Monday, October 01, 2007

On Second Thought...

The working title for today's post was "Cover My Ass", which seemed a somewhat befitting double entendre. It's been a ridiculously hectic week, which has somewhat limited my ability to assemble a cohesive and well-researched post (not that you ever get that sort of thing around here anyway). Regardless, I wanted to serve up a little something to make sure the soul children stay fat and happy, so I decided to dig out a few "secondhand songs" that should keep your musical appetites satiated for the time being.

As we know, the quality of cover tunes ranges across a fairly wide spectrum. In the worst cases, you have incredibly awful renditions of original material that somehow parody, cheapen, rip off, and/or steal thunder from the greatness that was in the first place. In the middle are what I call the head-scratchers---reinventions steeped in mediocrity that aren't exactly disastrous, but still seem utterly pointless. On the rarest of occasions, cover songs can actually be worthwhile and innovative, despite the fact that on the surface, the whole endeavor is merely a rehashing of something that's already been done.

It's not always necessary to one-up the original version of a track to crank out an exceptional cover tune. One of the most essential considerations is whether or not the newer rendition just sort of "reinvents the wheel" by too closely replicating the master version. However, diversification alone won't make a great record, and in fact, too great of an artistic divide will often create devastating consequences. Some artists just aren't suited to cover particular songs. See Elton John's version of "Young Gifted And Black", Duran Duran's "911 Is A Joke", and Celine Dion's "You Shook Me All Night Long" if you don't believe me.

Perhaps the final consideration is whether or not the recycler has enough talent and credibility as an artist to rise to the occasion in a somewhat dignified manner. We've all been subjected to "American Idol" enough times to know how horrifying it can be for a musical featherweight to take on a classic that's virtually unfuckwitable. Is there something programmed into the DNA of young, awkward, wannabe stars that predisposes their desire to annihilate Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder songs, or is it just cynical me? When paying tribute to a song of epic proportions, it's just good manners to avoid slaughtering it beyond all recognition.

Well, hopefully now that the ground rules have been established, we can smoothly segueway into some cover songs that don't suck. Enjoy, peoples...

"Papa's Got A Brand New Bag (Live)---Otis Redding

*Originally written and performed by James Brown (1965)

"Reach Out I'll Be There"---The San Remo Golden Strings

*Originally performed by The Four Tops (1966); written by Lamont Dozier/ Brian Holland/ Eddie Holland

"Hey Joe"---Lee Moses

*Although this song was clearly popularized by Jimi Hendrix, there has been much dispute over the years as to who actually wrote it.

"I Heard It Through The Grapevine"---Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers

*Written by Norman Jesse Whitfield/ Barrett Strong

*Many different variations/versions of this track have been recorded over time, but most people were introduced to the song by way of Gladys Knight & The Pips or Marvin Gaye. In reality, the first two versions were shelved by Motown chief Berry Gordy--one by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and another by The Isley Brothers.

*The Vancouvers actually had a few more members than are depicted here, but this is the clearest photo I could find with their famed guitarist Tommy Chong, who went on to form a comedic duo with Cheech Marin when the group split after releasing only one LP.

"Southern Man"---Merry Clayton

*Originally written and recorded by Neil Young (1970)

"Sunshine Of Your Love"---Rotary Connection

*Originally recorded by Cream in 1967 at Atlantic Studios and released in 1968 on their album Disraeli Gears; written by Eric Clapton/Jack Bruce/Pete Brown.

"Ike's Mood I"---Visioneers

*Originally written and recorded by Isaac Hayes (1970)

"California Dreamin"---Bobby Womack

*Originally performed by The Mamas & The Papas (1965); written by John and Michelle Phillips

"I've Been Loving You Too Long (Live)"---Ike & Tina Turner

*Originally recorded by Otis Redding (1965); written by Otis Redding/ Jerry Butler

Supplemental Materials:

Another great cover by Ike & Tina, the Beatles' "Come Together" written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. One of my absolute favorite Tina performances of all time...

Besides Ike & Tina, "I've Been Loving You Too Long" was also covered (perhaps most famously) by The Rolling Stones. It is said that Otis covered "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (written by Mick Jagger/Keith Richards) to return the compliment. This is just a small taste of the energy that Redding brought to his jaw-dropping live performances:

Which leads me to a couple of other tracks I want to share before I go---not exactly covers, but remixes of two joints by The Rolling Stones that are so colorful they manage to take on a life of their own...

Bonus mp3s:

"Sympathy For The Devil (Neptunes Full Length Remix)"

"Miss You (Dr. Dre Remix)"

Word From Your Moms:

"Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it."---John Lennon


dennis b said...

Damn scholar. On fire as usual.

nunozowie said...

Nice post for a coveraholic like me. I'm obsessed with covers, it's stronger than me, and I've compiling stuff like the Beatles covered by soul artists and such, much to my indescriptible pleasure. I normally use
to dig a bit, but just downloaded the Rubber Souled and Soul Garage mixes from Funky16Corners and saw your post and damn, I'm an apprentice compared to you.


PS: dunno why Elton John is not suited to cover "Young, Gifted And Black". Is it cause he's not young or gifted?

fleamarketfunk said...

nice covers scholar! might i suggest david t. walker's rendition of stevie wonder's superstistion? as always spot on stuff my man. keep diggin'!

Travis said...

I was really digging the "Southern Man" and "Sunshine Of Your Love" (I always liked Cream) covers. I was also a big fan of "California Dreamin'" but I wasn't feeling the cover for that as much.

That Duran Duran cover of "911 Is A Joke" is the bomb!

Dan Love said...


Nice work, and thanks for the insider knowledge on 'Heard It Through The Grapevine': I never knew it had passed around a few Motown artists before finding its way to Marvin.

The Womack cover of California Dreamin' is a personal favourite, although slightly tarnished by its use in a Saab advert in the UK. What can you do?!



Zilla Rocca said...

Wow...I've been rocking that Rotary Connection song for YEARS and never knew it was a cover of Cream.

Great work--I'm grabbing the Cream version ASAP.

Darcy said...

I recently heard a truly awful version of Elton's Candle In The Wind as covered by Sandy Denny, that darling of British folkies of a certain age.

Love the Bobby Womack and Merry Clayton versions, and thanks for bringing Rotary Connection to my attention.

Graz said...

great post scholar! as usual...

Satchmo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Satchmo said...

CHANKUYA. Do you know who originally did "Your Feeling is Mine"? Buddy miles and Otis Redding both have a version, of which the latter DOOM sampled.

Finally put something up at the Couch. HOLLA

Adam said...

Hot damn, those are some good covers. But keep them off Tuesdays, that's my gig. Just kidding, of course. Great stuff as always.

thisistomorrow said...

hi there scholar... nice selections as always... by conincidence i put together a mix featuring all kinds of cover versions at the same time...
you can check it here:
keep up the good work...

soulbrotha said...

Scholar this is such a good topic that I hope you continue with more discussion on it. I agree with you on the DNA point. I get so sick of these new artists covering a tune that has been covered to DEATH! There is so much good music out there, yet they pick the same artists all the time. Maybe you can have your guest bloggers come in and speak on it and supply their favorites and also some of the worst. It still seems though that beauty, whether visual or aural, is in the eye/ear of the beholder/listener.

Scholar said...

Dennis---Thanks. What can I say? I gots soul fever.

Nunozowie---I truly appreciate your confidence, but the more I learn about music the more I realize how little I know. Make sure you visit my man Adam @ hahmusic (see the blogroll). He does covers every Tuesday and has put me on to some great stuff.

Glad you came by and hope you will again. As soon as Elton drops "Older Than Dirt, Still Pretty Gifted, and Hopelessly Caucasian" I promise you'll get it here first.

Pres---I don't think I've heard that great if you could hook me up. I have tons of cover material and I was thinking about sharing some of it periodically, so I held back on quite a few gems this time around.

Trav---I think it would be the shit if Duran Duran put out a whole LP of Masta Ace covers---don't you? If they don't figure this out on their own, I might just write a letter and sign your name.

BoWo has a slew of covers in his catalogue. This isn't my favorite, but I probably like it more than you. Nothing beats his rendition of "Summertime".

As far as "California Dreamin" covers, nothing beats Lee Moses and Baby Huey.

Dan---Thank God I don't watch much TV---I hate when my favorite songs get tainted by product endorsements. Burger King was great for fuckin' up soul classics in the '80s.

Zilla---Did ya end up liking the Cream version? I'm not the biggest Eric Clapton fan in the world (see his tepid fare in the -'90s for numerous examples of why), but I have a few of his records and I thought Cream was absolutely brilliant at times.

Darcy---Good God. I am eternally grateful that I'm blissfully unaware of that Sandy Denny cover. Maybe we should co-pilot a post on crappy covers just for fun (along w/ my pal Dave B)-there are TONS of those to go around as well.

I can send you more Rotary Connection stuff if you haven't already hit the bins.

Graziano---Always good to hear from you, cousin. Thanks again for the great music you sent my way.

Satch---Otis Redding wrote that tune himself. It was on his 1969 Love Man LP, on which he composed all but 3 of the songs. Some critics thought he was in a bit of a slump on that record, accusing the material of sounding too much alike. Still a must for Otis fans.

See you at the couch, bitch.

Adam---Yeah, I kinda hesitate on that tip because you cover that ground so well (no pun). Notice I did plug haha in an earlier comment, though.

Hope you've been well man.

Mike---It's madness how often we're on the same wavelength. When I was writing about Freddie Scott, I came over to This Is Tomorrow and was like...damn. I'll def. check that mix, bro.

Dave---Good idea. Put something together if you're so inspired. You know I'll be receptive to posting anything you produce. Be well...

Anonymous said...

Superb spread. Where did you ever find that Merry Clayton number? Most of the others, I already had, but not that! Thanks. Great blog.

soulbrotha said...



Scholar said...

Anon---Thanks. Wish I could say I have that Merry Clayton on vinyl, but I only have a digital copy. I dug it up 2 or 3 years ago somewhere on the internet. I go on a lot of record-buying expeditions, but sometimes cyberspace is the only place to luck up on things I'm trying to find. Glad you enjoyed the track.

soulbrotha---Apologies. I really shouldn't try responding to these things in the middle of the night. For a second, I had you mixed up with the other soulbrutha (with a U):

I think of you as soulpeeps, but I swear I'll get it straight next time. Unless you enjoyed being called Dave, which you probably didn't (haha..gulp). Sorry man.

Anyway, what the hell? How come you haven't taken a turn at the guest series yet?

soulbrotha said...

Sorry. :o(
Combination of time constraints and fear. Well, probably more fear than anything. Your guests do such awesome jobs that I don't I could do you justice. I need to get my nerve up. In the meantime, I'll try to keep my comments pithy. ;)

Anonymous said...

That Merry Clayton cover of "Southern Man" is top shelf.
For those who are interested it is sampled on Cool Breeze's "Watch For the Hook [Dungeon Family Mix]" features Outkast & Goodie Mob a dope track also.

Muslee said...

You forgot probably one of the worst uses of a sample ever: Rhymefest's "Build Me Up," featuring the late ODB, which used one of the worst songs since the Civil War, The Foundations "Build Me Up Buttercup." Ugh, that makes me shutter just thinking about both songs...

Scholar said...

soulbrotha---I think you're selling yourself short, but I've encountered that sort of uncertainty w/ many of the guest writers. We're all a bit intimidated by each other at times I guess.

Anon---Thanks for sharing the sample info. The Merry Clayton tune is genuinely one of my favorite covers EVER.

Muslee---Admittedly I am far from an expert on Civil War era music, but I trust your judgement on this. Also, I think "Buttercup" may be the ONLY Foundations track I've heard in my lifetime, and lets just say that I've sought out most groups who interest me in the slightest.

Probably didn't like the whole ODB/Macy "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" thing then either, right?