Last week after listening to “La Reina del Baile” (ABBA’s Spanish version of “Dancing Queen”), I sought out other versions of the song. The Real Group and Frida performed a fantastic a cappella version for the Queen of Sweden’s 50th birthday.
Being unfamiliar with The Real Group, I looked for more of their music and saw they had covered “Nature Boy”. How wonderful, I thought, that they covered a song by Big Star, although I found myself preferring the more raw vocals of Alex Chilton.
Until that day, I didn’t know Chilton was not the writer of “Nature Boy”. I was also completely unfamiliar with any other versions of the song, most notably Nat King Cole’s original. I didn’t know it was written by someone named eden ahbez, who around that time lived under the Hollywood Sign.
In that moment of revelation I felt like the boy who heard Andy Williams’s Greatest Hits on 8-track, thinking he must have written most of the songs on that album. As a boy, I assumed every musician of the time was writing most of their own songs.
This remains the gold standard for me: singers and bands should write the music they perform, just as poets should read their own words, and stand-up comedians should write their own lines, and scientists should present their own research. But I can’t fully justify this. After all, I certainly don’t expect orchestras or conductors to compose their own music, or writers to be the readers of their audiobooks, or actors to pen their own lines, or undergraduate students to develop their own theories.
Why this distinction? That’s just the way it is, sometimes performers create the work they perform, and sometimes they don’t is hardly a reason.