The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

20 May 2007

The original: not still the greatest

A couple of months ago, the Onion's A.V. Club put together a list of fourteen remakes that surpassed the originals, some of which I actually agree with. (There's no reason for anyone, even Dylan, to do "All Along the Watchtower" anymore; in fact, in the 1980s, Dylan had reportedly worked parts of Hendrix' rearrangement into his own live show.) In response, In Theory questions one on the list and two others not mentioned.

Which, of course, leaves an opening for me.

  • Run-D.M.C., "Walk This Way"
    In the Aerosmith original, Steven Tyler's cadence had much in common with hip-hop delivery; converting the tune to a rap was easy enough, but the stroke of genius was inviting Tyler (and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry) to appear on the new version. The resulting hybrid was surprisingly close to its ancestor, with just as much energy and perhaps even more attitude.

  • Santana, "Black Magic Woman"
    Peter Green's original for Fleetwood Mac is a decent British blues, but nothing to write home about. In Carlos Santana's hands, it becomes vaguely mysterious, as though the magic itself had been invoked; on the Abraxas album, it merges seamlessly into a version of Gabor Szabo's jazz-guitar classic "Gypsy Queen," otherworldly in its own right.

  • The Isley Brothers, "That Lady"
    Originally, this was called "Who's That Lady," a title which makes more sense, and the Isleys themselves recorded it in 1964, a fairly ordinary soul song with none of the enthusiasm they brought to it nine years later, and also without cousin Ernie's wailing guitar, the real star of their 1973 remake.

  • The Rolling Stones, "Time Is On My Side"
    Purloined from the Irma Thomas songbook, as Irma herself will remind you at the drop of a hat. Irma's a better singer than Mick Jagger, but her recording was filled up with soul boilerplate and bored-sounding strings, perhaps because it was intended as a B-side which would probably be ignored. (And jazz trombonist Kai Winding had actually cut an instrumental version before Thomas, anyway.) The Stones did it twice, once leading off with an organ passage (on the US 45), once with a guitar lick (elsewhere), and both versions are packed with the energy Thomas expended on her A-side, since forgotten.

  • Pearl Jam, "Last Kiss"
    Wayne Cochran's 1962 original is more creepy than evocative; the monster hit by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers in 1964 turns up the earnestness but sounds more lovelorn than heartbroken. (You figure J. Frank would sound the same if he'd merely been dumped.) A Canadian band named Wednesday charted with a bland cover in the Seventies. But it took Eddie Vedder to give this song the sort of emotional coloration it seems to demand: he sounds simultaneously desolate and determined.

I could go on, and perhaps eventually I will. After all, I will always need material.

Posted at 9:52 AM to Tongue and Groove


I once saw Pearl Jam live only to see Sonic Youth open for them. Their version of "Last Kiss" was one of maybe two moments during the show in which I wasn't thinking about running for the exit.

The last song in their last encore was Neil Young's "Rocking in the Free World" which did finally allow me an opportunity to run (I like the original).

Posted by: Joel at 11:23 AM on 20 May 2007

I suppose this is blasphemy on some level, but DMB does a version of Watchtower live that I like better than Dylan OR Hendrix, or anybody else for that matter.

Posted by: Jennifer at 2:04 PM on 20 May 2007

I was pleasantly surprised to see Self's cover of "What a Fool Believes" on the A.V. Club's list. It's an awesome cover by an underrated band.

Posted by: Susan B. at 3:39 PM on 20 May 2007

Dave Edmunds' cover of "Girls Talk." Elvis Costello never could sing it very well and Linda Ronstadt's "Mad Love"-era cover is a cringefest.

Posted by: Brett at 4:44 PM on 20 May 2007

Yeah, sometimes the original artist either doesn't 'get it' or could never be the best fit for a particular song. Since Dylan is mentioned: Most people think he wrote/first recorded 'Blowin' in the Wind' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man' (among others). Nope. But he did the best-known, iconic versions of them.

Posted by: Mister Snitch! at 9:38 PM on 20 May 2007

Well, actually, Dylan's name is on the publishing, but nobody listens to his versions unless they happen to come up on the shuffle; Peter, Paul and Mary are usually thought of in connection to "Blowin'," though I like Stevie Wonder's take better, and no one's ever going to top the Byrds' (actually McGuinn and L.A.'s Wrecking Crew) "Mr. Tambourine Man."

On the other hand, no one should remake "Positively 4th Street." For one thing, when I do my Bad Dylan Impression, this is where I tune up.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:20 AM on 21 May 2007

Usually, Joss Stone was trying too hard, but I love her "Some Kind Of Wonderful".

Posted by: triticale at 10:23 PM on 21 May 2007