Thursday, February 09, 2006


Marilyn Monroe, I'm Gonna File My Claim.
Marilyn Monroe, After You Get What You Want, You Don't Want It.
Marilyn Monroe, River of No Return.

No, it's not a great voice, but it's far better than you might think. She loses her way sometimes holding a note and her confidence shakes, but she's also got a mellow, sweet huskiness to her tone; she's funny, and she's got charm. That's something almost completely lost today--when was the last time you heard a charming singer? Nellie McKay, maybe, but there's a bite to her that Marilyn never had.

I was watching "American Idol" the other night, and saw a singer with a voice similar to Marilyn's, small but sweet, get shot down by the judges. It's the type of voice that, because it cannot perform the sort of pyrotechnics that "great" singers of today are required to do, gets consigned to scrap. It's our loss.

For those who need a bio: Marilyn Monroe was a gifted comic actress, who, upon her lonely death, was placed, like a medieval saint, in a pantheon of the Famous, Beautiful Dead, along with her lover JFK, Elvis, Princess Di and a few other worthies.

Three Marilyn tunes from '54: Irving Berlin's "After You Get What You Want", a breezy romp from There's No Business Like Show Business. And "I'm Gonna File My Claim" is a gold digger anthem (Marilyn got stuck with a number of these, but manages to invest the lyric with some sass and blues.)

And then there's "River of No Return", her loveliest record. After a party, a girl returns to her studio apartment. With a cocktail napkin wetted at the corners, she dabs off her makeup, and goes to sit out on the fire escape for a last cigarette before bed. The dawn is coming over the East River, waking the Chrysler Building, and the girl thinks for a moment about Natchez, or Dubuque, or wherever she came from. Absently, she twists the sapphire costume ring off her finger. Out on the river, she hears a huff and cry--tugboats? Longshoremen? Her attention's drifted already. In her head is a refrain she can't shake. She can't think of where she heard it--the radio? At the nightclub, while she was waiting for him to get her coat? "No return, no return, no return.." Back at home, it's still dark, she thinks. And then she goes off to bed while her neighbor creaks around on the ceiling, getting ready for work...

"Claim" was recorded on April 9, 1954, with the 20th Century Fox orchestra under Lionel Newman backing her up, and "River of No Return", the title track to a pretty crappy film with Monroe and Bob Mitchum, was recorded on the same date; "After You Get What You Want" was recorded with the same lot on Dec. 10. Find them on Very Best.

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