WYSO

Ella 101: Can't Buy Me Love (Day 21 of 101)

May 15, 2018

Today, the song that made me fall in love with Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella loved every kind of music, voraciously listening to almost anything she came across and equally enjoying rock, soul, classical, and Latin music alongside her home base of jazz. As her career began and peaked with regular new takes on the day's popular songs--at that time, big band and jazz standards, and new Broadway hits), she never lost interest in tackling current material, plucking tunes from the pop charts well into the 1980s and sprinkling them into her formidable repertoire.

In particular, Ella was *crazy* about the Beatles. Possibly hipped to them by her son (Ray Brown, Jr., adopted during her five-year marriage to bassist and longtime collaborator Ray Brown), who was a big fan of the lads from Liverpool, she frequently threw bits of their songs into her performances and covered a handful of Beatles staples outright--with extremely varied results.

The first, and unquestionably the best, was her smashing rendition of "Can't Buy Me Love," arranged by Frank DeVol for 1964's Hello, Dolly release, which included many covers of then-popular songs such as the title tune as well as Barbra Streisand's "People," "Volare" (a big hit for many singers, including Dean Martin, over the previous six years), and Richard Rogers' "The Sweetest Sounds" from 1962 Broadway musical No Strings.

The brassy, bluesy take on the Beatles' rocker would be her final pop hit; it peaked at #34 in the United Kingdom, making Ella Fitzgerald the first artist to have a hit with a Beatles cover. In 1997, Paul McCartney said (in Barry Miles' Many Years From Now biography), "'Can't Buy Me Love' is my attempt to write a bluesy mode. The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well but they won't buy me what I really want. It was a very hook-y song. Ella Fitzgerald later did a version of it which I was very honoured by."

BONUS: Look below for a smashing live performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

BONUS CLIP in the comments: Ella performed the song live a number of times (there are a couple of concert recordings, too), including on The Ed Sullivan Show on April 28, 1968. The summer between my 7th and 8th grade years, Continental Cablevision in Dayton, Ohio picked up the TV Land network, which at the time showed old Sullivan reruns. I knew nothing at all about jazz (OR the Beatles) when I stumbled onto this episode during her performance and was blown away.

I ran to the library and started checking out everything I could to hear more of her music. While becoming familiar with her catalog, I heard Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson and Harry Edison and Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis and Barney Kessel for the first time. I heard songs from all across the Great American Songbook, I heard songs by Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk and Antonio Carlos Jobim and George Shearing, I heard Tin Pan Alley standards and blues numbers older than my grandparents and pop songs from the '70s (my first experience with Carole King was Ella's version of "You've Got a Friend").

Each time I heard a musician I liked, I looked for their music too, and if I heard a song I liked, I'd look for another version by someone I didn't know. That led to people like Dave Brubeck and Wes Montgomery and Kurt Elling and Machito and Martin Denny and Plas Johnson and Mel Torme and Julie London and Yma Sumac and Glenn Miller and Sarah Vaughan and Lalo Schifrin and Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis and Al Jarreau and the Manhattan Transfer and Jon Hendricks and Ben Webster and Cal Tjader. Every time I heard something, if I read and listened and followed, it would lead me to another new thing. It was amazing.

I remember getting in trouble late one night because my mother came into my room around 2 a.m. and caught me moving around in bed with the covers over my head--I had Basie's April in Paris album in my Sony Discman and my headphones on and I was memorizing Frank Foster's solo on "Magic."

Yeah...I was *that* kid. Summer '96 was like a musical odyssey for me. I was 12.

People often ask me where my deep love of music and my obsession with music analysis came from. Well, it started in summer '96, with the live performance of this song linked in the comments. Ella Fitzgerald and the Beatles led me to everything I needed in life.

And by the way--that 4/28/68 Sullivan show also introduced me to Richard Harris (performing "Camelot" in costume!), Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara (doing a great routine about two adults at a high school reunion - "Is that the old dude from Seinfeld?!"), and George Carlin (whose "Meet the Candidate" sketch aired that night).

Everything has a beginning. Ella was mine.

Ella 101 is a daily look at 101 essential recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, who was born 101 years ago this month. Tune in to Equinox, Monday nights from 8 - 11 p.m. on WYSO, to hear Ella and more great jazz with host Duante Beddingfield.