May 282021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Roxanne covers

More red lights have been put on (or off, to be fair to the lyric) by “Roxanne” than you might imagine, and in as many shades you can imagine, varying from a lightly tinted rosé to a deep oaky claret. One of the most instantly recognizable songs of the Police canon, surprisingly few of the well over a hundred “Roxanne” covers listed on Secondhand Songs recreate the reggae-lite of the original. Whilst that might seem surprising, it shouldn’t be, as the song, stripped of the staccato chops of Andy Summers’ guitar, has a solid construction that translates well across many styles. Continue reading »

May 182021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

like a rolling stone covers

You might think “Like a Rolling Stone” would be the most-covered Dylan song. It was, after all, rated by Rolling Stone as the best song of all time. But it’s not. It’s not the second or third most-covered either. Or fourth. SecondHandSongs lists it at #7. That’s even behind “Make You Feel My Love,” which has had three fewer decades to collect new versions. Continue reading »

May 142021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Cecilia covers

Eddie Simon started it. He was with his brother Paul at the house on Blue Jay Way where George Harrison had been inspired to write the song of that name. Now Art Garfunkel had rented it for a few months, and there were a few festive evenings there in the summer of ’69. One night, Eddie started banging out a rhythm on a piano bench, and it proved so infectious that everyone there joined in, banging along with whatever they could find. They taped the track, and Paul kept returning to its ebullience. When he brought it into the studio, he and producer Roy Halee made a loop of one section, to which Paul added lyrics that literally went from heartbreak to jubilation.

“The whole thing was a piece of fluff,” he later said. “But magical fluff.” Indeed, the song was as sexy as Simon and Garfunkel ever got, and as one biographer later put it, “the song’s thwacking, thumping battery of percussion felt like an ad-hoc group of street-musician drummers pounding away in Central Park.” As Bridge Over Troubled Water‘s third single, the song went top-five in America and remains a classic rock favorite.
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Apr 302021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore wasn’t the first to record “It’s My Party” (that would be Helen Shapiro), but she definitely made the greatest impact with it. The tale of Judy and Johnny having to go and spoil everything sounded not like it once happened to Gore, but like she was a high school junior (which she was) going through it in the moment, a moment that was extended in her answer song “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” The song has maintained its hold on the cultural landscape; to this day, if someone says “It’s my party,” someone else is sure to respond “and I’ll cry if I want to.”

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Apr 072021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

I Can't Help Myself

“Sugarpie, honeybunch” must be the most gloriously unselfconscious opening shot of almost any song I can think of, epitomizing the sheer unstoppable surge of soppiness true love can invoke in even the red bloodiest of macho men. Tagged to a monster of a melody that takes wings from the start, “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops couldn’t be a stronger declaration of fact; when you hear it, you just know that no-shrinking-violet Levi Stubbs really can’t help himself. It is so well constructed a song: the words, the melody, the never-better arrangement and the transcendent vocals, all add up to Motown at its mid-60s pinnacle. And the credits clearly don’t need any prompting–it could be nobody other than Holland-Dozier-Holland, oozing out of every pore of the vinyl, always vinyl, always 45 rpm.

Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland had been with Motown and Berry Gordy from the start, as both songwriters and performers, ahead of teaming up with Lamont Dozier, who similarly had been writing and performing on the fertile Detroit music scene. As a production and writing team together, they hit pay dirt, responsible for a huge proportion of the label’s output, and arguably the most responsible as anyone for the fame and fortunes of the Tamla Motown brand. The Supremes? Martha and the Vandellas? The Isley Brothers? Yup, they wrote most of their early hits, and a fair few for the Temptations, Junior Walker, Marvin Gaye and more. Plus, of course, the Four Tops, for me the earthiest and most authentic set of voices in the roster. The combination of the strained vocal of Stubbs, the writers deliberately pitching the songs to the top of his range, with the call and response backing vocals of Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton is remarkable. Add in the exemplary musicianship of the legendary studio house band the Funk Brothers and it becomes unbeatable. Over four decades the recipe and the line-up, at least of the vocal group, didn’t change. And if the Hollands and Lamont didn’t write everything, wherever they were involved, they sure as hell produced and arranged it to sound as if they did.

Hitting the top of the Billboard chart for two weeks in 1965, “I Can’t Help Myself” was the second-biggest seller of the year, in a year of strong competition (you’ll never guess what number one was). How well has it fared since? And with whom? There are a lot of anodyne facsimiles, watering the soul and passion down into pappy would be chart fodder. But a few, just a few, have taken the ball and run.
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Mar 242021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Lorraine Ellison

“Stay With Me Baby” was written by Jerry Ragovoy, the master of of slow-burn hearts a’rending songs like this. Here he was joined by, oddly, George Weiss, better known for the “Lullaby of Birdland” lyrics and the syrupy evergreen of “(What a) Wonderful World.” Nothing syrupy here, though. Is there a song with more wracked rawness than this almost primal howl of grief, an astonishing masterclass in anguish? The open throat of Lorraine Ellison combines with the freeze-frame build from piano to orchestra, again and again, ramping up the tension from verse to verse. Ellison’s biggest hit by a country mile, (only) #64 in 1966, she actually had a decent enough track record of other recordings, sufficient to fill a brace of best-ofs that contain considerably more than just that that one song, if largely similar fare.

It takes a certain sort of singer to be able to fulfil the commitment of the song, which perhaps is why it gravitates towards those whose life stories are known to contain similar emotions. Sadly, some of these form part of period piece recreations for TV shows, and have little to add or offer to the need of this piece. Which is a shame, as Chris Cornell‘s rendition for Vinyl is a doozy, and would be a definite inclusion, had it added any originality beyond his exquisite vocal. But there are still a few who pack the necessary punch in the gut, yet with additional touches of nuance to stand out from the throng.
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