but you're not going to find arrangements for big bands or strings.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2010

Rebecca Kilgore
posted by snowymorninblues at 10:16 AM on June 11, 2010

Not exactly what you're looking for, but Ciao My Shining Star is a tribute album of the songs of Mark Mulcahy.

Mermaid Avenue is an album of songs set to Woody Guthrie's poetry, music by Billy Bragg and Wilco.

KD Lang is awesome, and I highly recommend all of her.

Dawn Upshaw is an opera singer who does a lot of Rodgers & Hart, etc.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:23 AM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: Not exactly what you're looking for

American-songbook standards (e.g. "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered") sung IN THE STYLE THEY WERE TRADITIONALLY SUNG (not made over as rock-and-roll or whatever) by performers that aren't usually associated with that sort of song or style.

I am also fine with performers who sing new songs written and performed IN THAT STYLE. By "in that style," I mean that when you listen to the song, you might actually think it was written and recorded prior to 1950 if you didn't know anything about the singer.
posted by grumblebee at 10:31 AM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, "Mermaid Avenue" is awesome in and of itself, but it's totally NOT what I'm looking for. It's folk rock -- or something like that. I am looking for standards, swing, big band, tin pan alley, Cole Porter -- that kind of thing. If you can't imagine it in a Fred Astaire movie, It's not what I'm looking for.
posted by grumblebee at 10:34 AM on June 11, 2010

Queen Latifah (aka Dana Andrews, I think) did a nice standards album a bit back.
posted by kanewai at 11:03 AM on June 11, 2010

I came in here to recommend Caetano Veloso but hydrophonic beat me to it.

Also, if you like k.d. lang's voice and her work with Bennett, she covered "Smoke Rings" on the Drag album (songs about smoke), and I still play Ingenue in the car because it feels like what Billie Holiday might have sung if she were born in 1961 and not 1915. However, they're all modern songs with lush orchestration and an intimate club feel, not the swing/standards/Astaire-ish that you're looking for.
posted by catlet at 12:08 PM on June 11, 2010

The Puppini Sisters are a musical trio specializing in 1940s-style close harmony vocal music. They do standards, a few originals, and several modern pop songs in the retro style of which you speak.
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, It don't Mean a Thing, Wuthering Heights (previously by Kate Bush)

Have you tried the Squirrel Nut Zippers? Put a Lid on It, etc.
posted by K.P. at 12:10 PM on June 11, 2010

Actually, I think this is what you're looking for.
posted by K.P. at 1:07 PM on June 11, 2010

Bryan Ferry often put standards in his albums post-Roxy Music (Including a great version of "These Foolish Things"), but "As Time Goes By" is a collection of them. I don't always like his interpretations but I absolutely adore his version of "Falling in Love Again" (link to Amazon clip)
posted by answergrape at 1:23 PM on June 11, 2010

This album is in fact the opposite of what you're looking for, but I think you would like it. I get that Stephin Merritt is not the closest contemporary approximation of the Great American Songbook and I assert that Susan Werner is the real deal.

This album is exactly what you want. Although, ok, it does include an original song.
posted by clavicle at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2010

slightly late - but still very much in the style: generally known for feminist/lesbian/girl rock folk, ani difranco did a straight cover of wishin' and hopin'. if you like that, check out the whole "my best friend's wedding" soundtrack.

the soundtrack to midnight in the garden of good and evil is almost entirely a love letter to johnny mercer.

the two queen latifah albums you're looking for are the dana owens album and trav'lin' light

the living out loud soundtrack is also good for this.

rufus wainwright loves him some great american songbook - specifically rufus does judy at carnegie hall
posted by nadawi at 1:48 PM on June 11, 2010

Renee Fleming has a couple of albums that might be worth investigating. PS: re Lang & Bennett, my wife and I saw them perform in Sydney a few years ago--they were absolutely wonderful together. Sky did a great instrumental version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark". If we are talking the Great American Songbook, Jim Webb is part of it. So is/are Bacharach & David.

Michael Feinstein has made a career out of George Gershwin.
posted by Logophiliac at 3:07 PM on June 11, 2010

There's a "pop versions" subchannel of the Broadway channel of AccuRadio that might have a lot of the kind of thing you're looking for. A lot of the American standards came from Broadway.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:14 PM on June 11, 2010

This might fall into a bit of a grey zone, but perhaps Cliches by Alex Chilton (it's just him on acoustic guitar, with a very loose, slightly bluesy-jazzy feel -- they're not redone as rock songs, by any means, but they're not exactly in the original style either).
posted by scody at 4:10 PM on June 11, 2010

A couple of my favorite post-1940s recordings of standards have been by Joe Brown (several other standards on his album Hittin' the High Spots) and George Harrison.
posted by chez shoes at 9:04 PM on June 11, 2010

John Barrowman! He has the voice of a Broadway angel!

- Swings Cole Porter (this is the album I most recommend)

- John Barrowman has more modern Broadway tunes (incl. 'The Boy From Oz', 'Dreamgirls', 'Cats', 'Jersey Boys', 'Mamma Mia!'.. 'Carousel' is really the only classic)
- Aspects Of Lloyd Webber
- Reflections From Broadway (though, I don't think this is one of his best)
- Essential (these two are just supposed 'greatest hits')
- At His Very Best

My other favorite is Maureen McGovern.. specifically her cover of 'The Continental' (one of my favorites), which you'll find on Academy Award Performance (Wikipedia link)
- Naughty Baby: Maureen McGovern Sings Gershwin (Wikipedia link)
- Pleasure Of His Company
- Out Of This World: Maureen McGovern Sings Arlen (Wikipedia link)
- Another Woman In Love (Wikipedia link)

And you just can't go wrong with some of Natalie Cole's albums.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:11 PM on June 11, 2010

Sting wrote (and sang on) a 1930s-sounding song called "It Was Never Meant to Be" with composer Anne Dudley, who scored the excellent music for the wonderful Jeeves and Wooster TV series -- the arrangement for the song sounds a lot like the show's music. That link goes to the version I'm familiar with -- there apparently is another version that is a little longer, according to Amazon.

Would you count Hugh Laurie as an unexpected performer of standards? Not sure if this falls within or outside your criteria, but speaking of Anne Dudley -- if you're a fan of the series, run, don't walk, to check out the Jeeves and Wooster soundtrack. It had been out of print for years and years and I was ecstatic to see it available for sale via download at Amazon recently. It has the great original theme music of course (which has no singing though), short tracks of incidental music from the show, and a number of songs with a vocal trio -- some tracks feature Hugh Laurie (most definitely singing in the style of the period, and speaking in character) and Stephen Fry (speaking in character).

If he does qualify...these are the specific "standalone song" tracks that feature Hugh Laurie singing as Bertie Wooster and don't have dialogue with Jeeves. They're all Tin Pan Alley-era songs:
6. "Nagasaki"
8. "Because My Baby Don't Mean 'Maybe' Now"
11. "Minnie The Moocher"
13. "Changes"
15. "If I Had a Talking Picture of You"

(I think it's definitely worth the album purchase for fans of the show or of the musical period/genre. You can see the soundtrack album's CD artwork scans and full track listing with credits, songwriters, etc., at the longstanding J&W fan site at the Hat Sharpening Shop.)
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 9:46 PM on June 11, 2010

Cyndi Lauper recorded one of these albums in 2003 called At Last.
posted by cgc373 at 1:08 AM on June 12, 2010

Willie Nelson, American Classic
posted by kirkaracha at 3:13 PM on June 13, 2010

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