Who but Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can divide Americans quite like Taylor Swift? Practically anything she does gets scrutinized and overanalyzed, becoming fodder for conspiracy theorists and internet trolls. On Friday, Swift seemingly broke the internet again when she unleashed a banjo-infused, country cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s classic “September” as a single on Spotify. Judging by the reactions of her fans and detractors, you’d think she had either discovered the Holy Grail or desecrated the Shroud of Turin.
With the exception of a small-minded baker in Colorado with a penchant for litigation, the wedding-service industry has mostly welcomed the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S. because of the new business it brings. Same-sex couples strutting down the aisle in greater numbers presents another hot-button cultural issue: how to find the perfect song for that first dance? Despite the fact that pop music has been loosening its collar since Elvis first shook his pelvis, when it comes to gender roles, mainstream songs tend to be as heteronormative as a ‘50s sitcom, no matter how suggestive the lyrics may be.
To address this issue, and no doubt tap into a lucrative commercial market, MGM Resorts sponsored a six-track EP called Universal Love. The collection features reworked versions of popular love songs with altered pronouns to celebrate same-sex love. The company must be betting big as they tapped serious star power, namely Bob Dylan, St. Vincent, Kele Okereke (lead singer of Bloc Party), Valerie June, Benjamin Gibbard (lead vocalist of Death Cab for Cutie) and Kesha.
In the opening minute of Kurt Elling’s cover of Bob Dylan’s anthem “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” the jazz singer turns the lyrics into a spoken-word sermon. Without any accompaniment, he fully enunciates each line, then pauses, allowing time to process each haunting phrase of Dylan’s prose. He also reconfigures the order of the song, combining the first verse with the fourth, jumping from “I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,” straight to, “I met a young child beside a dead pony.”
As the only surviving member of the Temptations’ original lineup, Otis Williams has done his part to keep the group alive long past its expiration date. The latest incarnation of the famed vocal group recently released a cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” as the first single from their forthcoming album All The Time.
Just to be clear, this ain’t the Temptations of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” or “My Girl” fame, since the group is going for a more contemporary vibe. Listening to Smith’s original alongside the Temptations’ cover is a bit like hearing Hall & Oates “She’s Gone” next to the Tavares’ version. Or comparing Mott the Hoople’s cut of “All the Young Dudes” to David Bowie’s own take. At first listen, it’s difficult to tell the two tracks apart. Yet, once you start breaking the songs down, there are enough subtle differences that make the cover stand on its own.
The vocals in the opening verses of each track are the most similar. The Temptations give it a slightly different feel by adding in syncopated percussion, unlike the straight time from the original. As they sing the chorus, the group interjects a bit of call and response, which one expects from the Temptations. With each subsequent verse/chorus, they include heavier drums, different voices alternating between lead and backing vocals and a fiery blues-guitar accompaniment. Like Smith’s original, the cover is also infused with gospel, but the quintet adds more bass to the vocals throughout.
The track is not destined to land on any greatest-hits compilations. However, if the Temptations add it to their setlist, kids whose grandparents drag them to the shows will appreciate the effort.
Click here to listen to more Sam Smith covers.
There’s a great scene in the not-so-great Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely where Kevin Kline tries to explain to an actor how to properly sing the classic song, “Night and Day.” “It’s about obsession,” Kline, as Porter, tells his young charge. “It’s about being in love. You’ve been love? Alright, obsess about it. … It’s relentless.” Obsession, lust and the clash of emotions as daytime shifts into night make for good tropes in a show tune origin story. The themes work equally well when transplanted into the metal genre as Portland cross-genre covers band MetalMorphosis recently demonstrated on their cover of the tune.
Buffalo Tom was an alternative rock bands always on the verge of mainstream success in the ‘90s, but who never even earned “oh-they-play-that-song” status. Though they’ve definitely got a strong cult following. The band appeared on the final episode of The Jon Stewart Show in 1995 and the comedian has cited them as one of his favorite artists. Their music even featured in a 1994 episode of the teen drama My So-Called Life during a Claire Danes/Jared Leto make-out montage (it’s about as disgusting as it sounds). These days the band has returned, having just released a new studio album, Quiet and Peace, which includes a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York.”
The song originally appeared on the duo’s 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water. Simon wrote the tune about existential longing after Garfunkel jettisoned to Mexico to appear in the movie Catch-22, hence the opening lines: “Tom, get your plane right on time / I know your part’ll go fine / Fly down to Mexico.” While not quite as iconic as “Mrs. Robinson” or “The Sounds of Silence,” the track has seeped its way into pop culture over the decades.
Buffalo Tom shifts the song into the alternative-country universe, shaping it into an anthem to aimless wandering, especially when they hit the climactic chorus, “Half of the time we’re gone, but we don’t know where.” For the accompaniment, they blend acoustic and steel guitar and include a jammy electric guitar solo to amplify the finale. Though the track might not be as edgy as some of the group’s early work, it holds up well after a few listens. The band has clearly aged better than other relics from the ‘90s (especially YouTube clips of My So-Called Life).
Click here to listen to more covers by Buffalo Tom.