The Ten Best Torch Songs


1 SKYLARK Hoagy Carmichael

1 SKYLARK Hoagy Carmichael

This song represents an exotic sound that is totally American. The jazz chords in it are on the one hand beautiful, but also very sophisticated. My mother used to sing it, and then there was the famous Bette Midler version. It's one of those songs that is up there with German lieder and operatic arias.

2 SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW Judy Garland

I've had to sing this since I was five or six. I related to it in terms of being a person who was always dreaming and wanted to live in a more mystical place than Canada.

3 NIGHT AND DAY Fred Astaire

There has never been a more elegant song. The way it's presented, with the intro talking about the ticking clock and then going into the song, immediately evokes a bygone era where people really knew how to dress and have a good time.

4 MY FUNNY VALENTINE Ella Fitzgerald

I relate a lot to the words in that song, by the lyricist Lorenz Hart. There is a certain type of loneliness that I always pick up on in the lyrics, so that I identify with Hart himself. He had a very tragic life, he was gay, Jewish and quite ugly - it was not easy for him!

5 EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE Cole Porter

I was reintroduced to this song by Annie Lennox, when she did it for the Red Hot and Blue compilation. It really gave me hope that these songs are timeless. They can be reinterpreted in so many different ways and they outlast so many trends.

6 THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY Judy Garland

This was also written by Harold Arlen, the writer of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". He is my favourite songwriter of that era. I don't think there has ever been a more classical camp number. It's very gay but also very respectable and tasteful.

7 A FOGGY DAY IN LONDON TOWN Fred Astaire

I've been in London a couple of months, and it's been very wet. I guess I'm hoping to have a similar experience as the one that happens in the song - where everything is so grey and horrible, "the British Museum had lost its charm", and then you walk into some beautiful dream person.

8 DO IT AGAIN Marilyn Monroe

I love Monroe's version of this song. It's so politically incorrect - one of those occasions where a woman is singing about being violated but seems to be loving it. This song captures that conundrum in the battle of the sexes.

9 FEVER Peggy Lee

Of all the singers of torch songs, by far my favourite, in terms of technique, polish and integrity, is Peggy Lee. I think the economy and phrasing in the way she uses her voice is astounding.

10 IS THAT ALL THERE IS? Peggy Lee

This is, for me, an anthem for facing the tumultuous events of present times. Life goes on, so we should just break out the booze and keep on dancing.

Interview by Emily Dugan
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