Sunday morning coming down

I’ve just about exhausted my knowledge of popular American music in this series. This morning I present videos featuring what I think of as Beauty and Beast pairings for the sheer pleasure of the thing.

Norman Granz produced three albums on Verve that paired Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong over a few days in 1956 and 1957. They glow with a beauty-and-the-beast chemistry. Here is “Under a Blanket of Blue” from their original 1956 session. Ella and Louis are backed by Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich. The song is by Marty Symes, A.J. Neiburg, and Jerry Livingston.

Written by Ned Washington, “The Nearness of You” is from the same session. Oscar Peterson et al. provide the backing again.

Granz managed both Ella and Peterson. When Ira Gershwin called Granz to complain that the instrumental version of Gershwin songs recorded by Oscar Peterson failed to recognize the lyricist in the liner notes, the two became friends. As Ella and Armstrong recorded Porgy and Bess together in the summer of 1957, Granz would drive over to Ira Gershwin’s Beverly Hills home and the two would sit up late listening to acetates from the session.

Granz biographer Tad Hershorn relates that the Armstrong/Fitzgerald recording of “Summertime” made Gershwin weep. He quotes Granz: “Ira was overwhelmed by the poignancy of Louis’s voice and said he wished George were alive to hear the records.”

The Armstrong/Fitzgerald recording of “Bess You Is My Woman Now” from the same session also hits home with me. I wonder what Ira said about this one. It made me weep!

Al Hirt and Ann-Margaret followed in the footsteps of Ella and Louis. They called their 1964 album Beauty and the Beard. Their partnership gives us the opportunity to revisit Frank Loesser’s incredibly witty “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel made for another beauty and the beast pairing on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 2003. Although we have been instructed otherwise, we continue to find it quite all right.

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs have produced three discs together in a similar sort of pairing to cover rock songs of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. They have devoted a disc to each decade in three volumes they called Under the Covers. I love them all, but I am partial to volume 1. Here is “Different Drum” by former Monkee Michael Nesmith. The Sweet/Hoffs version follows the ’60’s hit by The Stone Poneys with Linda Ronstadt on the vocal. Van Dyke Parks plays harpshichord on this recording.

“Care of Cell #44” is also from volume 1. The original is by the Zombies from the vastly underappreciated Odessey and Oracle.

They conclude volume 1 with the Bee Gees’ “Run to Me.” The song dates to 1972. In the liner notes they offer no explanation for including it on their tribute to ’60’s music. They only explain: “This is another B. Gibb masterpiece of economy and grandeur: two verses, two choruses, done. Huge harmonies. A smash.”

Volume 2 takes up rock music of the ’70’s. I thought Steve Hayward might appreciate their take on Yes’s “I’ve Seen All Good People: Your Move/All Good People.”

On volume 2 they also cover the Raspberries’ “Go All the Way.” The heat on this one should melt the plastic.

Volume 3 visits the music of the ’80’s. They cover Lindsey Buckingham’s “Trouble” to the same torrid effect.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are a beauty and beast pairing for the ages. Their Raising Sand was recognized with a raft of Grammys. Their version of “Killing the Blues” by Roly Salley is not too shabby.

Shawn Colvin is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. Shawn’s solo version of “Killing the Blues” on Cover Girl is an absolute killer. By my lights she is a great artist. She teamed up with Steve Earle in a beauty and the beast pairing that covered Shawn’s beautiful “That Don’t Worry Me Now.” This is the note on which I would like to sign off this morning.