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Sometimes the song gets worse
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
I've noticed that certain versions of songs affect me in certain ways. If I've heard one particular version of a song first even if it's a cover of the original, there's a chance I may not like the actual original. I'm not sure how that works, but there's probably a psychological term for it. There is the rare song where I've heard both the original and cover, and like both. However, for the most part, whatever version I've heard first is the one that is the “correct” one, and the original one is the “ugh” version. Here are some songs that have had remakes. Did they work? Here's my not so humble opinion as to if they did or didn't.
“Hazy Shade Of Winter”: I first heard the Bangles version of it, and thought it was an energetic, hard rocking song. So when I heard the Simon and Garfunkel version, it was like watching someone ride a tricycle uphill trying to beat someone on a Harley Davidson. The lyrics are a bit easier to hear on this version, but hearing the Bangles harmonies and driving guitars on their version ruined the original. For me at least. Plus, the S& G version was released the year I was born, and I never heard it until just a few years ago. Advantage: Bangles.
“American Pie”: This was all over the airwaves when I was just five years old, and even though I didn't know anything about Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens until “La Bamba” (I'll get to that one in a minute) came out in the late '80s, I really liked this song. From the simple piano opening to the ending, it was a long song which didn't seem to make sense, but the words sounded right. I knew when Madonna got a hold of it, it wouldn't work, and it was right. She shortened it, which is the first thing that went wrong, plus, I could only stand about a minute and a half of it. Then, I found the official version of it, and despite William Orbit's intervention, I could not get into it. The video did a good job of showing the different facets of American life, but the rollicking piano was missing, and so was the poignant tone of lamenting days gone by. Don McClean claims he likes this version, but I don't. Advantage: Don McClean.
“La Bamba”: I liked Los Lobos' version when the group released it in 1987, but I also like the original. Los Lobos had a little bit of an advantage by allowing the song to fade out accompanied by more traditional Mexican band music, but Valens' has a kind of dance hall sound to it that captures the mood of that time. It sounds like someone is tapping on a wood block throughout the song, which adds a bit of cha cha beat to a rock and roll song.
Advantage: A tie. I think both versions are really good.
“I Dreamed a Dream”: The first time I heard this song was when Susan Boyle sung it for her first Britain's Got Talent competition, and it seemed in a way, the song was about her life. Not that her life was horrible, but it sounds like she was a bit lonely, and taking care of a parent is stressful and somehow seems wrong; we tend to think of our parents as invincible. Yet Susan did it and also took a crack at a singing career, and she proved it's not too late to try. Then, I heard Anne Hathaway's version. Hers is probably more true to the feeling of the song, but I heard Susan Boyle's triumphant, “I will rise above my dress, my eyebrows and that hip roll” version first and that's the only version for me.
Advantage: Susan Boyle.
“Nessun Dorma”: The first time I heard this was probably in New York Stories, where Nick Nolte is painting in his robe, showing up the graffiti artist who is sitting drinking coffee. (It's implied that the graffiti artist slept with Nolte's assisant.) Nolte, as painter Lionel Dobie, hits “play” on his boom box (remember them?) and Mario Del Monico booms forth “Nessun Dorma” as Lionel paints away in his robe, then turns around and smiles joyfully at graffiti artist Ruben Toro as if to say, “you just got served, homie.” Granted, it was on a boom box, in a loft, and I don't know if they bothered to sweeten the sound (probably not) but I still appreciated the emotion of it. Then Paul Potts came along and when I saw his “Britain's Got Talent” audition played on “Oprah,” I turned to my roommate and said, “if I ever get married, that's what I want played at the ceremony.” Potts' sang his heart out, and I don't know if it was because he was auditioning, or the fact that the audience appreciated someone singing opera, but his version gives me chills and starts the tears a flowin'.
Advantage: Paul Potts.
There are a bunch more cover tunes out there, and I'll probably do a similar column in the future. Consider yourself warned.