The Originals Vol. 9
Badfinger – Without You.mp3
Nilsson – Without You.mp3
There is something dismal about the notion that a pop classic would be best-known among some people in its incarnation by Mariah Carey. Those with a more acute sense of pop history will have been dismissive of Carey’s calorific cover of Nilsson’s hit. But even Harry Nilsson applied a generous dose of schmaltz to his cover of the Badfinger original.
Without You apart, there is a chain of tragedy which links the Welsh band and Nilsson. Both acts had a Lennon connection (more tragedy here, of course). Badfinger were signed to the Beatles’ Apple label, on which Without You was released in 1970; Nilsson was a collaborator with and drinking buddy of Lennon’s. Nilsson died fairly young, so did two members of Badfinger, both of whom wrote Without You and committed suicide. Singer Peter Ham killed himself in 1975 (in his suicide note he referred to their “heartless bastard” of a manager), and in 1983, Tom Evans hanged himself after an argument over royalties for the song with former colleague Joey Molland (who both had played on Lennon’s Imagine album and other ex-Beatles solo records).
Nilsson reportedly thought that Badfinger’s Without You had been a Beatles recording – indeed, the Rolling Stone touted Badfinger as the Beatles’ heirs. His version, turning a fairly rough mid-tempo rock song into an orchestral power ballad (at a time when such things were rare) became a massive hit in 1972; Carey’s version hit the charts just a week after Nilsson’s death in 1994. One may fear the worst for Ms Carey should the Nilsson curse strike her: apart from the sad story of Badfinger and Lennon’s death, both Mama Cass and Keith Moon died in Nilsson’s flat.
Also recorded by: Shirley Bassey (1972), Johnny Mathis (1972), Percy Faith (1972), Vikki Carr (1972), Cilla Black (1973), Petula Clark (1974), Billy Paul (1976), Susie Allanson (1977), Heart (1978), Mina (as Per chi, 1978), Melissa Manchester (1980), T.G. Sheppard (1983), Richard Clayderman (1988), Beverly Jo Scott (1991), Air Supply (1991), Pandora (as Desde el dia que te fuiste, 1992), Mariah Carey (1993), Donny Osmond (2002), Natalia (2003), Jade Kwan (2003), Weezer (unofficial release, 2004), Clay Aiken (2006), Il Divo (as Desde el dia que te fuiste, 2006), Wing (2007).
Best version: Tough choice. Nilsson’s vocals are quite impressive, but I prefer Badfinger’s arrangement and Ham’s desperately sad voice. Or the phonetic Bulgarian Idols version now known as Ken Lee is worth watching, as well as the improved English version (“You alwees smile lolly nigh…Ilibu dibu douchoo”).
Frankie Valli – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.mp3
Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.mp3
When some years ago I looked up the UK number 1 on the day I was born, I was delighted: the Walker Brothers’ The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore was one of my favourite ’60s songs. It’s magnificent Spector-esque production makes the song sound like a Righteous Brothers number (don’t the strings sound a bit like The Theme from A Summer’s Place?). I had not realised that the Walker Brothers’ 1966 version was a cover.
A year before the Californian trio recorded their biggest hit, it had been recorded by Frankie Valli on his debut solo album. The single release flopped, even though it was in almost every way a Four Seasons song. It was written by Bob Crewe and Robert Gaudio, who wrote most of the group’s hits, and produced by the Four Seasons’ producer, Crewe. There is little difference in the arrangement; the Walkers’ is a richer and more dramatic carbon copy. Their version attained some sort of notoriety as the soundtrack to a London gangland killing. The story has it that it was playing on a jukebox in the Blind Beggar pub when Ronnie Kray entered and shot his adversary George Cornell. A stray bullet hit the jukebox causing the needle to get stuck in the groove, repeating the line “The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore” as Cornell lay dying.
Also recorded by: Richard Anthony (as Le soleil ne brille, 1966), Caterina Caselli (as Il sole non tramonterà, 1967), The Lettermen (1970), Neil Diamond (1979), Nielsen/Pearson (1981), Long John Baldry (1986), The Flying Pickets (1986), Russell Hitchcock (1987), David Essex (1989), Cher (1995), Robson & Jerome (1995), Keane (2004)
Best version: With Scott Engel on vocals and the lush arrangement, it must be the Walker Brothers’.
Lou Johnson – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
One would think that Burt Bacharach songs would feature strongly in this series. Somehow that hasn’t been the case, though some will still be highlighted. In some cases it is difficult to find the first recording (Richard Chamberlain singing Close To You), in many instances the original is already sufficiently well-known or indeed the best-known version (Walk On By). So I’m glad that I can include one of my favourite Bacharach songs in this series: Always Something There To Remind Me.
The most famous version is Sandie Shaw’s, which has some of the sexiest vocals I can think of (though nobody seems to agree with me). Shaw’s version has the standard Bacharach arrangement. Johnson’s original, like Shaw’s version recorded in 1964 but released as a b-side, has the Bacharachian trumpet, strings and keyboard, yet sounds like the soul song it is, especially when Johnson’s abandons the song’s structure and ad libs the final half minute as the backing singers spur him on. Dionne Warwick, who’d later release the song herself, sang the demo, and Shaw later recorded the song in German.
Also recorded by: Brenda Lee (1965), Gals and Pals (1966), Johnny Mathis (1967), Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles (1967), Dionne Warwick (1967), Mal dei Primitives (1968), José Feliciano (1968), Stanley Turrentine (1968), Martha Reeves & The Vandellas (1968), R.B. Greaves (1969), Barbara Mason (1970), Winston Francis (1970), The Carpenters (as part of their Bacharach Medley, 1972), Blue Swede (1973), The Stylistics (1982), Naked Eyes (1983), The Starlite Orchestra (1995), Tin Tin Out featuring Espiritu (1995), The Captain Howdy (1998), The Absolute Zeros (1998), Rebecca’s Empire (1998), Braid (2000), Steve Tyrell (2008) a.o.
Best version: Johnson’s is very good, but Sandie Shaw’s is heavenly (Her German version, Einmal glücklich sein wie die ander’n, is quite good, in a cute foreign accent sort of way).
The Paragons – The Tide Is High.mp3
Blondie – The Tide is High.mp3
The Tide Is High probably is the least surprising of Blondie’s cunningly chosen covers. When Blondie suddenly turned up with a reggae-pop number, it was apparent that they had not written it themselves. And yet, the original by the Paragons, a mellow soul-reggae number, has not become a pop classic in its own right. Another case of the cover artist appropriating a song. The Paragons released The Tide Is High in 1967, in Britain as a b-side, and the song remained relatively obscure until Blondie’s 1980 cover, which added horns and more strings to the arrangement. Singer Bob Andy made an appearance in the British charts in 1970, as one half of Bob & Marcia, scoring a hit with a cover of Nina Simone’s Young, Gifted And Black. John Holt, who wrote The Tide Is High (or, more precisely, adapted it from a 1930s song), became a legendary exponent of lover’s rock. I’ll soare you the Atomic Kitten UK #1 version from 2002.
Also recorded by: Top of the Poppers (1980), Sinitta (1995), Nydia Rojas (as La número uno, 1996), Papa Dee (1996), Maxi Priest (1997), Angelina (1997), Billie Piper (2000), Up The Duff (2000), Sheep on Drugs (2000), The Chubbies (2001), Atomic Kitten (September 9, 2002), The Selecter (2006), Kardinal Offishall feat Nicole Scherzinger (as Numba 1 [The Tide Is High], 2008)
Best version: I never liked the song in Blondie’s hands much, but really like the original.
Shel Silverstein – Boy Named Sue.mp3
Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue.mp3
It’s a Johnny Cash signature tune, but was actually written by the ultimate Renaissance Man, Shel Silverstein (who previously featured in this series as the author of Dr Hook’s/Marianne Faithfull’s The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan). It is unclear what inspired Silverstein to create this fantastic story about the guy with a girl’s name (or why the boy named Sue just didn’t acquire a butch nickname). But there once was a prominent Mr Sue, Sue K Hicks, the original prosecutor in the notorious 1925 Scopes Trial. Cash (or possibly his wife June Carter; the accounts vary) was introduced to the song at a “guitar pull” party in Nashville, at which musician friends ran their latest compositions by one another. According to Cash, other artists present that night were Bob Dylan (who played Lay Lady Lay), Judy Collins (Both Sides Now) and her then lover Stephen Stills (Judy Blue Eyes), and Silverstein.
Just before his televised 1969 concert from St Quentin jail, June suggested that Johnny perform Silverstein’s song. And he did. On the film footage he can be seen referring to the scribbled lyrics of the song taped to the floor. And so his spontaneous performance of the song, apparently the first time he had even sung it, became one of his biggest hits. Some have claimed that Cash’s lack of familiarity with the song explains his half-spoken delivery. But Silverstein’s 1968 version, from the Boy Named Sue and His Other Country Songs album, is similarly half-spoken. Silverstein followed the song up with a composition from the father’s perspective, using the same tune, It’s very funny: check out the lyrics. Oh, and Mandark in Dexter’s Laboratory is in fact called Susan.
Also recorded by: Joe Dassin (as Un garçon nommé Suzy, 1970), Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (1970), Mike Krüger (as Ein Junge namens Susi, 1975), Joshua James (1999)
Best version: Cash’s, represented here in its unbleeped version. Havea look at the video of Silverstein and Cash performing a bit of the song together
and, as promised above:
The Highwaymen – Whiskey In The Jar.mp3