Monday, October 8, 2012

Song #265 of 9999 - I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton

Song #265 of 9999

Title: I Will Always Love You
Artist: Dolly Parton
Year: 1974
Album: Jolene

Okay, so I kind of stopped caring about my blog all of a sudden and took a break. I'm allowed to do that! But I'm back now, so maybe I ought to finish up 1974.

I realize it's kind of easy to go back to an original version of a song and make a big deal about how much better it is than the most popular or successful version of the song. No-one can argue that "I Will Always Love You" belongs to Whitney Houston in the same way that "Respect" belongs to Aretha Franklin or "Nothing Compares 2 U" belongs to Sinéad O'Connor. In each case, the artist remaking the track delivers a far superior vocal performance when compared to the original. It's only when you look at the lyrical intent of the songs that things go wrong for Whitney where they don't for Aretha and Sinéad.

"I Will Always Love You" is a sorrowful song about the dissolution of a relationship and this is obvious from the first notes of Dolly Parton's version. The setting includes tremolo guitars and guitar solos marked by expressive pitch-bending, all in support of a quivering vocal by Parton. Her choruses slip in and out of falsetto as if she's incapable of mustering the strength to hit the high notes. Yes, there is a cheesy spoken word section, but I'm guessing it played better in 1974. By contrast, Whitney Houston sounds like she could run a marathon on the strength of her voice. Her version gets it right at the beginning with its a cappella rendering of the first verse, but by the time the saxophone solo wails over the string section, it's no longer a love letter, it's a billboard. By the time the key change comes, she's not even singing the same song anymore—it could be "My Way" or "Hey Jude" or "O Fortuna." It's all about her at that point.

(Sorry for the terribly dubbed video - it's the only studio version of the song I could find.)

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