Every so often you stumble across a voice so stunning, coming out of the unlikeliest character, you’re, quite literally, struck dumb. Mouth hanging open, confusion furrowing your brow, emotions all over the place as you try to decide whether or not to be happy. You’re not sure whether to be happy or not because said voice is usually emanating from the mouth of someone who consider unworthy of said talent, right? Right? Come now, be honest. You don’t get confused when a Kendrick Lamar looking bugger opens his mouth and raps like a prodigy, but when Macklemore steps up…well…I don’t know (usually said with a frown…). Same thing when you first listen to a black rock band, it messes with you, mentally. Useless information, I still haven’t gotten over Hootie…
All I’m saying is I expect certain sounds to come out of certain people, so when I come across a young white girl with humongous soul in her voice, I sit up and take notice. And then I download all her music (legally, of course…ahem). And then I try to stalk her on YouTube, convinced that if I watch enough videos, I’ll see the big black woman in the shadows, the one who’s really singing. This is not as absurd as it sounds, remember Milli Vanilli, and C&C? Shit happens, my friends, and up to and until I watch someone live and acapella, I assume the worst. I have stalked today’s artist for about nine years, and I am proud to say she’s the real deal. I’m still slightly disconcerted by her most amazing voice, but I’m no longer suspicious.
Ladies and gentlemen, Ms Joss Stone, doing a cover of Womack and Womack’s ‘Teardrops’. I pray to the soul gods to forgive me for this blasphemy, but, dammit, her version as good as the original. Don’t lynch me, I said as good as, not better. (Don’t tell the gods, but I actually think it’s marginally better. Don’t bother trying to take away my black passport, I lost it when I did the Michael Bolton post.) You see, my one gripe with the original was that the lyrics were almost muted by the music. Simply put, Mrs Womack didn’t do her own writing justice, or perhaps she did it too much justice with the funky track. When I finally got round to listening to the song, really listening to it as opposed to random swaying, about seven years ago, I was slightly gobsmacked by its depth. Dance tracks from the 80’s didn’t have too much to them, is all I’m saying, and this was a most pleasant exception. Then a year ago I heard this cover and I was even more gobsmacked. Who knew it could sound so…clear? It’s the oddest thing, listening to someone take something you know so well and turn it into something completely new, but still the same.
Whenever I hear goodbyes, remind me baby of you
I break down and cry, next time I’ll be true
Fever for lost romance, remind me baby of you
I took a crazy chance, the next time I’ll be true
I’ll be true
I’ll be true…
Footsteps on the dance floor, remind me baby of you
Teardrops in my eyes, next time I’ll be true yea
Whispers in the powder room, she cries on every tune
Joss Stone sings this, and I finally understand the ‘swaying but not quite dancing’ tempo to the song. I’m not sure that makes much of any sense to anyone but me, but there you have it. She turns this song into a stronger, more thoughtful version of itself.
It occurs to me half the people reading this have no clue what the original sounds like, which then means I should probably stick it in here, no?
Useless fact No. 734: The female half of Womack and Womack is Linda Womack, nee Cooke, daughter of Sam Cooke, step daughter to Bobby Womack, even as she was married to his brother Cecil. I may have gotten that mixed up, such is the dodginess of that family tree. Linda Womack could sing, evidently, but her strength, and that of her hubby, was as a songwriter (she co-wrote Teddy’s ‘Love TKO’ with Cecil) and producer. Hence the brilliance of this cover. Ms Stone took a dance hit, stripped it down some, and voilà! Where the original was about the fabulous music (it’s so damn funky you can’t help but to snap a finger and sway a hip), she turned it around and made it all about the lyrics. Brilliant lyrics combined with a brilliant voice and not much music to distract from either (in fairness, the original music cannot be replicated). I made my peace with Ms Stone’s many covers with this particular song, finally realising that she understands the music she was, is, singing, perhaps better than most.
And the music
Don`t feel like it did
When I felt it with you
Nothing that I do or feel ever feels like
I felt it with you…
You’re sitting there wondering where I’m going with this, aren’t you? I need to bitch about Sam Smith. This bastard… I’m rubbing my forehead in frustration. The problem with twitter, aka home of the devil, I still can’t filter out the noise. I try, dammit, I try to steer clear of the crazies, the attention whores, the would be politicians, the would be political commentators, the bleeding heart liberals, the state house lackeys, the ass chasing whores, the asses, Moses fucking Kuria… And bloody Sam Smith. Sam Smith has pushed me over the edge. It’s too much, dammit, too much!
This Sam Smith kijana is, apparently, quite the revelation, touted as the next great British soul singer. I know, they say this about some newbie every year, but at least this boy can sing. I’m not sure he can sing like a soul singer, but he can sing. Now ordinarily I’d have waited a couple of years before listening to him, figuring if he’s as good as they say, he’ll be better with a couple of albums under his belt. Come to think of it, does he have a full album? Issues. Point is, pre-twitter, I would have been blissfully ignorant in my ‘slow on the uptake’ cocoon. But nooooo… Idiots feel the need to throw him at me all the damn time. And why, you ask, don’t I simply ignore them? Because an OCD idiot like me must click every link she sees, dammit. After the first listen, I moved on, secure in the knowledge that he is not my cup of tea. Then the fellow did a cover of Whitney. My Whitney. Good God man, why?
This is why I talk about understanding the music. That the boy can sing is not in question, he has a beautiful voice. That he can sing soul…well…no. The original ‘How Will I Know’ is a funky piece of music, and fun. Whitney’s telling us about this boy she knows…
…he’s the one I dream of
Looks into my eyes, takes me to the clouds above
Ooh, I lose control, can’t seem to get enough
When I wake from dreaming, tell me is it really love…
Now you read that and you think, ‘Woiyee…she sounds like she’s pining for this guy,’ but then you listen and you realise it’s not a sad love song, it’s a happy clappy ode to new love, triumphant even. It’s not a ‘sitting in a puddle of tears’ song, it’s a ‘I met a new boy, woohoo!’ song. That’s why she’s dancing, yes?
Oh, wake me, I’m shaking, wish I had you near me now
Said there’s no mistaking what I feel is really love
Ooh how will I know?
(Don’t trust your feelings)
How will I know?
How will I know?
(Love can be deceiving)
How will I know?
It’s the giddy feeling you get when you may or may not be falling for someone. That strange place between paralysing fear and the urge to shag them as soon as possible. It’s nervous excitement, in song. Then some barely out of his teens, melancholic twat comes along and turns it into a bloody dirge. Say it with me…NKT! This here is a classic example of a shit cover version, all croon and no substance. Slight detour, I have to point out that my dislike for the man was recently cemented by a most disturbing cover he did of Tracy Chapman. He somehow managed to turn ‘Fast Car’ into a generic (read, crap) pop ballad. That, my people, takes significant skill, but that’s a discussion for the day Ms Chapman finally makes it onto my playlist, just as soon as I make good on a bet I lost to a certain young man who I suspect may have tricked me (he took advantage of my geriatric memory). Detour over.
The point to this long and rambling music appreciation class? Some things are best left untouched, original, until the person who truly understands it comes along. I know, it’s tempting to take something old and ‘boring’ and put your stamp of shiny newness upon it, but in doing so you run the risk of destroying the very essence of the thing. As strange as this sounds, I’m talking about love, and relationships.
Every so often I meet a new man who is looking to completely transform my life, and me in it, into a more brilliant version of it/myself. He rides in on his white stallion, my gallant knight in shining armour, here to save me from my lonely (read, pathetic) existence. He takes my happy go lucky dance-ish jam of a soundtrack, and somehow manages to turn it into another sad love song. That’s the only way he can rescue me, see? For the man to be needed, I have to be unhappy, searching, needing a man to…say it with me…complete me. What this idiot saviour doesn’t realise, however, is some women, or possibly just me, are not particularly drawn to the idea of being sad and pathetic, and telling them they are doesn’t really do much for the flames of attraction the man seeks to fan. More to the point, you cannot waltz in and transform her life like she’s an old record in need of a makeover, not before you learn to appreciate the original brilliance. It could be that her funky swagger is in fact a not so funky story, but that’s no reason to turn it into a depressing funk, Mr bloody Smith, and just so you can feel better about yourself.
I’m looking for someone to hear my song, and understand it, before he does a new version, a version that includes him and me. That’s what it’s all about, this new song, inserting yourself into somebody else (you can take that literally, if you so desire). Rather than impose your dodgy interpretation onto this song, and in the process fucking the poor song up for years to come, perhaps just…don’t.
Rule number one of covers, don’t make the song worse.