Posts Tagged ‘Sting’

‘Like A Circle In A Spiral . . .’

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

On one of the cable channels a while back, I caught the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair, a remake of a 1968 film that starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. The remake placed Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in those roles, and I have to say I was underwhelmed. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen the original film, so I can’t make a final judgment, but the original is currently at the top of my Netflix queue, and once it arrives, I expect the McQueen-Dunaway team to easily outpoint the Brosnan-Russo pairing.

One area in which the 1999 version will earn a victory, however, comes in the vocal performance of the very familiar theme. Titled “The Windmills of Your Mind,” the sinuous and lovely tune was – like “The Theme From The Summer of ’42” – a collaboration between French composer Michel Legrand and American lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. (The song’s French lyrics, under the title of “Les Moulins de Mon Coeur,” were by Eddy Marnay.)

In the 1968 film (or at least on the soundtrack), the vocal version was performed by Noel Harrison, son of British actor Rex Harrison. The younger Harrison had reached the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965 with the overly dramatic “A Young Girl” (No. 51) and in 1967 with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s cryptic “Suzanne” (No. 56). In 1969, a year after The Thomas Crown Affair was released, Harrison’s rendition of “The Windmills of Your Mind” went to No. 9 on the British charts. I don’t know if it was released as a single here in the U.S., but if it was, it failed to make the charts.

Maybe I just don’t care for Noel Harrison’s voice, but – like his 1966 album that included “A Young Girl” and his 1967 version of “Suzanne” – I find his version of “The Windmills of Your Mind” to be thin and not all that interesting. The version used in the 1999 remake of the film had vocals from Sting, and although it’s altogether too easy to have too much of Sting, his version of the classic theme is better than Harrison’s, if only by a little bit.

We’ll close today’s exercise with Legrand’s instrumental version from the 1968 film. Later this week, I’ll offer the French version of the tune that seems to have been the most popular, and we’ll take a look at a few of the many, many covers through the years of “The Windmills of Your Mind.” Here’s the original instrumental from the 1968 soundtrack.

Saturday Single No. 268

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

The Texas Gal and my sister both have asked me in the past week for a Christmas list. So I complied, pulling out of the e-files a similar list I compiled last year. I eliminated those things that have come my way since then, and I split the list in two, so the two can shop without worrying about duplicating the other’s efforts.

The two lists were pretty slender. In order to actually give the two shoppers some options, I wandered off to Amazon and dug into the music and DVD catalogs there. I eventually found enough items to add to the lists, and along the way, I noticed one of the bulletin board discussions. It asked folks to consider the question: Which rock group benefitted most from the presence of its bass player?

I started running through lists of great bass players in my head, acknowledging to myself that I’ll always be better off sorting through the groups of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s than those that came in later years. So, admitting that there are great bass players that came around later, those that came to mind immediately were Paul McCartney of the Beatles, Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, Jack Bruce of Cream and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac.

Then I stopped. The question was not aimed at identifying the greatest bass player; it was aimed at finding the group that most benefitted from the existence of its bass player. So I decided that in that framework Wyman and Bruce didn’t qualify. Why? Well, in the first case, I figure that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones were going to put a band together and find success no matter what. Yes, Wyman (and drummer Charlie Watts) provided an astounding floor for the other three – and the other Stones that followed – to build their sound upon. But the vision that created the group came, as I see it, primarily from Jones and then from Jagger and Richards.

Bruce was more integral to the sound of Cream, but to my ears, his contributions ranked third behind Eric Clapton’s guitar and Ginger Baker’s hyperkinetic drums. The sound of Cream – or whatever Clapton and Baker would have called the band with a different bassist – would be similar to what it was.

The necessity of the other two bassists I mentioned is a bit greater. From its early days as a blues band into its last decade of sublime West Coast rock, Fleetwood Mac rested – not always easily – on the rhythm section of McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood. And consider that McVie is the Mac in Fleetwood Mac. Without him, the group’s identity is likely gone, although Fleetwood and Peter Green and the others in the early version of the band would likely have put together some kind of band. It just would not have been Fleetwood Mac in name or in sound.

Similarly, I would guess that, whether Paul McCartney had come along or not, John Lennon was going to put a band together that would succeed. It would have been a vastly different enterprise without McCartney, of course, and I think Lennon’s band would have been challenged for primacy first in Liverpool and then in all of England by the band organized by McCartney and his younger friend George Harrison. In this slender version of alternative history, Ringo Starr has a pleasant career with Rory Storm & the Hurricanes. And there are no Beatles. So maybe – at least during the years I tend to think and write about most – the Beatles are the answer to that question.

But as I thought about the question a little longer, another group popped into mind, one that I write about – and, to be honest, listen to – very rarely: the Police. Andy Summer and Stewart Copeland – on guitar and drums, respectively – are good musicians. But bass player Sting – from where I listen – is the heart, mind and soul of the Police. Maybe those who listen deeper into the band’s catalog and deeper into Sting’s solo catalog can say differently, but I hear Sting’s solo work as an extension of the music the group made: Topics, technique and musicality evolve, but always in the framework of Gordon Sumner’s aesthetic. Without Sting, there are no Police.

So which mattered more: the Police or the Beatles? I’d lean toward the latter, but I imagine there are those who came along later than I did who would argue for the former. And if either band had never formed, we’d have never known, of course. As my friend Rob told me as we discussed alternate history over coffee years ago, “We can never know what didn’t happen.”

And that’s okay, as it’s hard enough to make sense sometimes of the things that did happen. So we’ll close this odd (and possibly pointless) exercise with one of Sting’s tunes that tries to make sense of things that happened. Ranging from the British boys sent to war in 1914 to those abandoned by all around them some seventy years later, it’s “Children’s Crusade” from Sting’s 1985 album The Dream of the Blue Turtles, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.