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Flashback Friday: “Nature Boy” Goes From Jazz to Trip Hop

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A 1948 number one hit written by a California naturmensch and performed by an African-American jazz singer spawns countless renditions.

 

Nat King Cole in a tuxedo chats with a cult leader during rehearsal

“Nature Boy” was written in 1947 by an early hippie freak named eden ahbez (born George) and recorded by African American jazz legend Nat King Cole. The song is a dreamy take on the German philosophy ahbez had come to follow out in the woods of California, Naturmensch and Lebensreform. The followers of the movement were referred to as “Nature Boys”, which has me wondering why this seems to be exclusively male but that’s probably another story.

The song would reach the top position on the Billboard charts and number two on the R&B charts. The success of the single is all due to Cole’s romantic voice and piano playing. Fun fact, in some televised performances eden would enter looking like an Aryan Jesus in a sweater to introduce Cole.

Almost every jazz singer from every era since the 1950’s you can think of has covered the song and it has appeared in numerous films including The Talented Mr. RipleyMoulin Rouge (Bahz Luhrmann strikes again!), and most recently Alien: Covenant. Let’s just focus on the interesting ones.

James Brown and The Famous Flames (1967)

The Godfather of Soul does not disappoint. Whereas Cole sings it as a dreamy pop tune, this one strikes me as a ballad of heartbreak.

Leonard Nimoy (1969)

This was Nimoy’s fourth album, Touch of Leonard Nimoy. I have previously included his recording of Proud Mary in the Flashback Friday series. God, I hope it never ends.

Cher (1998)

This version I wanted to include not because its very good, but because it represents a moment in American pop music history. Following Sonny Bono’s death after a skiing accident in 1998, his ex-wife and partner Cher sang the song in tribute of him. Its rare that a showbiz couple remain fond of each other post-separation, but Sonny and Cher would form a friendship that kept their music alive long after they parted.

David Bowie & Massive Attack (2001)

The. Best.

The British megastars recorded a trip-hop version for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Another Luhrmann movie I have no interest in but I fawn over the album anyway.

 

Other famous versions include Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga (I dislike her, but she is talented), Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, and Norwegian indie pop singer AURORA. I’ve built a YouTube playlist with a whole mess of them. Enjoy and let me know which ones you dig!

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