That Old Black Magic – The Importance Of A Good Arrangement

It amazes me how very different a song can be depending on the singer and arrangement. Take these four versions of Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer’s That Old Black Magic for example:
Ella Fitzgerald:

Doris Day:
Sarah Vaughn:
Peggy Lee:
All four are phenomenal singers. But I think Ella does the best job in capturing the sentiment of the song. It reminds me of the excitement you feel when you’ve just fallen in love, that “burning desire.” 

Doris seems almost bored and disappointed that she’s being caught up in that old black magic. It drags on and by the time the refrain returns I am tempted to turn it off.

The horn arrangement in Sarah’s version are stellar. To have that in my arsenal would be a dream come true. But I’ve never been much of a fan of her timbre. To her credit she really seems to propel the libretto forward. I actually feel like she’s “lovin the spin she’s in.”

Peggy almost does it for me. A decent tempo. I love the Latin flare, but it doesn’t ever seem to take off. And ends up feel lackluster to me.

I think if I were going to record this song, I’d love to take it in the Ella direction, but nobody does it like Ella, so I’d probably end up doing something all my own. It would be up-tempo, perhaps with a touch of the Bossa Nova style, really emphasizing the syncopation. And I’d have to have those horns. One can dream right?


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