In the wake of the tragic passing of legendary performer Carol Channing, I thought I would take a look at her most iconic role. By the time she attempted this part, she had already given one of Broadway’s greatest comedic performances in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and her performance there was arguably more nuanced, but it never quite approached the sense of sheer joy and triumphant, life-embracing inspiration she had as Dolly. As most of you probably know, virtually every major Musical Theater diva has attempted the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi at some point in their careers (Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Phyllis Diller, Pearl Bailey, Bette Midler, Donna Murphy, Bernadette Peters…that isn’t even a complete list, by the way). But while I will admit that Streisand probably sang the part best from a purely vocal perspective, and that Channing’s odd vocal style can be an acquired taste for some people, no other Dolly has ever approached the sheer life-affirming impact of Channing in the role, especially on the show’s title song, which is universally acknowledged as the showstopper to end all showstoppers and which has never been pulled off as magnificently by any other performance. While it goes without saying that Channing is brilliant on the show’s original cast album, it’s actually her second full recording of the score, made as late as 1994, that better captures the true dazzle and splendor she reportedly brought to the role onstage. In any case, both those recordings are definitely in the “required listening” category for anyone who cares even the slightest about Broadway Musicals or Show Tunes. No matter how many legends are drawn to the role, there will never be another Dolly Levi equal to Channing, and despite the derogatory jokes some people made about her vocal sound during her life, her recorded performances will enable her to live on forever as one of Broadway’s most one-of-a-kind long-term performing legends.
Archives for January 2019
I don’t entirely agree with those who say Greta Van Fleet is just a warmed-over imitation of Led Zeppelin. Granted, they are definitely recycling influences from Classic Rock (they’ve never really pretended otherwise), and their vocalist is certainly doing an uncanny Robert Plant impersonation, but their instrumentation has always given me more of a Lynyrd Skynyrd or Creedence Clearwater Revival vibe…more Swamp-Rock or Southern Rock than the harsher sounds of Zeppelin’s early Heavy Metal style. The resulting mix of styles does give them at least some semblance of their own distinct sound, and this particular song, which is more a piece of Folk balladry than their usual Rock sound, certainly shows they aren’t entirely indebted to the Led Zeppelin influences. That said, I’m not entirely sure why they’re getting as much attention within their field as they are, or why they’re being touted as the ‘leaders’ of the Classic Rock Revival. After all, Halestorm and the Pretty Reckless are both better bands in the same Retro-Rock style that were around quite a while before Greta Van Fleet, and both are still together and recording…Halestorm released a new album just last year, in fact. While it may demonstrate some small degree of versatility, even this song, while well-played and well-sung, isn’t really all that interesting as a composition, especially compared to songs by the aforementioned other bands in this subgenre.
Verdict: A decent enough slice of retro-Folk Rock, but I just don’t see why it justifies all the attention.
I’ve said some harsh things about this artist in the past, mostly because I disliked his featured appearance on Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” so strongly, but now that he is (at least purportedly) supposed to be retiring from the music scene, I felt the need to explore his body of work a little more deeply. I was actually surprised to find how much more effective and interesting he is on his own albums. My primary objection to his appearance on “Bad and Boujee” was his bizarre vocal quality, which on that song sounded unintentionally comic. However, on his solo albums and mixtapes, his work has a uniquely quirky sensibility that manages to turn his odd vocal sound into an asset rather than a liability. Lil Uzi Vert is a significantly more interesting lyricist than most of the other big-name Hook-Rappers, and this song in particular is a morbid, twisted ode to emotional numbness and death-embracing fatalism that goes far beyond the dimensions of your average “Emo-Rap” song like Juiceworld’s “Lucid Dreams”. I was pretty much entirely wrong about this guy and his work, and ironically enough, I, who until very recently was one of this Rapper’s biggest detractors, now find myself among those fervently hoping that his threat of retirement was merely a publicity stunt for his next album.
Verdict: Far more fascinating and evocative than I would have ever expected.
Despite inviting a level of personal and moral controversy that makes XXXTentacion look like Donny Osmond by comparison, this particular Trap-Rapper acquired a surprising level of Pop success before the whole ‘going to jail for years’ thing disrupted his Rap career. Now, I’m not concerned here with the crimes this artist has committed…I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but that’s the courts’ business, not mine, and as mentioned above, they seem to be taking care of it. The question I’m trying to settle is whether this guy actually had any artistic validity to justify his popularity in the face of controversy. His primary selling point seemed to be the intensity and authenticity of his vocal delivery: he actually sounded like a hardcore thug, and when he rapped about murdering you, it sounded like he might actually do it. Leaving aside any speculation on why that was the case, the primary problem is that we already had a more interesting Rapper with exactly the same qualifications and stylistic approach a couple of years before this guy showed up…his name was 21 Savage. And apart from offering a warmed-over version of 21 Savage’s shtick, 6ix9ine wasn’t particularly good at…well, much of anything: his lyrics were moronic shock value, so he couldn’t function as an old-school lyrical rapper in the J. Cole—Kendrick Lamar vein, and his vocal melodies weren’t nearly interesting enough to hold his own with the other Hook-Rappers. From a purely artistic perspective, I’ve heard worse Rap, but I doubt this guy has contributed anything that will make history remember him positively once his time in the spotlight is over.
Verdict: This guy is kind of like the frontman from LostProphets…the question of the importance of artistic ability vs. morality is one that has raged from time immemorial, but nothing this guy has done in his actual music is interesting enough to raise it in his case.
This song is not particularly distinguished, but I’m having something of a hard time understanding why it’s received such an extreme level of vitriol from the internet critics. It’s a pleasant enough piece of radio filler, mellow and euphonious, and it’s certainly the best thing Florida Georgia Line have released since their first album (not that that constitutes any great distinction given the dismal quality of their work during that interim, but it’s worth remembering the duo have done much worse than this). It’s a bit on the bland side, but it pulls off the relaxing vibe FGL are attempting without descending into the blatantly noxious worthlessness of, say, “Sun Daze”. It’s not remotely close to any kind of authentic Country, but neither is anything else FGL has ever released, so I don’t really understand the passionate anger some people seem to feel over this particular song being labelled “Country” by the perennially clueless Billboard charts. At any rate, this song is nowhere near as bad as the biggest “Country” hits on the Billboard charts in the previous two years (Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” in 2017 and FGL’s own “H.O.L.Y.” in 2016). So while there is certainly infinitely better Country music being made that the charts and Country radio are ignoring, and that’s certainly a thing worth getting mad over, I don’t really understand why this specific song has become such a focal point for hatred.
Verdict: Not great by any means, but harmless enough, and certainly nothing to get upset over.
This song has certainly been played into the ground by now, but that’s not the only problem with it. Most Classic Rock songs that receive this level of sheer decades-spanning overplay actually earn it on some level. For example, “Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven” presumably seemed like amazing instant classics when they were first introduced, so it’s not all that surprising that they became inescapable staples of Rock radio and cover bands. This song, by contrast, is just radio filler: capable radio filler, admittedly, but nonetheless utterly generic—at least “25 or 6 to 4”, another piece of polished radio-rock that has suffered from terminal overplay, had a distinctive sound thanks to early-career Chicago’s Jazz influences. This song’s closest peer is probably “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, but it doesn’t even come close to equaling the simple poetic beauty of that song, which also earned its ubiquity because it resonates so deeply with so many listeners. And as Arena Power Ballads go, it also doesn’t approach the emotional power of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, or the inspirational uplift of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. In fact, I find it pretty hard to imagine anyone being genuinely moved by this song. And when I can name this many songs in the same field that are better off the top of my head, that’s not generally a good sign.
Verdict: Even before it got so overplayed that people started cringing at the sound of its first notes, this was already little more than a competent but uninteresting piece of overpolished radio filler.
This song is seen by most of the amateur “critics” who infest the internet as a piece of trite soundtrack filler that is supposedly unworthy of Pink’s talent. This is partly because it comes from an unnecessary sequel to an already disappointing movie…the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie wasn’t quite the abomination some make it out to be, but it didn’t really merit a second outing. Still, good and even great songs have come from the soundtracks of worse movies (look how many classic songs have wound up attached to the Twilight franchise, for example), so this doesn’t cut it as a justification for dismissing the song. The other reason this song is poorly thought of is that most of the internet critics have entirely missed the point of its dramatic content, misinterpreting it as a “self-esteem” anthem in the vein of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” or Pink’s own earlier single “Raise Your Glass”. What the song is actually meant to be is a Wanting Song, a song model that is a staple element in Musical Theater. Interestingly, this Wanting Song is not about the standard topic of love, or even about success per se, but about power. It’s a furiously defiant promise to tear down the established order, to “light the world up for just one day”, as the song puts it. Granted, the Rap bridge toward the end is actually kind of embarrassing, but the rest of the song has an intensity and hypnotic, almost mystical quality that ranks with the most inspired work Pink has ever done. It strikes a dark, almost villainous note that makes it resonate perfectly with the part of our psyches that would actually like to burn the world up for our own glory, making it a potently evocative anthem of enraged pride.
Verdict: This is a fantastic song, one of Pink’s all-time classics, and its unanimous dismissal by the internet peanut gallery does nothing to change that.