Ignored Obscured Restored
Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Mark Vincent. Mark is a multi instrumental musician (guitar, bass and recently drums) with The Occasionalists – Brooklyn, NY’s premiere live karaoke band. When he’s not playing with the band, he makes music of a different kind for the patients of his chiropractic practice in Manhattan.
In 1993 the rap group Salt n Pepa teamed with En Vogue for a massive hit with a version of “What a Man,” a Stax single that had reached #50 on Billboard in 1968. Although they added new provocative lyrics to the verses; the chorus, main guitar riff and general vibe of the song were lifted directly from the original. I had only been familiar with the original from an Oxford compilation CD someone had burned for me, so I never had access to the artist or any credits. It was only when my band decided to cover it, that I discovered the origins — which turned out to have an interesting backstory.
Linda Lyndell was a white gospel singer in Gainesville, FL. She began singing with RnB groups as a teenager and after singing back up for James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner, she recorded with Stax producers Issac Hayes and David Porter in 1967 and 1968. The second of these sessions produced “What a Man.”
Between the funky R&B sound and references to James Brown in the lyrics, the song caught the unwanted attention of the KKK and other white supremacist groups, who did not approve of a white girl singing in such a manner. After getting death threats from the KKK, she retreated from the music business, living in seclusion back in Gainesville for the next 25 years. She only learned about the Salt n Pepa cover after she received her first royalty check in the mail. Inspired by the success of the remake, she began performing again and sang “What a Man” in public for the first time in 2003 at the opening of the Stax Museum.
No disrespect to Salt n Pepa, but Lyndell’s version has a warmer, more soulful feel to it and is musically more interesting. The guitars, piano, and horns are all more expansive and the song moves around more despite being only half the length. At the risk of being racially inappropriate, I played that song for 15 years without the slightest notion I was listening to a 22-year old white girl from FL.
Enjoy… until next week.
Ignored Obscured Restored
Those of you that know me personally are aware that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, The Beatles. I’ve collected all their official releases and dozens of bootlegs that contain outtakes, alternate takes, and demos.
I have an iTunes playlist of Beatles covers that has thousands of versions of their songs. My playlist is totally indiscriminate. Some of the cuts are awesome – some pathetic. But I’ve collected them all – straight covers, and lots of variations including soul, country, classical, easy listening, big band, jazz, and bluegrass. I even have some Polka versions!
I really enjoy when an artist takes a Beatles tune and makes it their own. Especially if it is well played and well sung. Today’s SotW is an example of such – “Things We Said Today” by Dwight Yoakam.
Yoakam is a country artist, but his style is much closer to rock influenced honky-tonk than traditional Nashville country. At least that was true when he began his recording career in the mid ‘80s. (Today it seems like all the top country acts really play rock music with a twang.) Believe it or not, Yoakam actually shared a bill with the punk band Hüsker Dü in 1986! On his 2012 album 3 Pears, Yoakam enlisted the help of Beck to provide handclaps on “A Heart Like Mine.”
His cover of “Things We Said Today” is a terrific example of his melding of rock and country. The song has an inventive recurring riff that sets the tone for what’s to come. It’s heavier than the Beatles original. And it ends with a searing guitar solo.
On a side note, I have an interesting story about seeing Yoakam live. Back in the mid ‘80s, my wife was working for an ad agency in Boston when she was invited to a party to celebrate the launch of WBOS’s format change to country music. I was her guest. The party included live performances by some of the rising country artists of the day, including Reba McEntire… and Yoakam.
Boston wasn’t a hotbed for country music fans back then (and probably still isn’t) so the audience of radio and ad executives were more interested in the hors d’oeuvres and drinks than the music. But being the music nerd that I am, I walked (alone) up to the front of the stage and watched both artists perform. Even though I couldn’t claim to be a country music fan, I could tell that these were top quality musicians and deserved to be heard. It was a great experience that is seared into my memory.
Enjoy… until next week.
This post is about the interview with Tannenbaum, in which Phair talks about a lot of things that wouldn’t be the first thing you think about a singer-songwriter promoting a book. Or two. But it’s also a chance to thumb our noses at Pitchfork and the others who dismissed the woman rather than engage with what she was trying to do. If you didn’t understand Phair you might think this commercial move was reprehensible, but it’s way more interesting to think about how that reviled album differs from both Brittany and all the indie expectations that provoked the haters.