Music Labyrinth Episode 033
The Mighty Quinn / Manfred Mann
Hello, and welcome to episode 33 of The Music Labyrinth, which is the stand-alone, controversy packed, cover versions episode. As one astute listener pointed out: I am on a hiding to nothing here. This is akin to assembling a group of parents and explaining why their babies are not as beautiful as other babies. Now, I need to keep my contributions as brief as possible here because I have packed the show with as much music as I can fit into the hour. One thing that I should point out is that the playlist which will be posted on our web page at the end of the show will include all the songs that were considered, because so many fine suggestions missed out; primarily because they were either too long, or we may have played the song previously on the show, or - on the odd occasion - they were not quite, in my opinion, superior to the original track. I promise that all were seriously considered - with perhaps the exception of the Bhuddist monk doing Thunderstruck. I’ve tried to start us off at the lower end of the controversy scale, before we sacrifice some sacred cows later. We commenced with Manfred Mann’s cover of Bob Dylan’s The Mighty Quinn, which contains all the merits of Dylan’s enigmatic lyrics, but in a much more polished and melodic package. Perhaps the opposite is true of our second song. As much as we all love Tears For Fears, their original of this song sounds oddly up tempo and formulaic when compared to the darker, less precise, understated version we are all familiar with. This is Mad World by Michael Andrews, featuring Gary Jules.
Mad World / Michael Andrews (feat. Gary Jules)
In 1955, Johnny Cash recorded one of his signature tunes. It’s a tragic tale of the deterioration of the life of one man, but packaged (in my humble opinion) in a sideshow alley, pinky-plonky format that sounds, at times, celebratory. I sat up and took notice of the song when I first heard this slowed down, mournful, blues version. This is Keb Mo with Folsom Prison Blues.
Folsom Prison Blues / Keb Mo
Welcome back to The Music Labyrinth where we are frogs in the pot of controversy, which will continue to be heated as we move on through our playlist. Our next song was written in 1993 by members of the US band Ednaswap. It was recorded and released in Danish later than year by Lis Sorensen, then two years later Ednaswap recorded their own version of the song. But its fair to say that it flew well under the radar until 1997 when one of the original songwriters was engaged to play guitars and bass on the debut studio album of Natalie Imbruglia. This is her cover of Torn.
Torn / Natalie Imbruglia
In 2006 the English band The Zutons wrote and recorded our next song for their album Tired Of Hanging Around. The following year, Mark Ronson was working on his album Version, and he elected to include The Zutons’ song. Ronson then engaged Amy Winehouse to sing on the album track and, since that time, this next song has been “owned” by Amy Winehouse. Of all the versions she left behind, this one, which comes from a posthumous collection called Lioness: Hidden Treasures, is probably my favourite. This is Amy Winehouse with Valerie.
Valerie (‘68 Version) / Amy Winehouse
In 1957 Ewan MacColl wrote a set of lyrics so poetic, so beautiful, that I could read them to you now with this foghorn voice and you would still be moved. MacColl’s song was first recorded by Peggy Seeger, and was subsequently a hit in 1972 when Roberta Flack released a flawless and breathtaking version of the song. So how do you improve on something so close to perfection? Well, it appears that you employ a Renaissance painting technique called chiaroscuro - which roughly translates as light and shade. In the case of our next song, the shade is an instrumental backing so minimal as almost to not be there at all; and the shining light is the melodic perfection of the voice of English folk singer Olivia Chaney. This is Offa Rex with The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face / Offa Rex
You are back with The Music Labyrinth were we are edging ever closer to the sacred cows, who have stopped their contented chewing and are looking at us with suspicion and mistrust. And they are quite right to do so. In 1986 the English band New Order were at the peak of their synth-rock game. They enjoyed great credibility, having been formed from the remnants of Joy Division, and had achieved worldwide acclaim in their own right with Blue Monday. Their 1986 album Brotherhood included a song which was subsequently ranked at 204 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. But I reckon this folksy acoustic version by a fringe Melbourne pop band of the early 90s trumps the clout of New Order. This is Frente with Bizarre Love Triangle.
Bizarre Love Triangle / Frente
Cold Chisel were a powerhouse of rock music, and I can just feel the listener shifting uncomfortably in their seat right now, thinking, “Hang on a minute...”. There is no doubt that the songwriting talent of Don Walker coupled with the musicianship and charisma of the band members resulted in something greater than the sum of its parts. In 2007 Cold Chisel were honoured with a tribute album which involved various artists reinterpreting the songs of Cold Chisel. A contribution to that project is one which I consider to be better than the original. This is The Waifs’ cover of the prison ballad Four Walls.
Four Walls / The Waifs
In the mid 80s the musical career of the great lyricist Paul Simon was foundering. That all changed in 1986 when he released his album Graceland which was infused with the essence and joy of the street music of South Africa. Graceland is estimated to have sold up to 16 million copies worldwide. But it took 24 years and a complete reworking of one of the tracks from Graceland before I became aware of the darkness, despair and frustration in the lyric of that song. This is Peter Gabriel’s cover of The Boy In The Bubble.
The Boy In The Bubble / Peter Gabriel
Welcome back to the business end of the stand-alone, controversial, cover versions edition of The Music Labyrinth. Strap yourself in. At this stage of things, I have one name for you: Lou Reed. In November 1970 Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground were at the top of their game, and they recorded and released their fourth studio album Loaded. One of the songs from that album has been celebrated ever since in live versions and cover versions, but this cover from 1988 is reputed to have enjoyed the endorsement of Lou Reed himself. This is Cowboy Junkies with Sweet Jane.
Sweet Jane / Cowboy Junkies
OK. It’s the turn of Jimi Hendrix. I was a little torn here. There is an absolutely magnificent cover of Little Wing by the great Stevie Ray Vaughan on the shortlist for this show, and it deserves a place here. However, I have taken us in a slightly different direction. In 1968 the Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded Voodoo Child (Slight Return), and the opening guitar riff is one of the most recognisable in music. Thirty years later that song was completely reworked by one the great singers. The extraordinary achievement of this version of Voodoo Child is that it remains fully faithful to the original without the use of soaring guitar solos and riffs. In fact, the distinctive riff which opens the song is delivered in vocals alone. Here is Voodoo Child (Slight Return) performed by Angelique Kidjo.
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) / Angelique Kidjo
I recall in my early teens, going to the local cinema to see Led Zeppelin’s epic concert film, The Song Remains The Same. Ever since that day I have remained a rusted-on fan of all things Led Zeppelin. So, it was with an odd mix of disappointment and excitement that I first heard this - ahem - improved version of a Zeppelin classic. Turn your speakers up. From the soundtrack of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, this is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, featuring the vocals of Karen O, with Immigrant Song.
Immigrant Song / Karen O, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Thanks very much for your company during this episode of The Music Labyrinth. Next week we will return to our usual progress through the labyrinth, picking up where we left off last week at Altus Silva from Big Blue Ball. However, as far as this show is concerned, I have saved the most controversial to last. When this suggestion was put to me I rejected it out of hand because the original version of this song is such a familiar classic that it is very easy to (as I did) reject the merits any cover version. However, I listened once, twice, several times to this version, and have arrived at the conclusion that it delivers something different and, dare I say, better than the original. To end this episode of The Music Labyrinth, here is the classic song Son Of A Preacher Man, performed by Aretha Franklin.
Son Of A Preacher Man / Aretha Franklin