Since I work at home, I often catch short bursts of sound when I go into the kitchen to get coffee and my wife and step daughter are watching television.
Tonight, it was "American Idol," and someone was performing the Rolling Stones'
classic, "Gimme Shelter." While it may not have been awful, I only had to hear 30 seconds of this version to know that it was subpar, not to mention a poor choice of a song to cover.
Don't get me wrong: "Gimme Shelter" (from 1969's Let It Bleed) is one of the Stones' most magical tracks, with a sense of foreboding that calms near the end (where love is "just a kiss away") even as the music is still boiling. Jimmy Miller's production is utterly amazing, starting with the edgy, percussive intro that fades in perfectly, and never relents.
Mick Jagger's singing is first rate on "Gimme Shelter," and when vocalist Merry Clayton practically shatters glass with her passion--you can hear a "whoo!" in the background in response to her startling guest shot--the track has turned into a masterpiece.
If you break it down, "Gimme Shelter" is a great record, not neccessarily a great song, because it depends so much on pure sound and production values, and the singer on "American Idol" was foolish to even attempt an intrepretation. Blame the band or the sound mix if you wish, but excellence was miles away.
After weeks of reading here and there that teen sensation Taylor Swift (who has since turned 20) can't cut it in a live performance, I felt compelled to investigate.
Found the video of Swift at the Grammys on Sunday, where she does her own "Today Was a Fairytale" with a vocal that was clearly off the mark, and then brings Stevie Nicks out to duet on "Rhiannon." And Swift killed it. No, I don't mean as in knockin' them dead. It was absolutely dreadful.
As some of Swift's apologists have noted, "Rhiannon" is a song not written for her. But since she was out of key on the previous song, too, I just have to cringe.
Disappointing performances do happen. When the Rolling Stones made a solid comeback in 1978 and were hot again with Some Girls, eveyone was stoked about seeing them on "Saturday Night Live." But that night, Mick Jagger had no voice. They had either been rehearsing too much, or maybe they were just being the Stones too much in the week leading up to the telecast. It was one sad night for me (wow, I was only in my 20s then) while the band, obviously, rebounded.
However, I've been reading these kind of horror stories about Taylor Swift for weeks, and I finally got to hear one. Her records are fun and even excellent, but how is the fallout from the live show going to affect what she does next? Usually a young musician has a few hurdles to overcome: perhaps their music is overly verbose, or simplistic, or just a show and not the personal statement that our best artists and bands--those with longevity--eventually acquire.
Unfortunately, I don't see how someone who can't stay on-key can evolve into a better singer technically. Here's hoping.