“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
What’s your favorite C. Carson Parks & Gaile Foote song? Hard to pick just one right? I’m kidding, of course. You probably couldn’t name one off the top of your head, but you probably do know one: “Somethin’ Stupid.” C. Carson Parks (the great Van Dyke Parks’ older brother, as it happens) wrote the song, and he and his wife recorded it in 1966 as “Carson and Gaile.” On his entertaining website, Parks itself explains the story behind this short-lived project:
In the mid-60s, there were several boy/girl duos making waves on the music scene. Not just established MOR (Middle Of The Road) acts like Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, but new ones like Sonny & Cher or April Stevens & Nino Tempo. However, there didn’t seem to be much of that nature in the folk-rock or country field. My feeling was to do some country standards with a different feel – such as soft Latin Rock. So, Gaile Foote and I worked up 3 or 4 numbers, made some demos and sent them to Dave Kapp in New York. As Dave had run Decca Records during the time Terry Gilkyson was on that label, and liked the stuff that The Greenwoods had sent him, he told us to go ahead with the project and do an album. By this time, I had learned that writers make money also so, not being totally satisfied with what I could find that seemed to fit the style that we were looking for, I wrote some songs for us to do. Out of the 12 cuts on the album, I wrote 7, and had secured the publishing of 2 others for Greenwood Music Co. Of the 7 that I wrote, 6 were recorded by other artists, most notably “Something Stupid” (Frank & Nancy Sinatra) and “Cab Driver” (The Mills Brothers).
Despite the song’s relative obscurity, Frank Sinatra apparently heard it from his ex-army assistant “Sarge” Weiss. And, apparently, he was unconcerned that a flirty love duet would sound a bit odd sung by a father and daughter. The American public was apparently unconcerned too, as Frank and Nancy’s version sold seven million copies and topped the charts (even with that cringey photo on the cover).
It also became a jazz standard. Practically every recent jazz vocalist has sung it, it seems, particularly if they have a duet partner (Michael Buble and Reese Witherspoon’s being a notable and unfortunate example). And yes, sometimes people still do it with their kids. So, for this “Covering the Hits,” I tried to find some interesting versions from outside the world of jazz. Here are ten cool non-jazz outliers, in alphabetical order.
Devotchka – Somethin’ Stupid
Veteran quartet Devotchka’s genre tags on Wikipedia include both “gypsy punk” and “dark cabaret.” They got their start in the ’90s as the backing band for a burlesque show, and their odd career has seen them do everything from scoring Little Miss Sunshine to covering Siouxsie and the Banshees (at the suggestion of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler). They’re all multi-multi-instrumentalists, with everything from sousaphone to theremin in their arsenal, and have the chops to pull of a “Somethin’ Stupid” that has genuine jazz cred, but still feels a little subversive.
The Fashion – Somethin’ Stupid
The first of two covers from Sinatra tribute albums on this list, The Fashion’s “Somethin’ Stupid” comes from 2009 tribute His Way, Our Way, which features everyone from Maroon 5 to Seether (ew). This Danish indie-rock band delivers, blending squalling shoegaze with post-punk yelping. And that’s only the first half, before it truly explodes.
KrainBaby – Somethin’ Stupid
This trombone-and-accordion version brings a healthy dose of oompah to “Somethin’ Stupid.” I discovered it via the album version, but the live video, low production as it is, is even more fun. Who would have guessed there was choreography? I’m guessing from the YouTube tag this Hungarian group’s version version is based off an Austrian version by Global Kryner, who lost Eurovision so badly in 2005 that Austria boycotted the contest, citing “an absurd competition in which Austrian musical tradition means nothing.”
Ian Whitcomb – Somethin’ Stupid
I can’t tell if this one is supposed be a gag or not. The insane album cover led me to think yes, and the first overly theatrical speak-singing did too. Whitcomb sounds sincere enough, but then the extremely enthusiastic piano backing kicks in and sets me back to making me wonder again. Looking up his bio on AllMusic, I was surprised to discover that, decades before this cover, Whitcomb was a one-hit wonder of the British Invasion, with the song “You Turn Me On.” You can even watch him performing it on Shindig! Regardless, I love the nutty energy of this, even if I’m still not sure whether the “nutty” part was intentional.
Inga – Somethin’ Stupid
Discoveries like this are what “Covering the Hits” is made for. German pop singer Inga Humpe goes full ’80s on this 1989 single, like Madonna meets A-Ha. It gets a gloriously technicolor and melodramatic music video too. If you’re looking for a tender and nuanced Ol’ Blue Eyes cover, look elsewhere. But you’re a fan of ’80s music at its ’80s-est, this one’s for you.
James Booker – Somethin’ Stupid
Pianist James Booker might be pushing my rules a bit, as he’s jazz-adjacent. But first and foremost he’s a rhythm and blues player, in the New Orleans tradition of Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint and Dr. John, who called him “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” Now that’s a quote! His “Somethin’ Stupid” definitely has that New Orleans flavor, funky and uptempo with a big flourish at the end.
The Mavericks with Trisha Yearwood – Somethin’ Stupid
I admittedly was expecting something a little less smooth from the Mavericks, but some Tex-Mex flavor remains on the prominent accordion. This comes from their fourth album Music for All Occasions. Fun fact about that record: The Mavericks were vinyl-revival pioneers. This album came out in 1995 and its release on vinyl earned it a TV news story, which reports this is “the first time since the ’80s a Nashville group has released new product on vinyl.” Trisha Yearwood, featured on this song and then married to the band’s bassist Robert Reynolds, even pops up in the clip to explain to viewers how to use their record players.
The Rock Fingers – Somethin’ Stupid
I didn’t know there were any ’60s hits The Ventures didn’t surf up, but apparently “Somethin’ Stupid” is one. Never fear, because the similarly-inclined Rock Fingers from Brazil tackled it on their one and only LP, 1967’s Hot Line.
The Secret Sisters – Somethin’ Stupid
The Secret Sisters are sisters, but they aren’t exactly a secret: Brandi Carlile produces their latest records and Jack White has accompanied them on guitar. “Somethin’ Stupid” comes off their self-titled debut album (produced by Dave Cobb and T-Bone Burnett, no less), which mostly features covers of old country classics. And though “Somethin’ Stupid” is a pop-jazz standard, it’s become a stealth country standard too.
Small – Somethin’ Stupid
The second tribute album cover, after The Fashion’s earlier one, concludes this list. The 1993 tribute album Chairman of the Board features many alt-rock and grunge acts (41 of ’em!) tackling Sinatra tunes. So you’ve got Screeching Weasel covering “Chicago,” Jawbox covering “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and Toadies covering “Luck Be a Lady.” Most of the bands did not become household names, including North Carolina’s independent punks Small. But they still deliver a wonderfully grimy “Somethin’ Stupid.”
Check out more Frank Sinatra covers here and more Nancy Sinatra covers here.