Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Some articles are written because of a great love for the subject. Some are written because they are timely. Some are written because there is a need. This article is being written because of fate. When you write about music, sometimes the world conspires to suggest a topic. “Ooh La La,” by the Faces, is one of those songs in the classic rock canon that pretty much anyone of a certain age knows. Its bouncy, wistful chorus makes it memorable and recognizable, even if it might be hard to immediately place the unfamiliar voice or recall the actual title. And when, in the period of a week, the song appears first on the radio, then on satellite radio, then on TV, and finally on a list of potential article topics circulated by the Cover Me editorial staff, it was clearly time for me to take a look at this song, through its covers.
The last song on the last album by the Faces, a band remembered as much for its fun, boozy, partying attitude as much as its bluesy rock, “Ooh La La” was written by Ronnie Lane and Ron Wood. Rod Stewart, who sang the majority of Faces songs, was unimpressed by the song, and his studio performance was lackluster, as was the attempt by secondary vocalist Lane. Producer Glyn Johns suggested that Wood take a shot, and his version was used on the album. Despite its surface peppiness, the song is, in reality, a little sour and misogynistic. It is a conversation between a man and his grandfather, who warns about the difficulties of relationships with women, how they will trap you and use you and lead you on. In the catchy chorus, Grandpa laments,
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger
“Ooh La La,” has often been covered, including by both Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane (who must have ultimately realized the worth of the tune), and perhaps most famously by Counting Crows. Most covers, such as this version by Matt Wertz, hew closely to the original’s folky blues. But with covers, it is often more fun to look at versions that somehow transform the original, and that is exactly what we are going to do here.
Julie Corbalis & Hope Machine – Ooh La La (Faces cover)
Stylistically, this live version by Hudson Valley, New York musicians Julie Corbalis & Hope Machine (Fred Gillen, Jr., Steve Kirkman, Eric Puente, & Bill Gordon) doesn’t depart too much from the original, but it has two significant differences. First, it starts with the chorus, before getting to the thornier verses, which is appropriate for the sing-along nature of the performance. Secondly, the song is sung by a woman, without any modification of gender. Although this is not uncommon, there is something odd about a woman singing negatively about the ways of women. This cognitive dissonance does not detract, however, from the fun performance. This somewhat moodier version, by Twin Cities band Lovely Dark, ratchets up the gender confusion even more, by having both male and female vocals.
Bloodkin – Ooh La La (Faces cover)
Bloodkin, an Athens, Georgia-based band, inhabit a modern Southern rock space similar to their friends Widespread Panic (who have covered their songs) and the Drive-By Truckers (with whom they have toured). In this live version, Bloodkin turn the folk blues of the original into a crunching rocker with definite Trucker and Crazy Horse influences. Another Athens band, the HEAP, perform the song as a soulful, jammy celebration.
Danny Barnes – Ooh La La (Faces cover)
Danny Barnes is a virtuoso banjo player who first came to notice as a member of the Bad Livers, a band that took bluegrass to places heretofore unknown. He describes his sound as barnyard electronics, “an aesthetic combining various bits of bluegrass, noise, rock, and electronic music.” Although this cover of “Ooh La La” is banjo-driven, Barnes’ playing and arrangement is unusual, rendering his version much more intriguing than the stereotypical bluegrass cover.
Vitamin String Quartet – Ooh La La (Faces cover)
Just because something is a gimmick doesn’t automatically make it a bad gimmick, and the Vitamin String Quartet has a very good one — recording versions of rock songs in classical music arrangements. They have released nearly 300 albums, one of which (a tribute to Rush) received a Grammy nomination. During a period in 2012, a radio station in Concord, New Hampshire even played their music 24 hours a day (as a programming stunt while ownership and formatting changes were finalized). The VSQ’s cover of “Ooh La La” is clever, interesting and easy to listen to; however, it misses the shambling, folksy charm of the original.
Tim Timebomb and Friends– Ooh La La (Faces cover)
Tim Armstrong, the mushmouthed singer of Rancid, has somehow perfected a mix of punk, reggae, ska, and rock. This version of “Ooh La La,” from a series of songs released under the name “Tim Timebomb and Friends,” includes Armstrong on vocals and guitar, Travis Barker (of Blink-182 fame), and the Transplants. The loose, ska-tinged arrangement and Armstrong’s trademark relaxed vocal style is reminiscent of the Faces’ version — if the Faces had come after the Clash.