09 January 2003

i've been listening to "by the time i get to phoenix" a lot today, though i don't think it has so much to do with the lyrics as it has with the atmosphere created by the chords. (and hello again.) four versions, in particular.
glen campbell, of course. it's the vocal delivery, the plaintiveness, the way he expresses the song's meaning with the sound of his voice. and then it's the very end, the far too brief end, with that fantastic chord change that is a hallmark of webb's best songs (in this case, from eb to f), and the guitar line that winds around the extended sigh of the strings.
isaac hayes takes a small-town town tale, supplies it with a backstory, and makes it universal. not to all tastes, but if you're given to melodrama like myself, it is aces. he inflates both the song, the emotions, and the track length -- 18-plus minutes; it'll still be playing as i finish this. his cover opened the song up for urban appreciation -- the mad lads, solomon burke, the escorts, new york city, and joe tex all have performed their own versions.
frank sinatra's take comes from 1968's cycles, where it was joined by "little green apples" and "both sides, now." it's a shitty album, but it features one of his all-time best album covers -- black-tie, blacker mood, as his hand covers his face -- and his version of "phoenix," one of his best song covers. a song isn't a standard until the voice tackles it (or mauls it), and while his singing is very strong and empathetic, it's the much-maligned don costa and his string arrangement, especially as it decorates that last chord change, that is most noteworthy.
webb's own is marred by excessive earnestness and singer/songwriter emoting, but no one understands hurt in the lyric or the music -- and especially those changes -- better than him. (i believe that this is the only version of the song he produced.) there is an extended meditation on that last change. campbell shows regret; hayes, irremediable pain; frank, genteel resignation; but it is only webb whose rendition reaches a new morning, sore red eyes facing dawn's rays -- that which is presented in the lyric is at last aptly paired with the music.
hell, i suppose i am relating currently after all. hell.

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