LINER NOTES: Duets
Duets (or, A Little More Conversation) playlist
At Liner Notes, we often drill down on musical ideas. For example, it's not enough to do a night of covers or songs that tell stories. Rather, we'll look for covers that cross identity boundaries (in the works) or murder ballad tales (which can and should be revisited soon). In specificity, we get a fuller, richer picture. Can't quote this line from The Wire enough, but "it's all in the details."
Which is why "Duets" should be called "A Little More Conversation." The idea stems from the chauvinist "debates" about female reproductive rights of late. Felt like a good time to dust off some examples of back-and-forth at a time when there is no actual discourse (it takes two or more sides to debate, not a panel full of like-minded dudes).
In this case, "duets" doesn't simply mean two people on a track. We looked for examples of interaction, give-and-take, building (and, in the case of our bickering set, taking down)... The set here contains both model conversations, as well mirrors of our current foibles.
The former is truly rare. There is an abundance of examples of male and female singers cooing sweet words to each other. However, few capture the subtle push-and-pull, the erotic pulse and the tender care of actual relationships. Of further surprise is how the actual relationships between singers can be diametrically opposed to the songs they sing -- yet the recorded product captures something truly unreal.
James Brown was often called the hardest working man in show business, but he was better known to his immediate colleagues as an intense, exacting boss. Playing with James Brown meant obeying the terms of the James Brown Show. Lyn Collins played that role for years, yet matches wits effortlessly on "Let It Be Me" (which bears a remarkable melodic resemblance to the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" -- a connection I'll have to explore on another theme I'm working on tentatively titled "Influences"). If you believe rockist legends, Morrissey and Siouxsie Sioux had disagreements about the video for their landmark duet, a cover of the Timi Yuro melodrama "Interlude," but the pairing is gorgeous. Also fulfilling the fan-boy fantasy quota is the pairing of P.J. and Thom on "This Mess We're In." However, the contrast between Yorke's worried falsetto and Harvey's stark speaking on the last verse sends the song over the top. The push-and-pull in each of these examples is tense, competitive and responsive. They breathe a familiar air.
Of course, the pinnacle of love and tenderness belongs to Marvin and Tammi. My only regret is not using one of the live versions of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Though the song was often performed at an uncomfortably faster pace, Tammi's sly ad libs make these versions essential listening.
Admittedly, the latter is more entertaining to listen to. For every Johnny Cash or Bo Deal puffing out his chest, there is a June Carter or Mello G Blanca to bring 'em down a notch. Dolly and Porter allude to letting loose the claws, but Kirsty and Shane get downright nasty (He: "You're an old slut on junk;" She: "You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy faggot"). My favorite is undoubtedly Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara's "Constructive Fighting," which trolls a familiar premise, but perfectly captures the frustrating sweetness of a loving couple just trying to make it. What a great snapshot of the humor simmering beneath the banal.
Thanks again to all the new and old faces that came out. We'll be back in April with more special goodness.