Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November 8: The Marcels, "Blue Moon"

Artist: The Marcels
Song: "Blue Moon"
Album: Blue Moon
Year: 1961

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

There is no question that one of the more frustrating occurrences when listening to music with a group is when some do not realize that they are hearing a cover song.  As the decades pass, many of the original versions of some of the greatest songs in history become lost to a majority of the population; and this rate is increased when a later performer has a hit with the song in question.  However, there are also a handful of cases where one can make the argument that a cover is "better" than the original, as a late performer may find a new way or enhancing the overall impact of an earlier song.  Then of course, there is the rather unique and unmatched case of The Marcels.  Though they are primarily known as a "doo-wop" act, the reality is that along with their voices, it was their most famous single that forever changed how people viewed older songs, as well as creating an entirely new approach to the idea of covers.  Yet in many ways, the song almost never came to be, and there are a few rather blatant mistakes within their most important recording.  The recording in question occurred when the group was nearing the end of a recording session and needed one more track for the album.  After discussing a few options, one member of the group was familiar with one of the choices, and taught the arrangement to the other four.  Though there was one rather significant error, there is no question that it is easily overlooked, and there may be no more important a cover song in history than The Marcels' fantastic 1961 rendition of "Blue Moon."

By the time that The Marcels' version of "Blue Moon" was released, there had already been dozens of covers of the song from artists like Billie Holiday, Mel Torme, and even Elvis Presley had made the song a hit only a few years previous.  However, there is no question that it is The Marcels take which forever changed the face of the song, as theirs differs in almost every sense from the original.  The most obvious difference is the pace of the song, as it is The Marcels recording which turned the song into an up-tempo, almost upbeat song.  The way that the drums seem to swing behind the singing is as definitive of the era as almost any other song, and the sound that the piano makes in the background gives "Blue Moon" an almost danceable appeal.  There is also a guitar track that is somewhat buried in the mix, but it is within this aspect that one can tie it to the rockabilly sound, and in many ways, one can point to this version of "Blue Moon" as one of the first major transitions between rockabilly and r&b.  There is an attitude that runs throughout the song that isn't quite what one expects from the "doo-wop" sound, and it is this somehow new vibrancy that made the song and instant classic, and keeps it in regular popular culture even more than for decades later.  It would also be The Marcels recording of "Blue Moon" that made it "ok" for any artist to cover any other song; as this orchestration proves that there is no singular way to approach a song.

However, there is no denying that while the music on "Blue Moon" gives it a magnificent swing, this song is all about the unparalleled vocals that run throughout the entire track.  In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a more well-known vocal than the "bomp-baba-bomp" voice-play that opens the song.  It is the way that throughout "Blue Moon," all five vocalists are able to use their singing as additional instruments, and this gives the song a completely unique feel and tone.  Yet while one cannot deny the brilliance within the shared harmonies, it is within the lead vocals that one can find one of the most important changes that came with The Marcels' take on "Blue Moon."  On almost every previous recording, the song was a rather sad and somber affair, and yet when this version was released, there is a swing and a bounce within the lead vocal that gives it an almost hopeful, or perhaps carefree sentiment.  One can see this as being somewhat reflective of the mindset of the youth at the time, and this is much the reason that the song quickly stormed up the charts all the way to the top spot.  It is the way that the vocals here become nothing short of infectious which made it an instant hit, and even all these decades later, it is almost impossible to not sing along with the fantastic vocals that run throughout The Marcels' rendition of "Blue Moon."

Strangely enough, even as the decades have passed and the song remains in a regular spotlight within popular culture, the fact that there is a massive mistake within goes completely overlooked.  The bridge on the version of "Blue Moon" by The Marcels is inaccurate in both the lyrics as well as how the notes should progress, and yet there is no question that the way that it is found here is equally enjoyable as the "correct" arrangement.  It is due to this reality that one can make the case that in many ways, it is how one sings as song as opposed to the content, as the spirit found throughout this version of "Blue Moon" was rarely equaled by any peers of The Marcels.  Furthermore, there is no question that the almost scat-style opening and other phrasings throughout the song would forever change music, as similar sounds and styles can be found all across the next few years of popular music.  It was also this version of "Blue Moon" that easily outshone almost every previous recording, and countless later performers from almost every genre of music have based their own cover of the song on that of The Marcels.  Whether it is due to the absolutely flawless vocal arrangement, or the completely original take on the song itself in terms of pace and mood, there are few songs in music history as important as The Marcels' 1961 version of the classic, "Blue Moon."

1 comment:

ngcummins said...

My brother absolutely LOVED this version when it came out! Great selection.