It is funny how a concept or idea for a column can come from different places and from conversations that have very little to do with music. The genesis for this week’s Listen up! column came from a brief conversation with some of the creative marketing people at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority. The team at ACUA is working on a number of events and initiatives to benefit the community. When they talked about getting the word out and wanting to use our weekly papers to do so, I thought we could have some fun with one of the big roles they play in our county, that role being recycling.
During a brainstorming meeting, I joked about “cover songs” being the ultimate form of music recycling. The group laughed and then agreed with my statement. So as a nod to the work the team at ACUA does in the area of recycling, here are some of my favorite covers in no particular order. Many are classic cover songs. If you have not heard some of them or enjoyed them recently — Listen Up!
• The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower” off of the LP "Electric Ladyland." The song was originally done by Bob Dylan on the album "John Wesley Harding."
• Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” from his "Grace" CD. This Leonard Cohen song from the album "Various Positions" was re-popularized when another cover was included in the animated film "Shrek."
• While the rousing rendition of “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival off the album "Bayou Country" is a classic, the Ike & Tina Turner version of "Proud Mary" from "Workin' Together" takes the song to another level.
• Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ version of “I Love Rock 'n' Roll” took the song originally recorded by a band called Arrows in 1975 from obscurity to every jukebox and turntable throughout the land in 1982.
• Probably one of my favorite songs is “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” by Elvis Costello & The Attractions off of the LP "Armed Forces." This Nick Lowe-penned tune was originally on Lowe’s band Brinsley Schwarz’s album titled "The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz." If you need more to Listen Up! to, I would suggest seeking out Lowe’s haunting stripped-down acoustic version of the song.
• When Sonny Curtis of the Crickets (Buddy Holly’s band) first wrote “I Fought the Law,” I am pretty sure he had no idea what punk rock music was. In a cover twist, the song was covered and first popularized by the Bobby Fuller Four, and the song went on to become a top-ten hit in 1966. When the Clash covered it in 1979, it landed on my list and many others' lists of favorite cover songs.
• There are some amazing songs that have had generational staying power for many reasons. Some are tied to classic movies such as the "Wizard of Oz" and others are tied to outstanding musicians like Louie Armstrong. A Hawaiian ukulele player named Israel Kamakawiwoʻole decided to bring together two songs, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World,” and the mashed up song instantly became one of my favorite “just when I need to hear something heavenly” cover songs.
• I am a huge Motown fan and a Beatles fan. Therefore when I first heard the cover of “Twist & Shout” by The Beatles off of "Please Please Me," the Isley Brothers version of "Twist and Shout" was never going to be the same. Still a classic Motown song for me, just not at the same level as The Beatles' version.
• What is fair for one musically is fair for all. So when Joe Cocker covered The Beatles' “With A Little Help From My Friends,” the song seemed to capture the sentiment, lifestyle, trials as well as tribulations of a generation. Yes, it still remains an integral part of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" for me, but the power of Cocker’s version is incredible.
• "Valerie" by Mark Ronson (featuring Amy Winehouse) rounds out some of my favorite cover songs. The version originally performed by The Zutons off the album "Tired of Hanging Around," needed the amazing vocal performance of Winehouse to bring it to life. The song seemed tailor-made for Winehouse’s voice and much credit goes to Ronson for giving the song the attention it needed to become an awesome cover.
• Social Distortion’s "Ring of Fire," originally sung by Johnny Cash. Cash is a classic, so the ability for Social D. to take on this cover so brilliantly deserves mention.
• The Beat’s "The Tears of a Clown" (another Motown cover) first performed by The Miracles (Smokey Robinson’s band) on the album "Make It Happen." When Ska meets Motown correctly, magic happens.
• The Lemonheads' version of "Mrs. Robinson" from It's a Shame About Ray does more than justice to the original by Simon & Garfunkel from the album Bookends.
So there you have a few of my favorite cover songs or “music’s version of recycling.” Hope you Listen up! to these songs, and the next time you see me, please share some of your favorite recycled musical gems!