Friday Fun, Songs from Before My Birth, #7

"The Way You Look Tonight" by Tony Bennett et al.

They calls songs like this "the Great American Songbook."  It turns out that this song was first recorded by Fred Astaire, as part of the soundtrack for the movie Swingtime.  It won the Academy Award in 1936.  Everyone and their brother has covered it.  As a result, a song like this can almost fade into the background, to the point you wouldn't really notice it.

For whatever reason, though, this song has always stuck with me, and in particular the Tony Bennett version.  I think what I love about the song is its minimalism.  There are plenty of love songs out there that make grandiose declarations about the attributes of the beloved--he or she is the most beautiful, the most charming, the most whatever.  As flattering as such declarations no doubt are, exaggerating the attributes of the beloved suggests that only those with such enhanced attributes are worthy of love.  "I love you because you are such and exceptional person, better than everyone else," tacitly suggests "and if you weren't so exceptional, I wouldn't love you."

Somewhat along those lines, there is this weird phenomenon I have seen on Twitter, where guys (often, bizarrely, evangelical pastors) make a point of emphasizing how hot their wives or girlfriends are.  What is strange about that is not that these guys think their significant others are beautiful, but that they feel the need to tell you how beautiful they think their wives are.  As if the expected response is "wow, your wife is indeed super hot, you are clearly winning at life."  There is something performative, even narcissistic about the way this is framed.  The great Spencer Hall refers to these folks as "Registered Sex-Havers"--they want you to acknowledge that they are awesome enough to be able to get with this woman, but they dress it up as praise for the woman.  It's really objectifying to the lady if you think about it--she becomes a prop in the glorification of the dude.

Anyway, there is none of that in "The Way You Look Tonight."  The song's beloved is "lovely" and has "breathless charm," but there is no sense that the singer needs or cares about anyone else validating this conclusion.  Unlike the other, more boastful songs, the song sounds like an internal discussion between two people, not something designed to be shared with outsiders.  It gives the song an intimate quality.

I think I like Bennett's version for a similar reason--there is something, I guess, "approachable" about his voice.  He is a great singer, but somehow he sounds like a much better version of the way you would sing the song, as opposed to something that is wholly different from anything you could possibly sound like.  I could never convince myself that I will ever sound anything like Michael Buble, but I might believe (wrongly, but believe it anyway) that I would sound like Bennett to my beloved.  Again, it gives the song an intimacy.

The bottom line is "The Way You Look Tonight" is my favorite love song.  It's everything I want another person to think about me, and everything I want to think about someone I love.


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