Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One More for Lou Reed

In 1988, bassist Rob Wasserman released his second solo album, Duets. It's a great album full of duets (hence the title) performed by Wasserman and various artists. Each song features Wasserman and a guest performing all instruments and/or vocals. I happened catch a performance of Wasserman and Aaron Neville doing their version of "Stardust" on the David Sanborn show, Sunday Night, and was inspired to seek out the album. This same version of "Stardust" appears on the Rain Man soundtrack, for those of you interested.

Duets remains one of the most listened to albums in my collection. Besides the Neville track, there are great songs with Ricki Lee Jones, Bobby McFerrin (which I used in my college film, The Brass Ring - don't tell them) and Cheryl Bentyne of the Manhattan Transfer. However, the one song I return to almost monthly is "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," a pop standard written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer and made popular by Frank Sinatra. The Chairman of the Board once called this song a "drunk song,"with his arrangement being a big band ballad sung by a man lamenting the loss of his lady. The version on Duets is most definitely not a big band version. Instead, it's a late night blues rocker sung with conviction by Lou Reed.

At the time of the release of Duets, Wasserman was working with Reed on his acclaimed concept album, New York (1989), and a camaraderie between the two men really comes through in Reed's performance. In the song he may be singing to a bartender, but he seems to be singing directly to Wassermen, the only other guy in the room while they were recording. An image immediately comes to mind when their "One for My Baby..." begins. The reverb on Reed's guitar certainly creates the mood of an empty bar, after hours, with the house lights on, and some tired bartender trying to close up for the night. But there's this one guy- probably a friend - who's had a shitty night and he just needs to let it all out to someone.

The defiance in Reed's voice does wonders for this song. Instead of a poor sap lamenting about a his broken heart, Reed makes the narrator a little pissed off and poised to take on the next round of crap the next day will bring him. Written in 1943, "One for My Baby (One More for the Road)" is timeless, and this particular version, now 25 years old, has certainly stands up there with Sinatra's.

After Reed's death, I gave "One for My Baby..." a quick listen and I thought the lyrics were somehow fitting for one man's passing from one world to the next. Whether you believe in the afterlife or not, it's also a great song for hoisting whatever drink brings you comfort and saluting one of rock's great poets.

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