Sarah, Nina & Lana – The Other Woman

In this section you will read my opinion about music and videos that I admire for their outstanding qualities.

The Other Woman is a song written by Jessie Mae Robinson. I found three versions of it, by Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone (both recorded in the 1950s) and by Lana del Rey (2014). Each carries the personality of the singer and their orchestras, as I describe below. I do not intend to compare them to say which is the best.

Sarah Vaughan’s version presents a clear, almost happy beat from the instruments – mostly drums, bass, strings and winds. In particular, the violins give both a romantic and rhythmic feeling to the song (e.g. 0:00min; 0:32min).

Sarah’s voice is powerful, it has plenty of vibrato and melody and it is a pleasure to listen. However, I think the song does not transmit the essence of the lyrics very well. I feel it as a carefully planned and executed song, but somehow lacking that deep emotion one would expect.

Nina Simone’s version has a much more introspected atmosphere. The short introduction with her piano solo (0:00min – 0:10min) followed by piano chords and the bass telling the rhythm work as a frame to Nina’s deep, low pitched voice.

Nina doesn’t rely on voice power. Instead, as always, she sings as if she was just telling a story. Her piano chords in low octaves go on with the bass (0:10min – 1:00), until the drums slowly build up (1:05min – 1:15min), but soon recede. The whole song sounds quite smooth, melodic and pleasant, easy to understand and feel.

She then makes a shy vocal scale, which introduces the main theme again (1:24min), echoed by the piano for just a second. In this section she sings with more vocal notes and more vibrato, which avoids the mere repetition of the former sections. The song goes on calm and smooth until she makes a ritardando (2:33min) with leads to the end.

In Lana del Rey’s version, drums are much more present. The song is surprisingly opened by a snare.

In order to convey the feeling of an old song, Lana’s voice got some high frequencies cut, so as to sound like played in old vinyl. The orchestra and guitar give a constant smooth and pleasant beat to the track.

As well as Nina Simone, Lana sings with a deeper, sadder voice. Lana makes lots of vibratos (0:34min), sometimes almost sounding like Edith Piaf. The orchestral arrangement goes on very lyrical and adorned by guitar notes.

Lana relies on very long notes (1:13min – 1:25min) to express profound sadness. As well as Nina, she introduces the next section with a voice scale (1:33min). Then wind instruments get into the song in counterpoint, together with the orchestra and the guitar.

The lyricism in Lana’s version reaches it apex with various high pitched voice melismas and long notes that she sustains for quite a while (2:05min – 2:46min). Sadness, pain, softness, melody, all this converge to the final word “alone“, which is deeply carried with vibrato, again resembling Piaf and majestically closing the song (2:48min).