Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Duel: Tony Bennett vs. Stevie Wonder: For Once in My Life

By Nicholas Stix

When I was a kid, I was given to believe that Stevie Wonder had written “For Once in My Life,” and of course, that he was the first singer to record it. I probably got that notion when he started piling up Grammys in the early 1970s, at which point he was proclaimed “a genius.”

Stevie Wonder may not have been a genius, but he was a very good singer. He wrote some nice ballads, like “Ribbon in the Sky” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and some despicable racist propaganda, e.g., “Livin’ for the City,” and “You Ain’t Done Nothin.’”

Unfortunately, Wonder started believing in his own hype. Instead of singing the best material available written by other people, he wanted to write his own, and he’d exhausted whatever talent he had as a songwriter by the late 1970s.

* * *

As a child, I never heard anyone say that Tony Bennett was “a genius.” I liked some of his work, e.g., “The End of a Love Affair,” but found much of it treacly. With the exception of “The End,” I had only heard some of his ballads at that point, and had yet to hear many of his best performances. And since by the time I was 14, I’d discovered another Italian singer from Hoboken, I felt no dire need to hunt down radio stations playing the latter’s Italian rival from Astoria, Queens.

Over the past 20-odd years, however, I have heard scores of Bennett’s recordings, in different styles. I saw his ability to learn from earlier singers in his extraordinary series of tribute albums—Sinatra, Astaire, Holliday—yet without being imitative. In some cases, such as his rendition of “Travlin’ Light,” on Holliday, he gave interpretations vastly superior to the original artist. I became better acquainted with his extraordinary range. And the guy just kept going.

Unfortunately, in recent years, Bennett has become a shameless white Uncle Tom, announcing that “Barack Obama” was the greatest thing ever to happen to America, and that Whitney Houston was the greatest singer that ever lived. Thus, I have had to severely compartmentalize my approach to him, as with Barbra Streisand, in order to be able to tolerate his music.

It turned out that neither Wonder nor Bennett was the first to record “For Once in My Life.” It was first recorded either by Jean DuShon or Barbara McNair in 1966, with Bennett coming in fifth the following year, immediately followed by Wonder in 1968.

* * *

For Once in My Life
By Ron Miller and Orlando Murden

For once in my life, I have someone who needs me,
Someone I've needed so long,
For once, unafraid, I can go where life leads me,
And somehow, I know I'll be strong.

For once I can touch what my heart used to dream of,
Long before I knew,
Someone warm like you,
Could make my dream come true.

For once in my life, I won't let sorrow hurt me,
Not like it's hurt me before,
For once, unafraid, I have someone that won't desert me,
I'm not alone anymore.

For once I can say, “This is mine, you can't take it,”
As long as I know I have love, I can make it,
For once in my life, I have someone who needs me.

For once I can say, “This is mine, you can't take it,”
As long as I know I have love, I can make it,
For once in my life, I have someone... someone... who needs me.

Tony Bennett, The Dean Martin Show, March, 1968

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1 comment:

Shawn said...

When I find an entertainer who is spouting off destructive liberal nonsense, I stop buying their products. CDs, movie tickets, whatever, when I am aware of it. If it is a song or whatever that I might want to see or hear I will either see it free online, borrow it from a friend, buy it second hand,etc. My money will not go to those who support the destruction of the country my forefathers built and the denigration of my people and ancestors.