Tuesday, November 13, 2007
On Second Thought...The Third
How we feelin' out there, soul children?
Since there are literally zillions of divine cover tunes that I haven't shared with you yet, I couldn't resist the urge to drop a few more and conclude the series as a complete trilogy. Although I'm not planning any more posts of this nature in the immediate future, my inclination to bring closure to the series is about as certain as Jay-Z's decision to hang up the mic a few years ago. I might just get all George Lucas on your asses and decide that this isn't the beginning or the end. Only time will tell, but for now just live in the moment, and get lost in these deep grooves with me...
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"---Merry Clayton (zShare)
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"---Merry Clayton (savefile)
*Written by Paul Simon; originally appeared on Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water LP (1970), the fifth and final studio album released by the duo. It's still the biggest selling LP in the history of Columbia Records.
*Simon's lyrical inspiration for the track reportedly came from the line "I'll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me," a lyric he remembered hearing in The Swan Silvertones' "Oh Mary Don't You Weep". The song's musical arrangement was apparently greatly influenced by Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production technique.
*The line "Sail on, silver girl" is often thought to be associated with needles and heroin usage. Simon has denied this metaphorical association, stating that it was actually an inside joke about his girlfriend being upset over finding a few grey hairs.
*Simon originally only penned two verses for the tune, but after receiving some feedback, he made the song "bigger" and more fully developed. He's remarked on more than one occasion that the song's final verse sounds a bit out of place for this very reason. In the initial stages, Simon simply referred to the tune as "Hymn".
*Garfunkel sang the song solo on the recorded version, but he and Simon later expressed some regrets about the fact that they didn't share vocal duties on the track. When performing the track live, the duo generally takes turns singing the verses.
*Simon hired an outsider to write the string arrangement, and mailed a copy of the rough mix on a demo tape. Evidently the vocals were somewhat garbled, because the sheet music came back entitled "Like a Pitcher of Water."
*This is one of those songs that everyone and their baby mama has covered. Roberta Flack, Elvis, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight, Willie Nelson, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Quincy Jones, Annie Lennox, Bobby Womack, and countless others have recorded versions of the track. It's difficult for me to choose a favorite rendition, but I've always considered Merry Clayton's take (from Gimme Shelter, 1970) to be among the best.
The worst version was undoubtedly rendered by Clay Aiken---the "I'm not gay, I'm just masculinely-challenged", mischievous little elf who nearly won American A-Hole a few years ago. Sorry Claymates...his version of this song inexplicably managed to suck more than he does.
One of Aretha's many live performances of the track:
I posted Aretha's version several months ago. The mp3 link is still active if you haven't downloaded it yet.
"Let's Stay Together"---Margie Joseph (zShare)
"Let's Stay Together"---Margie Joseph (savefile)
*Written by Al Green, Al Jackson Jr., and Willie Mitchell. Jackson is a legendary drummer who recorded with Booker T & The MG's, while Mitchell was Green's producer; first released as a single by Green in 1971.
*Legend has it that Green wrote the lyrics within a few minutes after receiving a rough mix of the song from Mitchell and Jackson. Green apparently didn't want to record the song, and only did so after a heated argument with Mitchell prompted him to reconsider. It became his first #1 song, and held that position for no less than 9 consecutive weeks.
*Another song that's been remade a host of times, "Let's Stay Together" has been revisited by Isaac Hayes, The Shirelles, Billy Paul, Roberta Flack, Tina Turner, Aaron Neville/Chaka Khan, Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Bassey, etc. Margie Joseph's amazing version was released on Atlantic in 1973. Although some have criticized her rendition for not straying far enough from the original, there's still no denying the exceptional quality of her vocal performance.
The worst offering can easily be attributed to Donny Osmond, who released his rendition on a collection of horrendous covers earlier this year. Actually, he butchered a whole slew of seemingly innocent tracks on his Love Songs Of The '70s LP (Decca, 2007)...for what reason, I will never know...
"Purple Haze"---Johnny Jones and the King Casuals (zShare)
"Purple Haze"---Johnny Jones and the King Casuals (savefile)
*Written by Jimi Hendrix
*I already discussed much of this song's history in the last covers post, but I couldn't resist the temptation to share this notable version with my beloved soul children. I am guessing that Jones' take will be infinitely more palatable for soul enthusiasts than the last rendition I posted. Jimi Hendrix was actually the guitarist for The King Casuals in the early '60s. It's apparently unclear when Johnny Jones joined the group, but it seems that he and Hendrix at least played together live at some point. More background info is available by way of Funky 16 Corners.
"I'm A Good Woman"---Cold Blood (zShare)
"I'm A Good Woman"---Cold Blood (savefile)
*Written by Barbara Lynn
*Although Lynn's best known version of the song is phenomenal, I've always been partial to an alternate take that I previously posted. Fortunately, the mp3 link is still available here.
*While I tend to favor Lynn's untouchable original, I consider Cold Blood's version to be an essential in my collection (from their self-titled debut, 1969). Lead vocalist Lydia Pense could belt out tunes like nobody's business, and if you don't know much about the band, make it a point to educate yourself. Donny Hathaway dug their blue-eyed soul so much that he even produced one of their albums (First Taste Of Sin, 1972).
"Proud Mary"---Solomon Burke (zShare)
"Proud Mary"---Solomon Burke (savefile)
*Written by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, first appearing on CCR's 1969 LP, Bayou Country. Their original rendition peaked at #2, which became an all-too-familiar position for the band on the charts. They hold the record for the group with the most #2 singles that never managed to reach the top spot.
*Fogerty's other working titles for the song were "Riverboat" and "Rolling On A River".
*Despite implications made by the lyrics, Fogerty actually hadn't ever travelled east of Montana when he wrote the song.
*This is one of those popular tunes that people tend to jack up the words to, and it doesn't seem to matter whether they're singing in the shower or the studio. Fogerty once had this to say: "Sometimes I write words to songs because they sound cool to sing. Sometimes the listener doesn't understand what I'm singing because I'm dedicated to singing the vowel, having fun with the word sounds coming out of my mouth. `Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis, pumped a lot of pain down in New Orleans,' is a good example. I think Tina Turner sang `tane' instead of `pain,' as in a contracted form of octane. But I knew what she meant."
*This is another widely covered tune. Although Ike & Tina greatly altered the structure of the song with the assistance of Soko Richardson, their rendition was undoubtedly the most famous (reaching #4 on the pop charts in 1971). The record has also been sung by Prince, Elvis, Tom Jones, and more. Solomon Burke released his rendition the same year that the record came out (1969).
*Without question, the most bizarre take on the song came courtesy of Trekkie Leanord Nimoy, who sang the final chorus imitating Elmer Fudd's characteristic speech impediment.
"I Feel Fine"---Tony Wilson (zShare)
"I Feel Fine"----Tony Wilson (savefile)
*Written by John Lennon, but attributed to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team; released by The Beatles in 1964 as the A-side of their eighth single in the UK. In the U.S., it was released the following year on the Beatles '65 LP.
*The song marks the earliest example of feedback being recorded onto vinyl. Although artists such as Jimi Hendrix and The Who also used feedback, The Beatles were presumably the first to use it as a recording effect.
*Many critics and music lovers noted that Lennon's riff was quite similar to one found on Bobby Parker's "Watch Your Step", a song that The Beatles were known to cover during certain live performances in the '60s.
*Tony Wilson (not to be confused with the music mogul of the same name) was the bassist/songwriter for the group Hot Chocolate until 1975.
Interestingly, Hot Chocolate got their start by doing a reggae-style version of Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance". The outlook wasn't hopeful when the band was told they'd need to get Lennon's permission to avoid potential litigation. Lennon not only liked their version, he got the group signed to The Beatles' label, Apple Records. Unfortunately, the relationship wouldn't last long as both Apple and The Beatles folded shortly thereafter.
*Wilson's take on "I Feel Fine" can be found on the compilation, Beatles Blues.
"Yesterday" ---The Bar-Kays (zShare)
"Yesterday"---The Bar-Kays (savefile)
*Written by Paul McCartney, but attributed to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team; first releases were on the Help! LP (1965) and as the B-side to "Act Naturally".
* The tune evidently came to McCartney in a dream. When he woke up, he immediately set the track to memory with the aid of a piano and a tape recorder. The melody seemed so familiar to McCartney that he was concerned he'd subconsciously borrowed it from another songwriter's material (a phenomenon known as cryptomnesia). After asking around for a short while, he became convinced that he could claim full ownership of the song.
*The working title for the track was "Scrambled Eggs".
*"Yesterday" was the first Beatles tune that featured only one member during the recording process. Paul McCartney performed two takes of the song, and the second version was deemed superior and used as the master take. A string quartet was overdubbed on the second take before the recording was finally prepared for release.
*According to most accounts, the other Beatles didn't much care for the song, thinking that it didn't fit well with the band's image and signature sound. Despite being ultimately destined for Muzak, the track helped the band reach a more adult audience than their previous efforts.
*"Yesterday" has been revisited by other artists on more than 3000 different occasions, making it the most frequently covered pop tune of all time. It also previously held the record for most radio plays, until "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" surpassed it in 1999. The Bar-Kays released their groove-laden instrumental rendition in 1969.
"Message From A Black Man"---Derrick Harriott (zShare)
"Message From A Black Man"---Derrick Harriott (savefile)
*Written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield
*The Temptations released the track in 1969 on their Puzzle People LP. Although some critics and fans viewed the song's lyrics as being too political and militant, the track still became a popular radio request. It's often been said that The Temptations themselves were concerned about the tune being too forward-thinking for the times, resulting in their reluctance to play the track during live performances.
*This socially-conscious song/anthem has also been recorded by Charles Earland, Don Julian, S.O.U.L., Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, Mickey & The Soul Generation, The Spinners, and The Whatnauts. Hip-hop fans will also recognize the fact that "Message From A Black Man" was sampled in the mighty Mos Def's joint, "Undeniable".
Derrick Harriott's reggaefied rendition appears to have originally surfaced circa 1970.
"Dark End Of The Street"---Oscar Toney, Jr. (zShare)
"Dark End Of The Street"---Oscar Toney, Jr. (savefile)
*Written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn; originally recorded by James Carr in 1966.
*Covered by a wide array of artists, including Percy Sledge, Elvis Costello, Dorothy Moore, Frank Black, Aretha Franklin, The Afghan Whigs, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and many more. For whatever reason, Oscar Toney's soulful rendition of the track gives me the chills every time I hear it.
"Let It Be"---Aretha Franklin (zShare)
"Let It Be"---Aretha Franklin (savefile)
*Written by Paul McCartney, but attributed to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team. It was first released as a single in March of 1970, but the song reappeared as the title track on the Let It Be LP after being "remixed" by Phil Spector. Evidently, McCartney and Ringo Starr were both displeased with Spector's production work on the song. It's been reported that John Lennon pretty much hated the song in any form.
*Once again, McCartney reported that the inspiration for the tune came via a dream. This time his reverie involved a vision of his mother, Mary McCartney, who died of cancer when he was only 14-years-old. The "Mother Mary" lyric was reportedly written about her, not a biblical reference as many have assumed.
*This was the first Beatles song released in the Soviet Union---it finally made it there in 1972.
*Aretha Franklin covered "Let It Be" on her This Girl's In Love With You LP, which was released before The Beatles' version came out. She also recorded a rendition of "Eleanor Rigby" for that same album.
Bonus mp3s (zShare only):
To be honest, I've found that efforts to remix classic material generally leave something to be desired. Transforming a Marvin Gaye song into a crunk anthem is just...well...blasphemy, and I could also be at peace with never hearing a techno version of a Stevie Wonder song ever again. Despite some healthy skepticism on my part, I keep a very open mind about remix projects, and have found that some of them actually kinda float my boat...whatever the hell that means. Here are just a few examples:
"I Cover The Waterfront (James Hardway Remix)"---Billie Holiday
"Fried Neckbones And Some Home Fries (Dan The Automator Remix)"---Willie Bobo
"Where Did Our Love Go (quarterbar redo)"---The Supremes
*Note: You can generally find the latest quarterbar mixes via sneakmove.
Word From Your Moms:
"If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music."---Billie Holiday
"My role in society, or any artist or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all."---John Lennon