I am watching “SVU New York” which – according to the internet – makes me a 70 year old lady who drinks a small glass of liquor and eats a cucumber sandwich when she watches this show. Does it redeem myself if I say that I only watch it to see Raúl Esparza (in the role of lawyer “Rafael Barba”) one day break the fourth wall and break out in song? Because that’s what I always hope for whenever I see a Broadway star on TV. So far, only “Orange is the New Black” and “Pushing Daisies” actually helped me fulfill my tv-dreams, so Raúl – make it happen! (*there is an inordinate footnote about more of this at the end of this article, in case you are interested in those Broadway-outbursts. It totally derailed after I wrote the initial entry and I am kind of sorry but not really – my readers know that I have a soft spot in my heart for all things cheesy-musically-a-cappella-y).
Anyways, in one of those “SVU”-episodes I stumbled over Paloma Faith’s cover of INXS’ “Never Tear us Apart” which might be one of the greatest 80s songs in the history of great 80s songs. It has everything: A charismatic and amazing vocalist with the late Michael Hutchence, an epic orchestra to give the dramatic background, a single guitar strung while the drums go faster and harder, one of those moments in a song when everything stops only to commence much stronger and lyrics that evoke nostalgia as well as a feel of great gravitas and being in the moment. Ok, it also has one of those horrible saxophone solos that no one ever asked for but that just happened in the 80s and early 90s but given that the rest of the song is stellar, let’s not hold that against it.
Now, I like Paloma. She is cool and classy and doesn’t talk so much crap like Lily Allen (man, it’s really difficult to like Lily Allen when you read her interviews). It’s a great version and pretty much the best version of all the “Never tear us apart”-cover songs. It’s dramatic, it doesn’t have the saxophone solo and her voice gives it a certain James Bond-vibe.
Paloma gives the song justice and it’s no “Celine Dion sings ‘I Drove All Night'”-trainwreck – far from it, actually.
But Michael Hutchence is one of those rare shiny and unfortunately tragic examples of one of a kind-artists who give so much of their own to a performance to a song that there is no one who can do it better. So, whatever version I might listen to, his is the only one that I really want to listen to. No wonder – what a giant shadow he cast.
I won’t post the Joe Cocker-version because it’s really not good. I didn’t even believe that Joe would sing this song because vocally, it’s such a weird fit and Joe’s usual growling by the end of the song is simply off-putting because the song works through a singer who is in control of his emotions and doesn’t go full Cocker on stage. The Cary Brothers did a pretty solid cover but didn’t really add too much to the song. And even though Tom Jones and Natalie Imbruglia add a lot to the song, it might be a little too much and they out-duet each other so much that the song loses the initial cool and determination. I am also not the biggest fan of their Diva-grandeur by the end of the song with one singing over the other. It feels a little as if they don’t really get the song.
(Edit, April 2018) Apropos unfitting growling and duets who don’t seem to get it: Cade Foehner, the Michael Hutchence-hair model from this year’s (2018) “American Idol” did a cover version duet together with Bishop Briggs and it’s … not good. I actually do like Cade and his above-American Idol-level guitar play but his growly voice and Briggs’ weird aggressive Rage against the Machine-vibe (and dancing) is really off-putting because again, the song is such a masterpiece in grand emotions delivered in a nearly Lynchian-cool aesthetic (highly stylised, highly controlled, a little feeling of old-fashioned noir and even the outbursts sound like they are orchestrated which makes everything go under your skin).
The way that Foehner and Briggs interpret the song is nearly as if they don’t know what this is about. It’s a love song and not a “stick it to the man”-hymn for the “damn the man”-generation. It has a hecking sax solo! How much more polished can you go?
It’s a true “what were they thinking?”-moment for me, dawg.
*Ah, nice that you had the time to dive a little into the world of awesome musical stars in tv-shows.
“Orange is the New Black” super-surprised me when they casted Annie Golden – known for her role in “Hair” as well as being a cool punk rock chick from the 70s – and not let her sing for the entire season until the final episode where she suddenly burst out into a beautiful Christmas song and let us all burst into prison tears (which are the tattoos you get in prison, so, they are painful).
It’s sooooo beautiful!
Of course, there is neither a video nor any other trace of the song on the internet because apparently, the gods decided that it is too good for anyone to listen to more than once because all our faces would burst into a bloodbath otherwise. So here is Annie with a cool song from the 70s!
“Pushing Daisies” had several awesome musical numbers, starting with the always adorable Kristin Chenoweth as “Olive” (the tragic dame that didn’t get the hunk in the show) who is one of the big names of the Broadway world. By the way, Olive was courted by a character played by Raúl but he didn’t sing which I still hold against Bryan Fuller (who created the show).
But the real whammy for me was Ellen Greene who most of us probably know from “The Little Shop of Horrors” and who offered painfully short glimpses of her awesome voice. Oh, she also played a very small role in Fuller’s “Hannibal” where both her and Esparza (in the role of weasel “Chilton”) haven’t sung a single note. Jesus, Bryan, get your shit together!
Oh Ellen, the balance between vulnerability and the pure strength in her voice just kills me every time.
And just to show that he needs to sing on tv, here’s one of my favourite, most addicting musical songs (no, it’s not “Let it go”, even though I am humming this since months now) sung by Raúl who – little known fact – was initially planned to play the witch “Elphaba” from “Wicked” but eventually had to hand over the role to Idina Menzel – better known as “Adele Dazeem” – because the producers thought that she would “look the part” more. Shame.
Even if he hams it up I totally tear up hearing this version of the song. It’s a little embarrassing, maybe even more embarrassing than watching “SVU”…but seriously, awesome guy, awesome actor, awesome voice, amazing range.
Also a little known fact: I totally made that little known fact up, just as John Travolta made Menzel’s Alter Ego-name up. Actually, Stephanie J Block was meant to play “Elphaba” in the original “Wicked” but then was replaced by Idina. She later got to be the wicked witch though and – in my opinion – aced it beyond all of OZ.
By the way, here she is seen with Annaleigh Ashford who played a small role (and didn’t sing!) in “Masters of Sex”. Look, I don’t see what’s the problem in writing a musical number (dream sequence, anyone?) into those Drama/Sex/Serial Killer-shows to show the talent of its actors and actresses. Everybody loves a good song and there’s no way that a sex act or a cannibal dinner event wouldn’t be so much better with a Broadway star bursting out into song in the middle of it.
I like to be vegetarian
Don’t eat meat be vegetarian
I like to be vegetarian
Please don’t eat the vegetarian!
(try this with the melody from West Side Story’s “America” and you have a killer (get it?) song)