Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question, courtesy of staffer Stephen Gwilliams: What’s your favorite cover of a song from a musical?
“Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of those songs you hear as a child that sticks with you forever – sort of like an everlasting gobstopper. It’s a gentle reminder that imagination can free the mind like nothing else. There’s no better version of the song than the one by a far-off gazing Gene Wilder crooning the lyrics while dancing through the “Land of Candy” as his guests gorge themselves on his creation.
Fiona Apple, however, certainly does do an interesting take on the song with her cover version. While the original starts off wistful and melancholy, Fiona hits the minor chords heavy at the beginning for a downright scary tone. Both songs do end up striking a more positive message about imagination being able to change the world. Or perhaps, those living purely within their imagination and ignoring the harsh reality of life are much happier. Or maybe it just “defies explanation.”
And yes, this cover version may never have happened if not being produced by the folks at Chipotle to make a statement about corporate farming/ranching methods by an artist who is active with animal rights. And, of course, as a marketing tool to sell vegan burritos. That being said, Fiona Apple’s hypnotic voice and haunting style here certainly give a thought-provoking account of this classic musical number.
There were a few contenders for me with this question, but my heart felt like it had to write about Gerry & The Pacemakers version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from Carousel. It is a song which means so much to so many, especially to the same people who support my football (sorry, soccer) team, Liverpool FC. Although, many teams from countries such as Scotland, Japan, Holland, Germany and Belgium have now adopted the song.
Back in the ’60s, during the boom of Merseybeat, Liverpool band Gerry & The Pacemakers followed up on their hit single “I Like It” with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (produced by legendary Beatles producer George Martin). At Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, they would play the top 10 records of the week before every match with the song at number one played just before kick-off. The fans would usually sing along; however, when the Pacemakers song dropped out of the top ten, the fans decided to continue singing it. It became tradition that the fans would sing the song before every match.
The song has been seen as an inspiration to both players and fans for many reasons throughout the years. One such time was during 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in one of football’s worst-ever tragedies, largely down to poor policing of the crowd on the day. The song’s lyrics and message spoke to all those families who lost loved ones and who continue to fight to this day find out what really happened on that fateful day.
In 2005, the club found themselves 3-0 down at half-time in, arguably, Europe’s most important match, the Champions League final. The team trudged off at half-time, realizing it was going to be mission impossible to get anything out of the match. The fans in the crowd, in Istanbul (where the final was being held), began singing the song and it was roared so loud the team heard it in their changing room. It is said to have been a great inspiration for the team. They went on to make one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history and lifted the trophy as champions of Europe.
The title of the song is now a part of the Liverpool FC, it is on the ground’s famous Shankly gates and it also adorns the clubs crest. For me, it reminds me of many things, but mainly spending time with my father at the match while we sang the lyrics as loud as we could willing our team on to win.
I’m not a fan of musicals. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a good one, and living in New York, I’ve been lucky to see a number of excellent productions and revivals. But I can’t say that I’ve ever chosen to listen to the music from one outside of a theater. My wife and kids, on the other hand, like and listen to musicals. Both of my kids performed in school and youth theater productions for years, and they were, in this critic’s unbiased opinion, the finest school and youth theater productions ever. By contrast, while I was in high school, lacking any singing, dancing or acting talent, I toiled backstage as a member of the stage crew, even though I also had no talent for carpentry, design or painting. What I did have was a bunch of friends on stage and in the crew, a desire to go to the cast parties, and enough strength and weight to make myself useful lowering and raising things from the ceiling.
When I was in college, I had one friend who often made requests for my radio shows, which I didn’t mind, because he usually picked pretty good songs, and it also meant that he was actually listening. Often, I would add a few songs that I thought he would like, and I remember one night, I think on his birthday, playing the Fools’ cover of “I Won’t Grow Up” in his honor. Because, you know, we were in college, and this guy, more than many of my friends, seemed resistant to the concept of growing up and moving on. And I remember that he appreciated the sentiment. Now, he works at a charter school as a social worker and teacher dealing with at-risk kids, is married, and has two college-age children of his own, so the joke is on him, I guess.
The Fools were a classic late 70s-early 80s New Wave party band best known, if at all, for a Weird Al Yankovic-esque Talking Heads parody, “Psycho Chicken,” complete with clucks. I haven’t listened to this cover from Peter Pan, written by the wonderfully named Moose Charlap and lyricist Carolyn Leigh, in more than 30 years, but it still is fun, rocks, and brings me back to those long-ago Monday nights, sitting in the studio with a pile of vinyl, trying to entertain some people in central New Jersey, and specifically one good friend.
“Makin’ Whoopee” comes from the 1928 musical Whoopee!; it gave Eddie Cantor a hit song and Bob Eubanks a code phrase to make sex talk on The Newlywed Game naughty but acceptable. The song was a warning about the consequences of marriage, but where the original was a sprightly take on the punishment, Ray Charles‘s cover was all about the bawdy joys of the crime.
On his 1964 Live in Concert recording of the song, Charles takes his time, setting a s-l-o-w pace and not beginning to sing until more than two minutes have passed. His pronunciation of the word “whoopee” goes beyond suggestive; the word may be G-rated, but the way he says it is R-rated. And I love how the audience becomes a part of this performance – they’re with him, egging him on, laughing more and more until Ray delivers the final line, which causes the place to explode and which never, ever fails to crack me up.
Quite frankly I hate musicals. I’m sure this puts me in the minority of people living on Earth, but musicals often tell stories where it just doesn’t make sense to break out into song. And those songs? Ugh, those songs.
There is one caveat, and it’s a big one: I’m a fan of rock musicals. Whether they be sentimental like Once, classics like Tommy or The Wall, or those special freak shows that electrify the whole entertainment experience: Phantom of the Paradise, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
The latter succeeded thanks to great songwriting by Stephen Trask and some help by Bob Mould, who helped perform the music for the soundtrack of the film version. A covers album was released in 2003, the uneven Wig in a Box, which includes the Breeders (actually just Kim and Kelly Deal) covering “Wicked Little Town.” It’s quite the ethereal performance and I think it surpasses the original. Enjoy.
“Feeling Good,” from the musical from The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, has had a long career as a cover song. It spent time as a go-to audition song for American Idol contestants who, perhaps, heard the 2001 cover by Muse or Michael Buble’s 2005 version. Long before that, “Feeling Good” appeared on an easily overlooked album by Traffic, Last Exit, which was released in 1969. The song had already been covered by Nina Simone, but her version was not unlike the version released in the original cast recording. Traffic took the song somewhere else.
The eponymous second album from Traffic – along with The Allman Brothers Band and Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Shady Grove – was one of the first non-Beatles albums in my collection. Traffic immediately became a favorite. I was taken by Steve Winwood’s voice and the list of instruments he played on the record. I soon picked up Traffic’s other available albums, Mr. Fantasy and Last Exit. The band had already broken up (for the first time) before Last Exit was released. As a result, it was pieced together from various studio recordings, with Dave Mason on some of them, and two live tracks from an appearance at the Fillmore West without Mason.
One of the first bands to both meaningfully and seamlessly incorporate jazz elements into rock music, Traffic, with Winwood leading the way, stretches “Feeling Good” out to ten minutes, using it as a springboard for flute and sax solos from Chris Wood and Hammond B3 excursions from Winwood. There are three main sections: a fairly standard, but soulful, take on the song for the first five minutes followed by a blues/jazz vamp featuring organ. For the last three minutes, there is a quiet, somewhat meandering return to the melodic lyrics. It’s an early version of the band still finding their way as a live trio, and the most unique version of “Feeling Good” you’ll hear.
Also-rans of the Britpop movement, the Beautiful South never reached the heights of Blur or Oasis. Heck, they didn’t even reach the heights of Supergrass. Though they toured with R.E.M. – seemingly a path to a quick coronation in the mid-’90s – the brass ring sadly eluded their grasp. Partly that was due to their increasingly country-tinged albums, like 2004’s unfortunately named covers album Golddiggas, Headnodders & Pholk Songs.
It includes a samba “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” a folk-pop “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and this sad lament through Grease‘s climactic song “You’re The One That I Want.” The cellos add a mournful undercurrent very different from the movie’s pep. In this version, Danny and Sandy never found each other at the race; both went on to unhappy marriages far away, and are looking back at what could have been.
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