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Answer records Vol. 1

October 13th, 2009 6 comments

A while ago, a Facebook friend of this blog proposed that I might do a series of answer records, the novelty songs that riffed on the theme of a contemporary hit. Excellent idea, so this series is dedicated to Mike C., kicking off with answer records to Etta James’ Stop The Wedding, Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line, and The McCoys’ Hang On Sloopy.

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Church bells are ringing. Oh, look, a bride and a groom…

Act 1: Etta James – Stop The Wedding (1962).mp3
The opening notes from Here Comes The Bride set the scene. Immediately the rich baritone of the preacher invites the congregants to state their objection to the presently to be blessed union. And of course we know what happens next. Etta pipes up: “Wait! Wait! Stop the wedding!” See, Etta is the groom’s ex-girlfriend, and it is her conviction that he is entering into matrimony only to spite Etta. If the bride knew of his less than true motivation, Etta figures, she’d pull out of this deal herself. “So stop this madness before it starts…and don’t break two hearts.” As Etta urges “DON’T DO IT!” in soulful ways which Aretha Franklin would envy, we are becoming quite convinced that he should follow Etta’s advice. But, what’s that? Oh, here comes the bride:

Act 2: Ann Cole – Don’t Stop The Wedding (1962).mp3
ann_coleSame intro, and the pastor (well, he sounds different now. Maybe it’s an ecclesial double act) notes Etta’s appeal, and yields the floor to the bride. We are not surprised to learn — alerted perhaps by the songtitle — that Ann fails to concur with Etta’s spin. The wedding should in fact not be stopped, Ann proposes. And then she gets personal: “You just can’t face the fact…that he is happy here without you.” Anyway, she posits, Etta doesn’t really love him. Indeed, it turns out that Etta dumped the groom and now, with the benefit of hindsight and his impending nuptials, she’s sorry. Ann says that she gives him the kind of love he never had, so “don’t stop the wedding and break two hearts” (and where Etta meant hers and Ann’s, Ann doesn’t give much of a damn about the state of Etta’s heart). And the groom? We don’t hear from the poor bastard, though we can imagine him calculating all sorts of possible options, ranging from polygamy to running for the hills.

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Unsteady on the lines…

Act 1: Johnny Cash – I Walk The Line.mp3
You know the deal: “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine; I keep my eyes wide open all the time; I keep the ends out for the tie that binds, because you’re mine, I walk the line”. Johnny is a straight-up guy who finds it “very, very easy to be true”. So he walks the line (though we know that Johnny did so unsteadily). So, Johnny, let’s meet your brother.

Act 2: Tommy Cash – I Didn’t Walk The Line (1965).mp3
tommy_cashOh dear, Tommy’s nothing like his straight-arrow older brother. He sings an entirely different tune, literally. He didn’t treat his wife very well, she found love with somebody else, the marriage is ending and she’s off, leaving Tom with self-recriminations. But what to tell the children, of whom she will evidently have custody? Tommy, in a mood for self-flagellating, knows how: tell them their that their Daddy didn’t walk the line. Yes, “you were mine, but I didn’t walk the line”.

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The next pairing of songs has featured previously, in The Originals series. But different context calls for different treatment.

Act 1: The McCoys – Hang On Sloopy.mp3
MCCOYSThe Sloopy of the title was the jazz singer Dorothy Sloop, but for our purposes, she is any random girl called Sloopy, of whom there must be millions. Sloopy is from meagre circumstances, whereas our interlocutor evidently is a young man of more abundant means. But class divisions don’t bother him: he is in love with wrong-side-of-the-tracks Sloopy, which means he doesn’t even care about her father’s occupation, which is very right-on of him. Her red dress may be old, but it turns him on. And the relief he requires is of the oral variety (“Sloopy let your hair down, girl, let it hang down on me.”). Her ministrations prompt the McCoy to prefigure your standard porn movie script: “Well, it feels so good, (come on, come on). You know it feels so good, (come on, come on). Well, shake it, shake it, shake it, Sloopy (come on, come on). Well, shake it, shake it, shake it, yeah (come on, come on).” And then: “Aaaaaah!”

Act 2: The Debs – Sloopy’s Gonna Hang On.mp3
Sloopy acknowledges that she lives in a bad part of town and that people are always putting her down, which wins her our sympathy. But she buys into the sincerity of his declaration of love and so “your girl Sloopy’s gonna hang on”. Sloopy us perfectly happy enough to let her hair hang down on him, and here we go hoping that she will insist on reciprocal oral favours. Perhaps she does, as we may guess as she exclaims “Sloopy’s coming” (if that’s what she means; or maybe our minds are just too corrupted), and “it feels so good now” (which probably means exactly what it says).

For the original of Hang On Sloopy, titled My Girl Sloopy by the Vibrations, go HERE.

The Originals Vol. 14

January 21st, 2009 11 comments

Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Bobby Cole – Mr. Bojangles (1968).mp3
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Mr. Bojangles (1971).mp3
Sammy Davis Jr – Mr. Bojangles (1972).mp3

jerry-jeff-walkerThere is no truth to the old chestnut that Mr Bojangles tells the story of the great Bill Robinson. Folk/country singer Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote and first recorded the song, tells the story of being in a New Orleans holding cell for public disorderliness with, among others, a street dancer (a white one, because cells were segregated). These public performers were generically nicknamed Bojangles (after Robinson). This man told his tales of life and of his grief for his dog. Urged on by the other cellmates, he proceeded to give them a tap dance. In 1968, three years after the incident, Walker recorded the song about that experience. Mr Bojangles is by far his most famous contribution to popular music. The second-most important would be to inspire Townes van Zandt to start writing songs.

The song was covered by several well known performers but became a hit only in 1971, when the Nitty Gritty Band took it the US #9, drawing from Walker’s folk arrangement. The best, and probably best-known, version was recorded a year later, drawing from the arrangement of Bobby Cole’s version (props to Ill Folks blog), which was in the lower reaches of the US charts at the same time as Walker’s. Cole added to the song the vaudeville sounds which evoked the tap-dancing ambience. It was that quality of Cole’s version from which Sammy Davis Jr seems to have drawn. Sammy was a hoofer himself, of course, so in his younger days would have known many characters such as Mr Bojangles, even in his family of entertainers. Sammy could identify with the song, and he delivers a beautiful performance, with the right mix of carefree spirit (the whistling) and drama which his protagonist projects. To some the line about the dog gone dying might be overwrought; I get goosebumps when I hear it.

Also recorded by: Rod McKuen (1968), Neil Diamond (1969), The Byrds (1969), Harry Nilsson (1969), Neil Diamond (1969), Lulu (1970), Harry Belafonte (1970), John Denver (1970), Ronnie Aldrich & his Two Pianos (1971), Nina Simone (1971), King Curtis (1971), Nancy Wilson (1971), David Bromberg (1972), John Holt (1973), Bob Dylan (1973), Esther Phillips (1986), Chet Atkins (1996), Edwyn Collins (1997), Steve Hall (1997), Whitney Houston (1998), Magna Carta (2000), Robbie Williams (2001), Jamie Cullum (2003), Luba Mason (2004), The Bentones (2005), Ray Quinn (2007) and loads of others for whom I have no years of recording: Frank Sinatra, Glenn Yarbrough, Arlo Guthrie, Frankie Laine, Elton John, Michael Bublé, and more.

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Pino Donaggio – Io che non vivo (senza te).mp3
Dusty Springfield – You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.mp3

pino-donaggioPino Donaggio is best known as a composer of the scores for films such as Don’t Look Now, Carrie and Dressed To Kill. But before that, he was a big pop star in Italy, having abandoned the classical training he received as a teenager (and which prepared him for his soundtrack career) for pop after performing with Paul Anka in the late 1950s.

He performed Io che non vivo (senza te), which he wrote with Vito Pallavicini, at the San Remo Festival in 1965 with the country singer Jody Miller. Dusty Springfield was there and then asked Vicki Wickham, producer of the British music TV show Ready Steady Go! and a songwriter, to set the song to English lyrics for her. Wickham asked Simon Napier-Bell (one-time manager of the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan and Wham!) to help her. Napier-Bell later remembered that they wrote the lyrics in a taxi. Springfield’s version (reportedly recorded in 47 takes) was released in 1966 and became one of her signature hits.

The original title means, roughly translated, “I, who cannot live without you”. My Italian being rusty, I have no idea how Donaggio riffed on that theme (EDIT: Paolo helps us out in the comments section). The English lyrics express the “If you love someone, let them go” motto. The intent of the lyrics may be the converse of the original (I don’t know, and nor did Napier-Bell), but the dramatic arrangement does not differ substantially — other than Dusty’s mighty, heartbroken vocals begging the object of her unrequited affection to decline her offer of romantic freedom.

Also recorded by: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1966), John Davidson (1966), Carla Thomas (1966), Cher (1966), Vikki Carr (1966), Jackie De Shannon (1966), Connie Francis (1967), Matt Monro (1967), Bill Medley (1968), Kiki Dee (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Guys & Dolls (1976), Helen Reddy (1981), Tanya Tucker (1981), Ferrante & Teicher (1992), Maureen McGovern (1992), Denise Welch (1995), Clarence Carter (1997), Brenda Lee (1998), Marti Jones (2000), Fire-Ball (2004), Jill Johnson (2007), John Barrowman (2008), Shelby Lynne (2008) a.o.

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The Strangeloves – I Want Candy.mp3
Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy.mp3

strangelovesI Want Candy originally was a Bo Diddley-inspired 1965 US #11 hit for the Strangeloves, a joke project of songwriter/producers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer (the latter would go on to produce the likes of Blondie and the Go-Go’s, and co-founded the Sire label on which Madonna launched her career). The conceit was that the Strangeloves were Australian brothers who had made a fortune by crossbreeding a new type of sheep, named after Gottehrer. The gag did not acquire much public traction, but it did present a problem when I Want Candy’s success imposed the demand for live performances by the Strangeloves. The three producers solved the problem by putting together a band of session musicians. Their adventures on the road will form part of the story in the next entry.

The touring versions of the Strangeloves were artificially put together, as were Bow Wow Wow 15 years later, albeit with much more of a plan. After he had finished managing the punk version of the Spice Girls, Malcolm McLaren went on to inspire Adam Ant & the Ants to success, and just as the group got there, stole the Ants from Adam to form a new group, Bow Wow Wow, in 1980. Ever mindful of the gimmick imperative, he found a precocious 14-year-old girl to front the band, Burmese-born Annabella Lwin (born Myint Myint Aye, which allegedly means High High Cool — my Burmese is as rusty as my Italian).

Lwin was not shy to flaunt her sexuality, appearing nude on the cover of the group’s debut album, simply titled See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy. The now15-year-old’s parents were so outraged that they threatened to institute legal action against McLaren. Evidently Malcolm got the girl’s parents around to his point of view: the single cover for I Want Candy depicted Annabella again in a state of some undress. McLaren, incidentally, had considered a second singer to partner Lwin, but the artist he had in mind, going by the name Lieutenant Lush, was considered to wild. The disorderly vocalist went on to find success as Boy George.

bow-wow-wow

Bow Wow Wow’s 1982 version of I Want Candy was produced by Kenny Laguna, who at the time was scoring big with singers such as Joan Jett and Kenny Loggins. The story goes that Laguna had the band already in the Florida studio to record the song when he realised that he had no recording, no lyrics and no songsheet for it. So he got in touch with Richard Gottehrer (at the time in a studio recording another cover version, the Go-Go’s Vacation) who taught him the song over the telephone. Gottehrer also had to persuade Laguna that the guitar hook was an integral part of the song. Bow Wow Wow were not pleased with what they considered a bubble gum song. Still, it was their only hit, reaching #9 in the UK. It was only a minor hit in the US. Yet, strong rotation on MTV ensured its status as an ’80s classic.

Also recorded by: Brian Poole And The Tremeloes (1965), The Bishops (1978), The Bouncing Souls (1994), Chrome (1995), Candy Girls (1996), Black Metal Box (1997), Aaron Carter (1998), Good Charlotte (2001), Melanie C (2007)

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The Vibrations – My Girl Sloopy.mp3
The McCoys – Hang On Sloopy.mp3

The Debs – Sloopy’s Gonna Hang On.mp3
vibrationsEarlier in the series, The McCoys featured with their original of Sorrow, famously covered by David Bowie. Oddly enough, the group’s 1965 signature hit, Hang On Sloopy, was a cover version, of the Vibrations’ 1964 US top 30 hit My Girl Sloopy, written by the legendary Bert Berns (who also had an association with the Strangeloves) and Wes Farrell. The Vibrations were a soul group from Los Angeles which kept going well into the 1970s; one if their members, Ricky Owens, even joined the Temptations very briefly. Several of their songs are Northern Soul classics (which basically means that they were so unsuccessful that the records are rare).

I promised in the entry for I Want Candy that the story of the Strangeloves would have a sequel. Our three producer heroes were on tour, shadowing the session musicians playing their songs, when they decided My Girl Sloopy should be the follow-up to I Want Candy. The Dave Clark Five, on tour with the Strangeloves, got wind of it, and said they’d record Sloopy too. So the Strangelove trio, afraid that the Dave Clark Five might have a hit with the song before they could release theirs, acted fast to scoop the English group. They recruited an unknown group based in Dayton, Ohio, called Rick and the Raiders, renamed them The McCoys, and in quick time released the retitled Hang On Sloopy.

But it wasn’t all the McCoys playing on the single, only singer Rick Zehringer (later Derringer) performed on it — his vocals having been overlaid on the version already recorded by the Strangeloves, and a guitar solo added to it. The single was a massive hit, reaching the US #1. In 1985 it was adopted as the official rock song of Ohio (honestly). And, for the hell of it, there’s also the answer song by The Debs. Oh, and the Sloopy of the title is jazz singer Dorothy Sloop.

Also recorded by: The Invictas (1965), Quincy Jones (1965), Little Caesar & The Consuls (1965), The Newbeats (1965), The Yardbirds (1965), Jan & Dean (1965), The Eliminators (1966), The Raves (1966), The Wailers (1966), Ramsey Lewis Trio (1966), The Phantoms (1966), The Supremes (1966), The Fevers (1966), Count Basie & his Orchestra (1968), The Lettermen (1970), Ramsey Lewis (1973), Skid Row (1976), BAP (1980, in the Cologne dialect Kölsch), Daddy Memphis (1998), Aaron Carter (2000), Die Toten Hosen (2000), Saving Jane (2006)

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don-gibsonDon Gibson – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3
Ray Charles – I Can’t Stop Loving You.mp3

It is a mark of Ray Charles’ genius that he, the Father of Soul, took a country song to the US #1, still sounding like a country song. It is fair to say that sometimes there is a pretty thin line between southern soul and country. Brook Benton is perhaps the best example of a soul singer casually entering country territory. Indeed, it is that cross-germination of white country and black R&B which helped give rise to Rock & Roll, a musical form of racial integration which anticipated the intensification of the civil rights struggle. But that is a debate for another day, unhelpfully dealt with in 35 words.

raycharlesWhen Ray Charles released his seminal Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (in 1962, at the height of the civil rights struggle), he let it be known that country music has soul — an elementary truth which the haters of the genre have too easily ignored. Don Gibson, hardly the prototype for sweaty, sexy party music, had soul. You can hear it on his 1958 original of I Can’t Stop Loving You, one of 150 country songs shortlisted for the Ray Charles LP. If anything, Ray Charles (and arranger Sid Feller) added Nashville schmaltz to the song. Indeed, it is the one song on the album that is still recognisably a country number. This wasn’t Charles’ first foray into country. A few years earlier he had recorded Hank Snow’s I’m Movin’ On.

Gibson recorded I Can’t Stop Loving You during the same December 1957 session that produced the great country classic, Oh Lonesome Me (which Johnny Cash later covered to great effect, and one of the few covers Neil Young ever recorded). I Can’t Stop… was the b-side to Oh Lonesome Me, a US top 10 hit. Before Ray Charles got hold of it, the song had already been covered several times, including a version by Roy Orbison. Indeed, at the same time the song was a b-side for Gibson, Kitty Wells had a big hit with it in the country charts.

Also recorded by: Kitty Wells (1958), Roy Orbison (1960), Rex Allen (1961), Rick Nelson (1961), Tab Hunter (1962), John Foster (as Non finirò d’amarti, 1962), Connie Francis (1962), Bobby Sitting & the Twistin’ Guy’s (1962), Hank Locklin (1962), Grant Green (1962), The Ventures (1963), Count Basie (1963), Peggy Lee (1963), Paul Anka (1963), Webb Pierce (1963), Ferlin Husky (1963), Floyd Cramer (1964), Faron Young (1964), Jim Reeves (1964), Jean Shepard (1964), Nancy Wilson (1964), Chet Atkins & Hank Snow (1964), Frank Sinatra & Count Basie (1964), Dinah Shore (1965), Tom Jones (1965), Gene Pitney (1965), George Semper (1966), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1966), Bettye Swann (1967), Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers (1968), Jimmy Dean (January 1968), Long John Baldry (1968), Jerry Lee Lewis (1969, as a blues), Elvis Presley (1969), Jim Nabors (1970), Eddy Arnold (1971), Charlie McCoy (1972), Conway Twitty (1972), Sammi Smith (1977), Jerry Lee Lewis (1979, as a country song), Van Morrison (1991), Arlen Roth (1993), Diane Schuur & B.B. King (1994), Anne Murray (2002), John Scofield (2005), Mica Paris (2005), Martina McBride (2005) a.o.

More Originals

The Originals Vol. 4

September 15th, 2008 1 comment

Everly Brothers – Love Hurts.mp3
Roy Orbison – Love Hurts.mp3
Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
Nazareth – Love Hurts.mp3
Don McLean – Love Hurts.mp3
Paul Young & the Q-Tips – Love Hurts.mp3
Monsieur Mono & Mara Tremblay – Love Hurts (direct DL)
It is possibly the greatest songs ever written from the perspective of heartbreak, with some gloriously bitter metaphors, and yet it took a long time to become a proper hit – and then in one of its worse incarnations. Love Hurts was written by Boudleaux Bryant who co-wrote several Everly Brothers hits. Love Hurts, however, was only an album track on the siblings’ 1960 LP A Date With The Everly Brothers. In 1965, they recorded a more upbeat version, but their mid-tempo 1960 rendition was sufficiently mournful for Roy Orbison to cover it tremulously the following year, releasing it as a b-side. Thereafter, the song remained dormant for 13 years, until Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris delivered the definitive version. Their sweet harmonies are drenched in the hot blood of a broken heart, Parsons perfecting the art of spitting his bile with tender vulnerability.

A year later, the song finally became a hit, in the misplaced hands of hard rockers Nazareth whose singer sounds mortified at having to sing these intimate lyrics. It sounds like he lost a bet at karaoke night. More covers followed soon after, but it was Don McLean in 1981 who returned the song the sensibilities of the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, probably aware that an imitation of Gram Parsons’ take was impossible. One of the more interesting propositions, the same year, was Paul Young recording the song with the Q-Tips before going solo. One can imagine how well this underrated singer (who did much to feed the dim views of his artistry) might have interpreted the song. In the event, it is a rendition of curious interest rather than a competitor, sounding more like an Ultravox arrangement than a soulful lament. He apparently re-recorded it in 1993, hopefully nailing it the second time around…
A late addition, thanks to L’Homme Scalp, is a rather lovely 2005 French version of the song.
Also recorded by: Cher, Jim Capaldi, Jennifer Warnes, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Bad Romance, Kim Deal and Bob Pollard, Corey Hart, Barbara Dickson, Little Milton and Lucinda Williams, Robin Gibb, Pat Boone, Emmylou Harris, Stina Nordenstam, Sinéad O’Connor, Rod Stewart, Paul Noonan & Lisa Hannigan, Clare Teal a.o.
Best version: Parsons’ version is one of my all-time favourite song…

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Jacques Brel – Le Moribond.mp3
Rod McKuen – Seasons In The Sun.mp3

Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun.mp3
I might do my reputation no good at all when I confess that I can’t understand the vitriol levelled against Terry Jacks’ 1974 hit. Yes, it’s sentimental and drenched in syrup, but it hardly is the only offender among its contemporaries in that respect. Cheesy though it may be, it is difficult to denounce a song that originated in the mighty catalogue of the unassailable Jacques Brel. The Belgian king of the vivant recorded the song as Le Moribund in 1961. In Brel’s version, and in poet Rod McKuen’s translation, the cause of the impending death could be natural but well might be a suicide note (there are strong hints that the singer’s wife had an extramarital affair). The English version was soon recorded by the Kingston Singers, and later by the Beach Boys. The latter’s version was not completed or released, but featured among its session musicians Terry Jacks (who, some accounts suggest, introduced the Beach Boys to the song). The Canadian-born singer changed the lyrics, introducing Michelle, his little one, into the proceedings and lightened the tone of the song considerably. The comparative cheerfulness of his version seems to eliminate the notion of suicide; unlike Brel or McKuen, Jacks sounds like a man who has made peace with his mortality.
Also recorded by: The Fortunes, Nana Mouskouri, Nirvana (you won’t see that sequence too often), Bad Religion, Black Box Recorder, Pearls Before Swine, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Westlife a.o.
Best version: I really like McKuen’s version, which I received from our friend RH

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Dee Dee Warwick – You’re No Good.mp3

Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good.mp3
Linda Ronstadt’s big country-rock hit of 1974 started life as a ’60s soul number. Written by the British songwriter Clint Ballard Jr, it was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne’s younger sister, in 1963. The same year Betty Everett (of Shoop Shoop Song fame) scored a minor hit with it. Ronstadt took the song out of its R&B context altogether, creating a new template on which future covers would be based. That is probably a sign of a really good cover artist: the ability of appropriating a song, changing it so much that it really will feel like a different song. These two versions are a great example of that attribute.
Also recorded by: Swinging Blue Jeans, José Feliciano, Van Halen, Elvis Costello, Wilson Phillips, Lulu, Jill Johnson a.o.
Best version: Ronstadt’s, probably.

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The McCoys – Sorrow.mp3
David Bowie – Sorrow.mp3
Speaking of covers, it is a vaguely amusing coincidence that albums of cover versions by David Bowie and Bryan Ferry – icons of cool both at the time – entered the British charts on the same day in November 1973. Proof, if any was needed, that the covers project is not a recent phenomenon in pop music. David Bowie scored only one hit from the Pin Ups album, Sorrow, which had been made popular in the UK seven years earlier by the Merseys. The original version of it, however, was by the McCoys, the US group better known for their big hit Hang On Sloopy, which also provided the title for the 1965 album which featured Sorrow.
Also recorded by: Status Quo, Tribal Underground, Powderfinger
Best version: Bowie’s shades it.

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Sting – I Hung My Head
Johnny Cash – I Hung My Head.mp3
Who would have thought that Sting could write a really excellent country song. Of course, Sting’s original of I Hung My Head is only notionally country – the arrangement could be by somebody like Tim McGraw, whose country music often is infused with rock music. It’s not a bad version at all, and I say so as somebody who generally holds old Gordon in less than high esteem. But it took Johnny Cash on his landmark 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around to give the song the country spin it really requires. Where in Sting’s version, the spine-tingling story drowns in overproduction, Cash slows it down and delivers it as if he had sung it as a bluegrass number since he was a little boy.
Also recorded by: Blue Highway
Best version: Cash, of course