Sunday, 17 April 2011

Herb Alpert - This Guy's In Love With You (1968/ No. 3/ 19 weeks/ A & M)

Has any declaration of love song ever been so vulnerable or emotionally naked as 'This Guy's In Love With You'? I only know of two others, 'Please Stay' by The Cryin' Shames (Bacharach again) and Peter Skellern's 'You're A Lady'. With both of those you feel pretty sure that the singer's rejection is foredoomed ("I might as well get it over"!), but with 'This Guy' the outcome is more uncertain, and the effect is more measured. A lot of this is due to Alpert's interpretation. Although the song is self-evidently a thing of transcendent wonder, it's not hard to imagine it's devastating effect failing to come off: it is easy to convert vulnerable into bland, or collapse through the trapdoor of overkill on the key line of “if not I’ll just die.” There's a mental game that I like to play with songs that I love of this period of imagining with terror how they would sound if performed by Tom Jones or Englebert Humperdink. Very few would survive this, I can tell you.

How did Bacharach - who could have chosen anyone he wanted - come to chose Herb Alpert to sing this? He wanted Chet Baker at first, but he was at death's door by 1968. The unlikely decision was an inspired one. Because we haven't heard him sing anything else, there's no wall of preconceived persona to come between the listener and the song, making it's intimacy a degree closer than other recordings. The voice is trying for nonchalance, lightness of touch, but failing to hide a frailty, a frailty that conceals shyness, humility and depth of emotion. Bacharach's piano and orchestra try to open him up, but just when things seem to be boiling to a climax the piano suddenly shuts everyone up, there is a brief silence, and Herb's lone semi-voice is alone in its own sudden realisation of dread. He whimpers

"if not, I'll just

. . .


Then another silence, almost unbearable. The trumpet resumes the tune to fade, almost reluctantly.

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