Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Turn Around. Go Back.

I have been toying with something for a few days but I didn't want it to be about bad cover versions. Been there, done that. Though, it is a fun topic, I decided it could be more about missed opportunities. Let me explain.

Many moons ago, I mentioned in passing to a band member that Hall & Oates should cover the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." It would be a massive hit for them, I said. (So did scores of others, I presume. But I heard me say it.) Then, one summer afternoon in 1980, while shooting hoops in the Sheepshead Bay backyard of my friend John, it came on the radio. This was long before the internet and Stereogum, so there was no pre-release sample or build-up. No sharing of news on Facebook. This blew me away.

About ten years after that, I did read that a tribute to Elton John was about to be released on CD and that Hall & Oates were slated to record "Philadelphia Freedom." Genius, I thought. This is perfect. This will be as huge as the Righteous Brothers hit. But it wasn't. As a matter of fact, it wasn't very good. Completely devoid of any soul or emotion, this track felt lifeless, unlike what Elton originally released. How did five English guys nail it and two Philadelphia boys muck it up?

Now some of you might be thinking, "This H&O cover isn't so bad." Well, maybe it isn't. But this isn't about bad cover versions. It's about missed opportunites. This cover should have been massive. It's an A&R guy's dream.

The example I wanted to use instead of Hall & Oates was unavailable for evidence. No video on YouTube and all versions have been safely removed from my music library to avoid any possible infection to my other music. This was from my man, the pop genius, the Posy, Ken Stringfellow. He recorded one of my favorite songs of all time from one of my favorite albums of all time for a Left Banke tribute record. When I saw the pre-release info and spotted "She May Call You Up Tonight" by Ken Stringfellow, I thought, "This will be the best cover version ever." The Posies had already done what so many fail to do, and that is create a cover better than the original. They did that with their version of the Five Stairsteps "Ooh Child." (See below) They played it straight, but reached new heights with harmony and arrangement. It was like the finale of a Broadway musical, with power chords and a kick-ass rhythm section. And check out the genius move in the coda. You'll recognize another A.M. hit from the 70s.

But back to Ken for a minute. Instead of what I just described above, the Left Banke cover was two minutes of sped up drum machines, chintzy keyboards and vocals that sounded like they were recorded inside a giant tuna tin. Needless to say, I was crushed. What could have motivated this master of vocal and harmony to pay "tribute" in this manner?

Well, I guess this would be both a bad cover and a missed opportunity.

So my question is, do you have examples of "missed opportunities" but not necessarily bad cover versions?


William Repsher said...

Well, Bowie, "Across the Universe" ... that actually has John Lennon playing and singing on it. How could it miss? Well, it's not a terrible track (although I've seen critics beg to differ through the years), but it's not a hallmark of his catalog, to say the least. I enjoy his goofy phrasings on certain lines (restless wind insiiiiiiide a letter box), but, boy, it's a strange track.

Bowie, in particular, deserves recognitions for his covers. We've both noted how terrible "God Only Knows" was. But more often than not, he'd nail it. There are some gems on Pin-Ups, his take on "Let's Spend the Night Together" was a 70's AOR radio staple. I really like his take on Morrissey with "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday." "Wild Is the Wind"? Great stuff. I haven't listened to his two Springsteen covers in years, but I recall being underwhelmed last time I tried ... not so much missed opportunity as bad idea. But that was his nature, to try the unexpected, and sometimes it wouldn't pan out.

Sal Nunziato said...

Good call on "Across The Universe." You nailed it. I happen to love "Pinups" and "Let's Spend The Night Together." Our friends over at Power Pop, not so much. Read this, if you hadn't already.

William Repsher said...

Any dissenting opinions on Bowie are welcome! As I recall, Pin-Ups was not that well received at the time, seemed to represent a "treading water" sort of vibe while he figured out what to do next. A lot of artists did the same at the same time (Lennon, Ferry, etc.) A lot of the things stated in that article are true -- Bowie had a propensity for crooning that often struck me as insincere. And my main dig against him has always been his emotional depth as a recording artist: it seemed like he hinted at emotions as opposed to feeling them. Or at least I didn't have the sense as a dedicated fan that he sincerely believed what he was singing (most of the time). Then again, if you are a Bowie fan, you come to accept that shadowy sense of self he imparted. It was his thing, and he seemed to delight in shedding these cover identities with almost every new album. You either loved that about the guy, or you believed you saw right through him.

That said, from that off-kilter piano line from Mike Garson to Mick Ronson's sterling guitar work, I always considered "Let's Spend the Night Together" one of the better Stones covers out there, so I have to disagree with the writer on that issue. If he wanted to take issue with that woozy version of "Can't Explain" ... that would make more sense to me!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's on YouTube or not, but Dancing Hoods' version of She May Call You Up is gorgeous (as is the rest of the album from which it comes, Hallelujah Anyway, and their previous album 12 Jealous Roses).
C in California

Shriner said...

"Twist and Shout" by The Orchestra has always frustrated people I've played it for. I find it fascinating, but it's too long for some. And the fact that it takes 2 minutes get to the "familiar" version actually caused indignant reactions from some of those same people.

I think it's a "flawed" cover, but an interesting one in the "how might Jeff Lynne have covered this in ELO" vein.

But, yes, that Posies cover is gold, Jerry, GOLD!

Shriner said...

Oh and Kate Bush's cover of "Rocket Man" from that same tribute album is probably another missed opportunity. The faux reggae vibe does not work for me (and I love KT). It could have been another "This Woman's Work" (the song), but it isn't. Again, not terrible, but disappointing. I expected better.

Though, what do I know? According to a poll, it's the greatest cover of all time:,,2166706,00.html

But looking through the above list brought to mind another missed opportunity: The Scissor Sister' cover of "Comfortably Numb". On paper, this could have worked -- the rest of their debut album is fun dance music. This one song didn't work in it's reinvention.

rick said...

Tribute albums are tricky. In their entirety, they often seem like missed opportunities, reminding me of the line from Dylan's 'Standing in the Doorway': "Last night I danced with a stranger/But she just reminded me you were the one." The new making me pine for the old.

Sticking with that Elton John CD, I specifically felt like Tina Turner's version of 'The Bitch is Back' was another missed opportunity. She certainly seemed like the perfect person at the time to cover it.

Anonymous said...

Gotta say,the Posies version did nothing other than echo the original. Here's the version I always go back to Vareie Carter,Lowell George on slide and I believe the arrangement.

ge said...

across the universe: anyone else read that article where a guy visited lennon who was fasting from music so's to write a new tune himself, and standing together in JL's garden they heard a not-near British firetruck make its 2-note up&down squeal-----well lennon nicked that motif for the middle of his verse melody-line in the newborn song 'A the U'

dogbreath said...

Limp Bizkit's version of "Behind Blue Eyes", one of The Who's finest surely. The band must have liked the song to cover it (I suppose) but they knackered it for me. OK, I'm not a Bizkit fan (I'm not an L-I-M-P fan either) and what's with that electronic doodling bit. Madonna's "American Pie" cover also fires up my bile ducts. Guess I feel the classics shouldn't be tinkered with.

Anonymous said...

The whole of Steve Earle's "Townes" album feels like a missed opportunity to me. for a tribute to his idol, it didn't seem like Earle put too much effort or thought into it.

cmealha said...

How do you feel about Rufus Wainwright's version of "Across the Universe"? Hit or miss. I think it works.

I always hated the Stones' takes on "Harlem Shuffle" and "Going to a Go-Go". I think they would have done a much better job earlier on.

Dr Wu said...

Willie Nelson's cover of Coldplay's 'The Scientist' had so much promise, but never really delivered. There was no building momentum and therefore no climax. While I think Aimee Mann's version was delivered.

William Repsher said...

I think the Rufus Wainwright of "Universe" is better than Bowie's, but it's also less risky, more just a straight reading by a guy with a great voice.

But the universe won't be complete until he covers "Rufus Is a Tit Man."

Anonymous said...

I misspoke above, as Dancing Hoods' version of She May Call You Up is on their first album 12 Jealous Roses rather than their second, Hallelujah Anyway. And it's at YouTube at And Johnette Napolitano's take on The Scientist is gorgeous But this isn't supposed to be about great covers!
C in California

ge said...
= my idiosyncratic irreverent [VDP-ish i daresay?]
cover Of 'Across...'