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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Pretend

My first blog entry. For some time I wasn't sure about doing this. Who on earth would ever be interested in what I have to say about music? But I came to the conclusion that even if only one person reads this with interest, (yes, I'm talking about you) it's worth doing. So, here goes nothing.

The first song I chose to write about is Pretend by Nat King Cole. I listened to it today after quite a while and I started thinking about it in a completely different way than i have so far. The interpretation might seem silly to some - it would seem silly to me a year ago - but I think it's worth sharing.
I'm sure pretty much everyone has heard about Nat King Cole at least once in their life. He was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama in 1919. When he was still a child, he moved to Chicago with his family. There he often listened to big cats such as Louis Armstrong and Earl "Fatha" Hines. Nat and his piano playing were influenced heavily by the latter. I feel that not many people know this, but he started his career as a jazz pianist, and only later did he become a popular sensation. In 1939, he formed a trio "King Cole Swingers" and was considered to be one of the more prominent jazz pianists at the time. In 1943, he recorded  "Straighten Up and Fly Right", his own composition, which was an immediate hit. It took him a couple of years to completely shift to popular music, but that's when it began. With his shift from jazz to pop, he began to sing more and play less. I guess that a lot of people know only about his singing and his popular career and they are not aware of Nat King Cole as an amazing jazz pianist. (Hmm, that's actually a good idea for a future entry.)

Ok, let's start talking music. The song was recorded in 1953, which puts it in the time when he recorded lots of hits.
It's very easy to like and listen to, which isn't a surprise since it's Nat King Cole. Pretty much everything he did is easy to listen to.


Nice, right? I mean with the strings and everything, it's a typical Nat King Cole song, but if you ask me that's a good thing

While I love and enjoy the early Nat and his piano playing, I think you just have to love his voice, which is of course what he's known for. It's incredibly smooth, soft and velvety. While you could easily associate the word 'soft' with fragile, hesitant or unclear, none of these would describe his voice. I'd say it's actually quite assertive and full, but the first word you would use to describe his voice would be soft, and that combination is exactly what makes it great and why it gets to you. It's like a mug of nice hot chocolate. It's smooth and relaxing, but has a strong flavour too.

At this point, I would also like to mention racism and that, during his life and very successful career, Nat King Cole had his share of troubles with it. I've always found it amazing and inspiring how some people can persevere and stay positive no matter what life throws at them. Nat is one of those people. To me, this is something that makes Pretend intriguing and even a greater song. Think about it while you listen.

I love this song because of his voice and a nice melody, but what caught my attention when I first heard the song, were the lyrics. I guess that they could make you think of the song as sad and maybe even cynical. At least I thought of it that way. So for a while after I discovered the song, whenever I was feeling sad, I put this song on and was happily singing along with a big smile on my face like I wasn't worrying about anything at all. But at the end of the song, I was as sad as before, if not more. I was thinking to myself "oh, things are so bad that the only way for me to be happy is by pretending. The whole world is turning against me!", not realizing that things were pretty good and I'm just whining. As I'm writing this, I'm realizing I was kind of funny that way.
To get back on point, I heard it today after a long time and I had a thought that maybe it isn't sad at all. I started listening again. I felt that his voice and his singing were genuinely happy and that there weren't any pretences about his happiness. But something was off and I soon realized it's the backing music. To me, it didn't feel like it's fitting in. It seemed cheesy and while it does sound happy, it sounds fake at the same time. And that contradiction got me thinking.
I came to the conclusion that the backing music is acting the same way I did when I was sad. It's singing happily along with a big grin on it's face, but it's not really happy, because after the song is over, it's sad again. And the reason I'm proposing the song isn't actually sad, is Nat. As mentioned before, his voice is just filled with happiness. With him, I feel like pretending means more than just pretending. It means actually creating the possibility that everything isn't as bad as he may have originally thought, and soon after he gives that possibility an honest shot, he realizes that things really are pretty good and that there's so much in life, he can be and is happy about. In the end, even though he started it off as pretending, he's genuinely happy.

And if you sing this melody
You'll be pretending just like me
The world is mine, it can be yours, my friend
So why don't you pretend?

So why don't you pretend just like him?

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for putting the song into context, and for sharing your new perspective on the lyrics. I'm excited for the next post!

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  2. What an interesting piece of writing! I guess that is what's really called listening to music in the true sense of the word. And I couldn't agree more with the closing paragraph. Can't wait for the next one!

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