There is a long and storied tradition in the music world of artists “covering” other artists’ work. In some instances, this can be seen as a form of flattery to the original artist, depending on the circumstances of course, and other times not so much. I am sure everyone knows at least one original song that has been covered by another artist or group, and in many cases the covers of certain songs go on to be far more popular than the originals.
The practice of covering songs begins in earnest around the 1950s, and at this period in history “flattery’ is nowhere to be found! This is when white musicians, artists, singers, groups were commissioned to cover songs by black artists, a virtual whitewashing of the musical landscape. Memory need a little jogging? How about Willie Mae “Big Momma” Thorton’s “Hound Dog” sung by Elvis Presley, or Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruiti” covered by Pat Boone! (If you want to be amused, go to YouTube, and watch the song being performed by Little Richard, then Pat Boone. I promise you won’t be disappointed). Need more examples that you may or may not know about? How about The Kinsmen’s “Louie Louie” (Richard Berry), Rolling Stones “Cherry Oh Baby” (Eric Donaldson), The Clash “Police and Thieves” (Junior Muruin). Sometimes a song is altered lyrically but is musically recognizable: Just think about Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” resurfacing as the Beach Boys “Surfin U.S.A!” Then of course there were the Bobby’s! In the late 50s early 60s there were a plethora of white male vocalists named Bobby covering songs by black artists. Bobby Vee, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Darin, Bobby Goldsboro, and Bobby Sherman all come to mind!
The TV show “American Bandstand,” which premiered in 1952, provided the visuals for this “whitewashing,” although to its credit it did eventually evolve and become “woke!” Hosted by Bob Horn (1952-56), then by Dick Clark until 1989, the Philadelphia show (it moved to Los Angeles in 1964) brought musical acts and gyrating teenagers into the living rooms of countless homes across the country. Another example of this period in musical history is John Waters’ 1988 movie “Hairspray,” which then became a 2002 Broadway Musical (“Hairspray”), before being brought back full circle with Adam Shankman’s 2007 movie of the musical (“Hairspray”).
So, why am I telling you all this? Fair question. The other night I was listening to a song that I really like and decided to do a little digging (I know, a cheap link to the title, but it gets worse!). As it turns out, the version of the song I really like is a cover. Interestingly enough, it is a cover by a white musician of a black group’s song. However, in this case the 1996 song in question was a #1 Billboard hit for this group and also went on to win a Grammy in 1988 for best R&B performance by Duo or Group. In other words, this cover is definitely a form of flattery. I went on to find two additional covers of the song (I am sure there are others) both by white artists. I listened and watched a video of the original version and then listened to and watched videos of the three covers. I was both shocked and amazed at not only how the song was co-opted by the covering musicians, but how each made it uniquely theirs! There are many examples of this phenomenon: Whitney Houston doing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” Aretha Franklin doing Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Janis Joplin doing Roger Miller’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” and The Talking Heads doing Al Green’s “Take Me To The River,” should ring some bells.
Okay. I’ve made you wait long enough! The song in question is “No Diggity” (I told you it gets worse!) by Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre and Queen Pen. The first time I heard the song it was performed by Nicholas James Murphy (Australian), better known as Chet Faker (2012). The two other covers, both from 2014 are by Ed Sheeran (British) very well known, and Lettice Rowbotham (British) accompanied by The Top Bananas! This last one definitely has to be seen to be believed! And so, to end on that note. Here are all four links!
I could go on a long diatribe about cultural appropriation of American pop culture by foreign artists, but I will spare you. . . this time anyway!
Los Angeles 2022