Two Of Us
The Beatles (1970)
Aimee Mann & Michael Penn (2001)
I know I’m flirting with dangerously high levels of un-hipness by posting the Beatles. (They will always be hip; it’s only declaring our love for them that risks squareness.) My excuse is that it’s happy-sappy Valentine’s week, and today’s pairing seems apropos.
“Two Of Us” is the first song on the last record released by the Beatles, Let It Be. It was written by Paul for Linda, but is performed as a sort of love duet between Paul and John. They sing it together—there’s no clear delineation between lead vocal line and harmony vocal line. The recording is like a comfortable pair of baggy pants, frayed and loose, and begins with a goofy spoken-word announcement by John. And I like the bare-bones arrangement, which favors toasty acoustic guitars. There’s not even a sign of a bass in it; George simply plays a few low notes on the electric.
Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, wife and husband, hew close to the original. (It's on the I Am Sam soundtrack.) Their recording is cleaner, every hair in place, and thus perhaps a tad less spontaneous. But they blend their voices together in the same manner, each vocal line trying to hide self-effacingly behind the other. The arrangement gives the illusion of being identical to the original, but isn’t; it’s quietly expansive. (And what is that sustained accordion-y tone? It adds a nice touch.)
The best part, and the reason I’m writing this post, is the bridge. Aimee sings it solo (just as Paul does), and her voice is like a clear and calm laser-light. It's the high point of the tune, and it's over too soon. ("You and I have memories/Longer than the road/That stretches out ahead"; she sings it twice, at 1:20 and 2:05.) In December, Ben recommended an iTunes-only Christmas EP that she made. I didn’t get around to downloading it until well after the holidays, and then drove my friends crazy by playing it non-stop in late January. Her ascetic take on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is the best version I’ve heard of that song. My own dream-project wish is an Aimee revisionist jazz standards record with Magnolia-style Jon Brion arrangements.