Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Platters "The Great Pretender"

As loyal readers know, my musical tastes range far and wide. There are some genres that I've known for longer than others, and because of my parents listening to the oldies stations, I've been listening to 50s R&B for a long, long time. While sixties soul and fifties rockabilly have more tempo and drive, listening to the Platters is like taking medicine for the soul. I get the same feeling hearing Tony Williams' voice on "The Great Pretender" as I do hearing Miles Davis' trumpet on "All Blues" or the violin in Vivaldi's "Spring": joy in simple yet deep beauty.  The backing harmonies have a minor tone them that's almost lush, and the saxophone and piano glue it all together. I could listen to this song thirty times in a row and not get tired of it.

Another reason I like this song is for its tale of vulnerability. The singer effects a confident pose in public, but beneath it lies anguish and heartbreak. That anguish pokes through in the hiccup that Williams uses as he enters the song with "O-o-oh yes, I'm the great pretender." Sure, it's a silly pop song, but one with just the right amount of emotional pain wrapped inside of it.

1 comment:

bmi said...

Your analysis reminds me of what sport scholars call the "cool pose" among African-American athletes: they are collected on the outside but on the inside they are driven and/or angry. I wonder how many other songs by black artists, especially in the mid-1900s, have a similar idiom (I am thinking of "Tears of a Clown"). It could be a metaphor for dealing with American race relations in the Jim Crow era.