Tag Archives: cover songs

Mini-Rumination: More Cover Songs

Back in February, The Curmudgeon sang the praises of a well-done cover song:  a song generally associated with one person, frequently its writer, that is performed – performed well – by others.  Some songs are uncoverable – the Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever” comes to mind, or pretty much anything by Pink Floyd.  Some can work well almost no matter who sings them:  a good example is the Bachrach/David tune “The Look of Love.”

The Curmudgeon started out to make a mixed CD or two of his favorite cover songs.  Those intentions, it turns out, were too modest:  when the smoke cleared he had seven hour-long CDs of some of his favorite cover songs.  Previously, he shared the contents of his “Cover Me, Volume 1” collection.  Here are volumes two and three.

Cover Me, Volume 2

1.                  Crazy – Willie Nelson

2.                  Crazy – Patsy Cline

3.                  Crazy – Norah Jones

4.                  In My Life – The Beatles

5.                  In My Life – Judy Collins

6.                  In My Life – Richie Havens

7.                  In My Life – Bette Midler

8.                  In My Life – Crosby, Stills & Nash

9.                  In My Life – Johnny Cash

10.                  In My Life – Rod Stewart

11.                  Alison – Elvis Costello

12.                  Alison – Linda Ronstadt

13.                  Send in the Clowns – Judy Collins

14.                  Send in the Clowns – Bing Crosby

15.                  Send in the Clowns  – Frank Sinatra

16.                  Send in the Clowns – Barbra Streisand

Most people associate “Crazy” with Patsy Cline, but Willie Nelson wrote the song back when no one outside of the country music world had any idea who he is.  Cline does it better.  “In My Life” has always been a great song, but because the Beatles had so many great songs, it often gets overlooked.  Here, The Curmudgeon tries to put it in the spotlight.  If you’ve never heard Crosby, Stills & Nash sing it, it deserves three minutes of your time.  The Curmudgeon has always liked “Send in the Clowns” but also suspects that the definitive version still hasn’t been recorded; someone needs to sing this song without the melodrama and just let the lyrics speak for themselves.  When you stop laughing, try the Bing Crosby version.  For those of us of a certain age who only know Crosby from his Minute Maid orange juice commercials, he’s a real revelation – and there’s noooooooo doubt about it.

Cover Me, Volume 3

1.                  The Look of Love – Dusty Springfield

2.                  The Look of Love  – Nina Simone

3.                  The Look of Love  – Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66

4.                  The Look of Love – Diana Krall

5.                  Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen

6.                  Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley

7.                  Hallelujah  – Willie Nelson

8.                  Hallelujah – K.D. Lang

9.                  Hallelujah  – Neil Diamond

10.                  Hallelujah – Rufus Wainwright

11.                  We’re All Alone – Boz  Scaggs

12.                  We’re All Alone – Rita Coolidge

13.                  We’re All Alone – Frankie Valli

The Curmudgeon thought the first time he heard “Hallelujah” was on an episode of The West Wing.  He was totally taken with the song – at first he thought it was sung by the late Freddie Mercury – but when he did some research, he learned that the singer was Jeff Buckley but the song was written by Leonard Cohen.  Further, The Curmudgeon had owned a Leonard Cohen recording of “Hallelujah” for many years.  Any resemblance between the two versions is purely coincidental.  Leonard Cohen is a pretty good songwriter but a pretty awful singer – one of the worst The Curmudgeon has ever heard – and he does no justice to this spectacular tune.  Buckley’s version is the best, but Rufus Wainwright does a pretty good job on it, too; his version was in the movie Shrek.

Another example of a writer who doesn’t do his own song justice is Boz Scaggs, who doesn’t put very much into “We’re All Alone.”  Rita Coolidge does a very good version, although it may come across as a little plastic and overproduced, but it’s Frankie Valli, of all people, who really hits the ball out of the park on the Scaggs song.  It was hard to find the Frankie Valli version and The Curmudgeon hadn’t heard it for years, but it was well worth both the effort and the wait.

Enjoy – and feel free to offer your own favorite cover songs.

Cover Songs, Part 1

The Curmudgeon loves a good cover song – a new version of a song we all know well.  Some people think cover songs are sacrilegious – that you can’t improve on the original and it’s blasphemous to try.  Most people have been exposed to lounge singers crooning “Misty” and have absolutely cringed at how they sang it, and most of us have at one time or another at least been exposed, no matter how fleetingly, to “American Idol,” which is one big cover song.

The thing about trying a cover version is that a singer shouldn’t attempt it unless he or she plans to do something a little different from the original.  If you don’t at least try, it’s nothing more than karaoke.  Over the years, many established performers have released albums of cover versions of older, “classic” songs.  Some are good – Willie Nelson and Linda Ronstadt come to mind; some are so-so, like Michael McDonald’s Motown collection and a couple of albums by Carly Simon and Rod Stewart; and some make you want to puncture your eardrums (yes, that’s you, Bonnie Tyler, and it’s a heartache, nothing but a heartache to suffer through your “Heartstrings” CD).

Some songs defy covering, and no one should try.  No one wants to hear a new version of the Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever” or The Who’s “Baba Riley.”  On the other hand, some tunes scream out for a better rendition.  Consider, for example, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”  It’s a breathtaking song, but other than for reference purposes, if anyone ever suggests that you listen to Cohen sing it, you should assume that you’ve done something terribly wrong and that the person seeks to punish you.  Likewise, Jimmy Webb has written some terrific songs over the years, but if you ever hear him sing “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or “MacArthur Park” you’ll understand why Webb made his reputation as a songwriter and not as a performer.

Speaking of “MacArthur Park,” covering some songs sounds like a really bad idea but actually works well.  Donna Summer’s disco rendition of “MacArthur Park,” for example, is outstanding.  Ms. Summer scored again with her version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  The Curmudgeon is a huge Paul Simon fan, so some people thought he would be furious at the very thought of a disco diva attempting to cover one of Simon’s songs, yet he really enjoyed the Summer version (not that he ever danced to it.  The Curmudgeon does not dance).

The Curmudgeon likes a good cover song so much that he decided to make himself some mixed CDs consisting entirely of cover songs.  He would burn the original version and then follow it with cover versions he liked.  He thought he’d end up with one or two CDs, but when the smoke cleared, he had seven.  After starting this experiment he made one modification in his approach:  originally the field was open to all songs but he later decided only to use relatively soft songs.  As much as he got a kick out of consecutive versions of “Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon and Garfunkel and the Bangles, he found that too jarring for a CD of otherwise softer tunes.

So without further ado – or, more precisely, after 540 words of ado – the following is the lineup of The Curmudgeon’s “Cover Me:  Volume 1” collection.

  1. Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers
  2. Unchained Melody – George Benson
  3. Unchained Melody – Heart
  4. You Don’t Know Me – Eddy Arnold
  5. You Don’t Know Me – Elvis Presley
  6. You Don’t Know Me – Van Morrison
  7. You Don’t Know Me – Emmylou Harris
  8. You Don’t Know Me – Kenny Loggins
  9. You Don’t Know Me – Jennifer Warnes
  10. You Don’t Know Me – Ray Charles and Diana Krall
  11. You Don’t Know Me – Michael McDonald
  12. After the Gold Rush – Neil Young
  13. After the Gold Rush – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris
  14. After the Gold Rush – K.D. Lang

One CD, fourteen tracks, but only three different songs.  It was only right to launch this new venture with “Unchained Melody” because it’s been The Curmudgeon’s favorite song for more than thirty years – well before the movie “Ghost” came along.  He loves how Annie Wilson wails on the song and added George Benson to the collection even though at the time he created it, he hadn’t heard the Benson version in more than thirty years.  It was as great as he remembered it.

“You Don’t Know Me” may be the best song you’ve never heard of.  The Curmudgeon first heard it in the late 1970s when he was working his way through college at Peaches Records and Tapes in Philadelphia.  It’s on the Kenny Loggins “Celebrate Me Home” album, and while The Curmudgeon has never been much of a Kenny Loggins fan, he was taken by the song, picked up the record one night (note to younger readers:  a “record” is a large disc of black vinyl on which music was once recorded and played by spinning the disc at a high rate of speed under a small needle connected to an amplifier and speakers; the vinyl was soft and fragile and usually frayed after four or five playings.  To this day, when The Curmudgeon hears Paul Simon sing “Something So Right” he expects the brief humming Simon does right after the phrase “like a child they’re longing to be told” to repeat over and over, as it did on the vinyl album he purchased in 1978), and looked at the credits, where he found the songwriter listed as “E. Arnold.”  Not possible, he told himself.  Eddy Arnold?  The old, incredibly square country singer?  Turns out, it really was that Eddy Arnold.  It’s a great song – great enough, in The Curmudgeon’s mind, to justify listening to eight consecutive versions of it.  He could have included more, but he rejected a few.  The Van Morrison version is a little odd, but then you’d expect that; Van Morrison is an odd guy.  The Loggins version is very good, too, as – surprisingly – is the Elvis version, but The Curmudgeon’s favorite is by Emmylou Harris.

The Curmudgeon has six other volumes of cover songs, and he’ll share them here in the coming months.  In the meantime, readers are invited to share their own favorite cover songs.  Leave them as a comment to this post or send them directly to The Curmudgeon by email (curmudgeonlyblogger@comcast.net) and if there’s enough of a response, a future post will be devoted to sharing your favorite cover songs with everyone.