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.