Music for the Weekend #007 — Don’t judge a book by its Cover
I decided this week to change the way I invent these weeklies of proximity in times of social distancing (upside down, boy you turn me) and I want to dedicate it to my cousin writer-book editor and rock’n’roller (was he also a doctor and scientist he would be Buckaroo Banzai) Francisco Camacho because he was my inspiration. For this M4we, I rehashed the idea of not judging a book by its cover and so bringing you 40 versions of songs that I deeply love. It goes without saying that I will have to make a deuxieme partie in a while because one can never fit all in one go.
In today’s world, every song we know is registered as an original by its composers, who will then be able to approve the recording of versions of said the original. This all stems from the fact that recorded popular music has very little time in existence if we think that music has always been with Humanity and that for a long time it only existed in (hand written and later on printed) scores that could be purchased by those who lacked them. It may have been Edison who improved Alexander Graham Bell’s idea, the phonograph brought some innovative ideas about the graphophone but it was no big deal. It was only two years later, in 1890, that Emile Berliner invented the gramophone and that music was no longer recorded on cylinders and moved to the current disc format. Music was something until then that most people would only hear if they could play it or if they had musician friends willing not to let him embarrass himself. With the advent of recording a lot changed and of course cover versions of the most popular themes started sprucing up since not everyone has the ability or desire to create originals.
Included in this selection is Gershwin’s Summertime from the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, which soon became such a popular jazz standard that it’s recognised as one of the most covered songs in recorded music history, with over 38,000 versions coming from groups and solo artists. Gershwin even admitted that his composition had been influenced by the Ukrainian lullaby Ой ходить сон, коло вікон (A dream passes by the window). Oh my God, watch out for the copyright police George. At the dawn of the last century everything seemed different with most people starting to listen to music through the local radio, many “local versions” were also made of the songs “of the moment” and broadcast by stations that had to obey the needle time laws that restricted the use of pre-recorded music in accordance with the performance of their own orchestras to play “their” syndicated versions of the most notorious songs.
One can see then that this is not a new thing, maybe there is not any generalised apathy towards what is new and unknown, that we render the guard when tuning any nostalgia radio station only because we are pleased to hear these audio snippets that have to do with memories, some good and other not really but all of these playing some role in our stories. The success of projects as diverse as Nouvelle Vague (which re-created a sub-genre of soft cover for the countless hits of the 80s) or tribute bands like the American Dread Zeppelin or the Australian Björn Again that play the repertoire of a single artist leaves no doubt that there is a huge and thirsty audience for these things. In the case of Australia, there is almost a basic explanation: due to being so far away, the Aussies have always been left out in many artist’s touring plans. For this reason a whole subculture of doppelgänging was created down under that then spread to the rest of the world.
Does the cover version appears then to us as a sub-plot so to re-contextualize our first impressions about the original? I know only that any version of a song should, of course, provoke reactions to the receiver who knows the source intimately, a sense of intense bewilderment when hearing a version and what that tells us about what we feel about the original. The choice of chaining this week’s fifteenth and sixth songs is intentional and purposeful. First Lydia, the Tattooed Lady written by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen in 1939 for inclusion in the Marx Brothers’ film At the Circus which became such a success for Groucho that in 1950, at the New York’s Stock Exchange building, he grabbed a microphone, told some anecdotes and sang this bagful of puns “stopping” for 15 minutes all transactions since traders decided to suspend activity in order to see his performance. Here I decided to use the version performed by Kermit the Frog of the Muppets, not only because it is brilliant but because it serves as a segway for Sing that we know sung by Karen Carpenter but that was written in 1971 by Joe Raposo for the children’s program Sesame Street and that shows up here on a rendition by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Pure gasoline if we want to “put out the fire” on this hard and soft cover hit chart.
You will only encounter a repetition, I chose two Dylan themes. Why? Because. It could have been two songs by Bowie (with which I start with an interpretation by Peter Gabriel of his album Scratch my Back), or a pair from the Beatles songbook from which I ended up choosing only the unbelievable re-arrangement of Maurice White of Got to Get You Into My Life contained originaly in Revolver, the Fab Four’s seventh album. Along the way, I chose an interpretation of a great Portuguese rock classic that I did a few years ago in partnership with Olivier Libaux. There is therefore an option for every taste, being essentially every single choice to my liking. And that’s also why I end up with Les Cornichons, original played by Nino Ferrer and of which I wanted to include the version made by the great Thilo Krassman but at the last minute I decided to switch to the hilarious El Salchichón by Un Pingüino En Mi Ascensor, a Spanish band of 80s formed by José Luis Moro. In case you understand Spanish listen to the lyrics, “special” is an inappropriate term to classify this little treasure.
The sky will manifest itself uncovered, enjoy and try to have an original weekend.