Monday, November 16, 2009

Black Covers of White Songs - "Light My Fire"

I'm always interested in how music is reinterpreted across different cultures. Even within one country, the USA, it is usually easy to identify black artists from white artists. And while a dominant historical trend has been the white appropriation of black music, there have been plenty of cases of black artists covering white songs. Check out some of the best examples here.

In this case, let's look at that classic of 60s rock, Light My Fire by the Doors. The original is in itself an interesting song, with its psychedelic organ wig-out and Brazilian-inflected rhythm. It's been covered by a number of black artists, and it's interesting to hear it reinterpreted with the flavours of Southern soul, gospel, reggae, jazz and funk.

Al Green has recorded his fair share of covers - rock, pop and country songs all being transformed into smooth, steamy Memphis grooves. If there is one thing The Reverend is good at doing, it is making something sound like an Al Green song - he has a niche and he nails it every time.

Jackie Wilson's version is a favourite of sample-loving crate-diggers - the tight backing track, played by Young-Holt Unlimited, turns up in De La Soul's classic "A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays". Aside from that, Wilson's vocals are as exuberant as always.

Much like Al Green, Shirley Bassey has a distinctive and unmistakable style, and it'll be no suprise to you that this has all the drama of a James Bond theme. The highlight is around 20 seconds in when the massive horn section announces itself.

The Rhetta Hughes version recaptures the psychedelic impulse of the original, but with shimmering vibraphone rather than Ray Manzarek's swirling organ.I don't know anything about Ms Hughes but this is cool.

Massive Attack's live cover is not all that special to be honest. I do think its got some cool sound effects percolating in there, and it samples the Jackie Wilson / Young-Holt version. Vocals are by Jamaican reggae legend Horace Andy.

Stevie Wonder's 1969 rendition is pretty cool, with the addition of funky drumming and orchestral elements. How he changes up the feel of the vocals is a great example of why Wonder is arguably the most influential singer in pop music.

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