I feel like covers/remakes are a third rail. Just don’t touch them. That’s the safest thing to do. That doesn’t stop everyone, including D’Angelo, from going there. I watch The Voice with my kids when they feel like it. My daughters are all over this season because Ariana Grande is involved. Any time someone on the show dares sing a song by Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, or Amy Winehouse I’m always like, “Aw hell no!” Like covering them is some form of blasphemy. Contestants never cover Prince on The Voice that I recall- I’m not sure if it’s a record label thing or if people simply don’t go there – but if they did I’d probably throw something at the TV.
So what’s acceptable when it comes to covering a song and putting it on your album? I wish I had an answer. Let’s start here: If you’re going to remake a song you better bring some kind of fresh take to it. If it’s going to sound like a note-for-note ripoff of the original, what’s the point? Here’s another pointer: Don’t remake a song that was performed by someone legendary unless it’s a deep cut. We’ve all heard “Yesterday” a million times and you’re not topping the Beatles, so just stop. I prefer hearing a song and then finding out later that it’s a cover. When it comes to concerts or a show like “The Voice” the rules are different. I’m talking about when an artist is actually going to record a version of a song and include it on an album. Unless it’s a tribute album, I don’t see any reason why someone should sneak a cover of “I Will Always Love You” or “Billie Jean” into one of their albums. If it’s a concert and you’re a cover band anyway, or you’re trying to get a crowd fired up and your own music apparently isn’t doing it then by all means, go for it
Since the first two paragraphs of this post are already littered with contradictions and hypocrisy, I’ll get to my point…the contradiction and hypocrisy are the point. I grew up hearing people tell me that covers are trash and originals are the best. But, you couldn’t tell me that when I loved the artists who were making the covers or when I didn’t even realize they were covers in the first place. Remember “Lean on Me” by Club Nouveau? When I was a kid I loved that song. I had no idea it was a cover of a Bill Withers classic. When I heard the Bill Withers original I thought it was terrible. Same goes for the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of “Higher Ground.” I had no idea that was a Stevie Wonder song when I was a kid and by the time I heard it I was so accustomed to the Chili Peppers’ high energy version of it that I preferred that. Now that I’ve gotten older I prefer the originals, although I still dig the Chili Peppers version of “Higher Ground” as well. As for the Club Nouveau cover of “Lean on Me” I’m not a big fan. It did not age well.
Then there’s this: I was in Barnes and Noble earlier this year when I swore I heard a country version of “Purple Rain” and I thought I was in hell. I literally ran to my truck and searched for “Purple Rain” on Apple Music hoping that it didn’t actually exist and I had just entered the upside down, but there it was. “Purple Rain” by Dwight Yoakam. I’m not even gonna link to it on YouTube because I don’t want to give it a view or ever hear any of it again. Look…respect to Mr. Yoakam for being a legend in his field and for having good taste in covers. I’ll bet if I met Dwight Yoakam I’d find out he’s a cool cat and I’d love him. Country just isn’t my thing. When I heard it I wanted to stab my ears with ice picks, then find the person in charge of music programming at my local Barnes and Noble and slap him in the face.
Back to my point: I’m a hypocrite and I’m full of contradictions. The truth is, I just don’t want shitty people doing shitty remakes, but apparently only I get to decide what qualifies as a shitty remake, and the rules are different for every song and every person recording them. Remember what I said about artists covering the Beatles? Musiq Soulchild covered “Something” for his sophomore album Juslisen back in 2002 and I prefer that over the Beatles original. Some of you would probably like to punch me in the face for saying that. I love the Beatles’ original. No disrespect to them whatsoever. But, I dig Musiq’s vibe and his take on the song. I prefer something funkier. José James did an entire album of Bill Withers covers and (I’m gonna duck before I say this out loud)…in general I like it better than the originals. James’s voice is phenomenal as are the musicians on that album. Check this out if you haven’t already and when you’re sufficiently blown away by the talent, look up José James on your preferred streaming service and knock yourself out. He is criminally slept on and deserves a bigger audience. No offense to Bill Withers, but James’s covers are funky as hell and often improve on the originals.
That finally leads me to today’s song. D’Angelo recorded this version of “Can’t Hide Love” back in 1995 and it was released as part of his 1998 album Live at the Jazz Cafe, London. Normally I’d say don’t mess with an Earth, Wind & Fire song. However, if we didn’t know it in 1995 or even 1998, we know now that D’Angelo does no wrong. I was 22 years old by the time the Live at the Jazz Cafe album came out, but that’s still before the days of streaming music. Earth, Wind & Fire were before my time so I wasn’t familiar with most of their music. I heard the D’Angelo version first, so to me that’s the original. D’s version doesn’t stray far from EW&F, but it does shake some of that 70s dust off of the track. I prefer hearing D’Angelo sing it, thus taking me back to my hypocrisy. Apparently there are no rules when it comes to covers, save for one: Country artists shouldn’t cover Prince.
That’s it for this week. We’ve covered a lot of D’Angelo remakes on the D’aily so far but my favorite is yet to come. This is the part where I’d love to say, “…and in fact, that song is next on Monday.” The fact is, the D’aily Song Randomizer is completely random and does not care about segues in my blog posts. Instead, Monday we’ll get into another D’Angelo soundtrack song from the 1990s, this time from a beloved children’s/family movie. I’ve probably already said too much, but I hope most of you reading are like, “Wait, D’Angelo recorded a song for a beloved family movie?” Yes, he did. We’ll talk about it Monday. Until then, enjoy your weekend.