Wednesday Jukebox: Pulling Back the Covers
Driving late one night, bumping This Is Me… Then I came across a troubling track – J-Lo’s cover of Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me” – in all its over produced, backing vocal happy glory. I thought something was wrong with my iPod. The battery going dead was the only way I could account for the mangled version of one of my favorite Carly tunes streaming through my speakers. The world does not lack for unfortunate cover songs. Botched versions of popular songs that never quite reach the highs of the original are certainly no novelty; yet each time I hear one it feels just like the first time. (Looking at you, Hall & Oates “You Lost that Loving Feeling”.) Fortunately, we’re not going to spend any time on those! We’re going to be exploring and sharing – yes, you’ll be sharing – great songs that also have benefited from lovely covers. In fact, the covers presented after the jump in some cases give the original a run for the money!
“It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City”
Generally, I’m not a fan of folks sullying the Boss’s catalog – even deep cuts – nevertheless Bowie’s version of “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” is one of my favorite Bowie songs. I think the jauntiness of the musical arrangement is what nails it for me. This is not really a humble song, no matter how softly arranged and lit Bruce likes it. It’s all about the bombast.
“This Woman’s Work”
I’ve always been a sucker for this song, primarily due to its use in She’s Having a Baby where it absolutely tears your heart out. It’s the perfect use of music and image and Kevin Bacon. Maxwell was clearly a careful study of the original because his cover is flawless. There is a serious KEY CHANGE, which always makes me faint, where Maxwell slips out of falsetto into a lower octave. It makes me melt. I associate this cover with La Mommie drinking coffee, Lady Alexis Carrington Colby barking in appreciation and me pretending to play the piano on my bedspread.
This cut was a minor goth club hit, which I was forever confusing for the vastly superior “Lady Shaves” by Fad Gadget. “Warm Leatherette” didn’t come alive for me until I discovered Grace Jones’s amazingly discolicious cover, which is much, much better.
This is a tough one, because Smokey Robinson is a legend and his voice silky perfection. So for me it’s more about the performance. Kim Carnes had far more to prove with her version than Smokey did with his, which, well was kind of phoned-in. But not in a bad way. Carnes goes for broke with her version – synth intro, disco arrangement and husky, rich vocals that sell every lyric in the song. And of course – because no 80s jam could be without one – a sax solo!
What are your favorite popular or obscure covers? More importantly, is there anyone who likes J-Lo’s cover of “You Belong to Me” for reasons other than it makes them feel more confident about attempting the song at karaoke?
One bonus: A little Bonnie to get you chair dancing!