Don't Change The Word (Don't Change That Word, Either)

I loved Michael Feinstein’s notes to the young singer who changed a word of a lyric and a note of the song on Broadway or Bust.  The song was They Can’t Take That Away From Me and the word changed was “the” (the singer used “that”).  Nitpicking, some might say, but not once Mr. Feinstein got through explaining why it was there, and why Frank Sinatra had changed the lyric (he thought “that” was more hip). So, the song went from:

"We may never, never meet again on the bumpy road to love"


"We may never, never meet again on that bumpy road to love"

Small difference to you and me, maybe, but not to Ira Gershwin – and not to me either, when I stop and think about it.  “The” implies more intimacy with love, and more respect.  “That” separates the singer a little from knowledge of love.  At least to me.  And really, it doesn’t matter, because Ira Gershwin knew what he wanted, and he wanted THE bumpy road to love.

Feinstein (and Gershwin) are right – it’s a small change, but it makes a difference.

The insidious, and distressing thing is that once a big name makes a change like that (ha!), it becomes part of the song’s vocabulary and the original intent gets lost.

I heard a recorded (I won’t say by whom) version of Disneyland a few years ago that totally distorts the meaning of the song.  It made me cringe then and it makes me cringe to think of it now.  Sometimes it’s a tough call.  On the one hand I want the song to be more well-known and on the other hand, I’d rather it not be sung or recorded at all if it’s not going to be done the way it was written.

And that same logic goes for the music, of course.  Feinstein stressed a note that was sung incorrectly by the young man singing They Can’t Take That Away From Me and thus the build of the song was lost.

It’s tough, I know.  The entire logic of jazz is built around playing with the language of the words and music.  But the artistry of the composer and lyricist should be respected as much as the artistry of the performer.

Today's lecture is over.  I do hope they show the entire version of Disneyland on Broadway or Bust next week.