During lockdown I’ve tried to make time for a bit of headspace. Like many I’ve found that doing the job from home whilst trying to parent is mentally exhausting. I need a bit of time to switch off, clear my head of everything. This generally happens during an early morning run; a great way to clear my head whilst trying to maintain my fitness. I’m also trying to put some time aside in the evenings for reading and listening to music.
I miss listening to music. I mean properly listening. In my youth I used to spend hours every day listening intently to LPs, dissecting the lyrics, poring over album artwork. I still listen to music but it tends to be in transit, either driving too and from work (when I’ve not got the intellectual energy for Radio 4) or whilst out running (although audiobooks are my preference – music can throw my rhythm).
So it’s been rather wonderful to spend a little bit of extra time PROPERLY listening. I mean sat on a comfy sofa, beverage in hand, headphones on, no other distractions listening. Just a song or two an evening, occasionally an album. The rather brilliant #timstwitterlisteningparty (check out The Charlatans @Tim_Burgess) has triggered my memory and I’ve gone back to LPs and songs I’ve not listened to properly for 20 years. Time makes you look at them through a slightly different lens, and has compelled me to write about them. Not for anyone else’s benefit (this will be incredibly dull to most people) but because it’s therapeutic to write about them.
So I’m going to start by writing about a song that I was fairly obsessed with for a year or so (and still adore now). The Look Of Love, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
I’ve always had a strange relationship with the songs of Bacharach and David. In some ways their songs are the antithesis of the music I’ve listened to for decades. It’s often schmalzy. It’s not intellectually challenging. Not groundbreaking. It is unashamedly *spits* pop music. There is a key difference between the tunes of B&D and most pop music though. It’s perfectly crafted, timeless music (although occasionally the themes have dated badly; Wives and Lovers anyone?). “Dionne Warwick Sings The Bacharach & David Songbook” is perfect for sticking on when you’re cooking dinner. Classic singalong pop. There’s not a single note wasted in a B&D song.
The Look Of Love is probably still my favourite. It’s sultry, sensual, romantic, with hints of insecurity. A proper love song.
I fell in love with this song in my late teens. I can’t even remember where I first listened to it properly. I think it may have been on my mum’s Best of Dusty Springfield collection. But it grabbed me straight away.
I’ve always been a bit of a collector. Once I’d heard Dusty’s version I started looking for others. Scanning the second hand LPs in record shops, searching for versions on the internet (Napster before it went legit). At one point I had over 70 different versions of TLOL. It’s one of B&Bs more androgynous songs, tackled (with varying quality) by male and female vocalists (Dusty, Dionne Warwick, Andy Williams, Isaac Heyes). There’s no gender reference in it.
Dusty’s version, however, is still the greatest. It has Dusty’s voice at its best; breathless, not overpowering, gentle. She lets the strings pull their weight (although they’re also surprisingly low key for a song that was on the soundtrack for a James Bond movie).
The whole song feels like a romance scene in a french arthouse film. The first two verse/chorus sequences are full of longing and excitement. And then the brilliantly understated sax solo hits. If anyone knows who performed this solo I’d love to know. It’s so restrained that the notes barely come out, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to Dusty’s vocal performance. And then the slightly needy, insecure outro: “Don’t ever go…”
I’ve heard plenty of disappointing covers: Isaac Heyes and Nina Simone (whom I normally adore) have both done ropey versions. If anyone thinks they can find a better version I’d like to hear it.