Wednesday, November 4, 2020


So who has listened to the original of this recently? Or seen the film? Decades ago would be my answer, it, West Side Story, being a staple on the sunday afternoon film rota, bought in by my school to entertain the confined pre-teens. Yup, the great old UK tradition of sending kids away to boarding school, at the personal expense of the parents and the psychological expense of their children. Explains how I react so well to the rigours of lockdown. Or would to prison, I gather. Anyway, even in the late 60s,  I recall it all seemed desperately dated and I never quite bought the idea of teen hoodlums bursting into either song or dance, let alone both. Especially when so well groomed and clearly in their 30s. But, as it turned out, not such a bad song, and notorious pants-splitter, P.J. Proby took it high in the UK charts. I remember finding his kitschy take astonishingly awful as a boy. Now it just has me howling.

And the theme? Another kinda sorta one, I'm afraid, as I know only too well the sort of "place for us" Tony might have had in mind, very much doubting Maria would find much lasting joy there, her mind thinking more of a whole different setting, of more lasting promise. But I detract from the incisive commentary around the plight of young love in the urban jungle. Maybe. And, yes, I get it that she dies, so rendering my remarks cheap and ignorant, but given the where isn't ever discerned, that makes it, ergo, hidden. Possibly backstage, in a poky dressing room, between scenes.

Being an erudite lot, you'll know the melody isn't an original, nicking parts from both Beethoven and Tschaikovsky, who, together, had designed the New York Subway signature screech. Covered innumerable times, the purpose of this post is to demonstrate some of the less well known versions, a gig I tend more to occupy in another guise, over at Cover Me. Of course there are also innumerable stinkers, every two-a-penny talent show competitor dredging up a version for "show night". Or even their judges....

I'm going to skim over this one, it's the one I'm "expected" to post, Tom Waits being a poster boy for the serious music nerd. To be honest, I find his voice just toooooo much, although, as I get older, I find I can dip my ears in his earlier stuff. Later stuff still defeats me, but the whole grand guignol of this demolition appeals to my sense of the absurd enough to allow it. And the trumpet is really rather good.

Talking of kitsch, as we were earlier, PSB are never afraid to embrace their inner divas, and this is a song ripe for their everything and the kit(s)chen sink OTT overkill, and this is ticking most of their boxes. Sumptiously overproduced, this only lacks the chorus of the Red Army guard. As here

I hadn't known Aretha had done a version, this stemming from 1978, where she deconstructs most of the additional arrangements, here in background reminder only, as she swoops and soars around the melody, possible accompanying herself on piano, instilling a blast of gospel hued R&B, even as it then morphs into a jazzier vibe altogether, with a glorious walking bass line and some classy sax noodles, before returning, to finish, in the chapel.

Another welcome deconstruction, Hem transferring the song off Broadway to the Catskills, all tinkling mandolin, dreamy steel and the soothing benevolence of a pipe organ and clarinet combo. Touching on tweeness in the middle eight, the vocal charm of Sally Ellyson is sufficient to swiftly dismiss that thought.

Finally, and not without some internal dialogue, an "interesting" duet version between Marianne Faithfull and Jarvis Cocker. As with the commentator who originally put the song up on youtube, I am uncertain if it deeply awful or just plain disturbing. The arrangement is quite something, a sophisticated supper club shuffle. But the singing? Neither orthodox vocalists, rather than playing to their strengths, as, arguably, did Waits, here they seem to be playing their weaknesses. But I still felt drawn to post it. Put me under undecided.

Sorry, no time for Dee Snider, Phil Collins or the Bee Gees, for which you should thank me. Really. In the meantime and in anticipation of your plaudits, I'm off to my somewhere. To hide.........

Relive the past in olde Manhattan.

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