body snatchers mix, part 10Helen Merrill -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (1988)
A leisurely paced version with subdued instrumentation giving it a somber and somehow chilly feel. There are a number of ways to deliver the lyrics, with or without the wink; Merrill opts for without, performing it as high drama.
[from Helen Merrill Sings Cole Porter, out of print]
Hank Jones -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (Nov 1990-1991)
The bass and drums are steps up a hill; the piano carries the melody them; the strings sprint ahead like a cat, looking back, weaving between the piano's feet, affectionate or maybe just hoping to trip it.
[Hank Jones with the Meridian String Quartet, used for a dollar]
Keely Smith & Nelson Riddle -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (released Aug 1991)
If Shirley Bassey were to sing the song, this is how she'd do it: swinging for the fences, horns and drums like something lifted from the soundtrack to a retro spy film.
[Capitol Sings Cole Porter: Anything Goes]
Mandino Reinhardt and Note Manouche -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (January 1, 1994)
What do I know about Mandino Reinhardt? It wouldn't fill the back of a postage stamp: he's from Alsace; he's a well known guitarist there; he has the same surname as Django. Related? Biologically, maybe. Musically, yes.
[Gypsy Swing From Alsace @ emusic]
A very brief writeup on Mandino Reinhardt.
Dan Barrett -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (Jul 23, 1997-Oct 28, 1997)
This is a very muted presentation, and not just in the trumpet. It swings, yes, but it's the swing of a grandfather clock in slow motion. Barrett follows it not with a security guard explaining the rules of the game but with a jog past a lake with distant sailboat and setting sun reflected in ripples, complete with lakeside dog jumping to catch a frisbee.
[Melody in Swing, also @ emusic]
Dick Hyman and Derek Smith -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (1998)
Dick Hyman and Derek Smith turn in the spiritual brother to the Freddie Hubbard/Jimmy Heath version, except on piano instead of horn: the two in competition for how quickly they can play while holding a rhythm and how hard they can bang the keys as they do.
[Dick & Derek at the Movies ]
Beegie Adair -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (Feb 2001)
This one starts off sounding like it's going to be a typical sleepy approach, but Adair shows more imagination than that, giving it a driving rhythm and dropping bits of the melody as she sees fit. I'm not sure how much of the tune was improvised, but from the starts and stops I get the feeling that some of it was but that she has a perceptive band in tune with each other and having fun.
[Dream Dancing: Songs of Cole Porter]
Lemar -- What Is This Thing Called Love? (2004)
Allmusic.com describes this one as "swell-egant," which leads me to suspect I'm not a big fan of swell-egance. I hoped for a more dynamic range on the vocals though I'm not sure why: I don't have that reaction to Billy Holliday's version or to Lena Horne's, though they're arguably working within an equally narrow range.
I'm sure it's just a matter of taste; Lemar has a successful career across the pond.
And a song not by Cole Porter!
Tom Waits -- Earth Died Screaming
This is a bizarre and sinister track with funky guitar, off-kilter percussion, and snarling slurred vocals proclaiming death and doom: John the Revelator with a sense of melody and a junkyard band.
Thanks again to Girish and Rev. Frost for suggestions and for helping me track down many of these covers.