Jul 192024

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

Deep Purple

Well, actually not Deep Purple’s “Hush” at all, even if that is the version that cuts most traction. It’s also the only song that lingers from the pre-Gillan iteration of the UK titans, from when they were carved in soap rather than rock. The learned and erudite know that it was written by Joe South, that doyen of southern soul, but it isn’t even Joe South’s “Hush,” as he didn’t get around to putting it out, himself, until two years after the first recorded version, itself a year ahead the Purps. That honor went to Billy Joe Royal, a recording artist for Royal Records, where South was then a jobbing songsmith. Indeed, “Down In The Boondocks,” Royal’s biggest chart success, was also a South composition. But “Hush,” from Billy Joe Royal Featuring Hush, in 1967, did not chart.

However, Ritchie Blackmore, guitarist for Deep Purple, heard that version. He would later tell Vintage Guitar Magazine, “I thought it was a great song, and I also thought it would be a good song to add to our act, if we could come up with a different arrangement…. We did the whole song in two takes.” Despite being a British band, it bombed at home, but soared in the States, reaching number four on the Billboard chart, effectively making their name, even if the singer and bassist were shortly to step aside. Most UK listeners had to wait until the band re-recorded the song, with their new line-up, in 1984.

Irrespective of all that, Blackmore is quite correct in his assertion as to the greatness of the song, and it has racked up a roster of cover versions. Here are the best five, at least today. (Please note this does not include the version by Kula Shaker, as, regardless of the red-blooded interpretation, it is all rather too much in thrall to the Deeps, as I will this time call them, struggling to find a suitably uniform diminutive.)

Jimmy Somerville – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

This “Hush” comes from Suddenly Last Summer, an all-covers album Jimmy Somerville made in 2009, both Bronski Beat and the Communards behind him. Almost impossible to classify, possibly somewhere between pop, jazz and an out and out torch ballad,vocally at least. Somerville has an unmistakable voice, inviting comparison with Dusty Springfield. Ukulele and piano flitter about for an arrangement that defies categorization. I think it perfection. The rest of the album is equally surprising, with the choice of songs stretching from Pete Seeger (“Where Have All the Flowers Gone”) to Blondie/The Nerves (“Hangin’ on the Telephone”), through to the unbridled trad. arr. of “Black is the Color,” via Patsy Cline and “Walking After Midnight.” Bizarre and brilliant.

Jeannie C. Riley – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

Sticking to, I would hazard, the good ol’ boy vibe of Joe South’s rendition, Jeannie C. Riley ups the twang factor, and then some. If her na na nas sound a little unconvincing, her snarled swipe about the rest of the lyric is anything but, pouring all that Harper Valley P.T.A. bitterness deep into her delivery. Catch her “earrrly in the morning” and yelped “late in the evening” and play that bit again, a few times even, so as to get the full impact, not least as the way-too-prompt fade obscures her repeating the line, clipped way too soon, in her prime. Never to reach the heights of her debut single, this 1973 disc barely dented the country chart, peaking at 51.

Milli Vanilli – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

Yeah, yeah, or whoever was really singing for the disgraced duo, but that isn’t really the point. Here, it’s the arrangement that grabs all attention. Drum machine and a funky electronic riff on repeat shouts the 1980s, and the boys nearly start rapping before sliding into echo and reverb effects. Heaven 17 and their production work for Terence Trent D’Arby had clearly been given a good listen to in the studio. Mind you, producer Frank Farian was never much of a slouch in that direction, his earlier project being Boney M, with a similarly loose relationship between who seemed to be singing and whomsoever actually was. It is a decent song, as, despite subsequent derision, was much else on the debut album, All Or Nothing, repackaged as Girl You Know It’s True for the U.S. market.

Max Merritt & the Meteors – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

Whoa, you didn’t see that one coming, did you? A big-band jazzy instrumental, this came from the New Zealander’s last album in the Southern Hemisphere, Stray Cats, before he re-located and reformed the Meteors in London. where they were regulars on the pub rock circuit. As punk took away their soul and horn heavy jive, Merritt moved again, this time to Nashville, embarking on stage three of his near six decade career. Ill health took him back South, this time to Australia, until his death, in 2020, still performing, with his last album released posthumously. If in doubt, he is the guitarist in this version.

The Prisoners – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

I guess midway between the above and the rockier metal versions, the Prisoners carry a heft imbued with a cocky r’n’b swagger, akin to the early Stones and Pretty Things. The beat drums and the scuzzy organ, offering nothing as casually insouciant as Jon Lord, are the most striking features, along with the throaty gargle of singer Graham Day. Defiantly garage, they were lynchpins of the so-called Medway Scene, Kent, United Kingdom, home of similar ne’er-do-wells, such as Billy Childish and his myriad bands. The organist was James Taylor (not that one), whose eponymous quartet later became prime movers in the acid jazz movement. Thought irretrievably lost in action, despite all members continuing careers in music, the band this year re-formed and released a new album, Morning Star, a mere 38 years since the last. I hope they still play “Hush,” available on a recent compendium of rare and unreleased material.

Jan 242020

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Today Neil Diamond reaches his three score and nineteen. Parkinson’s disease has taken him away from touring, but he assured fans that “I plan to remain active in writing, recording and other projects for a long time to come.” These projects include a Broadway musical and an upcoming Las Vegas benefit show. If that wasn’t enough, his songs continue to resonate with listeners today – “Sweet Caroline” was just chosen by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry.

And if THAT wasn’t enough, his songs remain popular cover material, no matter who’s doing it or how. We’ve found five covers that take the words and music of the Jewish Elvis to their own personal Gracelands.
Continue reading »

Jul 162019

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Pat Boone

Reasons abound for maligning Pat Boone’s career in popular music. The catalyst for his career was a string of covers of R&B tunes by black artists for whom the legacy of segregation never afforded the same amount of wealth. White artists made substantially more than their counterpart artists of color. Major record labels had larger distribution chains, promotional budgets, and stronger connections to radio and television networks to advantage their artists. By contrast, black musicians on “race records” benefited from none of these privileges. While artists like Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, and Fats Domino have enjoyed staying power and wide acclaim for being architects of rock music, in the early decades of that genre, white covers were commercially more successful. Added to this was the exploitative nature of covers on larger labels that made more money than the originals while paying out no royalties to the black originators. Boone was unapologetic that his career benefited from this exploitation.

It is also noteworthy that Boone’s performance and lyricism of some of rock’s first generation of are a case study in the sanitized tastes of the burgeoning white middle class in the 1950s. His smooth vocal delivery was reminiscent of crooners rather than the raspy, full-throated yowl of Little Richard. And the lyrical changes on “Tutti Frutti” were a nod to teenage infatuation stripped of any of the sexuality in Little Richard’s original.

Despite Boone representing the residuals of white privilege while Jim Crow reigned supreme, there is a note of appreciation to be made for Boone and contemporaries Elvis Presley and Bill Haley in helping to extend the reach of rock music to new audiences at a critical juncture in that genre’s history.
Continue reading »

Oct 032018
cyrus chestnut smoke on the water

Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” has such a memorable opening riff that whether it’s covered by a high school marching band or Pat Boone, it’s instantly recognizable. The latest artist to take the trip to “Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline” is jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut, who included an instrumental cover on his new album Kaleidoscope.

Chestnut is not the first jazz artist to take on Deep Purple’s classic (Google “Smoke on the Water” Jazz Covers if you really need to hear more). But in his five-minute cover he takes the song in a number of experimental directions. So much so that if drug-addled ‘70s rock fans were suddenly transplanted to a Chestnut concert they might have their minds collectively blown.

Continue reading »

Aug 232012

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Deep Purple’s hard rock classic Machine Head. In recognition of Deep Purple’s influence some of rock music’s biggest names have contributed a version of their favorite track from the album for a tribute. The result is Re-Machined: A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head.  There are two very differing versions of the album’s most famous track “Smoke On The Water”, one from guitar legend Carlos Santana with vocals by Jacoby Shaddix and one from alternative rockers The Flaming Lips. Continue reading »

Oct 112011

It’s a rare enough thing to get a full covers album based on a conceptual theme. It is a once-in-a-lifetime cover album when that theme is space and the artist is the man who has boldly gone where no man has gone before. Canadian-born actor, musician, author, producer, and director, William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk from the ’60s TV series Star Trek, is that man.

Set for release this Tuesday October 11, Shatner’s Seeking Major Tom will be available as a one volume digital download, two CDs and three vinyl LP set. The album is being released along with his new book Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large. Continue reading »