A Dreamy Melody
That Fatal Mailing List #56: "Changing Partners" (2009)
If you told me any of the original recordings of “Changing Partners” was featured by David Lynch in one of his movies, I’d believe you.
They all hit that sweet spot of sincere and spooky that calls to mind both the sweet, tender facade of 1950s pop culture and the dark, decaying reality that seemed to be lurking just beneath that surface. Elvis Costello has said he learned the song from the Bing Crosby version, which features an ethereal female vocal part that sounds like the song playing on the radio in the ‘57 Chevy before the slasher shows up to carve the necking couple into tiny pieces.
But I digress. Patti Page’s version was actually the chartmaking champ, spending 21 weeks and topping out at number 3. Although it wasn’t his first exposure to the song, EC’s take on his 2009 record Secret, Profane and Sugarcane calls to mind Pee Wee King’s version in 1954, which reached number 4 on the country music charts.
Hearing all of these versions closely together really starts to blur the lines between genres. It’s unlikely any radio stations in the 1950s were playing both Pee Wee King and Patti Page, but these two disparate versions share the same DNA. A pop waltz becomes a country shuffle; the saccharine strings are exchanged for a lilting fiddle section, with King’s accordion taking occasional leads and fills.
Maybe because of his own genre versatility, EC’s version mixes together the best aspects of both approaches. The instrumentation is pure country and western, with mandolin, fiddle and dobro. But the pacing is a little slower, hewing more closely to that sentimental waltz feeling than a twangy country shuffle.
Costello’s vocal is a treat; it’s not a workout for his voice by any means, but he lingers over just the right words, hesitates at just the right moments. It’s tender, open, sincere.
The music offers the way out. It offers the way home.
So it was that the ideal song to close this album seemed to be, ‘Changing Partners’, a simple number that I learned from an old Bing Crosby recording. It is likely to be the last dance at all our upcoming appearances.