OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
The peril of the song’s rapid mutation into a standard was that some of the singers tackling it were completely out of their depth. The strings on this are queasily big, peeled-wallpaper grandeur, and Newton-John takes the song breathily, like a come-on – “dressed up to the nines (wink implied)”. It’s an intriguing idea all right, and for one verse you think she might pull it off (like Marianne Faithful or Jane Birkin might), but then she loses it, stretching and spinning all her vowels, losing the sense of the song. The MP3 cuts out before the end, and you don’t mind.

NACHA GUEVARA – “No Llores Por Mi, Argentina”
“You need to hear it in Spanish!” someone said when I mentioned this project. So here it is in Spanish, sung elegant, pure and diva-distant by Nacha Guevara. Her performance has the same aristocratic clarity as Julie Covington’s, but of course there are more sibilants, more rolled r’s, and Covington’s declamatory sting is missing. The deep-voiced male chorus (very much an optional for most versions) sounds graver and ghostlier than ever – where Covington’s performance was entirely for the crowd, Guevara’s seems sadder and self-sufficient. A song to past, not current glories, maybe? (Of course this might just be because I can’t understand the words.)

JOAN BAEZ – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
Baez’ performance is one of the most individual I’ve found but that doesn’t make it one of the best. From a live album, Baez comes off like the Beastie Boys of folk, ending every single line in exactly the same way (with a fluttery elongated vowel in her case). “I never invited them iiiiin / Though it seemed to the wuuuuuurld / They were all I desiiiiired”. She sings like she has no idea what “dressed up to the nines” means, which isn’t much of a problem, except then I notice she sings like she has no idea what any of the rest of it means either. The overall vibe is “I, Joan Baez, have deigned to cover this popular tune in the official Joan Baez way”. Or maybe she’s too honest a performer for a song dramatising populist dissembling? I don’t think so, though – her dissembly is different, is all.

THE SHADOWS – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
RICHARD CLAYDERMAN – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”

The Shadows actually had a hit with their balmy instrumental version back in 1979. It stands up well enough, flitting close to musak before some corny but lively drum fills round the sound out. Hank Marvin’s guitar tone is pretty enough not to exhaust your patience, which can’t really be said of Richard Clayderman’s sickly. suet-y version. Clayderman gets the string section doing horrid, fey pizzicattos while he smarms the melody line out on piano. A castanet comes in after a couple of minutes and in context sounds utterly disgusting. “…Argentina” may be Lloyd Webber’s strongest ever tune but that only means that when its schlocky side does come out it comes out in emetic force.

ME FIRST AND THE GIMME GIMMES – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
A punker novelty cover is exactly what’s needed after Clayderman, and this does exactly what you’d imagine, in the grand Snuff tradition, transposed Stateside naturally. If you stopped bopping or laughing or sighing you might notice all of a sudden that “…Argentina” is a great lost selling-out song, which is maybe why these jokers sound so involved in it. (Their tilt at the “Have I said too much…?” verse is very nearly the best of anyone’s!). You might also notice that their version makes it a great lost teen-movie theme, too. In other words, quite possibly a hit if anyone involved could be arsed.

THE CARPENTERS – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
A damaged MP3 file, and a flawed version. Karen Carpenter moves the action from the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires to a middle-American PTA meeting. She sounds invulnerable, not because she’s powerful but because she’s so darned nice. “All y’have to do is look at me to know that every word is true” – too right! Unfortunately a classic vocal reading is sabotaged by the arrangement, which starts pleasantly twinkly, rapidly turns the dial to ‘opulent’, and then to ‘mental’, divebombing Karen with absurd drum rolls and string trills. Richard’s attack of the Claydermans makes their version a chore when it could have been a triumph.

MADONNA – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina (Miami Mix)”
Inside every showtune lives its disco twin, and “….Argentina” is no exception. Whether this stomper is the best disco version I sadly can’t tell you, though it redeems Madonna’s flatter original. Only when she’s dancing does she feel this free, and so she breaks out of the ‘proper singing’ straitjacket and belts the words out. “Don’t keep your distance!” – as if we’d dream of it, when the production is this fun, Santa Esmerelda goes Latino-house, a swirl of Spanish guitars and Club-Med piano. Even the castanets sound good!

SINEAD O’CONNOR – “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
So, we’ve had original soundtracks, folksingers, pop superstars, lo-fi heroes, punkers, disco divas, 50s stars, AOR idols and more take a crack at the tune. But the best version is by Sinead O’Connor, from Am I Not Your Girl?, her album of orchestrated covers and standards that was greeted long ago as a vanity project. Her “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” is confused, proud, grand, personal, involving and occasionally desperate. How and why?

For a start, “…Argentina” is not just Lloyd-Webber’s finest hour, it’s more importantly Tim Rice’s. The reason I’ve been referring to the lyrics so much in this article is because they are bloody good, as speechwriting as much as songwriting. The opening is perfect, grabbing the attention, wrong-footing the audience – “It won’t be easy, you’ll think it strange”: what won’t? What’s strange? – and then at once explaining, “how I still need your love”, before setting up another ambiguity, “after all that I’ve done.”. The verse sets the tone – Eva is being utterly frank, honest almost desite herself – and the rest of the song carries through. Rice keeps using the trick of starting a verse with something spontaneous-sounding – “I had to let it happen”; “Have I said too much?” – and then turning it into something more prepared, more cadenced (the chorus, for instance). This is great songwriting and great rhetoric both. And you have to ask that question again – how honest is Eva being? Is it all scripted? And you have to answer, “Of course it is”.

There’s only a few professions more based in performance, more reliant on public acclaim – and more potentially dishonest – than politician. Pop singer is one of them. Sinead O’Connor has exactly the voice for “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, for most showtunes really – expressive but rarely showy, lightly accented (so she can’t sound as ‘establishment’ as Covington), fragile enough to make you care. I could give a dozen examples of how her delivery beats the other versions I’ve heard, but one will do – her “NOT” in “They are not the solutions..” a sudden flash of betrayed rage.

This is the strength of Sinead’s performance – the way she gets absolutely inside the lyrics of “…Argentina” until you can’t tell if she’s singing as herself or Evita, about herself or Evita, or whether she’s singing a performance about performance itself. It’s all there, in the song and in her: coping with popularity, lying to yourself about what fame means, dealing with what women in public are meant to do and what they can do, defiance, fear and anger. Her performance is so strong it tears the song away from the musical, from her album, from any other version, insisting that it provide its own context. It’s still a cover of a dramatisation of a speech, bit it’s also its own living event, each time you play it. Like all great performances, in politics or pop, it makes questions about honesty seem juvenile, or rude. In politics that kind of impact can change the world, and often for the worse. Eloquence, megalomania and neediness may hold equal sway in pop, but there we can enjoy our demagogues more safely.

Don’t cry for me” Tim Brooke-Taylor

There’s nothing more I can think of to say to you.

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