September 14, 2017

A song about singing off key.

"Desafinado":



There are many, many versions of that song, which has been around since 1959. I embedded that one because no ad came up and because it sounds (and looks) beautiful. I love the idea of a song about singing off key and a beautiful melody expressing being off key (though I don't know enough about music to speak about whether the music actually is off key).

[For English lyrics] You might also like this Julie London version (which plays over photos of the very lovely Julie London, my father's favorite singer):



I went searching for the song — which I remembered by title but couldn't connect to what turned out to be a very familiar melody — because it came up in a book I was reading:

“What were you talking about so long over there?” I asked, munching on a cracker.

You, of course,” said Reiko, cradling the cat and rubbing her cheek against it. “He says you’re a very proper young man, a serious student.”

“Are you sure he was talking about me?”

“There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that he was talking about you,” she said with a laugh. Then, noticing my guitar, she picked it up, adjusted the tuning, and played Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado.”
The book is "Norwegian Wood," by Haruki Murakami.

A great read. Why was I reading that? In the course of haphazard clicking the other day, I got to "15 sights that make Tokyo so fascinating" (HuffPo), and it was weird to find one of the things on the list wasn't a sight in Tokyo: "7. Norwegian Wood":
Not exactly a sight in the sense that you can visit it or spot it on a busy street.... "Norwegian Wood" is a coming-of-age story where the city of Tokyo is a backdrop that tends to fade into the background of Murakami's masterful storytelling. For millions of readers around the world who've never been to Japan, it's been a way for them to experience in some small way, Japan's capital of the past.
I watched the movie too. The book is much better than the movie, but the movie has some great visuals of 1960s Japanese interiors and Japanese timeless landscapes. It also has lots of close-ups of beautiful male and female Japanese faces speaking in very quiet voices.  

Back to the book, here's a quote about writing a book:
Writing from memory like this, I often feel a pang of dread. What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?

47 comments:

Nonapod said...

I've never read Norwegian Wood but I'd probably like it.

The Japanese are often absurdly socially reserved and formal. This can make for interesting story telling with a lot of internal dialogue and characters jumping to the wrong conclusions.

stever said...

"Rampart 51"

Richard said...

What would you think if I sang out of tune
Would you stand up and walk out on me
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song
And I'll try not to sing out of key

Beatles - With A Little Help From My Friends

Saint Croix said...

she is so hot!

and then, nose ring

ugh!

I want to pull that nose ring out and wash off all the blood and buggers with soap and water and hand it back to her and tell her to please, please, please stick it somewhere else.

rcocean said...

Norwegian Wood - I'm looking forward to reading it when I have the time.

Julie London is very attractive but I like the song better in Portuguese.

Saint Croix said...

I would still sleep with her.

But I would only love her in profile.

In fact I would probably be flopping around on the bed, trying to stay on her good side.

Biotrekker said...

The classic João Gilberto & Stan Getz version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ruqBjcusvM

tcrosse said...

Jo Stafford sings out of tune.

I am Woman

Ganderson said...

TCrosse beat me to it. He did not mention that Bobby Troup, in addition to being in the movie. M.A.S.H. (Goddamn army jeeps....) co starred in Emergency! With Julie London.

victoria said...

The version by Getz and Gilberto is pretty darn fine. This album had to have been my mother's favorite. She loved that Bosa Nova



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So718wk426c


Vicki from Pasadena

victoria said...

Tcrosse. Jo Stafford was wonderful, though. However,she did not beat out Ella in her prime. Heavenly.

Vicki from Pasadena

buwaya said...

Singer is (probably) Laura Vall.
From Barcelona Spain, grad of UC Berkeley, pro session singer in Los Angeles.
Band is Nova Music LA, which may exist only for gigs.

Roughcoat said...

The Japanese are often absurdly socially reserved and formal.

And yet they are so sadistically unrestrained and cruel when dealing with peoples they have conquered and prisoners of war they have taken and who can no longer defend themselves.

"Strange thing is, they make such bloody good cameras." -- Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake

Darrell said...

Julie London could do things with an Angora sweater that few other women are able to achieve. Cashmere, too.

Unknown said...

The song is not actually off key. There are some "blue notes" which may start off the correct pitch and slide into it, but that's intentional and isn't off key.

who-knew said...

Here is another great version by Mark Murphy where for the opening lines, he is singing off key just as the words say, but the English words are not the same as the Julie London version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8e_DkZOoUQ

Darrell said...

And yet they are so sadistically unrestrained and cruel when dealing with peoples they have conquered and prisoners of war they have taken and who can no longer defend themselves.

Yeah I was just looking at pictures of Allied POWs at a Japanese camp where each of them had a leg amputated. The camp doctor had a fetish. They all were skeletal, of course.

zyz65 said...

I thought 'Desafinado' referred figuratively to an inharmonious relationship.

Ann Althouse said...

"I thought 'Desafinado' referred figuratively to an inharmonious relationship."

Yes, music is a metaphor for love. I'll bet we could make a long list of songs that use that metaphor.

Ann Althouse said...

"Love is like a never ending melody,
Poets have compared it to a symphony,
A symphony conducted by the lighting of the moon,
But our song of love is slightly out of tune..."

What's interesting is the melody, with a fascinating offness.

Bob Ellison said...

I don't wanna hate, but bossa nova is the second worst thing in the music world, second only to modern jazz. Well, maybe the third worst, with twelve-tone at the top.

Bob Ellison said...

It could be an interesting conversation: What's worse than this?

Lots of artworks hanging around, lots of architecture and terrible sounds disguised as music. Ugly clothes and make-up.

Darrell said...

"Ugly" is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty, too. I like the Bossa Nova--specifically women dancing to it, at the time. Memories are wonderful things.

Nonapod said...

It's actually quite difficult to purposely sing just off key when you're a decent singer. In the modern era of digital recording, it'd be easier just to sing on key, and then use Auto-Tune to notch it just off key.

William said...

In the photos with the Julie London song, there's a picture of her with JFK. She's looking at him with liquid admiration. I'd bet anything they shared a moment together. JFK was not long on this earth, but he made the most of it.....There's always a few songs in every genre that are worth listening to. i don't live in a bossa nova world, but some of the songs capture that fleeting mood when a hot, humid day feels languorous and welcome......,I've never heard a rap song I like, but they probably exist. Life is too short to research the matter further.

EDH said...

Maybe I've been manipulated by deceptive 1970s TV advertising...

But if she can't break a glass like Ella Fitzgerald I don't want to hear about it.

Bob Ellison said...

Sidney Bechet played deliberately off-key on Blue Horizon. That's the way it's done. He knew exactly where every note belonged.

jaydub said...

This song was supposedly written by Bob Dylan.

Mark said...

Is this really "off-key" or is the song written intentionally flat?

wild chicken said...

Anymore, I prefer music from just prior to the Beatles deluge. Boomer era has too much baggage now.

Bob Ellison said...

Mark, standard music notation is written in 12-tone (chromatic) style, like on the twelve notes on a piano. I don't know of a notation that depicts deliberate flatness or sharpness, and I'm pretty sure there's no key signature that says "play the whole thing out of tune". Some Asian music is anharmonic, but the arc of music bends toward twelve tones.

It's up to the performer to decide how to play it, and with very few exceptions, folks don't deliberately play or sing out of tune all the way through. That song Althouse embedded above is entirely in-tune, with careful attention to the intended notes (like singing a slightly flat note for effect, but usually resolving to the intended note). Singing "off key" is really just lousy singing. I can do that!

I hope this makes sense to you. It's a subject that bugs me.

In blues and rock, most off-chromatic notes (like on clarinet, as Bechet played) are flattened rather than sharpened. I wonder what the ratio is. I'd guess 80% flat, 20% sharp.

On keyboard, you have no options without a wheel, and that's a clumsy interface.

William said...

You know far more about music than I do, but I will observe that you've really got to go out of your way to listen to Schoenberg. There's no place on earth that's safe from Celine however...... I was watching the BBC series on Queen Victoria. In aristocratic circles they listened to Schubert played by amateur pianists. That's what they did for fun. Life has gotten better over the years.

uniquely_pops said...

The first recording is sung with good "intonation" (pitch). Not out of tune intentionally or otherwise. With this recording as with many good performances, the pitch isn't perfect on passing notes; they are hard to nail because there's no time to adjust. There was maybe a high note that she didn't quite reach. But plenty good enough for me (I have the mixed blessing of perfect relative pitch.)

There ARE pop singers who nail the pitch even on the quick notes and the stretch notes almost always. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and many others.

Finding the mis-hits in the recordings of these geniuses is, for us obsessives, kind of a hobby, like a stamp collector looking for a rare printers' error.

There are other very successful singers who sing painfully out of tune a lot of the time, like Tony Bennett. The aging Bennett is in a different category. He's excruciatingly off-key ALL the time.

Fernandinande said...

EDH said...
But if she can't break a glass like Ella Fitzgerald I don't want to hear about it.


That would be "rock singer and vocal coach Jamie Vendera".

"For the first time, proof that an unassisted voice can indeed shatter glass was captured on video." (mythbusters)

Amexpat said...

I was very much into Murakami, so much so that I posted as Sheepman here for a number of years (I initially wanted to have another moniker to write some posts in the voice of the Sheepman character, but then I couldn't access my original moniker, so I used Sheepman until I found a more suitable name).

Norwegian Wood was is his most popular book, but not one of his better ones, IMO. I'd recommend "The Windup Bird Chronicle".

Strick said...

Love bossa nova. Great song, music by the immortal Antônio Carlos Jobim. I'm more familiar with the João Gilberto & Stan Getz version, too, which I have on my phone.

This version does remind me of the old (probably politically incorrect) jazz musician's joke, though.

A jungle explorer became worried when his native guide seemed frightened by the sound of distant drums. He asked what they meant. The guide replied that the problem wasn't the drums but what happens after they stop. The explorer asks, "Well, what happens then?"

The guide replied in terror, "Bass solo."

JML said...

Bob Ellison: So apparently you don't consider Rap, music. Me neither.

Allison said...

Murakami understands the alienated young man better than anyone. Hard boiled wonderland is his most heartbreaking book.

Reading his nonfiction book about the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system was equally fascinating.

Larvell said...

"I've never read Norwegian Wood but I'd probably like it."

It's good, isn't it?

Ann Althouse said...

Ella Fitzgerald had a hit with "Desafinado," but I really dislike her version.

Rick said...

"Slightly out of tune" pulls a Jim Croce lyric for me.

Great singer, sad story.

DavidD said...

"I love the idea of a song about singing off key and a beautiful melody expressing being off key (though I don't know enough about music to speak about whether the music actually is off key)."

No; no, it's not.

Earnest Prole said...

You should see my Norwegian wood.

Bob R said...

It's a fun song to play because the chord changes are so unexpected. I used to play it in a jazz band, and I think I had to have the chord chard in front of me every time. It's "out of tune" in the sense that the melody has a lot of notes that are "wrong" for the chord they are sung over, but then the next chord resolves them. Jobim is a genius, and makes it sound completely natural.

Darcy said...

Had to pop in to see if Trooper had visited. He loves him some Julie London. Ahh. Old times.

Char Char Binks said...

I wouldn't expect a Bob Dylan fan to recognize whether or not music was in tune.

SF said...

The version London sings (and Ann quotes) has English lyrics by Jon Hendricks, who turns 96 years old tomorrow (the 16th). He showed up briefly at the end of the (7pm) Jazz at Lincoln Center livestream of "Leaves of Grass" this evening when Kurt Elling called attention to his birthday.