Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Great Black Cover Versions of White Songs, Part 2

Part 1 is here. Plus check the black covers of Light My Fire, here.

Al Green - "I Want To Hold Your Hand"
It's the Fab Four on chitlins and collard greens, courtesy of the steamy Memphis groove that producer Willie Mitchell cooks up for this cover. More than most soul artists of his era, The Reverend Al Green had a penchant for covering the pop, rock and country standards of the day. But no matter what song he sings, it always sounds unmistakably Al Green.

Stevie Wonder - "We Can Work It Out"
Another Beatles cover. An extremely prolific songwriter, Stevie was not really known for recording other people's work, but he kills it with this one. It's got a thrust to it that the original seems to lack, to my ears.

Run DMC and Aerosmith - "Walk This Way"
Such a masterful collaboration - as good as Aerosmith's original hit in 1977 was, it now sounds naked without Jam Master Jay's turntables, and Run-DMC's "She told me to..." bit in the chorus. So it's funny to think that until Rick Rubin played the song to them during the recording sessions of Raising Hell in 1986, Run-DMC had never even heard it, didn't even know who Aerosmith were, and thought covering the song was a lame idea. Fortunately, Rubin persisted, the rappers warmed to the idea, and Joe Perry and Steven Tyler were brought in to re-record their classic hit. It proved a great move for Aerosmith, reviving a career that had been flagging, but its impact on rap, and music in general, was stratospheric. It was the first rap song to break the Billboard top 5, and was rocky enough to get onto MTV, which meant that a whole new audience got their first proper taste of this new fad emanating from NYC's black community. All the bands from the 90s to today who combine rap and hard rock elements, from Limp Bizkit to Linkin Park, owe a debt of gratitude to these pioneers.

Martin Luther - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
Some Beatles again. Fab Four enthusiasts will no doubt take me to task for this, but let's be honest - as singers, The Beatles' members were functional rather than amazing. Which means that their often wonderful material is ripe for reinterpretation by better singers. Martin Luther is one of those guys who should be a massive star, but for some reason is not. This song, never released as a single, appears on the soundtrack of Across the Universe.

Donny Hathaway - "Jealous Guy"
Hathaway is arguably the greatest soul singer that most people have never heard of, yet his vocal technique has proved enormously influential on R&B stars throughout the years - even Stevie Wonder is said to have imitated him to a degree. Not a prolific songwriter, Hathaway excelled at reinterpreting the works of others, wrapping his rich baritone around the arrangement like no one else. Yet another case of a soul artist applying their talents to the brilliant songwriting of John Lennon and coming up with something arguably better than Lennon himself.

Dennis Brown - "Black Magic Woman"
While most people know this as a Santana song, it was originally written by Peter Green, who recorded it with his band Fleetwood Mac. It only seems fitting that a Caribbean artist like Dennis Brown would cover a song with this title, and a fine job he does too, although Santana's sublime Latin-rock cover is undoubtedly the definitive version.

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