Posts Tagged ‘Cover Songs’

Is there a better song than “Moon River”? Perhaps. Yet there’s no denying that it’s one of the greatest songs of all time. Composed by Henry Mancini and featuring lyrics by Johnny Mercer, it features prominently in the 1961 adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where it’s first heard as an instrumental during the classic opening sequence…

…and, later, when Audrey Hepburn sings it while sitting on her apartment’s window ledge. Initially, Paramount executives considered dubbing a trained singer’s voice and, after an early screening, then cutting the scene altogether. The former was taken care of Mancini, who specifically composed something within Hepburn’s range; and Hepburn herself took care of the second threat, insisting it remain. (Good thing she did: It won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the next year’s Academy Awards.) 

In October 1961, Mancini’s re-recorded orchestral version was released as a single alongside the album Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Music From the Motion Picture. The 45 peaked at No. 11 on the charts that December, while the LP went to No. 1. Hepburn’s winsome rendition, however, could only be heard in the movie until after she passed in 1993, when Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn was released on CD. (Mancini is quoted as saying, “‘Moon River’ was written for her. No one else has ever understood it so completely. There have been more than a thousand versions of ‘Moon River,’ but hers is unquestionably the greatest.”)

Jerry Butler’s rendition was released concurrently with Mancini’s orchestral rendition, and also reached No. 11. 

Over in the U.K., Danny Williams – aka Britain’s Johnny Mathis – scored a No. 1 hit with the tune in 1961. (His was an interesting life. Born in 1942 South Africa, he won a talent contest at age 14, joined the Golden City Dixies and, when that act visited London in 1959, was signed to EMI.) 

Back in the U.S., meanwhile, a whole host of singers began covering the song – most notably Andy Williams, who covered it on his 1962 Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes album. He also sang it at the 34th Academy Awards and, then, adopted it as his theme song…but, oddly, never released it as a single. 

One of those “whole host of singers”: Ben E. King, who infused a “Spanish Harlem”-like vibe into his version, an album track on his 1962 Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers LP.  

Bobby Darin recorded it in early 1963, though it sat in the vaults until 1999, when it was included on the Unreleased Capitol Sides compilation (and again, a few years later, on the five-star Legendary Bobby Darin CD).

Here are a few – of many – memorable renditions from the 1960s:

I’ll jump forward – and skip many other worthwhile renditions – to 1987 for one of my favorite versions, which hails from the Irish singer Mary Black’s 1987 album, By the Time It Gets Dark. At the time, it wasn’t included on the LP or cassette, just the CD. 

CD bonus tracks became all the rage by the early 1990s, of course, as music companies pulled out the stops while striving to get fans to re-purchase albums for the second (or third) time – LP/cassette —> first CD release —> CD reissue. In 1992, I.R.S. did just that with R.E.M.’s early albums, including their classic sophomore set from 1984, Reckoning. It featured five bonus tracks, including their take on “Moon River.”  

Michael Stipe & Co, though initially classified as “college rock,” weren’t the only alternative-minded rockers to cover it. In 1996, the Afghan Whigs released a cover of it as a bonus track of their “Going to Town” CD single. 

I’ll skip ahead to the next decade, when former and future Belly frontwoman Tanya Donelly shared her sweet version of “Moon River” on the 2010 Sing Me to Sleep: Indie Lullabies compilation.

The next year, the retro-minded Puppini Sisters – whose close harmonies are a thing of wonder – sang it on their Hollywood album.  

The British singer-songwriter Rumer, who pretty much makes every song she sings hers, included a version of it on her 2014 B-Sides & Rarities set. 

Frank Ocean surprised fans in February 2018 with his rendition of the song…

And, finally, here’s the rendition that sent me on this journey: Melody Gardot’s. Her luminous version can be found on this year’s Sunset in the Blue.

Days blur together. Nights, too. The rinse-and-repeat life has gotten old for everyone, as has the incompetent, incoherent and intolerable hack whose mismanagement led us to this abyss. But for 70 minutes yesterday on YouTube Live, Courtney Marie Andrews provided a respite from the madness and sadness that accents life during the great pandemic. She sang songs old and new, including a few requests and a beautiful rendition of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”

The entire show can be watched here:

Unlike her never-ending livestream event from a few weeks back with the Tallest Man on Earth, Sam Evian and Hannah Cohen, this one was perfectly paced. Songs flowed. Her voice soared. Souls were soothed. I should mention that the show served a purpose larger than lifting spirits: It was to raise funds for her bandmates, who are – like many others – out of work. (I donated what we likely would’ve paid for two concert tickets to see her, $50.) 

She said, near the end, that she hopes to do another livestream event and sing a few more of the requests, which she gathered from her social-media accounts. I’ll be happy to donate again, no matter what she plays, but… as fate dictates, two years ago today – not long after seeing her in our old (and missed) hometown of Philadelphia – I posted this top 5, Timeless Songs, which collected tunes I thought would be cool for Courtney to cover in concert. I’d still love to hear those songs, but now have additional suggestions…

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Song Requests for CMA’s Next Livestream. With one exception, they’re all covers because… well, I love cover versions. They’re cool.

1) Diane and I still talk about “Warning Sign,” an unreleased song Courtney performed at her 2018 show at the Boot & Saddle in Philly, with fondness. It sounded like a long-lost Dan Penn tune, just about. Now, stripping the song to an acoustic core might be difficult, but still… I’d love to hear her try.

2) “Prayer in Open D” is, hands down, my favorite Emmylou Harris song, and its lyrics take on an even greater poignancy now: “I can find no bridge for me to cross/No way to bring back what is lost…” Courtney is one of few singers who could do it justice. 

3) “All My Trials” is an old folk song that’s been covered many times through the years by everyone from Peter, Paul & Mary to Paul McCartney. One of my favorite renditions of it, though, is by Anita Carter of the Carter Family. It seems apropos for these times…

4) On that never-ending livestream I referenced above, Courtney and pals performed not one, not two, but four Neil Young songs – “One of These Days” and “Unknown Legend” from Harvest Moon, “Helpless” from CSNY’s Deja Vu, and “Motion Pictures” from On the Beach. Originally for this one, on social media, I suggested one of two classic Neil songs – “Powderfinger” or “Human Highway.” But the more I think about it, this song from his recent Colorado album seems a better fit – “Where did all the people go?/Why did they fade away from me?/They meant so much to me and now I know/That they’re here to stay in my heart.”

5) Jackson Browne released “A Little Soon to Say” a few weeks back, after it was revealed that he was recovering from COVID-19. Although written before the pandemic, its lyrics seem appropriate to today: “I wanna see you holdin’ out your light/I wanna see you light the way/But whether everything will be alright/It’s just a little soon to say…”

 

Sunday July 20th, 1969, marked a momentous moment in the history of humankind: Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module Eagle and descended a ladder to the surface of the moon. After touching ground at 10:56pm ET, he paused to say, “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The “a” is in brackets because it wasn’t audible on the transmission beamed to the 600 million people watching on Earth.)

The U.S. president – the 37th in the country’s history – was Richard M. Nixon, who took the oath of office six months earlier. His time in office was accented by chicanery, cynicism and brilliance, though much of that was yet to come. At this point in time, though he was viewed with disdain by some, his approval ratings were routinely in the 60s.

On the economic front, the unemployment rate began the year at 3.4 percent and ended at 3.9 percent. Everyone who wanted one had a job, just about. Inflation, on the other hand, was a source of concern: When Nixon took office, it was already high at 4.4 percent, and it continued to inch higher each month. 

When it came to foreign affairs – specifically, the Vietnam War – this very month marked two significant events: the first U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam occurred on the 8th; and, on July 25th, the “Nixon Doctrine” – aka the Vietnamization of the war – was announced. The plan was for the U.S. to turn over the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese.

In the Philly region, it was an atypical summer’s day, topping out at a mere 78 degrees (Fahrenheit). The Phillies didn’t take advantage of the cool weather, however, as starting pitcher Bill Champion failed to live up to his surname in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Connie Mack Stadium.

Among the movies playing in the theaters: Hook, Line & Sinker, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider, which was released on July 14th. As I’ve noted before, however, this was the era when it could take a movie six or more months to make it to your local cinema.

Aside from the moon transmission, TV was basically in yesteryear’s DVR mode – rerun season. It’s when folks caught up on episodes they had missed.

In the world of music, June and July 1969 saw the release of a few notable – and not-so-notable – albums, including Roberta Flack’s First Take, Elvis Presley’s From Elvis in Memphis, Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking, Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad, The Doors’ Soft Parade, and Yes’ eponymous debut. 

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 20, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the 19th).

1) Zager and Evans – “In the Year 2525.” The next time a baby boomer laments the state of today’s music, point them to this song. And laugh. Because on July 20th, 1969 – less than a month before Woodstock – this “prophetic” song was the No. 1 song in the land.

And for you Gen-Xers feeling smug right now, here’s R.E.M. covering it:

2) Blood, Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel.” Holding steady at No. 2 for a second week is this jaunty philosophical ode, which was penned by BS&T singer David Clayton-Thomas. 

To again leave the pop charts for a moment, earlier in the year Peggy Lee released an effervescent rendition of the song that reached No. 24 on the Easy Listening charts…

3) Three Dog Night – “One.” Dropping from No. 5 to No. 6 is this song, which I first heard in the mid-1970s on a commercial for a mail-order compilation. The song was written and originally recorded by Harry Nilsson, who released it in 1968.

And – yes, this is a trend – Aimee Mann recorded “One” for the For the Love of Nilsson tribute album in 1995. It also appeared on the soundtrack for Magnolia.

4) Elvis Presley – “In the Ghetto.” Elvis continued his comeback with this classic song written by Mac Davis that tackles poverty. (Sad to say, 50 years later, it remains as relevant as it was then.)

A few decades years later, on the 1998 Lilith Fair tour, Natalie Merchant – accompanied by Tracy Chapman – sang the song.

5) Jackie DeShannon – “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” One of the week’s “power plays” is this catchy plea for love, which jumps from No. 55 to 48. FYI: Jackie co-wrote it.

And, finally, Dolly Parton recorded a wonderful version of the song for her 1993 album Slow Dancing With the Moon. Here she is singing it a few months earlier on the CMA Awards… 

In my Top 5 on Sunday, I mentioned about Weller that “there’s a whole host of covers to be had via the YouTube rabbit hole.” His willingness to share and pay tribute to his inspirations in concert and/or on vinyl is just one of the many cool things about him – and some of those recorded efforts, such as “Stoned out of My Mind” by the Jam, rate among my favorite sides of his.

Anyway, today at work, I began wondering if he’d covered John Lennon’s “Well, Well, Well” – but, if he ever did, it’s not on YouTube. There are tons of Fab-related tunes, however…

1) “Ticket to Ride” –

2) “All You Need Is Love” –

3) “Sexy Sadie” –

4) “Birthday” –

5) “Don’t Let Me Down” (with Stereophonics) –

6) “Come Together” –

And here are his spins on two JL classics…

7) “Instant Karma” –

8) “Love” –

And, just because, here are his takes on two Neil Young songs…

9) “Birds” –

10) “Out on the Weekend” –

And one bonus: Circling back to Sunday’s Top 5, which featured Bob Dylan’s cover of this classic Dion single, here’s Weller’s take…

11) “Abraham, Martin & John” –