The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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My Flights, My Playlist, My Music
Every time I board a United Airlines flight, Al Stewart's Year of the Cat starts playing in my head. There's something very disconcerting about shuffling up a passenger bridge and singing under your breath: On a morning from a Bogart movie/In a country where they turn back time/You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre/Contemplating a crime.
I'm not a fan of Al Stewart--or United, for that matter. I don't particularly like the song, either. So allow me to explain this particular earworm.
United in late 1984 mounted an All 50 States frequent flyer promotion to publicize the fact that it had launched flights to, well, all 50 states. With a little finagling of my schedule, I flew United to Houston, Santa Fe, Denver and Casper, Wyoming. I flew to Orlando and was greeted by a guy in a Fred Flintstone costume as I changed planes for San Juan. I flew United to Jackson, Mississippi, though I was headed to Mobile, Alabama. (What's a 200-mile drive when chasing a lucrative promotion, right?) Besides developing a visceral distaste for connections at O'Hare, I must have heard Year of the Cat about 100 times because it dominated United's in-flight "pop and rock" music channel during the month of the promotion.
You don't forget that kind of repetition or Al Stewart's laconic vocals. For me, it's always a country where they turn back time when I fly United.
My point is that music always has been what drives me on the road. Keeps me sane. Calms me down. Ever since that month of Year of the Cat, however, I travel with my own music. These days, it's my own version of Every Record Ever Recorded on a 2 Terabyte microSD card slipped into my smartphone.
The problem with carrying every song ever recorded? The paralysis of choice. So I created a playlist just for my flights. I do not know how many of these tunes you know, how many you'd like to hear or how many you would take with you. But they drive my life on the road and I humbly offer them for your consideration.
LOVE SONGS THAT SLAY ME
I adore tunes that come at love from a different angle. Material like Don't Misunderstand, incongruously written for a Shaft movie. Or Better Than Anything, the first great jazz vocal I ever heard. Or Peggy Lee's cover of Oscar Hammerstein's The Folks Who Live on the Hill. There's also Neil Young's 1971 version of Love in Mind. And if you don't embrace Madeleine Peyroux's cover of Bob Dylan's You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go maybe we have nothing in common. It's like Billie Holiday singing Dylan and how is that not perfect?
I WANT TO WRITE LIKE THIS
Speaking of Lady Day, I came to her late, years after I fell in love with the American Songbook. As I flipped through the albums in a record store--hey, I owned vinyl once--they played I'll Be Around from Lady In Satin and I was gone. I felt the same way the first time I heard Hillary Kole doing Blackberry Winter, another Alec Wilder composition. I'm just intensely attracted to songs that are exquisitely well written. Which is why I love Laura Nyro's And When I Die and James Taylor's Fire and Rain. It says more about me than the songs that I prefer the Blood, Sweat & Tears covers than the originals.
SONDHEIM AND JOBIM
Don't get me started on Stephen Sondheim, the best composer for the theater in the post-war era. If there's a more poignant song about marriage than Sorry/Grateful, please do point me to it. It's from Company, which also brought us Being Alive, a simultaneously bitter and uplifting tune about the human condition. It's so finely crafted that my favorite version is sung by Judd Hirsch in the middle of a sitcom. You may never have heard I Remember, a killer he wrote for a television play in the 1960s. Then there is Antonio Carlos Jobim. If Sondheim is too chronic ironic for you, Jobim is your antidote. My favorite song of all time is Waters of March. It is a song about everything, after all. I admire the Lani Hall cover in English and the infectiously happy Portuguese duet between Jobim and Elis Regina.
THE BEATLES, OF COURSE
I'm of the generation, you know, so I've got 'em all. Several times over, in fact. But the four in my travel playlist are split between McCartney (Penny Lane), Lennon (You've Got to Hide Your Love Away) and the genuine collaborations of We Can Work It Out and Norwegian Wood.
ELLA AND LOUIS
When things are rotten--they've seemed rotten to me a lot in the last few years--I retreat to the magnificent Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald albums recorded in 1956 and 1957. I can listen for hours on end and I will feel better. But for my travel playlist I chose just one song: Autumn in New York. If I could only listen to only one tune for an entire flight, this would be the one I'd loop from wheels up to wheels down.
SONGS I SING ALONG TO
It's not just Year of the Cat that gets me singing under my breath. I'm always a back-up voice on Neil Young's defiant Don't Be Denied and Carole King's admittedly obscure Haywood. I strain to keep up with Ella on her cover of Midnight Sun, but you should hear me flinging lines with Lena Horne as she slashes her way through the verse of Stormy Weather from her one-woman Broadway show. And I'm sure I've disconcerted some folks in my row when I chant along to opening bars of the Brothers Cazimero's Island in Your Eyes.
WELCOME TO MY SHOW
With me at all times: the Sinatra and Jobim duet on Desafinado. It's the opening number of the concert I've performed in my head about a million times. Then I go right into Sondheim's Everybody Says Don't because if they allow Harry Guardino to sing on Broadway there's hope for me. I'll do Sail Away because Randy Newman is a subversive genius. I'll sing Lush Life because it's in my head and I can do Billy Strayhorn's masterpiece. I'll offer a little Sinatra tribute: something sweet (Emily), something majestic (I Have Dreamed) and In the Wee Small Hours, the quintessential torch song. I will do Blossom Dearie because you have no soul if you don't adore I'm Hip and Rhode Island Is Famous for You. I will cover Janis Ian's unfairly neglected From Me to You. Because I sound like David Clayton Thomas in my head, I will surprise you with Harbor Lady. I'll bring you to tears with a pair of heart-rending, little-known, Tony Bennett ballads, It Was Me and Where Do You Start. I'll close with Some Other Time because it's the perfect song to end a show and the Bennett-Bill Evans version is flawless. For my encore I'll pass buttons out that say Beautiful People. Because it's all in my head as I fly from Point A to Point B.
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