Song for the Quarantine: “From A Distance”

From A Distance (1985) is by American singer-songwriter Julie Gold. At the time, Gold was working as a secretary for HBO and writing songs in her free time. Gold’s friend, Christine Lavin, introduced the song to folk singer Nanci Griffith, who first recorded it in 1987.

Gold had sent it to many artists and record companies, but none wanted to record it. Gold asked Griffith what was wrong with the song, and Griffith answered that she loved it, but that Gold should record it herself.

Griffith’s version was popular, but the song failed to chart until Bette Midler covered it in 1990 on her album Some People’s Lives. Midler’s version won it a Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1991 and it became ubiquitous on the radio with millions of airplays. It has been recited into the Congressional Record by Senator Barbara Boxer and has been translated into dozens of languages. It has been illustrated as a children’s book. It has been quoted in books, calendars, greeting cards and the wake-up call for astronauts in the Mir space station, the first time Americans worked with Russians in space. A wide range of recording artists have covered it, including: Jewel, Elaine Paige, Judy Collins, The Byrds, Fairport Convention, Alan Jackson, and Donna Summer.

From A Distance went to Number One on the Adult Contemporary chart and Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100.

Midler re-recorded a Christmas edition for her holiday album, Cool Yule (2006).

I sometimes would get it mixed-up with another Midler hit Wind Beneath My Wings from the soundtrack to the film Beaches (1988), which won Grammy Awards for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1990. Both recordings reaffirm Midler’s innate ability to wring every single ounce of emotion out of a ballad. Midler’s recording of the song is ranked Number 37 on VH1’s list of the “50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever.” and Number 14 on Blender‘s list of “The 50 Worst Songs Ever”.

But, our current predicament has me feeling less cynical about From A Distance, a hymn of universal brotherhood. But sequestered in our homes. Maybe we shouldn’t be focused on the beauty of the world from a distance, but how it all looks in a closeup.

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By Stephen Rutledge

3 years ago

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