A producer, a photographer and two musicians walk into a pub. Sorry, there isn’t a punchline to this; it’s just what happened. A quick pre-Christmas beer with some music business friends to chew the fat; what do you think we talked about? As always with these semi-unplanned sessions something good came out of it. We’ll leave it to Graeme Wheatley, bass player and songwriter with the band Deep Blue Sea to tell the story, enhancing it with some music trivia. You might want to start this piece whenyou have about an hour to spare because it’s a bit addictive, especially after Riot Towers made a contribution,

 

Sitting in The New Cross House pub the other night with Allan McKay (something that could very easily become habit forming), we were talking about his series of guest articles “High Fives” in Music Riot – sign up now if ya haven’t already!

I’ve written a few before and always like rambling on about whatever, so I was happy to quickly volunteer to write one for this Christmas – even before Allan gave me my first pressie of the year – even if I had no idea what to waffle on about.

We were with Iago Banet, a guitarist from a band that I’ve heard are not that bad and we were talking about a gig we did a few weeks ago. Our singer, Dre Smith, had lost her voice and we were doing the gig as a 3 piece – playing songs we’d never played before. I proudly boasted that I’d sang the entire lyric to “Blinded By The Light” by Brucie without a single rehearsal. Allan asked if I liked Manfred Mann’s version or the original best, then Iago reminded me that after 3 attempts we’d had to abandon “All Along The Watchtower” because I kept getting the first line wrong!!! Pride comes before…

Anyway, this conversation led to the topic of this High Five.

Five covers that I think are better than the original.

Only my opinion here – but when I got to thinking about it – there’s maybe 20 or 30 I could muse about. So, I thought I’d kick it off with two people who I consider to be un-betterable – but concede that in these two occasions, they are bettered.

 

Song 1

All Along The Watchtower – Bob Dylan – Jimi Hendrix

OK, if you know me at all, you may have heard me at sometime mention the name Bob Dylan. He’s the cat, the verbal acrobat-tery, the lyrical dexterity and temerity in all sincerity. A couple of weeks ago we were playing Bude R&B Festival, which involved a good 4 hour drive back and forth. Amanda Dal, our wonderful drummer, asked me, unprompted, to play the three albums Bob recorded in 1965 that “invented Rock Music as we know it”. Much to Iago’s horror. So we had a great journey back and forth listening to Bob. It’s Amanda’s turn next, so I am going to get 4 hours of singer songwriter LP. The fact that she’s a ringer for Bob makes me favourable disposed to her from the get go – so – I’m ok with this!

Anyway, some people say (fools that they are) that any cover of a Bob song is going to be better than Bob’s version. BUT THEY ARE WRONG!!!! This has only ever happened once in the whole wide universe since the beginning of time. And only one person could a done it. Jimi. Y’know, I’d love to be able to wipe the tape and hear Jimi’s version of Watchtower again for the first time. Can you remember that moment? I can’t. But listen to it now. The swagger, the invention, the sass, the sheer coolness.  Four minutes of perfect cool. If Jimi hadn’t recorded it, would we remember the original? Was it just a fairly average track on a subdued and pared back album from Bob who might have been wondering at the time where he was going next. Recorded in 1967 after the “fall” it was a total turn away from the more blues inspired electric albums and a return to his more folkie side, but Jimi took this track, rocked it up, funked it up and delivery to my mind one of the greatest little guitar pop songs of all time.

Oh, BTW, the title of Bob’s album, John Wesley Harding. It was named after a Texan outlaw of that name – only they spelled it wrong!!! He was called John Wesley Hardin.

Compare and contrast:

 

Song 2

Nothing Compares 2U – Prince – Sinead O’Connor

I was a big Prince fan. Still miss the guy. He might have had demons and might have been just a tad obsessed but look at the catalogue of pop songs. Inventive, fun, joyous, rude, rock and raunch and lovesexy. He made pop a bit dangerous, a lot of fun and a lot of cool – combined a bit of Jimi, a bit of Marc, a bit of James Brown and a lot of genius. Until Sinead covered this song I would not have thought anyone could touch the little chap at his own game. I kinda thought Prince songs were indelibly stamped with Prince’s logo. You can’t touch this….

I wuz wrong. The frailty and fragile nature of the song fits Sinead and both somehow meld. She is the song, the song is her. That just doesn’t happen very often – if at all. That revolting phrase “you owned it” churned out on brain dead TV talent shows ad nauseam for once applies. You can’t think of the song without thinking of Sinead and vice versa. They might be so entwined that it overshadows her career.

OK, that’s two down and just to sum them up, nobody else has done a cover of a Prince song better than Prince and ditto Bob. Argue away, I’m not listening.

Compare and contrast:

Song 3

With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles – Joe Cocker

This is weird. The Beatles FFS? The greatest band ever. The greatest song writing partnership of the 20th century. The band that wrote the book (and the sequel). Have you heard some of the covers? “Hey Jude, Hey Bing”? Trust me, it was an album. My dad had it. Can you imagine the scene in our house? He was a jazz musician and I think he made this one attempt to be down with his son. He’d spent some futile time trying to tell me that all of this pop music stuff was nonsense and real music would eventually come into its own and Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington et al would be on Top of the Pops (Pops in this case being hep cat chat for Dads). Suffice to say most covers are cheesy in the extreme or just for shock value with nothing of value added. From Matt Monroe to Siouxsie Sioux. But, Joe? That voice. That presence. That simple honesty and stripped back truth. It’s a song, dare I say, that Paul didn’t really think was the Dog’s Bs so he suggested that Ringo sang it as a little bit of fun “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” and the whimsy fitted the feel of Sgt Peppers. But it was far from a stand-out track.

Now, fast forward a mere year or so. On stage at Woodstock and Joe says “the title of this song says it all”. The song is imbued with something more. A part of the hippy dream is captured in the performance. It’s a time piece. Oh and that voice? Come on. Just go have a listen. Band ain’t too bad either.

Song 4

Respect – Otis Redding – Aretha Franklin

Like Joe, this cover takes the song into places the original didn’t. Like the others too I guess. But with this one, you start pretty high up – with that voice, Otis. A voice that can quite easily make you cry. My Girl? Try A Little Tenderness? I Been Loving You Too Long? I’m tearing up now. And I’m a tough guy…

But Aretha takes a lyric that just might veer towards a bit misogynistic these days – y’know, man works all day – comes home to little lady cooking for him and expects a bit of R – E – S – P – E – C – T – and she makes it the first bona fide feminist mega hit defining moment of the decade. Oh yeah, and it was her major first hit after 10 years fighting against “the man”!!

What Aretha did changed the world. A cover version of a pop song changed the world? Yes, that’s what I said. Made a massive difference to the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. The impact of this little pop song can’t be ignored. That’s how deep my love is.

Oh, BTW, Otis didn’t really like the cover – but learned to live with it when the dosh rolled in – and also – listen to his version – most people think the lyric “R – E – S – P – E – C – T find out what it means to me” is part of the original.

Song 5

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Robert Hazard – Cyndi Lauper

For years I’d thought Prince wrote this especially for Cyndi. Someone told me some Fake News and I never questioned it. It’s a great song and it seemed believable. It’s my wife’s favourite “getting ready for Friday Night” song – so I had to include it for her.

There’s not a great deal to say about it other than, in Cyndi’s hands and voice, it’s perfect pop. In Robert Hazards? Well, have a listen to the song below. My main question is, How did Cyndi hear this very very average song and say “I can make this song a mega hit that will last generations and become Graeme’s wifes’ favourite “getting ready for Friday Night song” for all time”? I dunno the answer but one thing I will point out is, the song lasts 2 minutes and 30 seconds and the actual track lasts 4 minutes and 30 seconds. And by strange coincidence, when my wife says she’ll be ready in 15 minutes… you can fill in the rest.

Just before I trot off to have a mince pie, there were a couple of things I considered but rejected and hopefully some of these will incite you to invective 🙂

  1. Leonard Cohen covers – it’s easy to say other people sing them better than Lenny. That’s not the point. We can all say a photograph of a tree looks more like a tree than a Van Gogh painting of a tree. I don’t know where I’m going with that – other than Lenny is the Van Gogh of pop – funny, sad, dark, deep, tortured and Chaplinesque – there’s a crack in everything – that’s how Lenny gets in. I like his cracks. In his house there are many flaws – all of them interesting.
  2. Led Zeppelin – when you actually claim to have written all your covers yourselves – it doesn’t apply.
  3. Anyone covering Tom Waits with a gravelly voice – don’t be silly (Sir Rodney).
  4. Anyone covering Tom Waits with a lovely voice – as above.
  5. The Blues – it’s totally impossible to compare Crossroads – Robert Johnson to Cream. Both are wonderful in their own way – and I bet you can think of lots more examples. So, off you go, your challenge is now to name 5 blues songs that have brilliant originals and brilliant – but significantly different – covers.

Many thanks to Allan for allowing me to stop work for 3 hours to write this 🙂

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, if the fates allow.

Cheers

Graeme

Written before the election December 2019 (I might not be in such a frivolous mood after that).

Sorry Graeme, but we need to have the last word here (not about the election, not even going there), especially after squeezing in two High Fives in one piece, but we did mention another song, which was a band covering their own song. Thin Lizzy’s “Nightlife” version of “Still In Love With You” should have pushed all the buttons as a duet between Phil Lynott and the wonderful Frankie Miller, but it was a bit of a mid-tempo plodder. Someone obviously worked out that it was a potential anthem, slowed it down, stuck a truly wonderful Brian Robertson solo in there and, voila, rock classic.

The Buffalo Skinners - 'Cease Your Dreaming' - cover (300dpi)The implosion of the music industry in recent years has made it increasingly difficult to make a living out of making music, but it’s also led to a some creative thinking on the part of artists about getting their work out there. One of the more creative solutions has been the songwriting collective; The Jar Family in the north-east and The Buffalo Skinners in Sheffield are a couple of examples. There are similarities between the two (apart from working out of former northern industrial strongholds); each has four frontmen and the influences they pull together create an eclectic and electric mix. Even by today’s standards of eclecticism, “Cease Your Dreaming” is a very, very varied album and you’re never quite sure where it’s going next.

The album opens with the simple skiffle stylings of “We Get Along” (with a nice fiddle solo thrown in), moves through seventies pop-rock with “Sam’s Chop House” before “Play to Lose” has a walking bassline and harmonies that could easily come from an early Beatles single. You shouldn’t get the idea that all of the influences are fifty years old though; keyboard and mandolin player Kieran Thorpe’s vocals have a definite indie intonation, sounding a lot like the Kooks’ Luke Pritchard. The range of instruments played by Keiran, James Nicholls, Peter Secombe, Miles Stapleton and Robbie Thompson allows the band to move between various styles with ease as they move from slapback Sun Studios to English folk, sixties pop and the Mexican feel of the album’s penultimate song, “Remember Me”; they’re completely convincing and comfortable whatever the tempo and style.

There’s plenty to like about “Cease Your Dreaming”, nothing to dislike and a couple of songs to love. If you twisted my arm, I’d probably say the Mexican-tinged lament, “Remember Me” and the lo-fi tale of the failed guitar-slinger, “Delta Blues” are standouts. As I say far too often with bands like this, you really need to get out and see them live. They’re doing the UK and Europe at the moment; go on, make the effort to go and see them.

“Cease Your Dreaming” is released on Friday July 15th on Loose Chat Records (LCR005).

The BendsReady or not, here it comes.  It’s the second single from the Radio (in my) Head project and this time it’s the turn of Sullivn putting their highly individual stamp on “The Bends”.  The band are John O’Sullivan (all vocals), Layla MK Kim (piano), Simon Goudarzi (guitars), Sjur Opsal (bass) and Jon Mar Ossurarson (drums).  Now, I have to be completely honest here and admit that despite loving Radiohead, I can take or leave the original of that particular song.  In fact, I’d rather leave it; if you can imagine Tom Verlaine singing alternately stoned and constipated, that’s how I hear Thom Yorke’s vocal on “The Bends”.

This version is a very different beast, opening quietly and intimately with close-up solo vocal and piano before the guitars, bass and drums come thundering in at the end of the verse.  The song, at different times, features funk elements, big distorted guitars, twin guitar parts, hints of late Beatles production and some subtle piano touches throughout.  There is a tremendous attention to detail as the vocal sound moves from full and resonant to thin and distant and the guitars play power chords followed by atonal fills.  You need to do two things to get the most out of this; play loud and repeatedly.  Your neighbours won’t mind.

The B-side is a remix of Sullivn’s first single “Come Back”, taking the song down a very different route from the fairly straightforward ballad treatment of the original with a very trip-hop dubby feel of Massive Attack and Portishead and very heavy bass.  It’s not quite full on Lee Perry dub, but there’s a lot on interesting things going on there.  Possibly even better than the original single mix.

So what you get here is a Radiohead cover that’s packed with invention and great performances along with a cracking B-side.  I only wish I liked the original more so I could really emphasise how much more I like this version .  It’s available from Tuesday October 8 on iTunes.

Live in ConcertsOK, so do you want the good news or the bad news?  Bad news first, it is.  Sorry, but I just don’t think a four-CD live set is a good idea.  With a few notable exceptions, I’m not really too bothered about live albums generally.  I can understand that if you’re recording all of the shows anyway (and it’s quite easy to do that now), you might want to release some of the material for your fans.  I can also understand that, to be authentic, you might want to present a whole show from introduction to encore.  You might also want to showcase material from different tours; I just don’t believe that two complete shows spread over four discs is the best way of doing it.

Again, this is only my opinion, but I’m not keen on songs that last for nearly half an hour either.  Let’s get all the negativity out of the way now, shall we?  As a live act, the Henrk Freischlader Band has a huge dynamic range from pin-drop quietness to jet-engine loudness and you just can’t capture that on CD; try listening to this set on driving on the motorway or the autobahn and there are huge chunks that you just can’t hear.  So, it’s fair to say that I’m not keen on the concept, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s all bad news; after all, this is Henrik Freischlader.

Throughout the set, the musicianship is exceptional and that’s not just Henrik; Björn Krüger and Theofilos Fotiadis are a rock-solid rhythm section, while Moritz Fuhrhop’s Hammond adds another powerful solo instrument to the mix.  It’s great to hear musicians improvising creatively, but the songs which work best here are the ones where the improvisations and extensions are kept to a minimum.  The opening tracks “The Blues” and “Still Frame Replay” work well and the selections from the “House in the Woods”, particularly “1999”, House in the Woods” and “Breaking my Heart Again” all sound great in a live setting.  There’s also a good selection of covers from Peter Green’s “I Loved Another Woman” to the Beatles’ “Come Together” via the almost inevitable Hendrix of “Crosstown Traffic” and “Foxy Lady”.

For committed fans of Henrik Freischlader, this will be an essential album; there are plenty of powerful performances here and some very good songs.  If you’ve seen the band live, you’ll know that Henrik is a very gifted player and has a superb raw, soulful blues/rock voice and this set captures those qualities perfectly.  For the uncommitted, however, it might suffer from “Sandinista” syndrome; the infamous Clash triple album could have been a magnificent single album.  If this set was edited down to a third of its current length it would make a superb memento of a Henrik Freischlader live set.

If you want to hear Henrik at his best check out “House in the Woods” (reviewed on MusicRiot) released earlier his year, go out and see him live or have a listen to the wonderful new Layla Zoe album “The Lily” which Henrik produced as well as playing  guitar, bass and drums parts.  I’m already looking forward to his next studio album.

Out now on Cable Car Records (CCR 0311-40).