Songs are like people – they need time to find their perfect partner
Every now and I get up in the morning and think: today is a day to be controversial. Today is a day to rub people up the wrong way, ask the difficult questions straight out and practice my provocation skills. You don’t even have to dive into politics to do this either. There are plenty of subjects over which people will work themselves up into a lather within 10 seconds flat.
For music fans, one such subject is: who sang song X the best? The original artist or the cover artist? Some believe that only the real father or mother of a song can interpret the song as it was truly meant. I do not agree. I think that some songs have to wander out in the world to find the artist who will finally bring them to life.
Here are four songs that, in my opinion, only found their perfect expression in a cover version.
1. Weak in the Presence of Beauty – Alison Moyet (1987)
Alison Moyet is surely one of the greatest female vocalists Britain has ever produced. Those rich, soulful vocals and emotional delivery – she can sing about love and heartache as very few others can. The 80s certainly would not have sounded the same without her.
My mum was a fan. She had the album “Raindancing” on cassette and we often had it playing on our daily car trips to and from school. And “Weak in the Presence of Beauty” was by far and away the standout track. Back in 1987, it was a hit across the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, completely dwarfing the success of the original and remaining the definitive version several decades later.
Sorry guys, but when Alison Moyet takes you on, second place is the best you can hope for.
2. Free Fallin’ – John Mayer (live at the Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles, 2008)
Ah, John Mayer – America’s favourite womaniser. And to be honest, if I was as exorbitantly talented as Mayer is then I’d be enjoying the resulting amorous attention too.
Mayer, a guitar virtuoso whose parents once considered sending him to a therapist because he was too obsessed with playing the instrument, made a name for himself in the late 90s in Atlanta and New York. With those husky vocals, supreme guitar skills and an ability to flawlessly fuse pop with the blues, the music scene couldn’t help but sit up and take notice of this talented newcomer.
Mayer’s breakthrough album “Room For Squares” landed in 2001, with the singles “No Such Thing” and “Your Body is a Wonderland”, achieving significant chart success.
From there, Mayer has gone from strength to strength. Able to experiment with different genres and continue to evolve as an artist, he continues to be a respected and influential figure in the music industry.
As if the accomplished albums and modern classic songs (“Daughters”, “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”) weren’t enough – Mayer is also recognised as a leading live performer. His “Where The Light Is” concert at the Nokia Theatre in 2008 is widely thought of as a masterpiece in the world of live performance. This version of Tom Petty’s classic hit “Free Fallin’” is a standout moment of it and, in my opinion, completely transcends the original.
3. Dancing in the Street – Mamas and Papas (1966)
Of the songs listed here, saying that the cover of this song is better than the original feels most controversial. I may be flirting with an online tarring and feathering here! How can a classic Motown hit be bettered by a cover?, I hear you ask.
If you get Cass Elliott to sing it is the simple answer to that. A short time ago, I read an article in the Guardian which implied that Adele is the modern-day Mama Cass. How very dare you. Cass’s voice was a one-off, never to be imitated or equalled. An incredible vocal range, huge power and soul and a personality just as big – perfect for the sound of the free wheelin’ 1960s. And, unlike Adele, listening to Cass always cheers me up.
This song is just pure joy.
4. Valerie – Amy Winehouse ft. Mark Ronson (2007)
The Zutons do not get enough credit for having written a modern classic. Actually, I like the original very much. It was well-known in the UK when released, but I was already living in Austria at that point. The song simply didn’t register on this side of the English Channel. The first time I heard it was as the Amy Winehouse cover, which – when added to the retro-funky vibes of Mark Ronson – took a great song and made it go stratospheric.
It is great fortune or terrible misfortune when a tragically short-lived musical genius and global megastar picks up your song and effortlessly turns it into one of their signature tunes? I guess you have to ask The Zutons!
As for me, I’ll always love Winehouse’s cover. I put it on, let it carry me away – and know Amy’s talent will live forever. God bless you, girl: you were one in a million.
Photo credit: Prostock studio at Envato Elements