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Old 12-06-2004, 03:50 PM
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Did Marlene Dietrich think she could sing?


After watching Morocco last night on TCM, I was struck with amazement. In many of Marlene Dietrich's movies (Blue Angel, Morocco, Destry Rides Again) she sings. Badly.

So let's divide this in two parts:

1. Is it just me? IMHO, her voice is weak, limited in range, and she has definite pitch problems. Maybe it's all a matter of taste, but I'd say this is a woman with many talents as an actress, but not as a singer.

2. If it's not just me, then...why? Why did she do so much singing when she was so bad? Why did the studios let her? Did the public demand more singing?
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Old 12-06-2004, 03:54 PM
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I have many of Marlene's records, have seen nearly all of her movies, and saw her in person at one of her last concerts. Not only could she sing, she could sing the pants off of 90% of today's pop artists.

Maybe your tee-vee was on the fritz (pun intended).
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Old 12-06-2004, 04:16 PM
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Eve, I kinda knew you'd be the first one here.

Maybe it is a matter of taste -- hopefully the sample size will increase. But I have her singing The Little Drummer Boy on a Christmas compilation CD that never ceases to amaze everyone who hears it with its awfulness.
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Old 12-06-2004, 04:26 PM
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Well, she was doing her best on the crappy audio technology of the day. If you want to compare her to current singers, you'll have to take away their Dolby and reverb and whatnot. I'm not sure Deitrich's Prussian nobility bit would play well today, but she's infinitely preferable to the skank-o-rama of the Hiltons and their ilk.
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Old 12-06-2004, 04:41 PM
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In the '60s she had crappy arranmgers and back-up, and poor choice of songs (her overly dramatic rendition of "Whewe have all the Flowews gone?" is awful). But I was amazed in person at how strong and clear and lovely her voice was!

Get some of her work on CD—the recordings she made in the US, France and Germany in the 1920s–40s. Incredible voice.
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Old 12-06-2004, 05:37 PM
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Let's make this a Doper poll: Destry Rides Again is on TCM tonight; everybody watch it, and post your opinions tomorrow.
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Old 12-06-2004, 05:37 PM
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Curse you Eve, I specifically wanted to mention WHATFG and you robbed me of it!

I seem to recall reading a biography that talked about Marlene's three-note range and that every song she sang was arranged to take full advantage of it.

Now if you want to talk bad singing, we need to talk Tallulah!
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Old 12-06-2004, 05:41 PM
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I take it the OP has never heard Nico sing.

Personally I like Dietrich's singing, although I always thought she sounded much better singing in German than in English.
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Old 12-06-2004, 06:21 PM
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My apologies to all Dietrich fans..but...


I think Madeline Kahn sounded better as Dietrich (Lili Von Shtupp) in Blazing Saddles than Dietrich sounds.

I'll just mosey on out now...
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Old 12-06-2004, 09:10 PM
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She was a superb singer -- very sexy and world weary, with a beautiful low voice.
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Old 12-06-2004, 09:35 PM
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Didn't hear her sing in Morocco (then again, I only saw a couple minutes of the film), but there was nothing wrong with her singing in Destry the last time I saw it.

Could it have been the song (after all, not every movie composer of the era was a Frank Loesser), or, as Bryan suggested, the sound quality, as the part of the film I saw had noticable static?
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Old 12-06-2004, 09:55 PM
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Listen to these two clips. the technology is old but the delivery is world class.

(Dialup users these clips are a 3 megs each)

Lili Marlene

Falling In Love Again
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Old 12-06-2004, 10:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reeder
I think Madeline Kahn sounded better as Dietrich (Lili Von Shtupp) in Blazing Saddles than Dietrich sounds.

I'll just mosey on out now...
Can't you see she's POOPED!?
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Old 12-06-2004, 11:05 PM
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Listen to these two clips. the technology is old but the delivery is world class.
World class. And off-key. And occasionally a quarter-beat off tempo.

Sorry, I agree with the OP; I've never been able to figure out what so many people think was so special about her singing.
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Old 12-06-2004, 11:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astro
...but the delivery is world class.
There, in a nutshell, you have the difference between a mere singer and a song stylist. Loads of people can carry a tune but it takes a Sinatra, Cocker, or Dietrich to take a song, pull out its essence, and make it their own. None of those three could carry a tune in a bucket but it was their delivery that made you forget about all of the other versions of the songs they sang. It's often too subtle for younger listeners to appreciate; you have to grow some and die some to appreciate their finest work.

Of course, most of what they record is unlistenable crap, but Babe Ruth also led the league in strikeouts. (Okay, I don't know if it's true but I had heard it somewhere. )
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Old 12-07-2004, 08:12 AM
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She may not have been much from a technical perspective, but she knew how to deliver the spirit of the song and she made the most of what she's had. Having Burt Bachrach behind her as arranger probably didn't hurt her too much, either.
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Old 12-07-2004, 08:45 AM
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"It's subjective, people!"

Marlene had a very distinctive voice, as do Tom Waits and Helen Kane and any number of singers. You may not like it, but that doesn't mean she "couldn't sing."
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Old 12-07-2004, 08:49 AM
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If here daughter can be believed, Marlene thought she had all kinds of talents she manifestly didn't have (she believed she was a skillful mimic and could imitate anyone's voice... when in reality, she ALWAYS sounded like Marlene Dietrich!).

As for her singing... well, I'd never buy any of her recordings, but she had a presence and some of her musical numbers in movies were a lot of fun.
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Old 12-07-2004, 09:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone
.. it takes a Sinatra, Cocker, or Dietrich to take a song, pull out its essence, and make it their own. None of those three could carry a tune in a bucket ...


To put it charitably, I'd say placing Sinatra in with Joe Cocker & Marlene Dietrich in terms of vocal technique is a minority view, to say the least.
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Old 12-07-2004, 11:20 AM
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Yeah, I suppose it might be. After all, he not only couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, he also used the most remarkably bad phrasing, sounding like he was singing from a lyrics sheet he was reading for the first time. Which, I understand, he often was. At least Cocker and Dietrich went to the trouble of learning their songs before recording them. But I threw him in as a sop to his fans who actually believe the nice things I said about him. *shrug*
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Old 12-07-2004, 11:27 AM
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If her daughter can be believed . . .
Well, she can't. To quote Mary McCarthy, "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"
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Old 12-07-2004, 11:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone
Yeah, I suppose it might be. After all, he not only couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, he also used the most remarkably bad phrasing, sounding like he was singing from a lyrics sheet he was reading for the first time. Which, I understand, he often was. At least Cocker and Dietrich went to the trouble of learning their songs before recording them. But I threw him in as a sop to his fans who actually believe the nice things I said about him. *shrug*

Seriously... you think Sinatra couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, and used "bad phrasing"? I am curious, who do you consider a brilliant, tune carrying singer, who uses "good phrasing"?
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Old 12-07-2004, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by jsc1953
But I have her singing The Little Drummer Boy on a Christmas compilation CD that never ceases to amaze everyone who hears it with its awfulness.
I think she's an okay singer, but I don't care for her particular style.

But that performance of TLDB is the worst I've ever heard. Her style is just wrong for it, and that arrangement just makes me cringe.
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Old 12-07-2004, 04:00 PM
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I tell you, people, listen to her early stuff (c1920s–40s). Her '60s stuff was crap, due mainly to unfortunate song choices and appalling arrangements.

Her early recordings are easily the equal of Edith Piaf or Libby Holman.
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Old 12-07-2004, 04:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eve
...her overly dramatic rendition of "Whewe have all the Flowews gone?" is awful.
Pwincess Precious, is that you?

Anyhoo, I agree. My 76-year-old has some ancient smokey cabaret style stuff from that brief respite between the wars, and some snazzy stuff from the Weimar Republic days. Not a lot of Dietrich, but what he does have -- wow! -- completely different than the crap she did in later years.
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Old 12-07-2004, 04:23 PM
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Think of it this way - she did some grand stuff à la Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht and Friedrich Hollaender... politically savvy, clever, smokin' tunes...

Then she went off to do guest appearances on the Bing Crosby Show and Ed Sullivan!

I mean, come on.

That's comparing apples to oranges. Totally different stuff.
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Old 06-11-2019, 05:46 AM
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Clean Out Your Ears


Are you all deaf. I’m a singer. Dietrich had no tone, no style, only one kind of inflection, and only had the range of a bullfrog. Have to turn the channel every time she sings. The only redemption is Madeline Kahn’s version of “See What the Boys in the Backroom will Have.”
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Old 06-11-2019, 06:39 AM
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Old 06-11-2019, 07:19 AM
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Funnily enough, I recently saw Ute Lemper doing a one-woman show about Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich could certainly sing - she wasn't particularly technically gifted but she made the most of what she had and did it with style. Chacun a son gout and all that, but she could sing (and God knows Lemper certainly can).

However, anyone saying Sinatra couldn't carry a tune deserves public scorn. Frank did get rather "loose" stylistically in his later Vegas-y years (which is why I'm not a fan of that material) but his original version of "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)" is technical perfection, and even his early Big Band stuff is incredibly skilled.
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Old 06-11-2019, 09:27 AM
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Wasn't she the one who kept getting jobs because KaneHearst was in love with her?
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Old 06-11-2019, 09:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Deesings63 View Post
Are you all deaf. I’m a singer. Dietrich had no tone, no style, only one kind of inflection, and only had the range of a bullfrog. Have to turn the channel every time she sings. The only redemption is Madeline Kahn’s version of “See What the Boys in the Backroom will Have.”
The discussion you are replying to played itself out 15 years ago. I'm sure you're an excellent singer, but you're no Marlene Dietrich.
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Old 06-11-2019, 09:56 AM
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Wasn't she the one who kept getting jobs because KaneHearst was in love with her?
No that was Marion Davies.
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Old 06-11-2019, 10:07 AM
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Quit making me think that Eve is posting again.
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Old 06-11-2019, 10:10 AM
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Quit making me think that Eve is posting again.
I know, right! Although Marlene Dietrich sings about as well as other well known singers like Bob Dylan and Florence Foster Jenkins.
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Old 06-11-2019, 06:32 PM
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Quit making me think that Eve is posting again.
Anybody have her current email? The one I have is a work email from 15 years ago.
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Old 06-11-2019, 09:08 PM
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I know, right! Although Marlene Dietrich sings about as well as other well known singers like Bob Dylan and Florence Foster Jenkins.
Have you heard the live duets with Dylan and Dietrich? On “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” she beats it all to bits.
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Old 06-12-2019, 01:10 PM
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Her version of Lili Marleen is one of my favorite songs.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xdzoIHJBGt0

Last edited by furryman; 06-12-2019 at 01:11 PM.
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Old 06-12-2019, 01:55 PM
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Her version of Lili Marleen is one of my favorite songs.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xdzoIHJBGt0
If that's the correct link, I'm very confused.
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Old 06-12-2019, 03:17 PM
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Her version of Lili Marleen is one of my favorite songs.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xdzoIHJBGt0
You are correct. This is the best I've ever heard her sing.
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Old 06-13-2019, 10:33 AM
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"...smells like failure."

Ooops, try this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7heXZPl2hik

Last edited by furryman; 06-13-2019 at 10:36 AM.
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