Every so often, a song comes along or, rather, I come across a song, often an oldie, sometimes a classic, and it blows me away to the extent that I think to myself, “Wow! If the doctors hadn’t got my heart started (in 2001), if I’d died – that’s another story – I would never have heard this song”, a thought which, at that moment, makes me glad, tangibly glad, to be alive!
This blog features one such song, one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard!
Judging by the amount of artists who have recorded and performed this beautiful song (according to Wikipedia, over 200!), I’m gobsmacked that I only heard it for the first time three days ago (I’m almost 52 years old).
‘A Song For You’
written by Leon Russell (1942 – 2016), an astounding, highly successful, prolific songwriter and an accomplished, much respected pianist. Elton John says (on his website) of Russell:
“It was the most magical of times because here was my idol accepting me. Actually, he could eat me for breakfast [playing piano]. I came from England and being a huge fan of someone like him and to have him accept me and kind of take me under his wing and be really fantastic to me the whole time. It meant the whole world to me that someone could show me that generosity that you admired so much. It helped validate me by saying , “Wee if he thinks I’m alright then I must be alright because he’s my hero”.
All I can say is that to have conjured up this song, Leon Russell must have had a sweetness in his soul, in his essence, a sweetness bound up in musical genius.
Leon, speaking about Elton when he, Leon, was being inducted into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’ in 2011:
“Elton came and found me in the ditch on the side of the highway of life and took me up to the high stages and treated me like a king.”
Leon’s adulation of, and reverence for, Elton John speaks volumes about his, Elton’s, soul. More to follow…
After Leon passed away (13 November 2016), Elton posted on Istagram:
“My darling Leon Russell passed away last night. He was a mentor, inspiration and so kind to me. Thank God we caught up with each other and made ‘The Union’. He got his reputation back and felt fulfilled. I loved him and always will. #LeonRussell #RIP #TheHandsOfAngels”
Going off on a tangent for a moment, that reflects the importance and value of a good mentor – it’s hard to think of the great Elton John, as a kid, needing, benefitting from, approbation. We – certainly I – think of Elton John having such enormous talent that it must have been obvious to him – and everyone around him – that he was destined to become a superstar. Well, if the great Elton John needed, benefitted from having, a mentor, clearly I will get nowhere without one!
I digress….back to Leon Russell and THAT song…when I heard it, for the first time, just three days ago, as recorded by the great Donny Hathaway, it was one of those epiphany moments – my skin tingled, tears welled up in my eyes, it was as if I was staring at an angel. Leon, he understood the power of music – as he said,
“There’s healing in music, folks”.
In this blog, there are 18 (remember, of over 200!) recordings/performances of this beautiful love song. I listened to these 18 recordings and/or watched the performances and it was as if I was listening to 18 different songs. Each artist takes ownership of it, makes it their own. This song is a heaven-sent platform/stage on which musicians can showcase their talent, present it undiluted, put it out there so that it can be seen and heard at its very best.
I was going to kick off with Leon singing his composition but I want to finish with that performance – that’s the one I want you to have in your head when you finish reading/listening to this blog.
So, I’ll start with, probably, one of the best known recordings of ‘A Song for You’:
Donny Hathaway– I’m sitting in a café and I’ve just listened to it again, tears rolling down my cheeks. I’m not normally stuck for words but, on this occasion, I can’t put into words what this song, this recording, does to me:
Next up (this really is in no particular order) – the majestic Whitney Houston:
We shall never witness her likes again – never! Whitney Houston was a gift to us and, thanks to her legacy of beautiful music, recordings and performances, she is the gift that keeps on giving…
So, moving on, in the same vein as Whitney’s take on the song –
Christine Aguilera(with a hint of jazz, the legend, Herbie Hancockon piano). Until I heard this recording, I didn’t realise that she is such an astounding singer:
…and now, for something completely different, Ray Charles:
That man, the emotion is tangible!
…and another guy who sings from deep within his soul – Joe Cocker:
Now, a completely different style….I love this! Carpenters (not ‘The’, just ‘Carpenters’, despite the mistaken reference on You Tube):
So pure, so beautiful – exquisite!
Now, for a bit of fun but still high quality! Justin Timberlake– yup, a bit left field but it works, IMHO. From the heart, for his wife on their anniversary:
The guy is the real deal!!
…and some more ‘fun’ – well, it’s serious but, at the same time, it is ‘fun’ – Jesse Campbell, who came to prominence on the US TV show, ‘The Voice’ (2012), he is a talented guy!!
Next, it’s over to royalty, to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin:
Such a beautiful intro! The beauty of that voice, Aretha’s genius, it never ceases to amaze me!
Now, I don’t know why I was surprised to see that The Temptationshad recorded the song – I guess I just didn’t see it as their ‘thing’ but, hey, why not? A great, a legendary, group and a great, a classic, song, perfect!
A beautiful arrangement – and Dennis Edwards, one of THE greatest of the Motown voices!
Next up – ok, Frank is known as the man who did it his way but, for sure, so did, and does, this guy – Willy Nelson:
That song and that man – the perfect fit!
Now, a different style – and what style! Style – BIG time!
The legend, Mr. Andy Williams– a beautiful arrangement!
WHAT A RECORDING!!! I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves – IMHO, he is one of the greats!
….and sticking with style and class…
Natalie Cole – AWESOME!
Natalie Cole left us too soon – this next lady, she left us FAR, FAR too soon!
Amy Winehouse, what a genuine, unique talent – genius! She left us a legacy of beautiful music/recordings/performances but there was, for sure, so much more coming to us, so much more IF she hadn’t died so tragically at such a young age.
Amy Winehouse– listen to the whole link, even after she has finished singing the song):
Raw, pure, untouched talent, REAL, SO REAL! Exquisite!
Now, a change of mood – Simply Red. Mick Hucknall, another one who I don’t think gets the credit he deserves! IMHO, he is one heck of a talented artist!
THAT IS FANTASTIC!! SO MOVING!!
Next, Helen Reddy– what a voice!
I just cannot fathom how I have got to almost 52 years of age without ever coming across this song!
Penultimate – Michael Bublé and Chris Botti– I think they do this beautiful song justice:
From the heart!
Ok, the big one…
The man himself, the legend who, amongst so much other work, wrote
‘A Song for You’ – this, for me, is the most moving of the lot – and, just guessing, if I had heard the 200+ recordings of this song, I’d still adjudge this one to be the best. Leon Russell didn’t TAKE ownership of it – he DID, he STILL does and he ALWAYS will, own it!!
Furthermore, what Leon says about Elton John, it confirms – reaffirms – what I already thought, that behind the glitz and the glamour, there is, in Elton, a man of real quality and substance, a good man, a kind man, a man of empathy.
So, here it is….Leon Russell:
See what I mean? I love Leon Russell and Elton!!
So, a special song and how happy I am that I found it!!
Which recording/performance is your favourite?
Mine is Leon Russell’s, followed closely by, I think, Ray Charles’ – and just behind that is Donny Hathaway’s recording…but, oh, Andy Williams’ recording, that’s special, too…and what about Whitney’s, Christine’s and Natalie’s??!! – I LOVE THEM ALL!! – Let’s just say that my favourite is Leon Russell’s and the rest are joint second.
I thank Leon Russell for giving the world this song, I thank Elton for caring for this man and I thank all of the artists, musicians and technical hands and minds who have recorded, performed and worked on this song, done their bit to keep it alive!