‘Tis The Season For Crap Cover Versions

An ’80s music scribe whose name escapes me once wrote that Paul Young didn’t just murder Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, he dismembered it and burnt its house down.

I’m paraphrasing of course, but, listening to the current crop of seasonal offerings, I can sympathise. Readers in the UK will have recently been – or will shortly be – inundated with Christmas TV ads half-inching ‘classic’ songs. Years gone by have seen hugely successful ‘pop’ takes on ‘indie’ standards such as Lily Allen’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, and probably a few more too.

Love ’em or hate ’em, at least there’s some kind of stylistic consistency there. More disturbing is the recent appropriation of soul and funk classics. There’s a beyond-anodyne, twee, puny take on Rufus & Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’ knocking about, sung by a vocalist/arranged by an arranger who have meticulously removed every vestige of emotion, feel and syncopation from the original.

You could say the same about the version of Camille Yarbrough’s ‘Take Yo’ Praise’ currently all over the telly. A bright spark in adland, or the artist herself, has obviously said: ‘Yes, let’s take this heartfelt tribute to the Civil Rights pioneers and turn it into a banal snore-fest celebrating the feeling you get when you are hoovering up stuff that you really don’t need’. High-fives all round. (Of course Fatboy Slim was first out of the blocks with this one).

And we won’t even get into the cover of Chic’s ‘Good Times’ that has recently reared its ugly head.

When did all of this start? I blame Foghorn Florence’s annihilation of Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’. (She even had the audacity to rename it ‘You’ve Got The Love’!) On the plus side, the original writers are getting a decent wedge from the publishing. Yarbrough apparently takes 60% of the Fatboy royalties. So at least the pioneers won’t have any problem buying Christmas presents this year, or any other for that matter.

But money isn’t everything. So I’ll be hunkering down and attempting to avoid Elbow’s cover of ‘Golden Slumbers’ for as long as humanly possible. In the meantime, feel free to nominate your worst-ever cover versions below.

Advertisements

Story Of A Song: Chaka Khan’s ‘And The Melody Still Lingers On’

Jazz regained some ground in the ’80s. After a chastening period in the late-’60s and ’70s when rock pretty much swept all before it, major labels took a renewed interest in established jazz acts and underground movements flourished (no wave, acid jazz, harmolodic funk, neo-bop). Wynton Marsalis, Miles, Courtney Pine and Loose Tubes even put jazz back on primetime TV.

But when Chaka Khan recorded ‘And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)’, the dramatic centrepiece of her What Cha’Gonna Do For Me album, she arguably set the whole revival in motion.

Dizzy Gillespie, Arif Mardin and Chaka Khan

Dizzy Gillespie, Arif Mardin and Chaka Khan, Atlantic Studios 1981

It was producer Arif Mardin’s idea, his mind wandering during a flight between New York and LA. The album was one song short – so how about a tribute to the bebop masters of the ’40s using the crème de la crème of the early ’80s soul/R’n’B/jazz session players? They could use Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli’s 1942 bebop classic ‘A Night In Tunisia’ as a template.

Chaka loved the idea. Mardin hoped to find a lyricist but deadlines were pending so he tackled it himself with Chaka adding the final touches. Mardin made a demo of the arrangement which cheekily inserted Charlie Parker’s famous 1946 alto break.

Charlie Parker in 1946, photo by Ted Giola

Charlie Parker in 1946, photo by Ted Giola

A lengthy chart was quickly made up (resembling a ‘Chinese laundry list written in cuneiform’, according to Mardin) which included eight spare bars for the insertion of the Parker lick. The musicians – Casey Scheuerell on drums, David Foster and Ronnie Foster (no relation) on keys, Abe Laboriel on bass – were booked and smashed the tune in one take.

Herbie Hancock later contributed a brilliant synth solo. Chaka then added her sublime vocals. Her four-part big-band harmonies and spine-tingling ad-libs bring the song right up to date.

But there was still space for an opening head melody and a solo in the final verse. Dizzy had been sent the demo by Mardin with a note asking him to contribute. But the bebop legend replied that he would be on tour and so couldn’t make the recording session – but he suddenly arrived two days before the album’s mastering date at New York’s Atlantic Studios to add his part. The track was complete.

Chaka and Mardin attempted to repeat the trick a few years later with ‘Bebop Medley‘ but it lacked the finesse of this timeless classic.