Andy Sullivan: Against the Grain
“The First Cut Is The Deepest” is a 1967 song written by Cat Stevens, originally released by P.P. Arnold in May 1967. Rod Stewart covered the song in 1977, Sheryl Crow in 2003. I had no idea of the Arnold version until I heard it one day on the Michael Des Barre program(Sirius XM channel 21, 7-10 am, replay 11 pm-2 am). This got me wondering about some other famous multiple covers.
The origins of the song “Midnight Special” go way back. It’s a traditional folk song thought to have originated among prisoners in the American South in 1905. The title comes from the refrain, which refers to the passenger train Midnight Special and its “ever loving light”. The long list of artists to cover this song is as follows: Lead Belly, Big Bill Broonzy, Les Paul, Kingston Trio, Pete Seager, Bobby Darin, Johnny Rivers, Cisco Houston, Mungo Jerry, Spencer Davis Group, Eric Clapton, Kentucky Headhunters. Paul McCartney, ABBA and, most notably(for me) CCR.
“Go Away Little Girl”, originally done in Steve Lawrence in 1963, was covered by Donny Osmond in 1971. The Loco-motion was done several times: Little Eva(1962) and the two I remember, Grand Funk Railroad( 1974) and Kylie Minogue in the ‘80’s. “Please Mr. Postman” was originally done by the Marvelettes in 1961. It was done in 1975 by The Carpenters. “Venus” was done by Shocking Blue in 1970 and, the one I remember, Bananarama in 1986. Bill Withers origianally did “Lean On Me” in 1972. Club Nouveau cut the song in 1987. ’87 saw another cover, as that was the year Kim Wilde covered the 1966 Supremes classic “You Keep Me Hanging On”. There wasn’t a ton of originality in the ‘80’s.
Percy Sledge originally sang “When A Man Loves a Woman” in 1966. That version was on the Wonder Years, I believe played during Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss(which was also their first real life kiss). Michael Bolton then put his signature sound to the classic in 1991. The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” from 1970 was covered by Mariah Carey in 1992. “Lady Marmalade” was originally done by Labelle in 1975 and covered in 2001 for the Moulon Rouge movie by Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil’ Kim and Pink. Two of these four are relevant. I’ll let you guess which two.
“Unchained Melody” has been recorded all over the world an astounding 1500 times by over 670 artists in multiple languages. The song first appeared in the 1955 movie Unchained. It went to #1 just that once, the 1955 Les Baxter version. You would thing the 1500 times that song has been recorded is the most. I certainly did. Well, you and I would be wrong.
“Yesterday” has the most recorded cover versions at over 1600. They were obviously not all released as a single or didn’t make it to the top. Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Liberace, Tammy Wynette, Daffy Duck(not kidding), The Mamas and the Papas, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Placido Domingo. Although it has been covered by thousands of different and diverse artists, only four versions have actually made the charts: those by the Beatles, Matt Monro, Ray Charles and Marianne Faithfull.
“It was the only song I ever dreamed,” said McCartney. True- “Yesterday" came to Paul McCartney in a dream. Paul woke up one morning, late in 1963 in the attic bedroom of Jane Asher's house (Jane was his then-girlfriend) with a complete melody in his head and set some nonsense lyrics to it.
The original title was actually “Scrambled Eggs.” Although the melody was magnificent, Paul's original lyrics were slightly sophomoric: “Scrambled eggs, oh you've got such lovely legs, scrambled eggs. Oh, my baby, how I love your legs.". He and Jimmy Fallon actually did a little of this version on the Tonight Show.
Paul was initially unsure whether he had actually thought up the song himself or if he had unintentionally stolen it from another composer. He played the tune to the other Beatles and recalled: “It was like handing in something you'd found at the police station and waiting to see if anyone claimed it. After two weeks they hadn't in this case so I felt entitled to collect it and call it my property.” Still unsure, Paul played the melody to several other musicians and composers, but each one assured him that the song was his and he didn't unintentionally steal it from another source.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a little insight into these classic songs and, in some cases, classic covers, as much as I.