Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What's your favorite unlikely cover?



I came across this song on the divine YouTube last night. It was a record I actually went out and bought with my pocket money, aged 11, having been captivated by the sheer bravura of the performance and the way it seemed to sweep me along. So called ‘Country and Western' performances were often like watching people from other planets for kids like me in those days - populated as they were by Stetson wearing, spangly-suited types, coming at you sleepily through a fuzzy television picture. Never was this more true than in 1975, even as we all got ready to cross the (narrower than we realized at the time) border between glam rock and punk, which had its own share of showy dressers.

Having considerably older parents than most of my peers, I was fortunate enough to have been brought up on classic songwriters/songs of a different era and so I knew right away that it was a cover of Errol Garner standard ‘Misty’ – once famous throughout the culture, even homaged by a pretty solid and popular Clint Eastwood movie and yet one of those songs that had slipped out the back door for most younger people by the time sometime comedian Ray Stevens got around to resurrecting it.

Nevertheless, I think it qualifies as damn near my favorite unlikely cover version. A song almost completely out of fashion, sung in a completely different style and genre by a man made famous a year earlier when he sang about taking off all your clothes in public (as a kind of hobby! what would they make of that today?) and got himself labeled as a one-hit-wonder, novelty performer/comedian in the process. Who would have thought at the time that Ray “The Streak” Stevens had in him such a confident, leisurely-sounding performance, that would completely transform an all-but-forgotten classic song into a thing of wonder for a whole different generation – just listen to the fiddle and slide playing and how it complements his soaring vocal. Breezy, almost cheeky, as you please and really quite remarkable.

So. What's your favorite ‘unlikely’ cover version?

37 comments:

goneforeign said...

What an interesting concept, loved it. You caught my eye with 'Erroll Garner', I lived through and loved his version, even to buying about 4-5 copies of his album. Had I heard this as background music I don't think it would have registered as Misty but being presented in this fashion I must say I liked it. I've never heard of Ray Stevens before.

goneforeign said...

I wouldn't say that this is a favorite but it is unusual, the Sex Pistols version of Old Blue Eyes 'My Way'
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIXg9KUiy00&feature=related

sourpus said...

Thanks goneforeign@. Another sometime favorite of mine would certainly be Siouxsie and the Banshees' version of 'Dear Prudence'. The Beatles (especially late era) were hardly fashionable at the time and the treatment (and gender change) lent something totally new and exciting to the song.

Tatanka Yotanka said...

I always enjoy the dislocation of Jackie Leven's cover of Bacharach & David's "I Say a Little Prayer"
As straight down the middle as Dionne Warwick's original; makeup, hair and dress included. Jackie's gorgeous, deep tenor voice is so bequiling that you are into the third verse before the gender bend makes you smile.

http://tinyurl.com/4jgwpp

'course it's all inner feminine stuff and makes sense in the context of this album and its excellent follow up 'Forbidden Songs of the Dying West'.

Tatanka Yotanka said...

I also love Assagai's excellent take on "Hey Jude" . What a great set of players they were, Louis Moholo, Mongezi Feza, Bizo Muggikana, Fred Coker, and Dudu Pukwana.

Slightly odd film ....

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=FTHgO8F4V1I

May1366 said...

Great post, sourpus.

I've just got a brand new favourite unlikely cover. I downloaded it from Funky 16 Corners a few weeks ago but actually heard it for the first time the other day:

Ella Fitzgerald - Sunshine Of Your Love

You'd probably expect some Mike Flowers Pop reading of the Cream standard but, while the big band does all the requisite huge, gorgeous brassy big band stuff, it also rocks. And Ella just reminds us that she was always funky. She was funky back in the Chick Webb days but it would just have been called swinging - she'd have been the one you wanted to go dancing with, while Billie provided the epic love affair. And in the age of funk, she just fits right in.

Proudfoot said...

The Saints' 'Lipstick on your Collar' does it for me. Cha-cha-cha! The Dickies specialised in this sort of thing and their 'Nights in White Satin' manages quite nicely, thankyou, without a mellotron.

nilpferd said...

Jazz crossovers.. Art Pepper's fantastically lyrical version of Isn't she lovely, Miles Davis' Time after time, Human Nature and Perfect Way, Madlib's Bitches Brew, Grant Green's versions of R&B/soul hits like Say a little prayer, Ain't it funky now or It's your thing.

Beatles covers.. Joyce and Banda Maluca's "Hard Days Night" makes it into a smokey, late night torch song, The Singers Unlimited discover untapped harmonic resources in their multitracked vocal versions of Fool on the hill or Eleanor Rigby.

Otherwise, there have been a lot of unexpectedly good interpretations of James Bond film music- MBV's We have all the time in the world, Sex Mob does Bond, or Leftfield's brilliant remix of Capsule in Space.

treefrogdemon said...

The Gourds' version of Snoop Dogg's 'Gin and Juice'...caused a bit of a sensation in country music circles.

ToffeeBoy said...

I know it always comes up in lists like this but the Frazier Chorus version of Anarchy In The UK is hard to beat.

saneshane said...

Just been reading the G2 article about La Lupe..
so watched the clips they mentioned
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmgcCqJ8W9w

I did a podbean some time back with
frazier chorus 'anarchy in the uk'
MBV 'all the time in the world'
Tricky doing 'the love cats'
Flunk doing 'blue monday' and
ultra vivid scene 'walkin after midnight'

I also like the wolfgang press doing 'Respect'
but no one else does.. even Liz Fraser who did backing vocals wasn't too happy.

sourpus said...

Gratitude to everyone muchly indeed for these excellent suggestions. I shall endeavour to check them all out. I think you all caught my drift about the 'unlikeliness' thing - covers you wouldn't expect but especially from people you wouldnt expect to deliver them and (sometimes) in a new suit of clothes you of surprising and beauteous hues. We are all used to the mavericks, like Costello bless him, dropping something new and unexpected (and therefore, perhaps, somehow expected) on us, but its so invigorating when those multi-coloured shots are fired from an outfield cannon.

Thanks for sharing.

sourpus said...

p.s. I also remember the flip side of Misty ('Sunshine') - video included above - which I would happily include in my personal list of favorite ever 'b' sides. Sounds like the same session as Misty, with all the same musicians present and correct, and firing on all six with a warmth and positivity that only that wonderfully inclusive era of the 1970's could have thrown up. I urge you to check it out when you've done listening to Misty and prepare to be rewarded for three or so extra minutes you invest. Cheers!

Frogprincess said...

I've always had a soft spot for Jack n' Meg's version of the Bacharach classic 'I just don't know what to do with myself'. Raw and rocky as opposed to Dusty's velvet touch.

Shoey said...

There was a good cover version thread on the Guardian blog a week or so ago. Will post a linky later.

Blimpy said...

donds for FP's nom. White is on fine form voice wise on the version on elephant. fab stuff.

GarethI said...

If you like unlikely, The Hot Eight Brass Band's version of Sexual Healing (complete with multiple vocals and extra syncopation) is worth digging out.
As, indeed, is the Stranglers snarling their way through Walk On By.

goneforeign said...

Tatanka: Thanks for that Assagai link, great version.

TonNL said...

Richard Thompson's stripped-down version of Britney Spears' "Oops, I did it again", RT's comment: "taken out of context, this is a pretty nice song".....

Japanther said...

As an amalgamation of unlikely covers and homonyms, one thing that's popular in Japan is to take a well known (usually American/European) song and completely re-write (read: slaughter it!) it in Japanese. So, it's not a cover, because it's not a translation, usually the Japanese version is nothing at all to do with the original lyrically, but it's not quite a homonym either, more of an homage???

Here's what i'm talking about:

http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=uj4J6wt0860&feature=related

or:


http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=1I_Oi36QhbU

Shoegazer said...

Here it am:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2008/sep/16/definitive.cover.versions?showallcomments=true

PaintRunner said...

One of my favourites is the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain version of Wuthering Heights is a favourite:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmBaE7ozWow

but also check out the rest of the vids on youtube (life on mars, shaft, teenage kicks, smells like teen spirit...) And for sheer showmanship (if a little off topic) fly me of the handel, and orange blossom

May1366 said...

He 'owns' this to such an extent that it seems less of an unlikely cover now than it may once have done, but John Coltrane's My Favourite Things wasn't your standard take on a standard.
Courtney Pine had a bash at something similar a while back with Chim-Chiminee.

In the category of "don't like the original; quite like the cover", there's The Chimes' Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (I shan't rehash the story, which has much in common with Abahachi's regarding U2, of prelapsarian fandom followed by an impossibility to engage with anything they ever did).

Roddy Frame's version of Van Halem's Jump was always a favourite.

From covers that unexpectedly work, how about covers that should work but don't? I don't mean any random act of making a hash of someone else's song (see all covers by Madonna) but occasions where an interesting artist makes what should have been an inspiring choice but in the end just reminds you what they and the song could do much better. My nomination would be Paul Weller's Thinking Of You. I know his covers album is patchy anyway but one or two work OK. This isn't grotesque - just meek and it deflates in every element in which Sister Sledge elevate.

nilpferd said...

Coltrane also did Chim Chim Cheree..
Speaking of JC I recently got the John Mclaughlin/Carlos Santana psychedelic version of "A love supreme" on "Love, Devotion, Surrender" which isn't bad.
It might be interesting to hear an indie rock cover of A love supreme..

May1366 said...

Good to see Trane anticipating the song for Nayim and Belletti after the Barca-Arsenal Champions League final.

The McLaughlin/Santana version is great. Will Downing's soul take on it wasn't too bad, though I seem to recall he exceeded the 19 repetitions of "A Love Supreme" in the final chant, which probably upset a delicate spiritual equilibrium and may be why we're as screwed as we currently all are, what with the rainbows and moonbows shooting out of the ground.

ejaydee said...

Hey! Too soon.

May1366 said...

Sorry ejaydee: crumbs of futile comfort in the temporary misfortunes of others - we take what we can.

ejaydee said...

Fair enough. You'll be fine by the end of the season. Not CL fine, but top 10 I reckon.

May1366 said...

Ten points would be nice. Actually, I never went in for the hysteria about making the Champions League in the first place so I'm not buying into the doom and gloom either.

Abahachi said...

I recall raving about this lot in the 'Songs About Spring' thread a while back, and indeed getting my suggestion into the B List: Zentralquartett, anarchic free jazz group from the former DDR (their name being a spoof of Zentralkomitee and other unbeloved state organisations), recorded their versions of traditional German folk songs, with the twin aims of subverting the whole tradition of Heimatmusik with its various problematic associations with Land, Volk etc., and celebrating a great musical folk tradition.

alimunday said...

Paintrunner, I second the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain and raise you Kathryn Williams singing 'Hallelujah'

ToffeeBoy said...

Anyone else remember The Mike Flowers Pops' cheese-laden version of Wonderwall?

Frogprincess said...

Cheers Blimpy. And that's nothing whatsoever to do with the Kate Moss pole dancing video.... Tee Hee. Toffee: Oh yes. Mike Flowers. I clearly do remember. I was in the bath at the time and it came on the radio. I nearly drowned out of surprise. But came out liking it. Define Chutzpah... and they did get the Gallaghers' permission, one assumes...

PaintRunner said...

@alimunday

Raise you Dread Zeppelin, I don't know which one to pick, but I suppose you could start with Stairway to Heaven:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAgREeIOdLA

There's plenty of others to view on youtube (they do Led Zeppelin songs with reggae rhythms fronted by an Elvis impersonator).

Speaking of Elvis, John Cale's version of Heartbreak Hotel is quite unexpected. Gets rid of the inappropriate jolliness of the original, slows it right down and gets about as bleak as you can:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpJdkJoHwIc

Just thougth of something else but immediately forgot it again, Maybe it will come back to me.

paintrunner said...

Just remembered:

Alpha Blondy: Wish You Were here

DarceysDad said...

Oh cripes, I'll be on this one big time when I get home tonight, I've got DOZENS of favourites, whole compilation tapes & CDs of the things.

That's my concentration up the M1 this afty shot to hell!

:o(

mnemonic said...

Dozing in bed with lousy cold this morning, what should suddenly play on the radio but


Tom Waits - Somewhere (from West Side Story

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=p6BJLjTDtXo