Thursday, February 23, 2006
Let's Face The Music And Dance
I never knew my Grandfathers. They both died before I was born. I will be forever sad about that myself, but, in an unselfish way, I'm sadder for them. I would've loved to have known them, but I can't imagine how proud they would have been of me, my brother and my younger cousins that they never had a chance to see. I see it in my parents eyes when they talk about them.
My Mum's Dad was a cockney grocer, born within the sound of Bow Bells in the East End of London. My Dad says the taxman could never understand how he could afford to live in the house he did with the money he declared to the government. "You would've liked him" he tells me, with a wink. And I believe him, with a smile. My Dad's Dad was an RAF pilot in the war, and a bank manager in peacetime. He and my Gran had dinner parties with the likes of Ronnie Knight and Barbara Windsor, and went dancing at the London Astoria Theatre. I've been there a few times myself...
Oh. And he liked Nat 'King' Cole.
Now, there are plenty of Kings in the world of music. Kings Of Leon, for instance. The Kingsmen. Kings Of Convenience. King Of Woolworths. Kingmaker. And, of course, Elvis Aaron Presley: The King. But my vote goes for my Grandfather's favourite singer: Nat 'King' Cole.
For me, he is the voice. The greatest. Greater than Elvis. Greater than Bing, Frank, Aretha, Marvin, John and Paul, everyone. One of those artists whose legacy is so huge, it's almost impossible to make out in the up close and personal noise of pop culture. But pull out and it's there, part of the very contours of the pop landscape. Ask the average person for their favourite Nat 'King' Cole and they'd struggle. But then play even a snippet of 'Let's Face The Music And Dance', 'On The Street Where You Live', 'Unforgettable' or the sheer romantic perfection of 'When I Fall In Love' and their face will light up. Who could resist? The horns, the strings, but more than that, the voice. The voice that no string of superlatives can describe. “Velvet” seems too rough, “smooth” too coarse. It's simply unique.
Many of the arrangements complement the voice so perfectly, it's as if they were crafted in heaven, not a recording studio. 'Let There Be Love' is just perfect whimsical fun. A piano line so cheeky, you can hear the smile in his voice as he reacts to it. 'Let's Face The Music And Dance' is a song you can't help but submit to, muted brass chasing away any disaster! What came first: the saying or the lyric? It's inseparable. But my personal favourite has to be 'Autumn Leaves'. Melancholic strings circling around his vocal brilliance, lamenting a lost love. My favourite season, and predictably miserable. All topped off with the voice. The voice, the voice!
My Dad has told me my Grandfather would come home and relax to the same songs of Nat 'King' Cole. He too found a unique feature in the voice and the music which could whisk the real world away for just a few precious moments.
I never knew my Grandfather, but I like to imagine that if we met, even though we'd have so very little in common, having walked the Earth in monumentally different times, we could talk about Nat 'King' Cole. And I'd joke with my other Grandpa how he fiddled the tax man!
This post is an extended version of my offering for K on the Art Of Noises' A-Z of music.
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