Some songs in the American songbook are sacred icons. I’m talking about signature songs that are so identified with one singer or band that anyone who tries to cover it does so at their own peril. They’re songs that other artists generally don’t touch outside of a tribute concert.
“At Last” belongs to Etta James. “Purple Rain” belongs to Prince. Even though it’s Dolly Parton’s song, “I Will Always Love You” kinda belongs to Whitney Houston.
If someone is going to have the balls to record something that is so iconic and sacred with any success, there has to be a fresh spin on it. The interpretation has to approach the song from a different, unexpected angle. Devo’s wonderful take on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones comes to mind.
Another one of those sacred songs to me is “New York, New York.” People generally consider it to be Frank Sinatra’s song, though it’s really co-owned with Liza Minnelli, who originally recorded it for Martin Scorcese’s film of the same name. (Technically, the title of the song is “Theme from ‘New York, New York’.”) Both versions are untouchable.
Several months ago, when I was watching Apple’s original TV series The Morning Show, I heard a version of “New York, New York” that caught me completely off-guard. As well all know, Frank and Liza’s versions are celebratory, triumphant rally cries of pride, strength and aspiration. This new one seamlessly accompanied a very tough, dark, solitary moment in the show’s storyline. Slowed down and stripped of any percussion, this lonely a cappella version was reflective… melancholy… sweet, if a little mournful. It was that rare unexpected interpretation of a sacred, iconic song that actually worked for me.
For days, I tried to find the song with no success. It wasn’t listed in the music credits on the show, and Shazam couldn’t identify it. There were rumors online that it was Billie Eilish singing (it isn’t). But I finally found it.
Turns out this vulnerable cover of the beloved “Theme from ’New York, New York’” was recorded by Daisy Dash. In light of what’s happening now, the tone of this version of our great city’s theme song fits our current New York moment rather well. It sounds the way New York feels right now. Here it is: