Monday, February 24, 2014

13 black artists' covers of white artists' music that surpass the originals (to close out Black History Month)

Quincy Jones and Sarah Vaughan vibe out in front of Peter Graves' tape machine from Mission: Impossible.
Quincy Jones and Sarah Vaughan (Photo source: Jazzinphoto)

The following list was inspired by both Harry Allen the Media Assassin's irritated response to the latest of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake's "History of Rap" medleys during the first week of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon...

True that. Thanks to an awesome editor who must be fucking insane to pour into hours of NBC News clips just to find the right soundbites, both Brian Williams and Lester Holt spitting 'Rapper's Delight' easily trounces those Fallon and Timberlake medleys.

... and Andrew Ti's similar response to the "History of Rap" medleys.

Shelly Lynn, the blond country singer who did 'Your Lies,' likes this? Cool. Wait, her name's Shelby Lynne? Woops. Tells you how much I fucking know about country music.

1. Sarah Vaughan, "Peter Gunn" (both Vaughan's 1965 version and the dope Max Sedgley remix)
"According to the liner notes, we can thank Quincy Jones for the recording. Hank Mancini says he never thought the song would work with lyrics, but Jones kept pestering him to try it. So, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote some lyrics and Bill Holman arranged the song. Vaughan provided the fireworks. Vaughan infuses the song with the same kind of slinkiness found on Peggy Lee's 'Fever,' but Vaughan manages to sound sultry at a much faster tempo."--Cahl's Juke Joint, 2008

2. The Skatalites, "Guns of Navarone"
"The song itself is an adaptation of the theme song to the 1961 film of the same name, and there are in fact two different versions of The Skatalites interpretation. With one clocking in at more than six minutes, it is the shorter, two and a half minute version that exemplifies everything that makes ska so fantastic."--The Daily Guru, 2010

3. Earth, Wind & Fire, "Got to Get You Into My Life"
"In 1978, Earth Wind & Fire appeared in another motion picture, the Beatles movie tribute Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the film, the band played themselves, performing 'Got To Get You Into My Life' at a concert hall. The film itself was a commercial bomb... Yet despite musical performances on the soundtrack from Aerosmith, Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees and Alice Cooper, Earth Wind & Fire's remake of the Beatles classic was the highest charting pop single from the soundtrack. 'Once more, we had a movie that flopped on us,' said Maurice White, 'but we had a #1 hit out of it... We actually recorded our parts on the set.'"--Goldmine magazine's profile of Earth, Wind & Fire, 1997

"Robert Stigwood called us and asked if we wanted to be in a movie... We said okay, it could be interesting. At that particular time, you didn't see a lot of musical blacks in movies--there was The Wiz, but that was a horrible movie. We had three songs to choose from--'Got To Get You Into My Life' and two ballads. We just did the song Chicago-style. Some people thought George Martin produced the song, but Maurice produced it."--Verdine White, Goldmine, 1997

4. Stevie Wonder, "We Can Work It Out"
"... it's worth mentioning that Stevie's soulful reworking of the original--no doubt powerful in its own glory--makes it sound more searing; indeed, converting it into a freedom song/black power amalgamation. In short, Stevie Wonder's version of 'We Can Work It Out' is nothing short of a magnificent transformation. And to a certain degree, you could say that Stevie Wonder 'flipped' the Beatles original. Does that mean that Stevie Wonder's version of 'We Can Work It' is better than the original? I'm not sure if that's a question worth entertaining."--Amir Said, 2010

Uh, it's a question I'm willing to tackle: hell yes, Wonder's version trounces the original.

5. Ella Fitzgerald, "Sunshine of Your Love"
"No matter what your feeling are on the issue of jazz singers/musicians extending their stylistic reach like this (and there are a lot of folks on both sides of the issue who consider it sacrilege, though their underwear is probably wound too tightly) Ella does a bang up job on the tune. She doesn't really alter her style all that much, grabbing the Cream tune and making it work for her, and the arrangement by Frank DeVol (much better known as a composer of TV theme songs) is actually pretty cool."--Funky16Corners, 2008

6. Otis Redding, "Satisfaction"
"Redding retains Keith Richards' main riff but embellishes the song with that unmistakable Memphis brass to create a true rock-soul anthem... Needless to say, Redding made virtually every 'cover' song his own with a fiery and raw vocal sound straight from his gut."--The Second Disc, 2013

7. Jimi Hendrix, "All Along the Watchtower"
"There are few cover versions that truly replace the original in most people's minds. But Jimi Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's 'All Along The Watchtower' is so good that even Dylan prefers it... From the start his take contains a ferocious energy missing in Dylan's quiet, contemplative version. In fact, the urgency and edginess that Hendrix gives it is far more in keeping with its apocalyptic message than Dylan's gentle strumming ever was. But most of all Hendrix gave the song his virtuoso playing--after one listen you can't imagine it being played any other way. Dylan couldn't either, and played it as Hendrix had from that point on."--BBC Radio 2's Sold on Song

8. Shirley Bassey, "Light My Fire"
"Bassey's version starts out with a slinky guitar line, then drums and bass, and then, like producer Johnny Harris was trying to know people out of their seats, the whole fucking orchestra drops in at double volume and you're all like 'Wha???' Shirley comes in with a typical, stylish vocal, and things keep moving along nicely. Then the band comes back in for an instrumental interlude, with icy washes of strings, pounding drums. Then Shirley comes back in for the big finish (almost) with Harris and his band taking it out BIG. I've heard that the version on the 'Johnny Harris Movement' LP (sought after by collectors of beats and such, since it was sampled) is pretty much the same track, without the vocals. Either way, wait until dark, snuggle up with your significant other and let this one rip. I am not responsible if your couch gets broken."--Funky16Corners, 2009

"You can never have too many copies of 'Spinning Wheel', or the record I'm highlighting today, a cover of the Doors classic 'Light My Fire'... Sampled by artists such as Kanye West, 50 Cent, Emimem and Peanut Butter Wolf among others, Miss Bassey has a soft spot in the MPC's and SP12's of the Hip Hop world. This very song was remixed by Kenny Dope... Shirley has some heat...'Theme from Love Story' anyone?"--DJ Prestige, 2012

9. The Isley Brothers, "Summer Breeze"
"The first family of soul turn Seals & Crofts' tune into a wonderfully smooth sexy classic. The Isley's had a penchant in the early 70s for covering rock songs, not all of which worked that well, but this is where it all comes together."--Eurasian Sensation's "Great black covers of white songs," 2008

10. Living Colour, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
"They take it funky on the verse and then break into a hardcore thrash on the choruses with Corey repeating the title super fast numerous times. He also inserts a loaded hesitation into the English punk rockers' original lyrics: 'One day it's fine and next it's--" he holds up his hand in a dismissible gesture, rolls his eyes during the pause, and spits out the final word: 'Black!'"--Right to Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race by Maureen Mahon, 2004

11. Musiq, "Missyou"
"On a remake of the Rolling Stones' 1978 disco adventure 'Miss You'... the track's idling guitar and combustible drumbeat give it an irresistible kick."--Vibe, 2004

12. Prince, "Creep"
"After word spread that Prince covered Radiohead's 'Creep' at the Coachella festival, the tens of thousands who couldn't be there ran to YouTube for a peek. Everyone was quickly denied--even Radiohead. All videos of Prince's unique rendition of Radiohead's early hit were quickly taken down, leaving only a message that his label, NPG Records, had removed the clips, claiming a copyright violation. But the posted videos were shot by fans and, obviously, the song isn't Prince's. In a recent interview, Thom Yorke said he heard about Prince's performance from a text message and thought it was 'hilarious.' Yorke laughed when his bandmate, guitarist Ed O'Brien, said the blocking had prevented even him from seeing Prince's version of their song. 'Really? He's blocked it?' asked Yorke, who figured it was their song to block or not. 'Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment.' Yorke added, 'Well, tell him to unblock it. It's our ... song.'"--AP, 2008

I somehow got the chance to hear Prince's Coachella version of "Creep" shortly after he and his label pulled that annoying stunt. It's still a phenomenal cover.

What Prince is thinking right here: 'Shit, did I forget to DVR New Girl?'
Prince at Coachella 2008

13. Solange, "Stillness Is the Move"
I like both the Dirty Projectors original and Solange Knowles' cover, but the latter's sample of Dr. Dre, which, in turn, is a sample of a cover of "Bumpy's Lament" from the Shaft score, gives it a slight edge. This not-so-nicely-shot live version unites Dirty Projectors with Solange.

No comments:

Post a Comment