Blues, like classical, jazz, rock, pop or country, is a banner term under which a variety of sub-genres exist to please all manner of music lovers. But “blues” is also a state of mind.
Jazz and blues have always moved along convergent paths, each adopting key influences from the other as needed. Many prominent players throughout the years have been known equally in both camps, from Bessie Smith to Louis Jordan to Mose Allison.
When slipped into the title of a song, the word “blues” can invoke immediate connotations. Purists might expect some sonic reference to the grooves, rhythms, structures and inflections common to the musical form. Lyrically, though, there is much more to it.
Have a listen to “Blues in My Heart,” as recorded by Chick Webb, and follow along with the lyrics.
What can I do now that you say we're through? I'm left with the blues in my heart.
How can I smile when love don't seem worthwhile? I'm left with the blues in my heart.
How can I live? What is there life can give as long as we're apart?
How can I go on knowing that you are gone? I'm left with the blues in my heart.
Beyond the notion of a failed romance, which is certainly a common blues topic, there is very little in this swing number from 1931 to link it to the blues. But, by offering the title of “Blues in My Heart,” composer Benny Carter and lyricist Irving Mills embellish the melancholy even before Louis Bacon’s vocals arrive.
Adopting the term “blues” within a song title, to express the sentiment, is a common practice of songwriting, in all manner of genres. Here are a couple of samples of the word “blues” included in a title to invoke a sentiment, without relying on the musical structure.
‘Subterranean Homesick Blues,’ Bob Dylan
Folk and blues often go hand in hand, as witnessed by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis or Dave Van Ronk. Of course, Bob Dylan has been known to pilfer from the blues throughout his career. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is a rapid-fire stream of consciousness; a barrage of images, some loosely, some intrinsically based on a sense of oppression. This is certainly a valid connection to the blues.
‘Blå Himlen Blues,’ Imperiet
For fun, I have also picked out a song that, at first glance, would appear to be as far removed from the blues as possible. However, as you consider the lyrics to “Blå Himlen Blues” by the Swedish band Imperiet, the reference to the blues is entirely valid.
Since my Swedish is a little rusty, I asked Alf Olofsson, impresario and a leader in the Swedish music industry, to give us some insight into the band and the song.
He had this to offer:
“Imperiet [the Empire] is one of the biggest Swedish rock bands from the ’80s and ’90s. The singer still performs and sells out big venues. The title of the song is ‘Blue Sky Blues’ and it’s about a bar called Blue Sky, the bar is a dive with a lot of ‘characters.’ Basically its goes like this … sorry for my broken English.”
Jag älskar skuggan på Blå himlen bar. (I love the shadow at Blue Sky Bar.)
Jag går dit och dör en bit, en bit varje dag. (I go there and die a bit every day.)
Där dansar oskulden som glittrande guld, (That’s where the virgin glimmer as gold,)
bland trasiga hjärtan dränkta i skuld. (With broken hearts covered in gold.)
Här kan man andas oh (Here you can breath and)
om du glömt bort (If you forgotten)
hur man andas. (How to breathe,)
Här kan man älska oh (Here you could love.)
om du glömt bort (And if you forgotten,)
hur man älskar. (How to love.)
At first glance there is nothing about this tune that fits the blues mould. But as you ponder the chorus, it does seem to embrace the notion of blues.
‘Bluesy Blue Sea,’ Ian Gillan
And then there is Ian Gillan, occasional frontman for Deep Purple. In his solo work, Gillan has a tune called “Bluesy Blue Sea.” Musically, lyrically, philosophically, I can’t seem to find the blues connection at all. Perhaps sometimes it’s just a cool word.
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on Aug 09, 2012