Some songs are just full of lists. Songs like I Can’t Get Started, and I’ll Be Seeing You
So that the interpretation doesn’t come across like a grocery list, every item needs to be considered separately, and as if you’d just thought of it. Each item sheds a slightly different light on the theme of the lyrics.
As the list builds it explains more clearly the main message of the song.
Here are the first stanzas of I Can’t Get Started, and I’ll Be Seeing You, with a possible interpretation of each item in their lists.
I Can’t Get Started
I’ve flown around the world in a plane – I’m comfortably wealthy, and independent enough that I can travel extensively
I’ve settled revolutions in Spain – I have great political wisdom and power, and very important people listen to me. I’m sure of myself, but somewhat humble
The north pole I have charted – I’m educated, and that education means that I’m able to make important scientific contributions to society. I’m used to being taken seriously
But I can’t get started with you – heartbreakingly frustrating. Even though I have money, power, education and respect – in fact, all the things I was told would bring me happiness – you won’t pay any attention to me.
I’ll Be Seeing You
If we decide ahead of time that our interpretation of this song is going to be from the point of view of a newly drafted soldier on a train that’s leaving the platform where his sweetheart is waving good-bye, each of these list items takes on a special poignancy.
I’ll Be Seeing You in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all day through – I won’t be with you, but all day every day my heart and mind will be filled with the images of us together in all our special places
In that small café – where we often met for quiet, intimate conversations
The park across the way – where we strolled hand in hand, laughing and being goofy
The children’s carousel – where we’d stand together watching the children playing, and thinking of a time when we might have children of our own
The chestnut tree – where we carved our initials inside a heart, and where we had picnics on slow warm summer days
The wishing well – where together we made wishes about our future together, and where, after I was drafted we wished that the war would end soon, and we’d be together again, making our dreams come true.
It doesn’t really matter what the interpretation of each list item is, as long as it’s something the chorus can agree upon, or at least understand. As soon as there’s a specific image for a phrase, it affects not only the facial presentation, but also the vocal colour.
There’s no need to be specific about exactly what constitutes a ‘tender’ sound and facial expression if everyone is visualizing something tender.
It’s easy to get caught up with all the technical aspects of a performance, which of course are really important and all need to be in good shape. But so often we just run out of time to ‘add’ the interpretation.
I once had a vocal coach who wouldn’t let me even learn the notes of a song before I’d memorized the lyrics, felt how the words should sit in the mouth, and understood the emotion of each phrase.
In a list song, every item on that list is there for a reason and can enhance the power of the message of the song.