Mickey Newbury, “Summertime” (1993): One Track Mind

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Mickey Newbury is the best singer ever. That’s a foolish statement, of course. I might as well say that Dutch cuisine is the best in the world. And yet, everytime I listen to Newbury’s recordings that’s the thought that drifts into my mind.

It’s the sheer range that hits me each time. Mickey Newbury can bark like Tom Waits but he can also sing a romantic ballad with perfect elegance and grace. His original performance of “An American Trilogy” still out-classes Elvis Presley’s cover to my ears, which is saying something. And anytime Newbury himself covered a song, he did it with so much intensity that it’s hard to imagine it done any other way.

A case in point is his 1993 performance of “Summertime,” never released officially but available on YouTube. Mickey Newbury destroys the song. That seems the only way to put it. It’s a brooding, melancholic version of the classic ode to Southern ease. Accompanied by just acoustic guitar and cello, Newbury sings the song like he’s standing on the edge of a precipice and looking down.

Listening to this performance, I often imagine it as being the soundtrack to the final scene of some dystopian movie. A post-nuclear landscape maybe, everything diseased and barren, some remmants of a decayed town, an angry sun scorching the land. And then, as the camera wearily surveys the wasteland, this eerie voice singing with cruel irony: “Summertime … and the living is easy.”

Kasper Nijsen

Kasper Nijsen

When not submerged in translator's duties both tedious and necessary, Kasper Nijsen enjoys exploring the less-visited shores of popular music and writing about his exploits for various online magazines. Though born at the tail-end of the 1980s, his musical interests are often found to have strong links with '60s and '70s rock and pop music. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kasper Nijsen
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  • Guillermo F. Perez-Argüello

    To campare Mickey Newbury’s original rendition of “American trilogy” to Presley’s version in the Aloha from Hawaii INTELSAT telecast is a double edge sword. It depends which one you play first, with the second you listen to being the winner, always….

  • originalkingbee

    Wow…blown away.

  • Ramcey

    Mickey certainly was one of the best singers to ever live. And when he did cover somebody else’s song, he could make it his own. And that’s an amazing feat, especially when you consider just how amazing a songwriter he was, himself. One of the best that America has ever produced. And he’s greatly missed.

  • Brian Quinn

    Elvis’ version is easily the best. He used to get three minute standing ovations after he sang it ‘live’.