Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Wanna Be Around

Me? I'm in great shape; here's the latest thing from the workshop.

I Wanna Be Around was a Tony Bennett hit back in 1963. The song was written by Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt, a cosmetician from Youngstown Ohio who sent a note to "Johnny Mercer-Songwriter-New York" containing a lyric she thought would make a good song: I wanna be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart. Mercer wrote the song, and, being a supreme gentleman, gave her a 50% co-credit, guaranteeing her a few thousand dollars a year in royalties for the rest of her life.

And it might never have made its way to John Cale's music stand if Brian Wilson hadn't penciled it into the SMiLE tracklist back in 1966. But he did (even if he got the lyrics wrong). I have no evidence that Cale had a stack of SMiLE bootlegs, but I will assume he did, and shame on him if he didn't.

But the version he recorded with Jools Holland's big band owes little to either Wilson's gentle version or Bennett's slow croon. Cale takes the song fast, hard, and - you can hear this in the vocal - with a sharklike smile. The growl in Cale's voice on "I wanna be around to see how he does it, when he breaks your heart to bits" raises hackles.

Shame, though, that there's so much boilerplate big-band pyrotechnics going on around him. It's fun enough, sure, but a sparer arrangement with a vocal so venomous would be an essential part of the canon. But, hey, the album is cheap and you get great songs by dead guys. For pocket change, I recommend it.

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