Different versions

For over fifty years, since I have seriously been listening to all kinds of music, the subject of different versions of the same song has caused much debate, and often fierce argument. There are just too many to even attempt a comprehensive listing, or even a rough appraisal, for that matter. However, I would like to offer some here for consideration. I will include two versions of songs known to me, and let you, dear reader, compare them and decide on your favourite. I know that there may have well been numerous versions, but I only have space to compare two, on a reasonable blog post.

Stoney End. The late singer-songwriter, Laura Nyro, had some commercial success during her short life. My personal favourite recording of hers is this song, from 1966. It is probably better known, from the later recording by Barbra Striesand, in 1971. She hardly changed the original, though she certainly gave it the benefit of her bigger vocal range, and her reputation also earned it much higher production values!

A Song For You. Written by Leon Russell, in 1970, this heartbreaking love song is one of my all-time favourites. This song is so good, it is almost impossible to do a bad cover version. Perhaps my favourite ‘other version’, is by Joe Cocker, but for a different vocal style, I will include here the recording by The Carpenters, from 1972.

La Mer/ Beyond the Sea. La Mer is a French song composed and recorded by Charles Trenet, in 1946. It was a huge hit in parts of Europe, becoming one of the most popular post-war songs. It was later recorded with English lyrics, and a slightly catchier beat, with arguably the best version released by Bobby Darin, in 1959. I have always loved both songs, and though not strictly the same, as the lyrics are different, I hope that you will agree that they both have merit.

Anyone Who Had a Heart. In 1964, the UK pop charts had two versions of this song, by both these artists, competing for honours. Written by the wonderful team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, specifically for the vocal talents of Dionne Warwick, it came as a great shock, when the English vocalist, Cilla Black, scored the biggest hit here. I have to express surprise, even now, that we did not appreciate the American version more.

If You Don’t Know Me By Now. In 1972, I bought this Philly Soul record, by Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. I admired it greatly at the time, and still do. In 1989, it was covered by the English group, Simply Red, with a standout performance by the lead vocalist, Mick Hucknall. It is the same song, with no alteration, and sounds little different. I like them both, see what you think.

Let’s Stay Together. In 1971, I was overwhelmed by this emotional ballad from the wonderful Al Green. Forty-two years later, and it still holds the same power for me, whenever I hear it. In 1982, Tina Turner, in collaboration with the English group Heaven 17, released an equally powerful cover of the song. Even though I still prefer the original, Tina’s later version has much to commend it.

(You make me feel) Like A Natural Woman. Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, this was a huge hit for Aretha Franklin, in 1967. This emotional power ballad is as relevant today as it was then, and remains a wonderful song for any female vocalist with the voice to carry it. In 1971, Carole King included the song on her worldwide hit album, ‘Tapestry’. When I heard this track, with all the heart of the actual songwriter behind it, I felt it actually overshadowed Aretha’s version, despite her having a stronger voice. They are both wonderful though, because the song is simply divine.

I will leave it there for now. There are lots of clips to watch or listen to, so I don’t wish to overload your tolerance! There are so many others to explore, I am sure I will be back another day, with part two.

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7 thoughts on “Different versions

  1. * = Okay, but I can pass next time / ** = Nice song I could listen to again / *** = Great song that I could listen to a million times

    * A Song for You – I don’t care much for the song, but I’ve always been a fan of the Carpenters. Karen had a rich, golden voice that may not have had much character, but certainly carried a mellow perfection that I still treasure. I score this one for Karen.
    * Anyone Who Had a Heart – Don’t care much for this one, either. I’l go with Dionne Warwick, though.
    ** La mer / Beyond the Sea – A very nice song, beautifully sung by Charles Trenet. I called up the French lyrics on the internet before listening to it so that I wouldn’t miss a word. It is a bit dated due to the vocal accompaniment, but that doesn’t bother me at all. The Bobby Darin version was blocked on “copyright grounds.” Nevertheless, I’ll hand my baguette of approval to the French!
    ** Let’s Stay Together – A pretty good song I could listen to again. The Al Green version was “disabled,” so “ill have to go with Tina Turner. You can’t go wrong with anything she sings.
    *** (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman – A song I remember from youth, and which holds up very well–at least to my ears. Although I was a big fan of Carole King back in the day, I’ll have to go with Aretha on this one. What a gifted singer!
    *** If You Don’t Know Me By Now – An absolutely terrific song! It’s a virtual tie on this one. I might slightly prefer Harold Melvin’s voice and singing style, but Simply Red has a smoother vocal accompaniment, and I do love that hairstyle of his! I could listen to both versions to the end of days, though! It’s a brilliant song.
    *** Stoney End – An easy win for Barbra Streisand. This would have to be my favorite song here. The tune is unforgettable, and Barbra’s rendition is superb, vibrant, electrifying.

    I do appreciate the opportunity to be introduced to some songs, and to revisit others that I remember fondly. I also like your approach–comparing two versions for subjective consideration.. .
    .

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    1. Hi David, thanks for your comments, and for my first ever detailed voting appraisal – with scoring guide!
      It was hearing Stoney End that got me started on this post, as I recall arguments years ago, when I preferred Streisand to the more ‘right on’ Laura Nyro original.
      Despite Hucknall’s hair, (that you kind of share!) Harold Melvin always just pips Simply Red I think, as it was supposed to be a Philly song originally. I am sorry to hear some version don’t play in America. Must be copyright issues, presumably. I am surprised you don’t care for ‘Song for you’, as I always thought that everyone liked it!
      Best wishes from England, Pete.

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  2. Well Pete, you have introduced me to a few new artists here, but I will listen to the comparisons later and see which I prefer. I was a great Carole King fan and like Gretchen played Tapestry over and over. My husband bought me her double CD for Christmas a few years ago. As for Cilla I couldn’t stand her voice so I’ll give that track a miss if you don’t mind 🙂
    Jude xx

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  3. That’s quite a playlist. Carole King and Aretha Franklin my faves on this one and I have both on my iPod; I’m a Carole King fan from way back. At one point in time I had only 3 tapes and I played them a lot and Tapestry was one of them. Cilla Black and Dionne Warwick — a tossup as both are great. All these songs bring back a lot memories. I lived in an apartment for almost 15 years that was owned by a man who had been a very popular DJ in my area. He played a lot of Blues and Jazz and he had a large following, even after he retired. He used to make up tapes from his library and give them to me and his other tenant. Some were theme based (Rainy Days, Hot Nights, Happy Occasions, Sad occasions and some were like yours, comparisons of different singers or bands, same songs. Your last 2 posts have happily reminded me of him, too. I still have a few of his tapes but in this digital age, no way to play them any more.

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    1. Thanks Gretchen, I am glad to bring back memories, and for you to find some songs you still enjoy. That is really why I do this kind of post, a somewhat self-indulgent trip down memory lane, hopefully taking some readers along with me!
      You can still buy systems here that will play tapes. They are old-fashioned, and tend to be the all-in-one type, with record deck, CD, and MP3 too, although there are some cheap alternatives, small cassette players that allow transfer to media storage.
      Here are some Amazon UK links, I am sure that Amazon USA will be able to supply them.
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/HooToo®-Portable-Cassette-Converter-Capture/dp/B006YLMF6Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=138433

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ultra-Compact-Nostalgic-Centre-System/dp/B006USTPPW/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1384338174&sr=8-4&keywords=cassette+music+system

      Best wishes to you as always, Pete.

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      1. Incidentally Gretchen, I have considered compilations like those you mention; sad songs, happy songs etc. I have already done the ‘happy songs’, so may well do more like that later. Thanks again, Pete.

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