This is a long-ass entry mainly because I add some totally extraneous, grand-ole-EHP-insight into my covers, technique, etc. (Also known as, “Blah, blah, blah, blah”.) You can also opt out of it and just listen to the song, of course. Have at it, I say!
Today marks the first cover of the 365. (Purists: relax. Covers count because they’re arrangements, yo!) I chose this song because Jonathan and I were on the train going to see Avatar (holy crap: see this movie in the theatre!), and he turned to me and started singing a House of Pain song (I know, random, but that’s how it works…). Something in what he sang, and the loudness of the train, made me think he was singing this song, and I remembered how much I love it.
I Only Have Eyes For You was written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin, written in 1934 for the film Dames where it was introduced by Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. *Wikipedia
My dad, up until a few years ago, owned a 1952 Ford Crestline Victoria. It was a yellowish-cream color with a dark green top. I loved how it drove; how it smelled; the tan leather heated up in the summer, and its scent became so familiar to me. We would only get it out of storage during those summer months because a car that old had to be kept cooped up in the severe Utah winters. The radio was original, but I’m not sure why my dad used only a slightly newer radio he kept in the glove box. We would take evening rides for ice cream, just look at the scenery, or even check up on a sprinkler head (my dad did service maintenance when I was growing up). We’d attend the Lewiston, Utah parade in this car, entered the famous Cache Valley Cruise-In, and drove across the valley at casual, small highway speeds with the windows down and the triangle mirrors turned out. It was a great car, and, without fail, my dad would switch on the radio to a pre-set oldies station. This song would play, or maybe a different one, but it didn’t matter, because we were driving. Driving. Driving.
My main influence, obviously, was The Flamingos 1959 version of this song (Please, how could I not link to this video?!). I love this version. There is something special about it for me. Is it the strangely repetitive pedal piano deep in the mix? The vocals? (After studying the vocals for a while, I’m hearing tiny, tiny details in how he sings each word, uses each breath, how long or short he holds consonants, syllables. It’s incredible to me, frankly.) It’s rhythm is so sensual, so intimate.
A Word on Covers: Covers for me are a very special deal. As much as I love covers, they are hard for me to do for a few reasons: I can’t remember anything. I have a hard enough time remembering my own lyrics, let alone lyrics someone else wrote however long ago. Another reason is that I have this brain clog when it comes to performing them: I can’t just perform them as I know them, I have to make them different, at times even unrecognizable. This keeps me from working on them because they’re so time-consuming. For this reason I usually stick to performing covers I absolutely love doing, so I’ll memorize lyrics and figure out a way to play them that I’m happy with. (If you’d like, you can watch my cover of Bjork’s Come to Me, I’ve done about a million times since learning it a few years ago. Ignore the fact that it’s a terribly old video. I should really retire this song by now! But I just love it.)
However, I really tried to change my attitude with this arrangement. As much as I love this song and felt like I knew it, when I sat down to arrange it, I found I didn’t know it as well as I thought! With the altered tuning I was using on my cello I had to learn how to configure the chords just right, which I still need to clean up. Though I was careful and studied about finding the right sound-color for this arrangement, I stopped myself when I started to turn it inside out (attempting to play it in 7/8- blah!). For me, this is a hasty arrangement of a cover. I am learning to be purposefully hasty.
The Cello Part: I love playing with the tuning on my cello. Sure normal A, D, G, C is great, but you can get some amazing color by pulling everything down at least a whole step, then playing around with each string from there. You can hear a ticking as the strings are hit: it’s my finger. I’m not plucking, but making the strings sound by striking them from above, hitting them with a finger. I think in future versions, I’ll change it up a bit. It gets a bit too much all the way through the song like that for me. (If you’re super curious about this, I actually used a similar technique on a Nadia Ali arrangement of her song Rapture for her MTVIggy performance a while back. I had forgotten I had used it there until just now! Nadia is a beautiful singer: maybe she will do a song with me! Nadia?!)
The Recording: The recording process for this kind of freaked me out- I felt it was stealthy on my part, at least. My plan was, at first, to record in my bathroom because this was such a quiet song, and New York is noisy. But something in my mind told me to try doing it in the hallway of my building. Embrace the noise. I live in a building of many musicians and artists, so it’s not rare to hear an instrument or singer (I live below a harpist), but it wasn’t until today, for the first time, I realized a bassist had moved into the building! Hello, my brother!
When the thought first occurred to me I might try to record in the hallway, I immediately got anxious: it was 9:15 pm, kind of late for some people, early for others. Would someone try to stop me? (And wouldn’t that be terribly inconvenient?) I wasn’t even sure if I’d like the outcome anyway. I quickly went out and tested about 20 seconds of the song, went back in, listened to it and loved it right away.
Arranging/recording probably took a little over an hour. This is the second take of two. I so badly wanted to see what arco cello over-dubs would sound like, but I resisted, thinking maybe the intimacy of this infant recording might be more interesting in a minimal kind of way…? There’s actually something really special that happened in the first take: I was extra nervous playing out, so everything is very still and subtle, but the second was by far the better performance. I breathe really heavily in the beginning in an effort to relax myself. I was in the hallway at 9:30 at night playing a cello in front of a microphone! What?! I also didn’t feel quite prepared enough to record this song, but wanted to capture the moment with the practicing bass downstairs before it got too late. There are no effects on this song. It’s all natural reverb from the hallway. I’m starting to see that I will have to invest in a better mic.
Things I like about this recording that I was planning on- I love that the bassist is practicing on the second floor. I really wanted to capture the “duet” between two instruments “cut from the same cloth”, coming from the same mother register. Bass! It’s so John Cage! After I finished, I listened to it for a second time, trying only to hear noises in the distance: the elevator, the bassist, doors shutting. It’s a bit surreal for me.
Things I like about this recording that I wasn’t planning on- I’m such a sucker for naturally occurring “artifacts” in recordings- breath specifically, and though I can annoy myself with my own breathing, I like some if it here: Anxious breath at the start, totally running out of breath before the bridge, and an interesting gasp at 1:34. How at times you can hear the vibration of the strings become interrupted by the next hit of my finger: that’s such a cool sound (i.e. 4:02).
This one was really fun. I enjoyed myself in part because the song was already in existence (leaving a few responsibilities at the door) so it gave me more time to experiment with other detailed things like the recording itself…
Until tomorrow, my friend. Thank you for reading and listening. For being you. Have a fine, fine day.
This one’s for you, Dad.
I Only Have Eyes For You
My love must be a kind of blind love
I can’t see anyone but you.
Are the stars out tonight?
I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright
I Only Have Eyes For You, Dear.
The moon maybe high
but I can’t see a thing in the sky,
‘Cause I Only Have Eyes For You.
I don’t know if we’re in a garden,
or on a crowded avenue.
You are here
So am I
Maybe millions of people go by,
but they all disappear from view.
And I Only Have Eyes For You.