“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.

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.

The British Invasion Continues: Jacob Collier

For years, British artists have been invading and inspiring American music.  It all started with the Beatles in the 60s.  From Adele, to Jessie J, to superstar Sam Smith, British musicians have proven time and time again that we Americans love their music like none other.  In comes Jacob Collier, a prodigal multi-instrumentalist whose Youtube videos are absolutely mind-blowing.

Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

 

At only 20 years old, Jacob sings, plays piano, bass guitar, various synthesizers, electric guitar, drumset, and many many others with a musical maturity well beyond his years.  Taking heavy influences from jazz, as well as blues, funk, gospel, classical, and even hip hop, Jacob’s performance is definitely a very unique, and extremely listenable sound that he can call his own.  He’s gotten the support of huge faces in the industry such as Quincy Jones, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock, just to name a few.

 

Here are a few of videos.  Hopefully you groove and “stank face” as much as I do.

 

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.

 

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.