A few years ago I was chatting to a singer/songwriter friend whose main income was earned from playing the standards in hotel lounges and in bars on cruise ships. He would mostly play piano and occasionally sing, often slipping in one of his own sings. One time he decided to sing one of the Gershwin standards that he usually only played but in doing so he decided to change the lyrics to be more gender appropriate, changing pronouns where necessary and guy to gal etc. He clearly had not given this a great deal of thought as he be began to realise soon into the song when it was too late to do anything about it, as he began to sing – “one day she’ll come along, the gal I love. And she’ll be big and strong, the gal I love….”
Some songs are gender specific and the performer has the choice of either audaciously changing the lyric, singing them as they are, or just leaving them out of their repertoire altogether,
When Sinatra made his comeback in the 50s, after a dip in his career when he could hardly fill an end of pier auditorium, he began recording what became a series of classic LPs for Capitol, He chose songs from a decade or two earlier, including Cole Porter’s 1934 classic from his show “Anything Goes.” Only he changed the lyrics in order to protect his fragile masculinity and in so doing utterly broke the beautiful inner rhymes of the song.
The original lyric is
“I get no kick in a plane
Flying to high
with some guy
in the sky
Is my I-dear of nothing to do”
By changing Guy to Gal Sinatra breaks that inner rhyme and reduces the song from a great song to merely humdrum.
And don’t get me started on what he does with the Rogers and Hart “The Lady is a Tramp” – a song he should have just avoided completely.
He is not the only one who is guilty of this. When Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song, set about recording the Great American Songbooks she took another Rogers and Hart song – “Have you met Miss Jones?” and turned it into an opprobrious mess that has me leaping up and reaching for the skip button each time I play the album.
An earlier generation had no problem with just singing the song as written, and no one gave a flying finger…
Gracie Fields’ biggest hit was a love song to the pride of our alley and Al Jolson could get quite ecstatic about Harry’s kisses without anyone questioning his masculinity or suggesting he was making a political statement about his sexuality.
Just sing the song.