A while back I posted about cover songs and the artists behind them (both the originals and the second-time-around-ers), and while I was lying awake in bed last night (I woke up at 2:39am and didn’t fall back asleep until after seven, thankyouverymuch), tangling with my sheets, I started thinking again about other kinds of covers. So I spent my (awake-at-odd) hours shuffling through my mental playlist and determined that once I was out of my sleepy-but-unable-to-sleep fog and could create a cogent compilation, I would do so.
The difference between this list and the first one I posted – which will probably only matter to fans of music history and to musicians (I am both myself and I married one) – is that, rather than call these Covers “better” than the originals (yes, I did that previously; yes, I will argue why if you must know), I am simply putting them out there as being. Not better, not worse. On equal footing, just separate.
Without further ado…
Get ready to make like a record and groove, baby.
Adele: Make You Feel My Love
Originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan, 1997
Adele has a voice I can respect; it is her instrument, and one she plays well. If there is one thing she has noticeably improved upon since her album 19, it is her tendency to over-emote. Jennifer Nettles has this same tendency, and there are songs that work well for both artists because they use that technique. There are also songs that don’t fit their vocal style well, because not everything is exaggerated emotion and operatic drama.
Adele tones down her supererogatory inflection in this song, however, opting for more subtle intonations and smoothly rounded (heh – see what I did there?) phrases. It comes across beautifully.
Hiding My Heart was written for Brandi Carlile by Tim Hanseroth, who – along with his brother, Phil – make up the other two permanent members of Brandi’s band. They are often referred to as “The Twins” and their songwriting talents amaze me. As do their vocals.
As anyone who has experienced being in or around a musical family can attest, there is something eerily pitch-perfect about familial voices finding one another in harmony. The Twins have that. And it’s that spot-on oneness that is the primary reason I like this next recording so well.
Phil & Tim Hanseroth (Brandi Carlile):
Written by Paul Simon and recorded by Simon & Garfunkel, 1964
As the story goes, Paul Simon wrote this song in his bathroom… With the lights off…
So he could hear better.
I would say, “Whatever floats your boat” but the idea of floating and bathrooms conjures all sorts of unpleasant
smells images, does it not?
In unison now: Eeeuuuuwww–!
I actually do ‘get’ the whole singing-in-the-bathroom phenomenon. There’s a reason people sing in showers, though many don’t understand why the compulsion is stronger there. The thing about bathrooms is that they tend to be filled with only hard surfaces (walls, floors, porcelain objects, wood or metal towel racks, etc), and that creates a natural feedback loop. Acoustics in bathrooms are amazing. And if you have vaulted ceilings in there, it just adds to the resonance. The Barenaked Ladies (or rather, the primary vocal duo) did a whole set titled The Bathroom Sessions.
Pat Benatar: All Fired Up
Originally written by Kerryn Tolhurst for the Australian band Rattling Sabres, 1987
Pat Benatar got ahold of this song and made it her leading single off her 1988 album Wide Awake In Dreamland, which was a boon for songwriter Tolhurst, but by the time the original Sabres recording was released, the fuss was about the song was over. As were the Sabres.
You might have picked up on the fact that I have a clue or two about vocals from my commentary on this post thus far. (Or perhaps you weren’t paying attention…) One thing I respect about Pat Benatar’s musicianship is that she took her choral training and her mezzo-soprano talent and pushed it in a direction nobody expected her to go. Essentially she took a classical instrument (her voice) and rocked it.
And one thing I respect about Pat Benatar as a person is that she is not afraid to tackle tough subjects in the music she produces, even – especially – when it is not a popular thing to do. She addresses the sad sick reality of child abuse in Hell Is For Children, and again on the Dreamland album in Suffer The Little Children. It is not easy for a recording artist to win their way (recording contracts are a complex hydra with too many snarling heads to count), especially when it comes to their causes. And perhaps most especially when that cause is something too many would prefer not to be confronted with. That is changing – slowly (too fucking slowly) – and survivors of childhood abuse are helping the next generation come up less afraid. But someone has to speak up in a way that matters, in a way that is heard, at a time when people are forced to listen. And she did that.
*stepping down off soapbox*
This song is one of my favorites because it mixes Benatar’s rock roots with the more pop style she adopted later. And the lyrics are fantastic in their simplicity.
We could all do with such a positive anthem.
I believe there comes a time
When everything just falls in line
We live and learn from our mistakes
The deepest cuts are healed by fate
The Dixie Cups: Iko Iko
Originally recorded by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, 1953
Someone sent me a 10-minute Grateful Dead version of this song the other day, and since today is Fat Tuesday, I figure I will end this post with a tip o’ the hat to Mardi Gras, and share the story of how this tune came to be.
James Crawford attended a Mardi Gras event in the early ’50s that featured a traditional face-off between two “tribes” (keep in mind that Seminole culture was once influential in Louisiana), and he wrote down the call-outs as he heard them. (The phonetics are actually quite different, and there’s a little video explaining the etymology, here.) Later he turned his parade notes into a song – unaware of their meaning – and recorded it under the title “Jock-a-Mo.” Very few people know that though, and when the Dixie Cups recorded their version of the New Orleans staple in 1965, they didn’t know it either. Hence, they took the writing credit. Eventually the legalities were sorted out, and the song has been recorded by a myriad of performers over the decades, including Cyndi Lauper, Jimmy Fallon, and the aforementioned Grateful Dead.
But here, for your enjoyment, is the “original” 1960s cover, as performed by the Dixie Cups:
We’ll have to crawl under the covers together again soon.