A while back, we did a little thing where we all talked about our favorite Post-Beatles music by Ex-Beatles. That worked pretty well, so let's try something else. Let's talk about people covering other people's music.
For me, covers come in two basic varieties...one type is very faithful to the original and the other takes the song and makes it entirely new. I don't think one is superior to the other, but some pretty cool things can happen. I'm gonna throw out three that I particularly like.
1. The Box Tops' original performance of The Letter. (Don't get all technical. I know that they're actually covering Wayne Carson Thompson, but I've never heard his version and if you can find it, good luck and send me a link.) The Box Tops' version is kind of Bluesy and it's totally appropriate to their era and to getting on TV and stuff. (In the video, toward the end, I really got a kick out of the keyboards player goofing on the fact that they're just miming to playback. (The lead singer may have really been singing...I don't know.)
Joe Cocker's cover kicks it up a few notches and just makes the song exuberant. Pay special attention to the backup singers. To be fair, I'm sure they were all stoned out of their minds, but look how much fun they're having. The Box Tops could have played their version in the garage while dad watched his football game. Cocker's version would have brought the cops.
2. The Beatles original performance of With a Little Help From My Friends. I couldn't find any performance video of this one, just a slideshow with the music. Doesn't matter. Just listen to the beginning, maybe up to the first chorus. Can't you just see Ringo swaying his head back and forth while he seranades us?
Again, we'll go to Joe Cocker for the cover. Joe takes a very sedate little song (nothing wrong with that), and completely changes it to a soul bearing blues-shout. Throughout the song, there are these recurring moments when he's standing on the edge of a cliff and you never know whether he's going to pull back at the last moment or just dive off. I think it's amazing.
Edit to add: The thing that really tells you why this version is not the Beatles version is during the Call and Response, "Do you need anybody". Ringo's performance says, I'll be sad if I don't find someone to love, but I'll get by anyway. Cocker's anguished scream in response, shows his primal need. Yup, these are two very different songs.
Note: I found both the "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" version and the "Woodstock" version. Cocker's vocals and instrumentally, the Woodstock performance is better, but the backing vocals at Woodstock are truly cringe-worthy. You get MD&E.
3. Across the Universe by The Beatles. I've always thought of this as more of a John Lennon song, but technically, he was still a Beatle at the time, so...
For the cover, we'll go to Fiona Apple. This is an example of a cover that is absolutely faithful to the original. It's haunting and it's really beautifully done. And to add to that, it's got a kick-ass video. If any of you don't know, there's some very intricate and technically difficult camera work and choreography going on throughout.
The first shot comes into the broken window and finds Fiona in a corner a little less than 30 seconds in. No cut yet. They also manage to avoid seeing the camera or any crew in that huge mirror behind her...no mean trick. I suspect this shot was done with a crane...the arm reaching in through the window, panning over to find her and then "arming" toward her as the pivot point gets close enough to the window to make the swing. As she stands and walks toward the crane, the arm starts swinging the other way and maintains perfect distance from her. It looks almost like one of those shots where the actor is standing on a platform connected to the camera dolly (it's that precise), but that would be impossible without a cut, so, this must be exquisite crane work. It also makes you suspect (wrongly), that the crashing, flying actors and props must have been shot separately and she's in front of a green-screen, but there's too much evidence to the contrary. I'll eat my hat if I'm wrong, but this stuff must all be happening in the same place at the same time.
At 1:12, they pan off of her, setting up for the first cut at 1:21 in. That's because in the next shot, they do have her on a rig attached to the camera. When you do that shot with her spinning in the room on that axis, you're using a gimbal, either she spins or the entire room does. (When Fred Astaire danced on he ceiling, the entire room was spinning.)
Fiona's the one rotating here, because her hair declines to disobey gravity. This shot may have been done in front of green screen. There's an awful lot of shit flying through the air, and it looks like the foreground "flying shit" is a bit more controlled looking. 2nd cut at 2:00 in. At 2:30 she leans out of frame, followed by a cut where she leans back in. This happens over about 2 seconds. Camera is back on the crane (I think). They're working in a fairly tight space, so maybe this is a jib arm (a mini-crane arm that mounts on a dolly). Not sure, but it's a nice shot.
4th cut at 3:25 in. She walks out of frame at 3:40 in. This is a total red herring making you expect another cut, but she's just moved to the corner booth and the camera searches until it finds her and keeps moving closer and closer til the video end.
I can't begin to tell you how truly difficult it is to pull all of those elements together so seamlessly, but it's all pretty damned impressive.
I really didn't intend to go off on that behind the scenes stuff so much here, but I just got sucked in and couldn't help myself. Enjoy the video and tell me what your favorite covers are and why.