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Oct 02

EVERY WORD IS TRUE – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”

FT/10 comments • 35,972 views

JULIE COVINGTON – “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”
Covington’s version, from the British soundtrack album, was a #1 hit and musically at least forms a template for most other readings: the huge juddering strings, the rhetorical dynamics, the switch into a slow tango-tempo for the penultimate chorus. She doesn’t actually sing the final chorus, letting the song end with Eva’s vulnerable final appeal (“Have I said too much?”). But she doesn’t need to. In Covington’s hands it’s an entirely staged vulnerability – hers is the haughtiest reading of the tune, sung by a career-politician Evita whose peasant origins have long been cauterised. Her key lines? “Couldn’t stay all my life down at heel / Looking out of the window”, the crushing emphases signalling a swelling disgust at the very concept of weakness, of inertia.

Many performances of the song find the singer switching between singing to the imagined crowd and singing seemingly to herself. Covington’s, forceful and direct, doesn’t: it’s pure balcony address, pure rhetoric. And if you take “…Argentina” as rhetoric, a key question needs answering – what is the sung character trying to do? The central ambiguity of the song is its dual role as victory anthem and defensive self-justification. “How I still need your love after all that I’ve done” – after all I’ve achieved? Or – after all my sins? Maybe this is the ‘secret’ I heard in it – the way power and guilt are united in the need for recognition. Listening again, though, that’s not how Covington sings it – on “I love you and hope you love me” she’s defiant. It is a hope, never a need – her love is unconditional.

ABBA – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
ABBA’s tantalising version – if it is ABBA, Google is silent here – is unfinished, sounding perhaps like part of a showtunes medley. “Agnetha” sounds near enough to Agnetha for the attribution to stand, and fills the song with regrets and an unexpected tenderness, singing “All you will see is a girl you once knew” as if to a lover. A new way of imagining the song glimmers and vanishes before the chorus, as the subdued arrangement loses its subtlety and its way. The chorus of “…Argentina” is the most melodramatic part of the song and actually the hardest to get right – partly because it telegraphs itself so much as the chorus and reminds you that this is a song not a monologue.

MADONNA – “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina (Album Mix)”
Madonna’s “….Argentina” is the easiest to find on the networks but it represents a missed opportunity for song and singer. Her Evita project was when the singing lessons started to bite and her voice lost the scrappy harshness that had given it so much of its character. And this isn’t Madonna, it’s a competent singer let loose on a meaty title role. She doesn’t make it hers – a shame, since the lyric was made for mid-90s Madonna, a once-adored star who needed one stunning performance to win her audience back. This wasn’t it. The arrangements and performance are by the book, and Madonna seems too reverential of the song, or the role, or the idea of ‘singing’ or ‘acting’, or all of it. And so “….Argentina” as comeback-classic remained a might-have-been.

WILL OLDHAM – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina (Live)”
No reverence here, naturally. Very few men seem to have attempted the song and those that have often preferred instrumentals. Will Oldham did actually try singing it – and he forgets the words, goofs about, rushes parts, speak-sings plays to a real-life bar crowd not a fictional Buenos Aires one. It starts off like a complete joke but the song’s hokey majesty keeps poking through and when the chorus comes in everyone sings along. He switches the lyrics – “I kept my promise / I kept my distance” – and when he says that fame and fortune are illusions, it’s with the quiet certainty of someone who rejected them before they even came calling.

Comments

  1. 1
    bobbie on 12 Feb 2007 #

    I asked for music but they don’t gimie no music!

  2. 2
    David on 20 Apr 2007 #

    I have the ‘ABBA’ version, it is really Madonna. They sync to the second (except that the ‘ABBA version is cut off’

  3. 3
    Andrea on 25 Aug 2007 #

    I know this was posted five years ago but I was just sorting out my mp3s and came across a random version of ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ that I initially thought was ABBA too. Turns out it’s actually the Ray Conniff Singers. So that’s nice to know.

  4. 4
    accentmonkey on 17 Mar 2008 #

    I understand from “sources” that the original hook line of the song, rather than “don’t cry for me Argentina”, was to be “it’s only your lover returning”, and that it was to be a fairly straightforward song of penance. Apparently that is the only line they changed, which is probably why the rest of the song seems so apolitical and vague.

    I can’t remember where this information comes from originally.

  5. 5
    Mark Regan on 24 May 2008 #

    You are SOOOO right on target in your comments about Sinead’s version. I cry EVERY time I watch it. She shows the subtle psychological core of the song with her vulnerability and modest downward glances. Simply amazing. I wish I could see her sing it in person. So much better than EVERY other version of that song. And I also agree with your about the words. Rice and Lloyd-Webber are to be congratulated for coming up with such delicate, meaningful lyrics.

    Another artist I’d like to hear sing this song is Hayley Westenra. She can really show her humility and emotions just like Sinead. And the wording is perfect for Hayley — except I’d change the country name to New Zealand to reflect her love for that country.

  6. 6
    Nette on 20 Sep 2008 #

    […] “..One reason “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” is a fascinating song is that it resonates so much in an era when women are entering and operating in the public arena at last; an arena whose rules, like the song, are written by men. The song’s mix of empathy, spin and steel, though, is not specifically ‘feminine’ – it’s just modern. ” – by Tom […]

  7. 7
    ALEXANDER on 27 Dec 2008 #

    DONT YOU LIKE ARGENTINA Mark Regan?
    I ASK BECAUSE YOU SAID THAT NEW Zealand WILL BE BETER THAN ARGENTINA WHY?
    I THINK THAT ARGENTINA IS A GREATE COUNTRYY, IN 1998 Y WHENT TO ARGENTINA TO LIVE AN I SAY THAT ITS WOMDEFULL, PEOPLE, TRADITIONS ECT…
    BYEE

  8. 8
    Jeffery Lee on 9 Aug 2009 #

    Don’t cry for me, Formosa !
    To relace Agintina with Formosa
    surly makes green peace with sweeter fragrance after all.

  9. 9
    cajethan aka brutz matz on 20 Oct 2012 #

    oh what a soulmating tone, the first day i heard this song, i cried and reflect it to my present feelings about the world. Infact, it’s a perfect song i will like to share with my world. Tim rice, webber lloyd and eva peron did great with this song. I song that can thrill millions of people and melts a stonny hearth. How i wish i’ll watch this song perform live. Note: i’ll sing this song in nigerian idols compitition next week saturday and give feedback how people feel about it

  10. 10
    BRUTZ MATZ on 26 Dec 2015 #

    i sang that song during nigerian idol audition season 3 and i impress my judge. though i didnt make the final but i was happy. with my song i composed,i’ll shake the world.

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