“Tainted Love”: from Synth to Screamo

I know the song “Tainted Love” because I am weirdly obsessed with 80’s music and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” from 1981 is one of the classics. So classic in fact, that I only just learned that it was first recorded in 1964 by Gloria Jones and is not a Soft Cell original. Although, the versions are oddly similar considering the changes in music between those decades.

Unfortunately for Miss Jones, her version was critical flop. Of course, Soft Cell added the quintessential 80’s instrumentation and hella high falsetto backing vocals, but the base sounds of the song remained the same, despite the change in keys and the swap from real instruments to machines. This is quite the compliment to songwriter Ed Cobb, for his song seamlessly transitions from genre to genre.

For further proof of this genre jumping, look no further than Marilyn Manson’s cover of the song. His cover was released in 2001 for the soundtrack of Not Another Teen Movie. Predictably a bit different than the previous versions, Manson takes a decidedly more rock take on the song, with heavier drums and electric guitar. The bridge even turns the song briefly into a screamo track—a genre of music I normally hate—that somehow works really well.

Needless to say, Soft Cell’s version is still my favorite. I apparently have a soft spot in my heart for trippy music videos featuring floating heads in space and Tinkerbell-esque orbs causing trouble. Maybe this says something about my psyche, but let’s not think about that too much.

Advertisements

That Whitney, What a Doll(y).

If you’ve kept up with my column thus far you’ll notice that most all of the posts I’ve written have had one thing in common: the cover I’m writing about is generally more famous than the original composition. This particular post however, is about the all too rare case of an original and a cover both having their moment in the spotlight and both receiving hefty praise from fans and critics alike.

I grew up knowing “I Will Always Love You” as a Whitney Houston song. Released in 1992 as the theme to the film Bodyguard, it immediately gained worldwide acclaim. Among other awards, Houston picked up six Billboard Music Awards, two Grammys, and two American Music Awards, in addition to the song’s chart success. The track is seen as Houston’s signature song, despite being composed and first performed by none other than Dolly Parton.

Parton’s original country version of “I Will Always Love You” was released in 1974 on her album Jolene. The song topped country charts and won her a County Music Award. She didn’t let the song stop there, though. Parton had a leading role in the film adaption of the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which used most of the production’s original score. However, two of Parton’s songs—one being “I Will Always Love You”—made it into the film. The version used in the movie also found success on the charts—a historic moment for the singer/songwriter who was the first artist to have a number one record chart twice as a singer, and three times as a songwriter. Houston and Parton publicly shared in the success of the song when Parton presented Houston with her Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance in 1994.

As always, there are many more covers of the song than just the ones I’ve focused on here. John Doe’s version was actually used in Bodyguard as well, during a scene where Houston and costar Kevin Costner dance together to the jukebox tune. Linda Ronstadt released her cover of the Parton original on her 1975 album Prisoner in Disguise, and would later go on to collaborate with Emmylou Harris and Dolly herself on album called Trio.

Four decades after the original release and “I Will Always Love You” has lived up to its name. The song is still a go-to for powerhouse vocalists wanting to show off their skills, broken hearted people needing a good cry, and loud, drunk people at a karaoke bar who are convinced they can hit those high notes.

Did I miss your favorite cover of “I Will Always Love You”? Let me know in the comments!

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Damn It.

It turns out that Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—an upbeat, female anthem—was written by none other than a man who was looking to make a point about how many women he’d slept with. I didn’t see that one coming. Maybe this is a well-known fact, but it was news to me. News that came soon after I found out that Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” had a similar evolution from misogynistic male song, to inspiring karaoke classic.

Cyndi Lauper’s producer at the time, Rick Chertoff, had heard Robert Hazard’s original recording of the song, and received permission from him to change the lyrics up a bit. A noted feminist, Lauper swapped out the tales of a man bedding many women and turned the song into a powerful story of, well, I’ll let Lauper explain it: “It doesn’t mean that girls just want to fuck. It just means that girls want to have the same damn experience that any man could have.” Lauper wasn’t just about equality between the sexes though, but between races as well. Her video for the single was one of the first music videos to feature women of multiple races.

Aside from the lyrical improvements, the entire song got an upgrade when Lauper took it over from Robert Hazard. Listen to the original below, if you can even make it through the whole song. It’s uncomfortably fast, and a feels like the lyrics are shoved into spaces they weren’t meant to fit. Maybe it’s just because I’m so used to the original, but I have a hunch I wouldn’t dig it even if I had heard Hazard’s
first.

Lauper’s version went on to be covered many more times, while Hazard’s version was left in the dust. Other artists that have performed the track range from Arcade Fire (joined onstage by Lauper herself), to Relient K, to Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. The song is an 80’s classic, and rightly so. I’m certain it will be performed by generations of karaoke goers and famous musicians alike in the decades to come.

TCB (Taking Care of Business): Aretha Franklin

Spelling never felt as sassy as it did when Aretha Franklin sang “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. Franklin transformed the song into the hit that it deserved to be and that the original writer and singer of the song—Otis Redding—was unable to make it.

Redding couldn’t even argue with that. He once jokingly said that “Respect” was the song that “a girl took away from [him]”. Redding and Franklin’s tracks sound different from each other musically, but the biggest difference in the versions comes from the perspective change that Franklin created by adding a few key lines, and editing some of Redding’s. Check out the tunes and an example of a lyric change:

Otis Redding:
Hey little girl
You’re sweeter than honey
And I’m about to give you
All my money

Aretha Franklin:
Your kisses
Sweeter than honey
And guess what
So is my money

In the original version sung by Redding, the “respect” that is referred to is a euphemism for sex. Clearly this is not the case in Franklin’s version. She recorded the song in 1967, two years after Redding had, and in the middle of significant changes in the United States. “Respect” quickly became a landmark song for both the women’s right’s movement, and the civil right’s movement, and continues to be an empowering female anthem in an age where women are paid less than men, harassed regularly, and often looked as little more than a pretty face. If that doesn’t make you respect Ms. Franklin, I don’t know what will.

Everyone wants Candy

In 2000, I spent hours listening to Aaron Carter’s new album Aaron’s Party (Come Get It) while jumping on my bed or dancing around the room with my Aaron Carter poster. Little did I know that one of the songs I had memorized all the words to was actually a cover of a song from the 1960s. That song was “I Want Candy”. It was years later that I learned the song was originally written and performed by The Strangeloves, and was the title track of their first and only LP release.  Carter’s version was pure pop, and stayed loyal to the original.

In between the original and Carter’s version is new wave group Bow Wow Wow’s cover of the song. Their cover swapped pronouns, opting for their female lead singer, Annabella Lwin to sing “Go to see him when the sun goes down, ain’t no finer boy in town…” instead of “see her” and “finer girl”. The song was released in 1982, and continues to be a staple of 80’s music, being featured in films or TV flashbacks set in the 1980s, as well as landing on many “Best of” 80’s compilations.

Though the song is not covered terribly often, a few other artists have shared their take on it. Good Charlotte recorded the song to be featured in the film Not Another Teen Movie. Cody Simpson covered the song for the soundtrack to the animated movie Hop. Melanie C chose her cover of the song to be the first single off her album This Time.

No matter how many more artists cover the song, I know that whenever I hear “I Want Candy”, I will always think of Aaron Carter dancing around in a silver puffer jacket and matching pants with Hilary Duff on Lizzie McGuire, and their real life relationship that seven year old me was so excited about.

 

Arrows in The Blackhearts

Most everyone knows that “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” is by the badass Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Except, well, it’s not. The song was written and recorded by Arrows in 1975, a pop rock band from London that disbanded after only three years together.

Although the song was released as a single, it failed to garner much traction until it landed in the hands of Joan Jett seven years later, when she saw Arrow perform the song on television. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ version charted number one in multiple countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K., and the Netherlands. The track received professional praise as well, and still does. Jett’s version has made it onto lists such as Q Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks, Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

A version of the song that did not do quite as well? Britney Spears’ cover of the track, which was released as a European single in 2002. The cover was featured in the movie Crossroads, which starred Britney Spears. Spears’ character sung the track in a karaoke bar. The single was received about as well as the film, which is to say, poorly. Britney’s version was trashed by critics, but still managed to sneak into the Top 40 in many countries.

If that video wasn’t enough to make you cringe, noted Joan Jett fan Miley Cyrus added the song to her tour set a few years ago. Of course, she sung the song while suspended above her stadium audience on a red motorcycle. I suppose that’s rock and roll, but even more rock and roll? Breath control.

 

Talking Is Hard; Instagram is Easy.

Ohio natives Walk The Moon (stylized WALK THE MOON) have just had their first Billboard hit with “Shut Up and Dance”, the first single off their 2014 sophomore major label release, Talking Is Hard (RCA Records). Although the foursome of Nicholas Petricca, Eli Maiman, Kevin Ray, and Sean Waugaman have had a large cult following since their independent release of I Want! I Want! in 2010, their first Billboard track has truly propelled them forward. The alt-pop band is taking advantage of their surge of success by updating their social media regularly with, you guessed it, cover songs.

Keeping a keen eye on their demographic—their fans range from 16-30 years old, generally—they keep their fifteen second, Instagram appropriate covers a clever mix of new jams and old favorites that their main fan base will recognize. Just take a look at their most recent covers and you’ll see what I mean:

The covers began in July of 2014, when Walk The Moon was on tour supporting Panic! At The Disco. Still going strong, Walk The Moon has posted over twenty covers to date and show no signs of stopping while on their own headlining tour. From A-ha’s iconic “Take On Me” to the somewhat less iconic, but still quite notable “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C, Walk The Moon has found a dynamic way to mix their musicality with their often hilarious and always energetic personalities to capitalize on what they do best: make the listener happy.

Their “note to listeners” in the album booklet of Talking Is Hard explains their philosophy best:

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 7.29.12 AM

The songs on this album achieve what they set out to do, but perhaps even more impressive is that each of their cover songs do the same. The gents in Walk The Moon put as much energy, humor, and heart into their covers as they do anything else. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re covering some well-known songs, and using hashtags to identify them. Have a sudden desire to explore Kelly Clarkson’s greatest hits? If you look up her name on any of the social media sites Walk The Moon uses, their fifteen second cover of “Since You’ve Been Gone” will appear in the results, allowing for new fans to not only see the musical abilities of the band, but their carefree spirits that make them so fun to watch live. The personality of a band is often the biggest draw to a fan, aside from the music the band produces, of course. These videos combine both into easy to watch—but easy to keep watching—segments that are a perfect way to introduce a potential fan to a group.

Clever as it may seem marketing-wise, you get the feeling that many of the covers aren’t exactly planned out far ahead of time. Some involve empty rooms with good acoustics the band seems to have just stumbled upon. Others are inspired by wherever the guys may be at the moment. Is the venue near the woods? Why not cover Bon Iver’s “Woods”? Do you suddenly find yourself on a boat? Time to cover “Come Sail Away” by Styx! It really does seem as simple and authentic as that. And if that ain’t some Midwest charm, then I don’t know what is.

John Lennon: The Original Jealous Guy. Sorry, Nick Jonas.

I didn’t mean to hurt you
I’m sorry that I made you cry
I didn’t mean to hurt you
I’m just a jealous guy

sings John Lennon on his track “Jealous Guy” from the 1971 album Imagine. Other notably jealous guys? Gavin DeGraw, Elliot Smith, Deftones, Liz Gillies, and Lou Reed, among many others. Roxy Music’s cover of Lennon’s song is probably the most recognizable for those who were listening to the radio in the 1980s. Their cover charted in multiple countries—including the U.K. where it hit number one—after Lennon’s assassination in December of 1980. Oddly, the original by Lennon only made it to 65 on the U.K. charts. Although artists such as David Bowie, Annie Lennox, and The Sex Pistols site Roxy Music as an influence, the group never reached the worldwide notoriety that the artists they inspired did. “Jealous Guy” was Roxy Music’s only song from their eight studio albums to find its way to number one.

Though the song was released in the ‘70s, it has fans of all ages thanks to the wide array of artists who have covered it. My first introduction to the song was thanks to Gavin DeGraw, who is no stranger to covers. The rerelease of his album Chariot, called Chariot (Stripped), featured a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. However many know him for his piano-only version of “Jealous Guy”, which he recorded for the hit show One Tree Hill, and released on the tie-in-album/soundtrack, Friends with Benefit. That album came out in 2006; so, how are younger fans hearing about the decades old song now?

Elizabeth “Liz” Gillies—one of the few female artists to cover the song—became well known after staring on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, alongside Victoria Justice and Ariana Grande. The show, which ran from 2010-2013, was geared towards tweens and early teens and focused on a group of friends who went to a performing arts high school. The show gave Gillies the opportunity to show off her Broadway trained voice, and gave her a head start in the music industry. She appeared on several of the show’s soundtracks, and was featured on Grande’s Christmas EP. Trying to keep that momentum going, Gillies released a series of covers on her YouTube page, including her cover of “Jealous Guy” in 2011, introducing the tune to an entirely new generation of listeners.

Bron Don talks Cartoons, Chords, and Cover Songs

Bron Don From left: Mitchell Cardoza, Michael Cangemi (sideways), Colin Mohr, John Cattini

Bron Don
From left: Mitchell Cardoza, Michael Cangemi (sideways), Colin Mohr, John Cattini
Photo by Claire Roche

At 10pm on a Thursday in Valencia, Spain, I buy myself a Pepsi at Bocalinda, a restaurant in the building I live in and that half of the rock reggae band Bron Don has agreed to meet me at. As I sit down and set my change on the high top table, Bron Don bassist Michael “Wolfgang” Cangemi picks up my coins and starts placing them into a circle formation, trying to balance each on its side. The recording of the conversation I took to ensure proper quotations is peppered with the clinks of euros tipping over.

We’ve sat down to discuss cover songs and, in true Bron Don fashion, a myriad of other topics come up—many of which had to be omitted from this article since this is a school-run blog. (Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for the uncensored version. Just kidding. Maybe.)

I ask my first question: “What is your favorite cover song to play as a band? You can answer individually.” With that in mind, Mitchell Cardoza—lead singer and guitarist—dramatically leans over to Mike, covering his mouth from my view and whispering to Mike about what their answer should be. “No, you’re convening? Okay,” I say. I once again remind them they can have different answers just as they come out of their huddle, pleased looks on their faces. “Do you both agree on one?” They answer confidentially, half a second after each other, “’Fire’ by Jimi Hendrix.”

The first time they played “Fire” was during the Valencian holiday of Fallas, which celebrates Saint Joseph by setting fire to giant, elaborate sculptures all throughout the city. They had wanted to add the cover to their set for a while, and decided a festival of fire was the perfect time to do so. Mitch remembers the show vividly. “At the end of the song, like, the peak of the song, I [accidently] kicked my chord out of my pedal, so it just made a ‘zzzzzzzzz’ sound and I was like ‘What the fuck?’ but it was kind of in the key, so it was all good.”

The coins Mike was placing all crash down as someone knocks into the table. Mitch and I start cracking up as Mike throws his hands up in the air, defeated, before he beings to laugh as well. They have a contagious energy about them, so I quickly try to bring focus back to the interview before any of us can get too distracted. “So, ‘Fire’ is your favorite?” Of course, their minds have changed now. Mike is a fan of their cover of Bob Marley’s “Zimbabwe”, as well as Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” which Mike says is the first cover they learned as band.

You guys just released a cover on your Facebook and SoundCloud, right?
*Author’s note: The cover is a mash-up of “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley & the Wailers, and “Welcome to Jamrock” by Damian Marley. Bron Don titled their live cover of the mash-up “Get Up Jamrock”.
Mitch: Si.
Mike: Yes, we did.
Mitch: [It was of] “Zimbabwe”. No!
Mike: “Zimbabwe” and “Get Up, Stand Up”.
Mitch: No, nope. It was “Get Up, Stand Up” and—
Mike: “Welcome to Jamrock”.
Mitch: That’s by Damian Marley. Bob’s little son. *Laughs*
Mike: Or the rap medley. The rap medley is always cool. Yeah, I kind of like the rap medley one.

What’s it a medley of?
Mitch: So, since I was a little baby boy I’ve made this rap medley of all the best—all my favorite—like, rally songs.
Mike: 90’s rap songs.
Mitch: 90’s rap. Like, Biggie, Tupac, “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Dogg, and I just put it all on I-vi-ii-V.
*Author’s note: I-vi-ii-V is a chord progression commonly used in jazz music.
Mike: Look at that! Cardoza is learning chords!
Mitch: Little jazzy, a little doo-wop, and then I just go off.
Mike: It’s literally just verse after verse and then chorus. He just hits you with the classics.

What’s a cover song you love done by another artist?
Mike: “Mama, You Been on my Mind”. Jeff Buckley’s cover of the Bob Dylan song.
Mitch: “Higher Ground” by the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers. Well, by Stevie Wonder [originally].

What cover song has garnered the most positive response from a live audience?
Mitch: “Waiting in Vain”.
Mike: Any Bob Marley song, but yeah, “Waiting in Vain”—
Mitch: Mostly “Waiting in Vain”.
Mike: “Zimbabwe”.
Mitch: We’re so tight with [“Zimbabwe”]. We’ve been playing it for like a year and a half. We’ve played it ever since we were a band pretty much.
Mike: We played it at our first show, I think.

Any plans to add new covers to your live set?
Mitch: “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix.
Mike: Covers are cool. We’re always kind of looking for new shit to spice up the set.
Mitch: The hardest thing about covers is that we like songs that not everybody likes.

When you choose cover songs to play, do you keep that in mind? Do you try to introduce your audience to new music or are you looking for a song that will get everyone singing along?
Mitch: We kinda play covers just to like—sometimes, just [for ourselves]. Not in like, a self-centered way! We just like playing songs. Like “Fire”, I wouldn’t expect all the girls to like “Fire”, but they do because we’re passionate about it.

Do you think the somewhat heightened value of cover songs in the Internet age is a good thing or a bad thing? What do you think about artists like Justin Bieber and Karmin getting discovered through YouTube?
Mike: Well, in the case of Justin Bieber, that sucks.
Mitch: He’s hated more than Kim Jong Un.
Mike: Just because you can do a good cover of a song doesn’t mean you’re a good musician.
Mitch: Yeah, because they get a [record] deal and then they can’t write their own songs. So, personally, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s easier, I think, to get discovered on YouTube doing only cover songs. This happens all the time: I’ll look up some song, and it’s like five cover songs and then it’s the song. And there are people who just chill on YouTube all day just watching those things, I guess. Somebody has to watch ‘em. It’s good to get exposure by posting songs people already know. If it’s a killing cover they’re like “Oh, I’ll check out their original stuff.” But they usually don’t have any original stuff.
Mike: It’s usually like, “Oh, check out all my other twelve covers of Taylor Swift.”

I’m out of questions, so the conversation drifts to television. Mitch is a fan of 1990’s cartoons, while Mike opts for more recent hits, such as Game of Thrones and The Americans. However, they both agree that SpongeBob is the holy grail of TV. They also agree that the 2001 film Shrek was nothing short of masterpiece. Seeing this as my opportunity to organically guide the interview away from topics such as the inappropriateness of the late 90’s children’s cartoon Johnny Bravo and back to music, I ask what their favorite song from the Shrek soundtrack is. Mitch gasps excitedly at the question, while Mike immediately responds with “Hallelujah”.

Mitch: I never liked Hallelujah in the movie. I like it now.
*Author’s note: John Cale’s version was used in the film, while Rufus Wainwright’s cover was used on the official soundtrack.
Mike: Jeff Buckley’s [cover] is the best—even better than the original. Anyway, I don’t know my favorite song from Shrek. There’s so many. “My Beloved Monster”…I like that song because it’s a happy part of the movie.
Mitch: What are you talking about, dude? “I’m a Believer”. That’s my favorite song.
Mike: Yeah.
Mitch: And “Accidentally in Love”.
*Author’s note: “Accidentally in Love” was in Shrek 2.
Mike: In context with the movie, [“I’m a Believer”] is probably my favorite song. But if I listened to all the songs separately, it’d be “Hallelujah”.

Anything else you want to say about cover songs to wrap up the interview?
Mike: I like cover songs that are original.
Mitch: Me too. [I like] covers that can express your originality. I don’t like it when you just play it note for note. Like, vibe for vibe.
Mike: Or literally transcribe every part and not play it as your own.
Mitch: That ain’t no fun.
Mike: The whole fun part of doing cover songs is taking a song you really like and making it your own.
Mitch: Unless you’re playing a Bob Marley song, ‘cause then it’s just fun to play.
Mike: But we kind of make it our own, because we aren’t Jamaican.

Any final words to the readers?
Mike: We’re just decent dudes.
Mitch: Yeah, decent dudes.

The Unlikely Evolution of “Hallelujah”

In starting a blog column focused on cover songs, I would be remiss to not begin with perhaps the most famously covered song of all time: “Hallelujah”. Originally recorded by Leonard Cohen and released on his album Various Positions in 1984, “Hallelujah” was not the immediate hit it would later prove to be. In fact, the arrangement of the song we hear most often today is not even the version Cohen originally released.

John Cale, (known for his solo work, as well as for cofounding The Velvet Underground) had heard Cohen perform the song live using different verses than were sung on the recorded track. Cale asked Cohen to send over the alternate verses he had—upwards of eighty—and with that, Cale pieced together the version we hear at every coffee shop around the world. For comparison:

Original studio version:

John Cale’s version, performed by Cohen:

Despite the song’s metamorphosis which took place between Cohen and Cale, most people associate “Hallelujah” with Jeff Buckley who recorded a cover of the song for his first and only album entitled Grace, which was released three years prior to his untimely death in 1997. However, the song really hit mass-market appeal when John Cale’s version was used in the blockbuster movie Shrek in 2001. Oddly, this still wasn’t the version that charted. The soundtrack to Shrek (which sold two million copies) used Rufus Wainwright’s version of “Hallelujah” instead of Cale’s, despite featuring the latter version prominently in the film. This was the catalyst that launched “Hallelujah” into a level of popularity it had not yet managed to achieve since its release almost two decades before.

This, of course, was just the start of things. With hundreds of covers recorded and performed live by artists spanning almost every genre out there, it’s hard to choose the best renditions, or even personal favorites. The versions I’ve come to know best are the two mentioned above: Wainwright’s and Buckley’s. However, the song continues to reach new ears through each artist who performs it.

Imogen Heap’s haunting a capella version scored a main character’s death in the popular teen drama The O.C. in 2006. Two years later, Kate Voegele performed the song on One Tree Hill—a teen soap known for launching the music careers of artists such as Wakey!Wakey! and Gavin DeGraw. The use of the song in shows whose audiences are predominately teens and twenty-somethings undoubtedly brought, and continues to bring “Hallelujah” to an entirely new group of listeners.

For fans of country, Willie Nelson’s take on the song seamlessly adds steel guitar; his voice quaking on the refrains. He’s also one of the few artists to use Cohen’s original lyrics in his cover. Other notable versions include Beirut’s ukulele cover, in which he uses a playing card to strum. Brandi Carlile’s addition of strings (courtesy of the Seattle Symphony) underlines her loaded and lovely voice, while Bono’s version is at its best when it is ignored entirely. These artists and many more—ranging from Bob Dylan to Paramore to Renée Fleming—have done covers of the song. So what it is about this particular tune that resonates with so many different artists?

I’m inclined to believe it’s the mystery of the lyrics that draws so many people to it. Is the song about religion, sex, lost love, abuse? Cohen won’t be the one to tell you, offering little explanation of the song throughout his years of performing. Perhaps it means something different to each artist who covers it, infusing his or her own experiences into the performance and creating an entirely different song each time it’s sung. Although, it’s possible I’m just overthinking it—something Cohen certainly doesn’t do anymore. When asked what his opinion of the song is nowadays, Cohen offered, “I think it’s a good song, but I think too many people sing it”.

Point taken, Mr. Cohen. Point taken.