Cover Versions of #1s – Nick Cave & The Villagers

The final two covers for the week, and we’re slowing the pace, ending on a chilled note…

‘The Carnival Is Over’, by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 1986 album track

(Originally a #1 in November 1965, by The Seekers)

I didn’t have much positive to say about The Seekers’ two 1965 #1 singles, the second of which was the dirgey ‘The Carnival Is Over’. But if you want someone to take a dirge, and make it even gloomier, yet make it completely their own, then look no further than Nick Cave. Based on an old Russian folk song, and given some sixties-folk lyrics by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom, it sold a million for Australia’s biggest band of the decade. Fellow Aussie Cave and his Bad Seeds recorded it for a covers album twenty years later – ‘the song sort of haunted my childhood’, Cave has been quoted as saying. (Until five minutes ago, I had no idea that Boney M had also recorded a version… And I had no idea that Boney M had ever sounded so miserable. Nobody can make this tune sound fun!)

‘The Wonder of You’, by The Villagers – 2017

(Originally a #1 in July 1970, by Elvis Presley)

Despite being described as an ‘indie-folk project’ on their Wikipedia page, and despite it sounding ready made for a Starbucks playlist, I have liked this version of ‘The Wonder of You’ by The Villagers ever since hearing it on the soundtrack to HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’. It is the polar opposite of Elvis’s bombastic version – lo-fi and intimate, with just a hint of old-style rock ‘n’ roll around the edges. In the show, it soundtracks an abusive husband getting flung to his death down a flight of stairs during an Elvis-themed PTA night at a primary school… (I mean, if that description doesn’t make you want to watch something, then I don’t know what will!)

I hope you enjoyed my second annual cover versions week. Normal service will be resumed in a few days, with our 377th chart-topping single.

Cover Versions of #1s – CCR & The Slits

Last night I did two cover versions of the same band; tonight it’s two cover versions of the same song! Onwards!

‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’, by Creedence Clearwater Revival – 1970 album track

(Originally a #1 in 1969, by Marvin Gaye)

Before we go any further, I don’t claim that any over version of ‘Grapevine’ is an improvement on one of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded. But these two gave it a right old go… First, Creedence, with an epic eleven minute take on it, from their ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ album. Does any song really need to be eleven minutes long? No, probably not. But the band sound so in-tune, firmly lodged in their groove, that we can indulge them. The first four minutes is the song, what remains is a jam session based around that timeless riff. It was eventually released as a single, in 1973, but couldn’t breach the US Top 40.

‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by The Slits – reached #60 in 1979

Shorter, though not exactly sweeter, post-punk band The Slits give us an oh so sarcastic rendition. When lead singer Ari Up sings I’m just about to lose my mind… you can’t tell if she’s walking away grinning, rolling her eyes, or preparing to launch herself at her dirty, rotten ex. Plus, the bass line here is really cool.

Two final covers up tomorrow!

Cover Versions of #1s – Fats Domino & Alma Cogan

Day three of cover versions week… and I got a couple of Fab Four facsimiles for you!

‘Lady Madonna’, by Fats Domino – 1968 album track

(Originally a #1 in March 1968, by The Beatles)

Paul McCartney was quite open about the debt that ‘Lady Madonna’ owed to Fats Domino, and so it was perhaps no surprise that Fats himself repaid the compliment less than a year after the original was released. It is probably the most faithful of all the cover versions I’ll post this week… Other than some extra piano flourishes it could easily be Fats singing over the original instrumental track. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock, however, and it took the rock ‘n’ roll legend to #100 in the US, just when it looked as if he might never have another chart hit.

‘I Feel Fine’, by Alma Cogan – 1967 album track

(Originally a #1 in December 1964, by The Beatles)

Towards the end of her career, and just before her much too early death aged just thirty-four, Alma Cogan had a go at covering some of The Beatles’ biggest hits. She put her own twist on ‘Help’, and ‘Ticket to Ride’, but I’ve gone for her very swinging-sixties take on ‘I Feel Fine’. (Actually, her best Beatles’ cover is her gorgeous ‘Eight Days a Week’, but that original was never released as a single in the UK…) Cogan had a close relationship with the Fab Four – especially, the rumours suggest, John Lennon – and I covered this in more depth in my post on her a few months ago. Sadly, none of her Beatles covers seemed to grabbed the public’s attention, all of them failing to chart.

Another two tomorrow, this time a couple of takes on the same well-known chart-topper…

Cover Versions of #1s – The Sugarhill Gang & Shirley Bassey

Our next couple of covers… Aren’t really cover versions at all. More re-imaginings of #1 hits…

‘Apache (Jump On It)’, by The Sugarhill Gang – #53 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982

(Originally a #1 in August 1960, for The Shadows)

The instrumental ‘Apache’ has passed through as many hands as an old five pound note. Originally recorded by Bert Weedon, it was then released to great acclaim by The Shadows – resulting in their first solo chart-topper. In the US, meanwhile, the version that hit big was by Danish guitarist Jørgen Ingmann in 1961, making #2. Skip forward a few years, the Edgar Broughton Band took the guitars and chopped them up with some Captain Beefheart to create this. And then, the Incredible Bongo Band did this:

Their über-funky version became a touchstone of early hip-hop, sampled by LL Cool J, The Roots, and The Sugarhill Gang, the band that had scored the first big rap hit: ‘Rapper’s Delight’, a #3 in 1979. In the space of twenty two years, then, ‘Apache’ had gone from atmospheric instrumental to raucous hip hop, featuring lines like: Custer, Jump on it, Jump on it… and To all you girls that wanna join my tribe, Just move to my rhythm and feel my vibe…

‘As I Love You, by Shirley Basseyalbum track from 1969

(Originally a #1 in February 1959, for Shirley Bassey)

No, not a typo… This one isn’t a straightforward cover version, either. Ms. Bassey is covering herself. Well, if anyone can, it’s her. For her 1969 album, ‘Does Anybody Miss Me’, Dame Shirley re-recorded her first #1 hit from a decade earlier. I actually discovered the remake first, and had started to write my post on it before sensing something was wrong. The 1969 version is light, fun, playful… very ‘swinging sixties’. I thought it sounded ahead of it’s time for 1959. Alas, I was right. It was ten years off. The 1959 version that I had to write my original post on is slower, weightier, and nowhere near as playful. Bassey belts it out as only she can… but it’s very old-fashioned. Give me the later version any day!

A couple more tomorrow!

Cover Versions of #1s – Girlschool & Van Halen

I’ve been writing this blog for… *trumpet fanfare* …three whole years! Plodding along, at a post every two or three days, we’ve made it through the pre-rock years, the rock ‘n’ roll boom, the rock ‘n’ roll slump, the Mersey sound years, the Summer of Love, the late-sixties comedown, the glam era, and the arrival of disco… So, to celebrate, this week I’m taking a break from all the actual chart-topping singles… to bring you more chart-topping singles, in versions you may never have heard before.

Let’s kick it off with a couple of straightforward, balls to the wall rockers…

‘Tiger Feet’, by Girlschool – 1986 album track

(Originally reached #1 in January 1974, by Mud)

(Actually, when I said ‘balls to the wall’, I forgot that this first band are all ladies… Anyhoo…) My one complaint about the original glam rock hits is that they sometimes come out a little light in the mix. So when a ’70s glam classic gets covered with the crunchy bite of ’80s hard rock then I kiss my fingers like a French gourmet tasting the perfect roux. Girlschool were mates with Motorhead, and were the logical result of Suzi Quatro’s pioneering work with a guitar a decade before. They covered plenty of glam classics, including ’20th Century Boy’ (oh, if only that had been a #1) and ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am)’ featuring an actual pre-fall from grace Gary Glitter… Their take on Mud’s signature tune takes an ‘if it ain’t broke then just turn the volume up and rock the eff out’ approach, and it is wonderful.

‘You Really Got Me’, by Van Halen – 1978, reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100

(Originally reached #1 in September 1964, by The Kinks)

A breakthrough single not once but twice. Fourteen years after ‘You Really Got Me’ launched The Kinks to the top of the UK charts, and into the Top 10 in the USA, a glossier, brattier update started getting airplay on the West Coast. While the Kinks were gritty, tough Londoners – Dave Davies resorted to ripping his guitar amp open to get that really scuzzy sounding riff – Van Halen were tanned and gleaming Californians, with confidence and swagger to spare. Just watch David Lee Roth in the video below, acrylic shirt swinging wide, hips swivelling, as he sets the template for every American rock ‘n’ roll frontman for the next decade, while Eddie Van Halen shows off like only Eddie Van Halen could (RIP). I would never go as far as saying that it’s better than The Kink’s original; but it is a brilliant calling card for a band about to become superstars.

More tomorrow!

260. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, by Joe Cocker

I recently did a series of posts on cover versions of #1 songs – previous chart-toppers that had been reimagined in different ways by different artists. ‘Different’ being the important word – a good cover version should bring something new to the table. What’s the point in releasing a karaoke version of the original? And while we have had plenty of cover versions hit number one already, this one takes the concept to another level.

Joe Cocker

With a Little Help From My Friends, by Joe Cocker (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 6th – 13th November 1968

The Beatles’ version of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ had been released the year before, on the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club’ LP. Joe Cocker, a British blues-rocker who had been around for a few years without enjoying much chart success, took it and made it his own. It’s slower, heavier, longer, downer and dirtier… Re-acquaint yourself with the original here, then settle in for the Cocker treatment.

It begins with a distant organ, as if you were standing outside a church before evensong. It’s an ominous build-up… You’re ready for something to happen. Then wham. Guitar! Proper hard-rock guitar. Hendrix and Clapton kind of guitar. The type of guitar that’s been nowhere near the top of the charts before. It’s bombastic, and outrageous. It makes you want to make devil-horns and punch the air.

The lyrics are the ones you know. What would you do, If I sang out of tune, Would you stand up and walk out on me…? But it sure isn’t Ringo singing it. Cocker’s voice is husky, and soulful. He delivers the lines late, squeezes the words in before the next one comes along. The backing singers, so important in any version of this song, sound like a gospel choir: How do I feel at the end of the day…? Are you sad because you’re on your own?

The best bit is the bridge – the Do you need anybody… bit. The guitars go super heavy and crunchy, like a motorbike revving up. The second time around, especially, when Cocker howls and the backing singers soar and we launch into the final minute of a mini rock-opera. I know we’ve had a lot of soul number ones in recent years – The Small Faces, Chris Farlowe, Long John Baldry and more – but this takes it to the next level.

s-l400

It kind of sounds a bit like a jamming session, or at least a live version, and that really adds something to the song. They captured lightning here. They would never have been able to re-record this exactly the same – it’s too raw, too intense. It lacks the polish of a regular #1 single, but you’re oh so glad that it somehow managed to have its week in the top spot

As I mentioned, it’s another long number one. You wait years for a #1 single that lasts longer than five minutes, then three come along at once. And that’s not all that links this to the previous two #1s. We’ve now had a number one recorded by The Beatles (‘Hey Jude’) replaced by one that was produced by a Beatle (‘Those Were the Days’) replaced in turn by a number one written by The Beatles. In case you’ve lost count, this is the fourth Beatles cover to reach the top in the past five years. They may have been reaching the end of their career as a band, but their grip on the charts wasn’t weakening.

We end in a frenzy of organs and guitars, as Cocker ad-libs over the fade-out. Phew. It’s not a subtle re-interpretation, I will admit, but for me it works. I knew this record by reputation, but it’s been great to give it an in-depth listen. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ is a song that will pop up another two times in this countdown, and I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that neither of the upcoming covers are fit to lick this one’s boots…

Joe Cocker will only have one more Top 10 hit, until the early-eighties when he will record ‘Up Where We Belong’ with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack to ‘An Officer and a Gentleman.’ From Sheffield, but sadly no relation to Jarvis Cocker, he was still scoring Top 20 albums in the ‘00s and the 2010s. He died in 2014.

2nd Anniversary Special! Cover Versions of #1s Part V – The Ramones & CAKE

It’s two years since I started this blog and I’m exactly 250 number ones in! To celebrate, I am doing a week-long special: cover versions of #1 singles! Whenever I write a post, I not only discover and enjoy the #1 singles, I also often discover and enjoy other recordings of these hit songs.

My final two covers take us down a rockier road…

‘Needles and Pins’, by The Ramones (1978)

(Originally reached #1 in 1964, with The Searchers)

The Ramones are one of my go-to bands, that I can listen to at any time, in any mood… Alas, they will come nowhere near the top of the UK Singles chart. I also love The Searcher’s version of ‘Needles and Pins’, a perfect slice of melancholy Merseybeat. So, put the two together and you got a good ‘un. Of course, this is actually a cover of a cover, the original being a version by Jackie De Shannon, but hey (ho!) Enjoy!

‘Strangers in the Night’, by CAKE (2005)

(Originally reached #1 in 1966, with Frank Sinatra)

I discovered this cover on the soundtrack to ‘Stubbs the Zombie’ – a video game that I have never actually played. I found the CD in a bargain bin years ago and it is one that’s stayed with me. It’s full of covers of ’30s through ’60s hits by mid-00s indie bands like The Dandy Warhols, Death Cab for Cutie and The Flaming Lips. Seriously, check it out… Anyway, CAKE do this cover of Ol’ Blue Eyes least favourite song and I think it’s great. They also do a nice cover of ‘I Will Survive’, which I might dig out when that particular record make #1…

I hope you enjoyed this interlude of #1s through different lenses. Normal service will resume next week, with chart-topper #251…

2nd Anniversary Special! Cover Versions of #1s Part II – Elvis & Little Richard

It’s two years since I started this blog and I’m exactly 250 number ones in! To celebrate, I am doing a week-long special: cover versions of #1 singles! Whenever I write a post, I not only discover and enjoy the #1 singles, I also often discover and enjoy other recordings of these hit songs.

Our next two covers are by two of the founding pillars of rock ‘n’ roll…

‘Such a Night’, by Elvis Presley (1960)

(Originally hit #1 in 1954, with Johnnie Ray)

I adore Johnnie Ray’s version of this, but Elvis’s version hits the spot just as nicely. Both singers get how sensual and sexy a song this is meant to be. Recorded for his ‘Elvis Is Back!’ album, ‘Such a Night’ is proof that Elvis could still kick it after being in the army. His voice is superb here, but just as brilliant is DJ Fontana on drums. It reached #13 in the UK when finally released in 1964.

‘Memories Are Made of This’, by Little Richard (1964)

(Originally hit #1 in 1956, with Dean Martin)

Deano crooned the life out of this, his only number one hit. Little Richard does not croon. He gives it the full treatment – it’s an experience similar, I’d imagine, to standing behind a 777 as it revs up. I’ve already covered how criminal it is that Little Richard never scored his own #1 single, and will take any chance going to bring him up! Enjoy…

Two more tomorrow…