In this episode of The Originals we look at artists who had hits with covers of their own songs. It’s a fairly rare phenomenon in rock and soul that artists have bigger hits with re-recordings, though a number had bigger hits with live performances of studio tracks, such as Peter Frampton with Baby, I Love Your Way or Cheap Trick with I Want You To Want Me. It was of course pretty common with the interpreters of the standards, such as Frank Sinatra, whose swinging 1962 version of I Get a Kick Out Of You (featured HERE), for example is probably more famous than the more pensive 1953 original (featured HERE).
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The Isley Brothers – Who’s That Lady (1964).mp3
The Isley Brothers – That Lady Pt 1&2 (1973).mp3
The slice of funky soul from The Isley Brothers’ classic 1973 album 3+3 (named for the three original Isleys plus the three new members) was a cover of their 1964 recording, which had been inspired Curtis Mayfield’s band The Impressions. Released just before the Isleys signed for Motown, the original has a vague bossa nova beat with a jazzy brass backing, but is immediately recognisable as the song they recorded nine years later. The 1964 recording was a flop. The latter version, with reworked harmonies and without the brass, added Ernie’s distinctive guitar, Chris Jasper’s new-fangled synthethizer, Santanesque percussions, and the menacing interjection “Look, yeah, but don’t touch”. It became their first Top 10 hit in four years.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.
Nazz – Hello It’s Me (1968).mp3
Todd Rundgren – Hello It’s Me (1972).mp3
The Isley Brothers – Hello It’s Me (1974).mp3
Before he became a guitar god, Rundgren was part of the Philadelphia garage rock band Nazz (not The Nazz, who went on to become the band Alice Cooper, before their singer appropriated that name for himself as a solo artist), whom their manager sought to promote as a teenybopper outfit. The name refers to comic-poet Lord Buckley’s poem “The Nazz”, a hip retelling of the Jesus story, but might also have been an allusion to the Yardbirds’ song The Nazz Are Blue.
Hello It’s Me, written by Rundgren, was released in 1968 as the b-side of the group’s debut single, Open Your Eyes. The single flopped, except in Boston where a local DJ flipped the single, giving Hello It’s Me local hit status. Rundgren resurrected the song for his 1972 double album Something/Anything?, on three sides of which he did everything — writing, playing, producing, engineering — himself. Hello It’s Me was on side 4, and features session musicians, a horn section (including Randy Brecker) and the backing vocals of Vicki Sue Robinson (who went on to record the original of Gloria Estefan’s1994 hit Turn The Beat Around). The second single from the album, it reached #5 in the US, still Rundgren’s biggest hit. He re-recorded it in 1997 easy listening style. The best version, however, is that by The Isley Brothers, on the 1974 Live It Up album.
Also recorded by: The Isley Brothers (1974), Lani Hall (1975), Groove Theory (1995), Gerald Levert (1999), Paul Giamatti (in the film Duets, 2000), Seiya Nakano (2002), John Legend (2005), Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs (2009)
Frantic Elevators – Holding Back The Years (1982).mp3
Simply Red – Holding Back The Years (1985).mp3
Randy Crawford – Holding Back The Years (1995).mp3
Angie Stone – Holding Back The Years (2000).mp3
Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years sounds like a cover version of an obscure ’60s soul number, and the versions by Randy Crawford and Angie Stone show how good a soul song it is. But it is, in fact, a Mick Hucknall composition. Before Hucknall became Simply Red (would you recognise any of the other interchangeable members in the street?), he was the lead singer of the Frantic Elevators, a punk group whose founding was inspired by the Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester gig. They stayed together for seven years of very limited success, releasing four non-charting singles and recording a Peel session. The last of the four singles, released in 1982, was Holding Back The Years, a song Hucknall had mostly written as a 17-year-old about his mother’s desertion when he was three (he added the chorus later). Their version is understated and almost morose, in a Joy Division sort of way. Although released independently, as the cut-and-paste artwork on the sleeve suggests, they had high hopes for the single. Ineffective distribution dashed those hopes.
In 1983, Hucknall left the Frantic Elevators and went on to found Simply Red (who before arriving at that name were called World Service, Red and the Dancing Dead, and Just Red). The first single, Money’s Too Tight To Mention — a cover version featured in The Originals Vol. 23— was an instant hit. The follow-up was a remake of Holding Back The Years, now rendered as a soul number, which was a worldwide smash, even topping the Billboard charts. I seem to recall that the single and LP versions had different mixes, but I have found no reference to it, and my copy of the single is long gone.
Also recorded by: James Galway (1994), Randy Crawford (1995), The Isley Brothers (1996), Gino Marinello Orchestra (1996), Craig Chaquico (1997), Jimmy Scott (1998), Another Level (1999), Angie Stone (2000), Emmerson Nogueira (2001), Erin Bode (2006), Etta James (2006), Umphrey’s McGee (2007), The Cooltrane Quartet (2007)
Strontium 90/Sting – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1977).mp3
The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1981).mp3
Strictly-speaking this is not really a cover version, or even a song by Strontium 90, but a demo by the group’s member Sting, though it was eventually released in 1997 on the Strontium 90 retrospective of live and demo cuts, Police Academy. In its initial form, the unrequited love for stalkers anthem (Sting has a string of those) is an acoustic number which is actually pretty good. Strontium 90 consisted of the three future Police members — Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — plus founder Mike Howlett, who went on to be a successful producer of many New Wave acts. So Howlett, through Strontium 90 introduced Andy Summers to Sting and Copeland, who had previously gigged together.
Howlett remembered things this way: “I first saw Sting play live in a room above a pub in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England in the summer of ’76. The band was Last Exit, sounding a bit like Weather Report with vocals. Sting soon moved to London following his best chance instinct. I had just quit my group Gong and was working on material for my own project. I asked sting to sing on the demos I was recording. Meanwhile I’d bumped into Andy Summers at a party in January ’77. He’d been out of the scene for a couple of years studying classical guitar. When I asked him to play on my demo, he was glad to do something new. I needed a drummer. Sting had met Stewart Copeland, he’d bring him along. So that’s how it happened. We all met in a studio called Virtual Earth around February 1977. This was the first time Sting, Andy and Stewart played together.”
Also recorded by: The Surffreakers (1992), The Shadows (1990), Shawn Colvin (as Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic, 1994), Chaka Demus & Pliers (1997), Flying Pickets (1998), Soraya (as Todo lo que él hace, 1998), Lee Ritenour (2002), Emmerson Nogueira (2002), Melissa Ellen (2004), Anadivine (2005), Ra (2005), John Barrowman (2007), Ali Campbell (2008)
The Beatles – Across The Universe (1969).mp3
The Beatles – Across The Universe (1970).mp3
David Bowie – Across The Universe (1975).mp3
This may well be the least surprising inclusion in the entire series of The Originals — or perhaps the most, since the latter version is really a remix of the first. The famous version, of course is that on the Let It Be album and the blue 1967-70 compilation. It was recorded long before the other tracks of Let It Be.
In early February 1968, the Beatles were in the Abbey Road studios to produce a single they would released while they went off to hang with the Maharishi in India. That single turned out to be Paul’s Lady Madonna (the same session also produced the b-side, George’s The Inner Light, and John’s Hey Bulldog, which would appear on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack). John’s contribution to the quest for a new single was Across The Universe, whose lyric “words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” he said came to him when his then-wife Cynthia was babbling about something he took no interest in. The arrangement for the song was problematic, however. John did not think that Paul was getting the backing falsetto right, so Paul brought in two female fans who were standing outside the studio, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease, to sing backing vocals instead. They did not turn professional, and the recording shows why. John later voiced his suspicion that Paul intentionally sabotaged many of his songs — citing also the violence McCartney did to, erm, Strawberry Fields — though he also admitted that his own vocals on Across The Universe were poor (and he couldn’t blame Paul for that).
Rejected for the single, Across The Universe was not considered for the White Album, apparently because John had become disillusioned with the whole transcendental meditation lark which the song had latched on to. Somehow, however, comedian Spike Milligan heard the song, and suggested that Across The Universe would be a great number for the charity album he was compiling for the World Wildlife Fund. The Beatles agreed to let him have it, with appropriate bird noises added to the mix. The LP’s title, No One’s Gonna Change Our World, was adapted from a recurring line in the song, which opened the set. The album, which also featured the likes of Lulu, Cliff Richard, the Bee Gees, Cilla Black and The Hollies, was eventually released on December 12, 1969.
By then Lennon had rediscovered his affection for the song, which he always regarded as one of the best he had ever written, and decided to rework it for the Get Back sessions, which became the Let It Be album. It was not re-recorded for the album, though the Let It Be film shows the Beatles rehearsing it (on the strength of which it was included on the LP). The new version was the work of engineering. The 1968 track was first remixed in early 1970 by Glyn Johns, who dumped the girls and birds, then Phil Spector mixed it in March/April 1970, slowing it down and adding the orchestra, to create the version we know best.
In January 2008, NASA beamed the song into space, in the direction of the North Star, Polaris. It will take the song another 429 years too get there. The cover version by David Bowie comes from the Young Americans album, and features Lennon on guitar.
Also recorded by: Cilla Black (1970), Lightsmyth (1970), Christine Roberts (1970), David Bowie (1975), Vadim Brodsky (1986), Laibach (1988), The Family Cat (1991), Holly Johnson (1991), 10cc (1993), Joemy Wilson (1993), Göran Söllscher (1995), Elliot Humberto Kavee (1997), Aine Minogue (1997), Fiona Apple (1998), Sloan Wainwright (1998), Paul Schwartz (1998), Lana Lane (1998), 46bliss (1999), Geoff Keezer (2000), Jane Duboc (2001), Texas (2001), Jason Falkner (2001), Rufus Wainwright (2002), Afterhours + Verdena (2003), Allon (2004), Emmerson Nogueira (2004), Beatlejazz (2005), Barbara Dickson (2006), Emmanuel Santarromana (2006), Jim Sturgess (2007), Michael Johns (2008) a.o.