On that same subject, I think the sudden popularity of old pop standards (as in recent albums by Michael McDonald, Rod Stewart, and even Queen Latifah) is an intriguing cultural happening. Why is it, for instance, that people are ready to accept Rod Stewart as an interpreter of Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hammerstein, but ignore the tried and true interpreters (the Ella Fitzgeralds and the Frank Sinatras)? Norah Jones’s phenomenal success probably has something to do with this trend, but then Norah Jones wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the marketing and promotional muscle of Clive Davis, who just applied his magic touch to Norah in the same way that he applied it to Janis Joplin in the 1960s and to Whitney Houston in the 1980s. I don’t know what to make of it other than it’s a cyclical thing. People get tired of the flavor of the month and they come back to the standards, which are not “tried and true”; they’re timeless and have something to say to all generations.
I recall the out-of-nowhere success of Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New in 1983, which was recorded with the legendary Nelson Riddle and was really more his album than hers. She truly could be considered the pioneer in this musical niche; it’s not as though there were lines of rock and pop singers lining up to belt out George Gershwin tunes before her. Asylum (Ronstadt’s label at that time) did a fantastic PR job with her, because I recall buying that album and loving it at the same time that I’d had mentors try to get me turned on to the classics when I was listening to Human League and Culture Club (as most everybody else who was “busy” was at that time).
I ignored my elders, of course, and hung onto my Prince and Police albums, and considered myself sophisticated because I liked Joe Jackson’s Louis Jordan and Cole Porter imitations. It wouldn’t be until years later that I discovered the classics on my own, which I suppose is probably the way it should be, because there’s no way you’re going to realize how limited and narrow Linda Ronstadt’s interpretations of standards like “I’ve Got a Crush on You” are until you’ve heard Dinah Washington or Sarah Vaughan perform the same numbers. Linda Ronstadt has a beautiful voice for singing rock songs, and maybe canciones, but as far as an interpreter of pop standards, she’s about as credible as Sade would be as a jazz singer (not that Sade, to her everlasting credit, has ever tried to position herself as anything other than who she is).
But at the time, being marketed a second-rate version of the same songs seemed cool and natural to me; I was somehow participating in a trend. Maybe that’s what’s going on with the current wave, too. And as much as I dislike the idea of Rod Stewart butchering “Stardust” (or the idea of Alanis Morissette butchering “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love),” maybe his recordings of those songs will introduce the real thing to new generations. And that can’t be bad, I guess.