Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cage the Songbird

On the lyric sleeve, this one bears the dedication "For Edith Piaf", which would suggest that this tragic tale attempts to eulogize the beloved French chanteuse in much the same fashion that "Candle in the Wind" paid tribute to Marilyn Monroe. I don't think it's that simple.

If it intends to pay homage, I would think that it could do a bit better than lines like

Sober in the morning light
Things look so much different
To how they looked last night
A pale face pressed to an unmade bed
Like flags of many nations flying high above her head

Knowing what we know now about Elton and his excesses during this time frame, I have a feeling Bernie might just be making a wry observation about his musical partner.

Regardless, there are some very nice lines to be found here, not the least of which is the chorus:

And you can cage the songbird
But you can't make her sing
And you can trap the free bird
But you'll have to clip her wings
`Cause she'll soar like a hawk when she flies
But she'll dive like an eagle when she dies

Maybe it attempts to castigate and celebrate at the same time, but I don't think so.

Musically, it's a predominantly acoustic arrangement, with Quaye and Johnstone playing precise figures and James Newton Howard providing flute-like synths. Graham Nash and David Crosby join in on backing vocals, and are used to great effect on the chorus- the syncopated, slashing guitar and vocal on the penultimate line gives way to soaring harmonies on the last, the likes of which only the battle-tested voices of C and N can provide.

This really is a lovely song- in fact, I think it's one of the best on Blue Moves- and the tale it tells is quite sad. But I can't help but feel it's delivered with an arched eyebrow and tongue in cheek.

Crystal Gayle certainly took it at face value in 1983, ignoring whatever inherent ironies there might be and not only covering the tune but also naming the album after it. It went to #5 on the country charts that year.

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