Somewhere was written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and soundtracks arguably the most famous sections of West Side Story. Bernstein based parts of the music on Beethoven’s ‘Emperor‘ Piano Concerto*. Sondheim constructed a lyric that offered hope out of despair. In the musical, the song appears twice, first as a celebration of Tony and Maria’s against-the-odds love for one another and secondly towards the end when Maria sings it – spoiler alert! – as she holds her shot and dying boyfriend in her arms. I’m not a musicals kinda guy, although Grease is indeed the word, but it isn’t hard to appreciate the soaring melancholy of Somewhere. I’ve no idea how the rest of West Side Story is soundtracked, but I suspect it’s not for me. Somewhere though will always be in my ever-changing and expanding list of favourite songs.
Tom Waits takes the song and makes it crawl in slow motion like a couple of Bowery bums from the grubby and well-thumbed pages of a charity shop Bukowski novel. He’s gargled a gallon of gravel and phlegm, downed a litre of brown paper-wrapped liquor and turned Somewhere into a tear and piss-soaked anthem of hope for down on their luck drinkers everywhere.
Tom Waits – Somewhere
The original’s vision of hope over despair is magnified tenfold in Waits’ version, two drinkers looking for a way out of their sorry existence. Strings swirl with Disney-like flourishes. Waits’ vocal is fantastic, his phrasing and intonation bang on. Is he in character or is it for real? Who knows? There’s no doubt though that he’s singing from the heart. This is soul music, just not as you know it. “We’ll find a new way of living,” he croaks. “We’ll find a way of forgiving.” It’s depressingly sad and sky-scrapingly brilliant all at the same time.
Waits’ version was recorded initially for his Blue Valentine album, an album you really should investigate if it’s unfamiliar to you. He’s a bit of a genius is our Tom, although I suspect you knew that already.
In sharp contrast, Pet Shop Boys reclaim Somewhere as a day-glo gay anthem to rival that of their own take on Go West. If it’s near-11 minute dance remixes y’r after, look no further than the full-length treatment afforded to it.
Pet Shop Boys – Somewhere (full length 10.54 version)
A bit of random Chris Lowe chatter, a sprinkling of West Side Story’s I Feel Pretty and a date-defining trip hop shuffle eventually give way to the thump, thump, thump!!! as Pet Shop Boys’ disco machine shifts slickly through the gears towards the track’s conclusion. Fairlights crash and synthetic strings sweep in trademark PSB fashion. The Smiths you can dance to, as they famously quipped.
“We’ll find a new way of living,” announces Neil Tennant in that slightly smug, slightly knowing way of his. “We’ll find a way of forgiving.” By the end, doubts have been cast aside, bags have been packed and we’re all in line, “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there,” following Tennant and Lowe, marching to the beat of their 808 to a wondrous new place.
*As I typed this article I listened to all 43 minutes of Beethoven’s Concerto No5: Emperor (complete) and I must be honest, to these philistine rockist ears, I failed to spot where Bernstein borrowed the music. Maybe your ears are more refined. It’s here if y’fancy it.