sleep3Comparing Ray Davies’ demo of this song from December 1964 (recorded during the sessions for Kinda Kinks, the second Kinks LP) to the version by the Pretenders from 1981, is a great illustration of how an arrangement can bring out the full potential of a song. While just about every ingredient is there in the demo, there’s a marked lack of any interpretation and colour. The Kinks were under pressure at the time due to touring commitments, the production of Kinda Kinks was rushed and the band were unhappy with it. So it’s likely that Davies only had a short time to spend on the demo of a song that seems never to have been intended for use by the Kinks themselves. Once done, he immediately sent it off to Peggy Lee, a singer he had always admired. She included it on her 1965 album Then Was Then, Now is Now.

Remarkably, Lee retains what I think is the most awkward element of the demo – the setting of each syllable in the verses to a separate quaver, each sung marcato, and mirrored exactly to the quaver chords of the accompaniment. Long forgotten vocal group The Applejacks also picked up the song and treated it much the same way. Of the three contemporary covers, only Cher managed to come up with a more flowing vocal performance, but her version is marred by a plodding orchestral accompaniment and some ill-judged chords that undermine the harmonic effectiveness of the chorus.

Fans who admired the rawness of the early Pretenders may not have appreciated the middle-of-the-road lushness of “I Go to Sleep”, arranged and produced by Chris Thomas. But the French horn that provides most of that lushness is the key element, subtly altering the original’s opening motif (or at least its bar 3 variant) by starting it a third lower so that it spans the entire B minor 7 chord (A minor in the original). There’s an added 9th (C#) in the accompaniment introduced in bar 2 that stays on to become a major 7th in bar 4, when the underlying harmony has shifted to D major.

After this magnificent introduction Chrissie Hynde delivers the first “joined up” performance of the verses with some real phrasing. The result is that the song emerges as a classic, somewhat reminiscent in style to the work of Bert Bacharach, with its chorus – “I go to sleep” – emerging almost seamlessly out of the verse. The long held notes on “sleep”, which suggest a drifting off into sleep, act as an echo to the long top notes of the opening horn calls. Only the somewhat frenetic bridge passage introduced rather abruptly towards the end sounds to me a little out of place.

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