Behind The Song: “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang, it has been remarked, like lovers, although they weren’t. Similarly, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the team behind one of Marvin and Tammi’s most enduring hits, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” wrote as if under the influence of amatory forces; even if, in the spring of 1968, when [...]
“Suzanne” Written by Leonard Cohen Once created, a great song can exist independently of its creators, taking on a life of its own as it rises to iconic status within the cultural landscape. Such is the case with “Suzanne,” the haunting composition that has become one of Canadian singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s best-known works. A look [...]
“Abraham, Martin and John” Written by Dick Holler I can’t recall who first outlined for me the distinction between “art of its age” and “art for the ages,” but, over the years, I’ve thought of it often when approaching pop songs as a fan and critic. As a marketable commodity, one which reflects current patterns [...]
Certain songs, it seems, are destined to become hits, even if everything possible is done in advance to help them fail. Undoubtedly, few songs have been given more opportunities not to succeed than “The Man I Love,” the Gershwin brothers’ now-classic portrayal of romantic longing.
For many, “Make It Easy on Yourself” (1962) remains one of the most emblematic songs in the canon of Bacharach and David, a lush creation of orchestrated melodrama that points toward a new sophistication within 1960s pop music as a whole. For Bacharach, too, the creation of “Make It Easy” represented a pivotal moment: It was one of the first sessions upon which he was given freedom to produce (even if, on the original single’s label, he only received an “arranged by” credit).
One test of a great song is that it can be sung by almost anyone. “The Man I Love,” “Embraceable You,” and other classics of Tin Pan Alley have retained their quintessence despite countless spins and interpretations—always, something truthful in the lyrics and melody has shone through.
When Bettye LaVette performed “A Change Is Gonna Come,” in duet with Jon Bon Jovi, at the first inaugural concert for President Obama, a new generation of listeners was introduced to a classic composition by one of the most influential writers and vocalists in pop history, Sam Cooke. In the 45 years since it was first released, “Change” has grown into an anthem of the civil rights movement, an epitaph for a great performer, and an iconic piece of music.