July 28, 2010
You Need This Song: Judie Tzuke's If (When You Go)
Judie Tzuke has been recording music for thirty years and she deserves far more acclaim than she has ever received. Now, she may not feel that way, but it took a new two-disc retrospective (and a friend) to make me, a Joni Mitchell/ Elton John obsessive - aware that she even existed. As a bonus to the Moon On A Mirrorball collection (on iTunes), Judie recently recorded a new song she wrote with Steve Anderson, the longtime Kylie Minogue collaborator. If (When You Go), a ballad, is right up there in the finest of 2010.
This song is alchemy: each element enhances the next. Judie's voice, always beautiful, now has a subtle throatiness that gives the lyric a wisdom younger singers could not carry off. The lyric is just sheer enough to be whatever you want it to be. For me, it's a song about death, but it could easily be about a departing lover or friend or child. "I've been trying to find the way to say / How I miss you when you leave / Cause I need to get it clear: / I'll be okay, I just won't breathe."
As with the lyric, there seem to be ghosts in the melody. It's like that of a lost 70's number one, the arrangement gradually building from piano and voice to subtle strings (by Anderson). The literally ethereal middle eight - "I'm in the walls and shadows..." - sung by her daughters, gives me chills almost every time I hear it.
It's rare that a song rises to the level of touchstone. For me, there is a cache of songs I return to again and again for comfort or maybe an expression I cannot resolve alone. You probably have them too. Mine include Paul Weller's Wildwood, Joni Mitchell's Stay In Touch and Jane Siberry's Love Is Everything. The first time I heard If (When You Go), I knew it would become that. "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs" - I keep coming back to that line.
If you like this, seek out one of Judie's most famous tunes, 1979's monolithic Stay With Me Till Dawn (it's on iTunes too). She launches a UK tour in late September - dates on her site. You can also follow her on Twitter - she's a sweet one. I could ask her what this song is about and I think she would answer, but I don't want to know. It's mine now.
Her name, by the way, is pronounced "zook" (rhymes with spook).