Turntable Talk – Cover Me

This blog is part of the next installment of Dave from A Sound Day’s Turntable Talk. This time around, the subject is “cover songs.” Per our instructions:

This time around, wanting to get your thoughts on Cover Songs…what makes a really good one, maybe what your favorite bold one is. Do you like ones really faithful to the original, or ones that spin it in an altogether direction? Or conversely, what one is atrocious to you & why.

By ‘bold’ I mean covers of songs that were already known, and hits. I won’t set any minimum guidelines but as examples, most people never heard The Arrows version of ‘I Love Rock n Roll’ or The Clique’s ‘Superman’ so it was easy for Joan Jett & REM respectively make them their own.  But to do a Beatles song, like Joe Cocker did only a couple of years after the original was released… that took …something. 

So what cover songs work great for you?

Cover Songs

If you do a Google search on “cover songs,” there are plenty of links to articles containing lists of “the best” ones. There are also links to video’s that feature countdowns and lists of “best and worst” cover songs. Those lists, no doubt, will include: Twist and Shout by the Beatles, Proud Mary by Ike and Tina Turner, Hurt by Johnny Cash, Last Kiss by Pearl Jam, Mony Mony by Billy Idol, All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, and many many more!

Many people are unaware that some of their favorite songs are actually cover songs. A lot of the early Rolling Stones and Beatles songs were actually covers of songs they loved by other artists. In a way, a cover song is the ultimate “hat tip” to a band’s early influence.

Personally, I tend to love cover songs. If you were to grab my iPod, that becomes very clear! I recall a time when I was married to my ex-wife and her iPod was dead. She wanted to go walk and asked if she could take mine instead. Upon returning home, she said to me, “How many different versions of a song do you need?!”

Cover Song Example

Dave asked “what makes a good” cover song? He also asked, “Do you like ones really faithful to the original, or ones that spin it in an altogether direction?

It is difficult for me to say what exactly makes a good cover song because I think it can be one that is faithful to the original, spun in a different direction, or a mixture of both of those elements. Take for example, the Rodgers and Hart song – Blue Moon.

The song was written in 1934. There were recordings made as early as 1935. One of the best known versions is the Doo Wop hit from 1961 by the Marcels. Dean Martin did a stripped down version with piano and drums that was performed as a slow ballad. Frank Sinatra’s version was more “swingy”. Sam Cooke’s “bounced” and in 1997 a swing band called the Jive Aces covered it as a bouncy boogie woogie sounding cover. Every single version I mentioned, I like for different reasons.

Some of My Favorite Covers

If I were to make a list of all the cover songs I have on my iPod and feature one a day on my blog, I would have enough songs to write about for about 6 months! Instead, I grabbed a piece of paper and off the top of my head started jotting down the cover songs that came to mind. I gave myself 5 minutes to do this and came up with about 18 songs. The reality is that I know that I will complete this blog and after it posts say, “Oh, man! I forgot (insert cover song here)!” That’s ok.

While it may be hard for me to tell you exactly what I love about cover songs, maybe by giving some examples of some of my favorites, the music will answer the question for both of us.

The first three I came up with are all from movie soundtracks. There is no shortage of cover songs in the movies. These covers will often give new life to old songs – examples include Sweet Child of Mine by Sheryl Crow from Big Daddy, Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright from Shrek, Hazy Shade of Winter by the Bangels from Less Than Zero, Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon by Urge Overkill in Pulp Fiction, and, of course, I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston in The Bodygaurd.

Johnny B. Goode – Marty McFly and the Starlighters

From Back to the Future, this is the song Marty McFly plays at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. In the movie, He goes off on a Eddie Van Halen type solo and the entire crowd looks at him stunned. On the soundtrack, however, there is a full version with an additional verse not in the movie. What I love about this version is the stripped down instrumentation, the saxophone and piano, and the whole feel of it. It really sounds like an “early” version of the song. It’s actually quite good.

https://youtu.be/RelL4BS2lEQ

All Shook Up – Billy Joel

From the soundtrack of Honeymoon in Vegas, which contains some very good Elvis covers. This one is my favorite. It has the feel of the Elvis version, with a little “boogie woogie” piano feel to it. Simple background vocals enhance the Billy Joel version. One addition I love is the bass drum hit after he sings, “I’m in love ….”

https://youtu.be/IsktHpH5QGk

I’m Ready – Taj Mahal

I stumbled on this by accident. This cut was used in the movie Little Big League. I’ve always been a fan of Fats Domino, but this version is just so much better. It has “meat” to it. The driving bass line keeps it moving, the piano is still there, and those saxes in the background – LOVE them. Add the electric guitar and Taj Mahal’s vocal to the mix and it is just perfect! This is one that I find myself listening to at work when I need a “pick up”

https://youtu.be/KZkRSP2oe8c

Sea of Love – The Honey Drippers

Phil Phillips did the original of this, but how can you NOT love this version?! First and foremost, you have Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page as well as Jeff Beck in the group! Add a beautiful string arrangement and background singers to compliment them and you have a top 5 record!

https://youtu.be/2BoUzzFXuVU

Tainted Love – Soft Cell

Not many people are aware that this is actually a cover song. It was originally done in 1964 by Gloria Jones. The song was written by Ed Cobb, who was in the Four Preps, and was actually the B-side of a song called My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home. The original had a “Motown” feel to it, while Soft Cell certainly has more of an 80’s feel to it.

Here is Soft Cell: https://youtu.be/22mYcScS_88

Here is the original: https://youtu.be/NSehtaY6k1U

Hard to Handle – Black Crowes

This one was written and recorded by the legendary Otis Redding. Otis’ version is already great, but I love this one equally. It certainly has a great feel to it. It doesn’t sound dated at all. It’s funky and a great jam!

https://youtu.be/BRcs_OzQb14

You’re Sixteen – Ringo Starr

The original was done by Johnny Burnette, who was known for rockabilly, in 1960. It’s not that I dislike the original, I just think Ringo’s version is … more fun. For years I thought Paul McCartney was playing Kazoo in this, however, one article says, “Michael Verity has quoted the song’s producer Richard Perry as revealing that it wasn’t actually a kazoo: “In fact, the solo on ‘You’re Sixteen,’ which sounds like a kazoo or something, was Paul singing very spontaneously as we played that track back, so he’s singing the solo on that.” Ringo’s version remains one of the few No. 1 singles to feature a ‘kazoo-sound’ solo. (It sure sounds like a kazoo to me!) I also love the driving piano bassline in his version.

https://youtu.be/vkR7u_sOtHI

I’m Down – Aerosmith

Originally done by the Beatles, this is almost a carbon copy of the Beatles version. I like it because I think Steven Tyler’s vocal perfectly fits the song.

https://youtu.be/oYGmtGnhdks

Look at Little Sister – Stevie Ray Vaughn

I picked this song in the recent song draft and you can read about it here:

https://nostalgicitalian.com/2021/08/10/song-draft-2021-round-3-look-at-little-sister-hank-ballard-stevie-ray-vaughn/

Steamroller Blues – Elvis

Elvis did his share of covers, and this is one that comes from his Aloha From Hawaii concert special. I have always preferred this version to the James Taylor version. To me, it is more “bluesy.” I love everything about this cut!!

https://youtu.be/4vAuXP4hIoo

Baby, I Love You – Andy Kim

This one was originally done by the Ronettes in 1963 and featured Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” Andy Kim recorded his version in 1969 and had a top 10 hit with it. It mimics the “wall of sound” but if you listen in headphones, there is a lot of little stuff going on in the background – jingle bells, glockenspiel, castanets, and more. I remember hearing it a lot as a kid.

https://youtu.be/kdrpRKiVwi8

Since I Met You Baby – Dean Martin

This remake I stumbled on by watching MTV!! The original was done by Ivory Joe Hunter in 1956. I remember seeing the Title and Artist show up on the bottom left side of the screen when the video started and couldn’t believe that Dean Martin was on MTV. He recorded it for his The Nashville Sessions Album and I love that it stays true to the original, yet is purely Dean.

https://youtu.be/9Ls6X0-rgd4

Think – Joan Osborne

It better be good if you are covering the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and this one is! Aretha did the original in 1968 and then covered herself for a version in the Blues Brothers. I don’t remember how I stumbled on Joan Osborne’s version, but it is different enough that I love it. It has such a cocky attitude to it. Dig it –

https://youtu.be/RNskLOOwvvI

Mustang Sally – Buddy Guy

Originally done by Wilson Pickett, this is one of greatest soul songs of all time! I heard this on the Blues channel on Sirius XM and fell in love with it. I’ve always dug Buddy Guy and while this stays pretty true to the original, it has a sound of its own!

https://youtu.be/eAyFynJXe4g

Blue Suede Shoes – Elvis

Carl Perkins seemed to have all of his songs covered and many times, his songs became associated with the other artist rather than him. That’s the case with Blue Suede Shoes – it is Elvis. Elvis’ version is so much better than Carl’s in my opinion.

https://youtu.be/HeXnFx7aPOE

Your Cheating Heart – Crystal Shawanda

Originally done in 1952 by the late Hank Williams Sr. this takes a whiney and twangy song and cranks it up about 10 notches. We had Crystal in for a show when I worked at the country station and she was fantastic. This was on her debut album. I’m not sure she isn’t a huge star. Her voice is amazing and she is very talented.

https://youtu.be/GLVYxAKT12g

Dirty Laundry – Lisa Marie Presley

Written by and a hit for Don Henley, I have always loved this song. The content of the song is about mass media and how they exploit just about everything. Henley had a top 5 hit with it. I didn’t even know that Lisa Marie Presley had done this song until I heard it on some Pandora playlist. Her vocal is sultry and sells the content lyrically. A great cut!

https://youtu.be/u9_Bf1pVWOk

As a bonus – here is a live and unplugged version:

https://youtu.be/8jUBEj_8x5s

Please, Please, Please – Delbert McClinton

A cover of James Brown’s classic! James has a hit with this in 1956 and it went top 10 on the R&B charts. I think Delbert McClinton is someone who just doesn’t get enough praise for all he does. He’s a singer songwriter who can play many instruments and has released many albums. This version comes from his Honky Tonk and Blues album, which is a personal favorite.

https://youtu.be/HCs8m27CiCM

Call Me Irresponsible – Michael Buble’

Jimmy Van Heusen composed this song in 1962 with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. According to Mel Torme’, the song was written for Judy Garland to sing on her TV show. It was written as a parody to her well-known problems. Many people have done versions on the song – Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Eddie Fisher, Julie London, and more. Michael Buble’ used this as the title track for his 2007 album. It get’s me right from the opening “walking” bass lick. Buble’ has made a career out of covering so many songs from the Great American Songbook, as well as many originals. He has a great band backing him and he sings this effortlessly.

https://youtu.be/oj_eUUaWBu0

Ok – Just One That I HATE

Lean on Me – Club Nouveau

I love Bill Withers. he wrote and recorded this for his 1972 Still Bill album. It was a smash and was a number 1 song. I never cared for the cover version. Yes, it stayed very close to the original, but I just never cared for the arrangement at all. It’s almost annoying to me. It is actually playing in my headphones as I am typing this. To me, the whole 80’s synth sounds just sound out of place. Not to mention the whole “We be jammin” part – URGH!! One good thing about this was that it won a Grammy for Bill Withers as the writer for Best R&B song.

I reluctantly post the link to the video here ….

https://youtu.be/kbyjaUJWWmk

Final Thoughts

So what can we say about cover songs? Are they done as a tribute to the original artist? Are they done because it’s a favorite to perform? Are they done to “improve” on the original? Are they done because an artist feels it should be presented in a different way? Who knows, really!? One could easily ask the same questions about all the crappy movie remakes that have come about.

Some of my favorite concert memories are hearing the singer do a song that is totally unexpected. My favorite memory of the Billy Joel concert I attended wasn’t Piano Man. It was when he talked about loving the Motor City and breaking into his own version of I Heard it Through The Grapevine! Magical!! Aaron Tippin played a county fair for us and one point he threw on a fedora and sang Fly Me To the Moon, which blew my mind! Very cool songs – never released – but covers, nonetheless.

In the end, a good song is a good song. I love listening to a great song done by many other singers. It says something about the song melodically and lyrically. I don’t always love the cover, but that’s ok. It’s fun to hear the artist’s take on it.

I want to thank Dave for allowing me to ramble on and on about this month’s topic. I’ve wanted to feature cover songs on my site, but just couldn’t figure out how to present it. I guess I better stop typing because the more I think about it … the more songs are coming to my head!

Thanks for reading!

My “Go to” Karaoke Song(s)

It has been some time since a “Daily Writing Prompt” moved me enough to use it as a blog idea. Today’s though, was definitely one I could use. The Prompt? “What is your ‘go to’ karaoke song?”

I have to admit, I have sung a lot of karaoke. I did this mainly when I was in my mid 20’s to early 30’s. My friends and I had a couple places that we’d go and sing at. Looking back at it, I have to laugh because they were all dive bars.

I started singing karaoke with my old morning show partner, who actually COULD sing. He had a great voice and often sang ballads from the Great American Song Book. It was always funny because you’d have these people up there singing Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Queen, and Prince. Then he would get up and sing something from Robert Goulet!

At one point, between radio jobs, I actually hosted karaoke, which I thought would be fun, but it really wasn’t. It was then that I realized there were plenty of people who “thought” they could sing, but couldn’t. They come up to you with requests like, “Put some reverb on my voice” or “Pitch the song up or down” or “Give me more volume on my microphone” … It was crazy! These people are up there thinking their Shania Twain or John Lennon or something.

I have never claimed to be a good singer. I have a handful of songs that I can sing and sing them well. I know which songs my voice will never be able to handle. I stick with the ones I know I can do without embarrassing myself. In my repertoire were songs like: The Wonder of You (the Elvis version), Bad Bad Leroy Brown, Bad Case of Loving You (Robert Palmer), The Lady is a Tramp (Sinatra) , Mack The Knife (Bobby Darin), And I Love You So (lol – yes! The Perry Como song!), and That’s Amore (Gotta do some Dean Martin!).

If I had to pick the 3 karaoke songs that people would associate with me, they would be:

#3 – Tutti Fruiti by Little Richard

The reason for this is that back in the day, I used to change the lyrics to this. The lyrics were … well, not clean. People always laughed when I did this, however, today, I couldn’t do that any more. It’s just not who I am. I actually kind of cringe when I think of some of the lyrics I sang.

#2 Delilah – Tom Jones

I’m not going to lie, this was always a hard song to sing. Tom has such a great and powerful voice. The end of this song is tough. The night is fairly high – and you have to hold it for some time. That high and long note was nothing for my old morning show partner. He used to do this song a lot. I am not sure how or why I started singing it, but it became one I was always asked to sing.

#1 – Secret Agent Man – Johnny Rivers

By far, one of my favorite songs to sing, and hence, my “go to” karaoke song. It was always a favorite of mine growing up. The Johnny Rivers single was recorded live (I think at the Whiskey A Go Go). I probably heard my dad play this hundreds of times on his guitar. It has such a great intro and awesome solo. I remember one time I brought a fedora and a trench coat to the place we were singing so I could wear them when I sang this. Yeah, I was quite the dork in my 20’s!

While I loved singing karaoke, eventually it got old. I felt like I was going out and wasting money on alcohol, and being forced to sing the same things every time. There were plenty of other songs I would have loved to try, but the people I was with always made me sing the ones they wanted to hear (“It’s my birthday! You HAVE to sing Bad Case of Loving You!” etc…) The karaoke “scene” just wasn’t were I wanted to be anymore.

If there was karaoke at a work party or back yard BBQ, would I get up and sing today? Yeah, probably, but I would leave the fedora at home!

Tune Tuesday – Mack the Knife

 

bobby2

Bobby Darin was a talent.  He was a songwriter, a singer, an actor, and played multiple instruments.  Today is the anniversary of his birth – he was born May 14, 1936.  As a baby, he had bouts of Rheumatic Fever, which caused some damage to his heart.  He beat many odds and lived longer than most doctors expected him to.

He began his career writing songs for Connie Francis, and eventually recorded his first song, “Splish Splash” which was a hit in 1958.  He followed it with many other hits including “Dream Lover,” “Beyond the Sea,” “If I Were a Carpenter”, and “Mack the Knife.”

Mack the Knife was Bobby’s biggest hit spending 9 weeks at #1.  It was the #1 record of 1959.  It won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1960, and Bobby won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist of the Year.  The song later received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.  But it was almost NOT released as a single.

The song is from The Threepenny Opera.  Bobby saw this show at a theater in Greenwich Village in 1958 and thought he could present it in a more “jazzy” way.  He began to sing it in his nightclub act and got a good response.  He recorded it on an album and the sales of the album and his nightclub act had audiences wanting more of it.  Originally Bobby did not want to release the song as a single.  After all, he was a teen idol and had an image to uphold.  A old song about a murderer could easily tarnish that.  The record label decided that it should be released – and the rest is history!

One cool piece of trivia (at least for me, as a trumpet player):  Doc Severinsen, who would go on to work with Johnny Carson as the bandleader of the Tonight Show Band, is one of the trumpet players on this song.

Mack The Knife

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old Macheath, babe
And he keeps it out of sight

You know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, though, wears old Macheath, babe
So there’s never, never a trace of red

Now on the sidewalk, ooh, sunny morning, uh-huh
Lies a body just oozin’ life
Eek, and someone’s sneakin’ ’round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

There’s a tugboat down by the river, don’t ya know
Where a cement bag’s just a-droopin’ on down
Oh, that cement is just, it’s there for the weight, dear
Five’ll get ya ten, old Macky’s back in town

Now d’ya hear about Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
After drawin’ out all his hard-earned cash
And now Macheath spends just like a sailor
Could it be our boy’s done something rash?

Now Jenny Diver, ho, ho, yeah, Sukey Tawdry
Ooh, Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town

I said Jenny Diver, whoa, Sukey Tawdry
Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town

Look out ol’ Macky’s back!

There are many biographies available about the life of Bobby Darin.  His son, Dodd, wrote one entitled Dream Lovers which talks much about his dad and his mom (Sandra Dee).  It’s an honest read.

Bobby had health issues throughout his life and his heart already had issues.  In 1973, he neglected to take the antibiotics he was prescribed for his heart before a dentist visit.  He ended up developing sepsis which spread throughout his body.  This made him weak and affected one of the valves in his heart.  He checked himself into the hospital for another open heart surgery (he had two heart valves replaced in 1971).  After a six hour surgery, he died in the recovery room on December 20, 1973.  He never regained consciousness.  Bobby Darin was 37 years old.

Bobby