Romance according to Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra
Romance, like every other phenomenon, means different things to different people and therefore could be approached and explored in many possible diverse ways. This could primarily be as a result of varying cultural orientations and practices. Since the world opened its eyes and the first note sounded, music has been used amongst many things, for the expression and exploration of romance. Music affirms its universality by permeating all cultural diversities. Whether song lyrics are understood or not, people intuitively recognize or feel when a musical work is romantic. How does this happen? There could be many elements responsible for this. But first, basic musical elements like melody, harmony, rhythm, voice texture, lyrics, and the overall texture of the work are key factors to consider. They sometimes determine the essence of a work and its possible effects.
If romance is a complex phenomenon as suggested earlier, how does music which is itself a complex phenomenon and discipline explore its complexities to birth a musical work which could be termed romantic? What are the possibilities? Are there boundaries?
For the purpose of this essay, I would hypothesize that romance is a destination whose complexity implies having several routes which eventually leads all trains (in this case, musical elements) to it. This implies that there is no single route to romance. Songs could have varying qualities both in terms of composition and performance, yet they are romantic. How does this happen?
Here are two instances with songs by two American musicians, actors, Grammy Lifetime Achievement winners, and pop cultural influencers of the 20th century—Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love
In his days, Elvis Presley’s versatility was evident in his music which cuts across genres like RnB, rock & roll, pop, blues, soul, country, etc. Although he originally recorded the song in 1961, it has been recorded by numerous other artistes including Andrea Bocelli in 2006, and featured in films too. The song starts with a soft instrumental accompaniment in arpeggios which continue all through, leaving the focus on Elvis’s singing voice. Other instruments include drums, guitar, piano, bass and synths. The melodic background provided by the bass gives it a somewhat slow groovy feeling and also marks chordal progressions. The drums are soft in a way that makes them almost inaudible, yet effective. Significantly, a guitar solo accompanies a part of the vocal solo, playing the same melodies in accompaniment and creating a beautiful contrast of vocal and instrumental timbres. The (baritone) voice is somewhat deep and soft, yet firm. The most sensitive part of the singing could be the partially modulated parts where he sings: Like a river flows/surely to the sea/darling so it goes/ some things are meant to be…/ before going back to the song’s melodic theme. Apart from the soft singing voice, melodies and accompaniment which make the music more sensitive and emotional, the overall texture is soft and succeeds in creating a romantic ambiance—allowing any listener the liberty of both listening to the music and pondering over them at once.
Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon
One of Frank’s many strengths was his ability to easily adjust vocal registers so much so that he fits and effectively performs as both a tenor and baritone. He recorded the song in 1964, ten years after the first ever recording of the same song by Kaye Ballard. The drum’s rhythmic introduction sets the tempo for the song and the walking bass melodies and rhythms give off its identity as jazz. In addition, heavy syncopations by the loud horns affirm the song’s genre identity. Frank’s voice is accompanied by saxophone riffs, trumpet riffs, heavy horn sections, piano, and drums. While the dynamics vary with each entry of instruments, Frank’s soft and somewhat unsteady voice appears to lose its role as the main instrument towards the end of the song when the horns are clearly louder than his voice—portraying the singing voice to be the accompanying instrument. The song’s unexpected dramatic end is a plus. However, save for the lyrics whose discourse schema is about love and romance, one may find it rather strange to classify the work as a romantic piece owing to its rather fast movement, and loud and harsh texture.
Now, through which routes did these two approach romance?
The major difference between the two works is genre identity which in turn gives rise to variance in individual stylistic performances. While Presley’s is pop ballad in slow rhythm and overall soft texture, Sinatra’s is jazz in syncopated rhythms and somewhat harsh texture. Yet, both works are thematically romantic. This corroborates my earlier argument that music could follow any routes to arrive at romance. The routes here are the distinct musical qualities of each of the songs briefly discussed here. However, the constant element between the two is the lyrical contents. The words of these songs reveal the identity of the music to be romantic. Whether other accompanying musical elements suggest anything on the contrary, the lyrics claim a romantic identity. But then, what if these songs were purely instrumental, would they both still be considered romantic?
The crux: romance could be hot or cold. Romance could be soft or harsh. There is no single route to romance. However, the complexity and universality of music affords to travel every possible route to this destination. The why could be found in these two songs. Listen again.