30 December 2008

"tom's diner" || suzanne vega || 1987

A song that is incredibly fascinating in it's simple beauty, "Tom's Diner" is one of those songs that everyone on Earth has surely heard once in his or her life.

The track was originally recorded in 1981 and released in the January 1984 edition of Fast Folk Magazine. It was completely a cappella (only vocals and no music, for you n00bs). This single charted only in the UK and Ireland. She did, however, perform as the musical guest in a May 1987 episode of Saturday Night Live.

A cappella tracks are very ballsy moves by artists. They obviously require a vocal precision that is above that of the average singer. Vega's performance is most definitely solid, though. She delivers a memorable melody, a flawless vocal performance, and a narrative that non-native-New-Yorkers will find intriguing, and that natives will find familiar, but not banal.

Incidently, Tom's Diner is a real place, called Tom's Restaurant, at 112th Street and Broadway in New York City. Tom's is also famous for acting as the facade for Monk's Diner, the restaurant of choice of the main characters on Seinfeld.

This track scored its highest success in 1990, when it was remixed by the group DNA. Now a club-friendly downtempo house song, it took the charts of several countries by storm, including landing at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is the version that most will recognize.

Vega's voice is just so perfect for this song. It's flawlessly written and flawlessly executed. The DNA remix just took something that was perfect and made it perfect in a different world.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia that I found during my research for this post: The original track helped perfect the MP3! A computer scientist named Karlheinz Brandenburg was working on the compression techniques used in the MP3 file format to keep the file size small, without losing the quality of the music. According to this article, he heard a radio playing the song when he was working one night and decided that if his compression algorithm could work on her voice without making her sound bad, then he'd have a quality algorithm. The article notes, "When an MP3 player compresses music by anyone from Courtney Love to Kenny G, it is replicating the way that Brandenburg heard Suzanne Vega."