For me, it usually takes a while for me to decide how I feel about a song, and most of the songs I love the most I did not like much when I first heard them. Maybe because instant enjoyment tends to equal entertainment, while art takes time to understand. Or maybe I’m just difficult. Who knows?
That said, there are a few songs that are amazing and that I totally remember the first time I ever heard — the first one being ”The Girl From Ipanema.” It was on a Frank Sinatra TV special, and even though I was too young to know much about Sinatra, I was totally mesmerized by his version of that song — especially the lilting, syncopated phrasing that was so uniquely Sinatra’s.
Because this is the 50-year anniversary of “The Girl from Ipanema,” I thought I would write a quick list of the other songs that I similarly remember.
- “Girl from Ipanema“, the Frank Sinatra version. How frickin’ amazing is it that we live in a world where I can track down video of a half-remembered TV special watched when I was a kid?
- “Take a Walk on the Wide Side”. I was sitting on the backyard patio one summer, when I was around 16 or 17, listening to the radio, when this song came on. I immediately called in the radio station to tell them I thought the song was brilliant and that they had a sure-fire hit. The annoyed deejay told me the song was 15 years old and already a classic. Erp.
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – from Nirvana’s first Saturday Night Live appearance. I never listened to the band before that, but from the opening chords, I knew this was a band I wanted to hear more. They may have become a mainstream symbol of grunge and gotten overplayed, but that first listen for me was without marketing hype or anything like that. I just heard it and loved it.*
- “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen. Of course Leonard’s original is most important to me (I used to listen to the LC best-of collection in the art room in high school, together with the other art nerds). But Nina Simone’s jazz version is pretty awesome, too. As is Roberta Flack’s 10-minute magnum opus. Even Neil Diamond’s MOR version has its place. Here’s the Roberta Flack live version:
- “Nae Maeume Judaneul Kkalgo” by Sanullim. (Aka, “Spread Silk on My Heart”). I’ve talked about the first time I heard that song before, over at the Korea Gig Guide. It was terribly late on a cold winter night in Hongdae, stumbling into a random bar with a couple of friends that turned out to specialize in classic rock, Korean and Western. And hearing that amazing opening bassline, thumping away, with a distorted lowfi guitar coming in on top. It’s the song that started my Korean classic rock fixation, and I still totally love it.
Oh, and here are a couple more versions of those songs. First, a great TV version of “The Girl From Ipanema” from the 1960s:
And Nina Simone singing “Suzanne” in Rome in 1969, in yet another totally different version:
* (Note: I don’t much like Nirvana anymore. But hearing that song for the first time was very memorable).