Sunday, September 11, 2011

Covers That Beat the Originals

July 27, 2011

Grace Jones, “Walking in the Rain” (Flash and the Pan)
Grace Jones called her 1981-82 world tour “A One Man Show.” That sly nod to her androgynous appearance and multi-faceted persona was rarely more appropriate than on this opening cut from 1981′s Nightclubbing. For her post-disco breakout album, Jones returned to the ace rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, plus another set of covers (Iggy Pop, Brian Ferry) as impeccably chic as the ones on 1980′s Warm Leatherette. And then there was “Walking in the Rain.” Applying a slick dub-funk makeover to not the Ronettes, not Love Unlimited, not even old Johnny Ray, but Australian new-wavers Flash and the Pan, Jones speaks the words, “Feeling like a woman/ Looking like a man,” and they’re transformed. She forgets to add, “Sounding fabulous.”

Wilson Pickett, “Hey Jude” (The Beatles)
Before “Hey Jude,” Duane Allman was an occasional session man so obscure the credits list him as David Allman. Afterward, he was a full-time Muscle Shoals mainstay, recording with the likes of Aretha Franklin; by the end of 1969, the Allman Brothers Band was playing New York’s legendary Fillmore East. Allman’s career-launching solo is a big part of this cover’s appeal, but equally important is Pickett’s stirring vocal, peaking with a raspy howl that makes Paul McCartney’s screaming original sound like his inside voice. Take a British pop song, change it into soul, change that into guitar-blazing Southern rock — and make it better.

Saint Etienne, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” (Neil Young)
If it’s true Neil Young wrote “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” for Graham Nash — who’d recently broken up with Joni Mitchell — then it’s no wonder someone else would make the tender folk-rock ballad their own. On Saint Etienne’s 1990 debut single, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs turn the slowly waltzing original into a 4/4 dance-pop number driven by splashy piano, dub bass, and early singer Moira Lambert, whose fragile delivery has an innocence that eventual replacement Sarah Cracknell’s knowing sophistication could never quite share. “I was always thinking/ Games that I was playing,” Lambert repeats. If you want her, she’ll be in the club.

courtesy of, Inc., © 2011

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