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Jan 13

John Cale / Yo La Tengo: “Andalucia”

John Cale -- Paris 1919

Any connection between this cover and the Velvet Underground might seem tenuous at best, at first glance.

John Cale (1973)

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Yo La Tengo (1990) 

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Whoa, what’s this? Blogging on a Saturday? I haven’t done that in . . . in . . . ages. Not since my “Comment Spam of the Week” days. And in case that brings up a long-simmering pot of discontent for you, one that is filled with such thoughts as “Why did you stop doing the ‘Comment Spam of the Week’ posts? Those were my favorites!” — well, let me explain: I enjoyed doing those quite a bit, so imagine my chagrin to find that the updated version last year of the WordPress comments section was so effective that it eliminated nearly all comment spam from getting through to even the spam filter I used to catch the comments I would post about. So to continue those posts, I would have had to make up the spam. And trust me, those wouldn’t have been nearly as funny as reality. I’ve tried to revert to an old version of the comments, but so far to no avail. I guess they figure no one would actually want more spam comments coming through. Oh, but how wrong they are.

Anyway, I’m posting today because I had really wanted to get in at least a second post this week, and I had a good one for Cover Friday, so I’ve decided I might as well post it on Saturday anyway. After all, I did a New Music Monday on a Tuesday recently, so why not?

Some songs truly evade analysis, in the lyrical sense, but nonetheless manage to stand firmly on nothing more than a melody and an evocative mood. “Nothing more,” I say, as though that’s nothing much. But of course, depending on what kind of music you’re feeling like hearing at any given time, that might be everything indeed. And John Cale’s song “Andalucia,” is exactly like that. Released by Cale — one of the original members, and co-founder with Lou Reed, of the Velvet Underground — in 1973, on his eclectic and evocative solo album Paris 1919, the song’s melody is so fragile, and the performance so delicate, that you expect it all to implode at any moment. Cale’s voice quavers in a way that makes you think he himself might be about to break down. And all the while, it’s hard to pinpoint what the song’s meaning is: is it about Andalucia, in Spain, or is it about a lover from there, or with that name — or all of the above? No need to fret too hard about it, though, as the aura of the song is all you need to get at what Cale is feeling, regardless of the originating emotional source.

And just when you thought the song couldn’t be done any better, along comes the great Yo La Tengo in 1990, with their excellent, mostly (obscure) covers album, Fakebook, containing an equally beautiful and only slightly less fragile rendition of “Andalucia.” It’s really very similar to the original, but I think I have to give this round to Yo La Tengo, because I somewhat prefer Ira Kaplan’s vocal rendition of the song to John Cale’s, and I think the slightly sparser instrumentation serves the song well. But you can’t go wrong either way if you’re in the mood for something quiet and contemplative. Cale did a fine job of carrying on the tradition of slow, beautiful, and slightly mournful songs that the Velvet Underground was so good at, and Yo La Tengo did a fine job of paying tribute to Cale.

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