Thursday, December 16, 2010

Word association

It’s funny how the mind’s synapses work. A co-worker of mine was discussing how she was considering changing the name of her pet pygmy frog, Bob, to Jesús since she had gotten him as a Christmas gift last year.

Hearing that, I thought to myself that the name Noel might be an even better choice. That reminded me of the singer/actor Noel Harrison*, and all of a sudden I couldn’t get The Windmills of Your Mind out of my mind.

* Why didn’t I think of Noel Coward? Good question. Perhaps my mind also subconsciously realized I needed a good idea for a blog post.

At any rate, you might not remember Noel Harrison. He’s the son of the actor Rex Harrison, and was a co-star (with the luscious Stefanie Powers) of the short-lived Girl from U.N.C.L.E. series of the late 60s. He also sang, and his rendition of the Michel LeGrand/Marilyn and Alan Bergman song The Windmills of Your Mind won an Oscar in 1968 for Best Song, from the Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway crime caper flick The Thomas Crown Affair.*

* Oddly enough, it was not Harrision but Jose Feliciano who sang the song at the Oscar show. Why? Again, I don’t know – I suppose some internet research might reveal the truth. I suspect I’ll discover the answer around the same time I figure out why I’m not writing about Noel Coward.

Now, if The Thomas Crown Affair sticks in your mind at all, it might be because of the remake a few years ago, which featured Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in the McQueen/Dunaway roles. That movie featured The Windmills of Your Mind as well, in an absolutely hideous, wretched version by Sting, so bad that I’m not even going to link to it.* But then, there have been a lot of covers of The Windmills of Your Mind. As I’ve suggested, I didn’t care for Sting’s. I wasn’t thrilled with Feliciano’s either, although it was better. Dusty Springfield had a hit with hers. Matt Monro (who sang the title track to the Bond flick From Russia With Love) had a version, which I thought was a little cold.  It was fine technically, but there wasn't much feeling to it.

* Of whom Joe Queenan once wrote, “Sting, where is thy death?” It is true that Sting has had a few good songs over the years, mostly from when he was with The Police. The Windmills of Your Mind is not one of them.

No, for me the Harrison version has always been pretty much the definitive article, so to speak. It’s tight, not drawn out, and epitomizes the hypnotic nature of the lyrics, in a way most of the covers fail to do. But I have to admit that I was taken by Allison Moyet’s rendition, which I more or less stumbled upon.

Aside from the fact that the running time was nearly twice that of Harrison’s original, all you had to do was hear the word “Round” to tell that this was going to be quite different. As a matter of fact, I almost clicked it off right then and there – I had heard Sting’s version, after all. But I think by the time she came to “spiral,” my hand paused, and by the end of the first line I was hooked. Yes, it’s different, but unlike so many covers of classic songs, it’s also terrific. She does a particularly nifty job in interpolating a lyric that, in the original, has a distinct male-to-female reference. (Yes, I know someone else probably wrote that for her, but it’s still good.)

Anyway, don’t just listen to me – listen to the song. I still have Harrison’s at the top, but Moyet’s a close second.
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