Driving along the other day, I was listening to one of those shows which cover the old charts. The Top 20 of 1968, ’78, and ’88 – you know the sort of thing. These crop up, usually on old gits channels – like BBC Radio 2, Smooth FM, or Magic. Not the sort of thing the under 30s listen to, but then again, no-one under 30 reads this, so who gives a monkeys? Back in the slagheaps of my youth, these were the sort of shows hosted by Ed “Stewpot” Stewart, Tony “Smug and Annoying” Blackburn or, of course Jimmy “Dodgy Bastard implicated in child abuse, and protection rackets now inexplicably a National Treasure” Savile. He’s gone now, bless him, to jingle-jangle his way around the childrens’ wards of the afterlife. Owsaboutthatthen?
But that’s another story.
One of the chosen highlights of the 1978 chart was the lamentably unforgettable Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker‘s cringe-worthy version of You’re the One that I Want, originally from Grease and sung by Elton John and Vincent Vega. We’d have never have thought there was a worse version than the original. Hilda and Arthur proved us wrong.
It led my mind to wander down many avenues and alleyways: Was Arthur the worst actor this country has produced ? Probably, (though it was a title cruelly taken from him by Mr and Mrs Law of Lewisham, south London, when they gave birth to their son Jude); should Hylda have been in the film instead of Stockard Channing ? She would have boosted the sex appeal of the movie; And of all the songs the radio station could have chosen to highlight from the top 20 of 1978, why did they decided to choose that one?
Having said that, I’ve always taken an interest in cover versions and the thought behind them. Whoever thought that it’s be a good idea for Bauhaus to cover David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust needs both their head and ears testing, as it is basically the same song, just a different sticker on the vinyl (as it was back then).
A lot depends on the listener. When I was a kid I thought Blondie‘s “Denis Denis” was a wonderfully odd new number, until I discovered the original “Denise” by the beautifully named Randy and the Rainbows. I know kids that think Rolf Harris wrote Stairway to Heaven (even though it’s nowhere near the classic that is Jake the Peg) and got very upset when I played them the original. Come to think of it, I get upset when I hear it too, overrated shite that it is.
I have little time for The Wurzels, but their version of Don’t Look back in Anger has me in stitches every time it’s played. I only wish I see the look of disgust in the pretentious, slap-inducing faces of the John Lennon impersonators who wrote the ‘original’ when they hear it. I use the word ‘original’ under caution. I wait patiently for The Wurzels’ cover of anything by Morrissey. I can die in peace then.
I could go on. The Fugees version of “Killing Me Softly” stands up very well indeed against the Roberta Flack original, whereas Whitney Houston singing George Benson’s “Greatest Love of All” sounds like someone trying to machete to death a wounded ferret. It seems to these old ears that less and less of this sort of thing goes on. I often hear about sampling, rather than covering. I don’t know where one ends and another begins. I do know that “taking a sample” means something completely different now than it did to me when I was a kid. In the same way that whereas today Loverdose is a perfume, in my day it wasn’t something to give to your girlfriend, if you could possible help it.
So there you have it (for today at least). One man’s poison is another man’s Robert Plant classic is another man’s Rolf Glastonbury Anthem. One person’s sweet scent is another’s Loverdose. Ball or Aerosol ?