14th January 2021:
I’ve been working on a detailed article about the history of the cover version recently and it seems the more I think I know about this fascinating topic, the more there is to find out. The article is in its last stages of tweaking at the moment and should be ready for uploading by the end of the weekend.
As it is my brother, Rob’s, birthday I thought I would share a few covers that have meant a lot to us both over the years (and in honour of him being such a wonderful person and such a special brother). I know it’s a bit indulgent on my part but I think this selection makes for some good listening, and besides, Rob is such a nice person that I think he deserves to be honoured!
I remember first becoming aware of the concept of a cover song as a kid when the Beatles released Twist and Shout. Gordon, my big brother, pointed out to me that it was exactly the same song as La Bamba. As he had both The Richie Valens single and The Beatles hit, I must have played the two back-to-back dozens of times letting this new ‘cover phenomenon’ set in.
I enjoy a good cover version. The whole concept is one that can stitch together distant sounds, eras and genres into a masterpiece that sometimes reveals a hidden layer to a well-known song that you never knew existed, or just breathe some welcome new life into an old, but tired favourite.
I’m starting with a song that has found its way from the film South Pacific into the collection of ‘standards’ known as The Great American Songbook. Here’s ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, written in 1949 by Rogers and Hammerstein for their Broadway show (and subsequent film), sung here by a lady who is right up there with Streisand and Celine Dion but never received as much recognition as she should have, Jane Olivor. Be prepared for one of those ‘gobsmacked’ moments
The second choice of cover song to honour Rob on his birthday is from one of the big club bands of the 80s that we both threw ourselves around the dancefloor to back in the day. The Communards and the song Don’t Leave Me This Way is a favourite of many and Jimmy Somerville took this already established club anthem to #1 on the UK charts for 4 consecutive weeks in September of 1986, but it has roots in the previous decade.
The song was created by the songwriting trio of Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert and first released by The Blue Notes in 1975 with Teddy Pendergrass being featured on lead vocals. The song proved to be the group’s highest-peaking entry in the United Kingdom, reaching number five on the UK Singles Charts, but only when it was re-released as a single in 1977 in the wake of Thelma Houston’s cover that had become a worldwide Disco hit in 1976.
Thelma Houston’s version went stratospheric and topped various charts in the USA, UK and Europe and won Best R&B Vocal Performance at the 20th Annual Grammy Awards. The use of Don’t Leave Me This Way in the soundtrack of the 1978 film Looking for Mr Goodbar permanently cemented the song into pop culture. The song also became an unofficial theme song during the AIDS epidemic as it resonated through the gay communities in an era of uncertainty and fear.
When the Communards released their version(s) the song became even more relevant to LGBT movement as Jimmy Somerville was a very vocal gay activist. Jimmy’s powerful countertenor/falsetto voice suits the song perfectly and always transports me back to the club-hustle of the 80s.
The last cover version for this mini-feature is a very special one for me. If I was asked to compile my Desert Island Disc’s choice this would be on it. I’m talking of the Hothouse Flowers and their cover of the Johnny Nash’s 1972 chart-topping earworm, I Can See Clearly Now. As popular as it was, I was never a huge fan of the original and soon grew bored of it, relegating it to the realm of muzak.
When Rob introduced me to the Hothouse Flowers version I went through one of those jaw-drop moments. They had managed to turn a pretty bland song (in my eyes) into a work of art, adding a texture and depth that immediately resonated deep within me. I liked the little of Hothouse Flowers music I had heard to that point, but this song turned me into a major fan, and has remained one of Rob and my all-time ‘bro-songs’ to this day.
I know there are purists out there that may disagree, but I believe the cover version is a natural and important part in music’s evolution. This was put succinctly by the communication scholar and author George Plasketes, who wrote in his 2010 book Play It Again – Cover Songs in Popular Music, “covers are about favourite songs and great songs – Classics and Standards. They show how musical artefacts are kept culturally alive, repeating as echoes”.
Thanks for joining me to celebrate cover versions (and my wonderful brother Rob) with today’s selection, and hope it whets your appetite for my full feature article that I’ll be posting in a few days. Here’s a teaser – the working title is Like a Version! Have a great day all – catch you soon.
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.
The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.
Words © Andrew Knapp 2021