Liza Minnelli and Luciano Pavarotti, “New York, New York”
While I could easily have created an entire blog post solely devoted to the most outrageous Liza Minnelli cover songs of all-time (her version of John Lennon’s Imagine, anyone?), it is actually Luciano who is the fish out of water here. Liza was still in her fine mid-1990s post-Betty Ford fighting form, but Luciano is just a quivering lump of bearded vibrato. The Italian tenor has a terrible time navigating his way around the Kander and Ebb standard, reminding us repeatedly why opera singers singing pop songs can lead to such memorably awful results. Luciano’s performance here is the musical equivalent of Aretha Franklin wheezing her way through Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot at the Grammys a few years later, but in reverse, (ironically filling in for an ailing Pavarotti). You’ll need Aretha Franklin to fill in for you after you see this!
Here are a few of my favorite moments to look out for: Pavarotti’s awkward attempt to swing gently; his bizarre pronunciation of words like “stray,” and “I’ll make a brand new star of it,” when he means to say “I’ll make a brand new start of it,” (and why couldn’t someone as extensively multi-lingual as Pavarotti say the letter “t”?; Liza’s jazzy little “you keep sayin’ it…” background part at 1:15; and, of course, her fantastic, joyful exhortation “go Luciano, GO!” when the opera singer does indeed go for his big money note on “My leetle town bluss.” Though Luciano was lucky enough to have Liza pulling him through the song, in the end, even Liza moving at full throttle couldn’t tug this whale into New York, New York harbor.