I was buying groceries this morning and heard a cover version of “I Want You to Want Me.”
It immediately struck me that the cover version had thrown an already unbalanced universe even further out of balance.
In September 1977, Cheap Trick released their second album, In Color, which included the original studio version of the song. At that moment, the set of versions of “I Want You to Want Me” was exactly in balance with the universe’s needs.
In October 1978, the band released Cheap Trick at Bodokan, which included a live version of the song. At that moment, by some force of nature I do not understand, the universe’s need for versions of “I Want You to Want Me” expanded to include this live version. And again the universe was in perfect balance.
I would like recording artists everywhere to understand that those two versions of the song are all the universe will ever need. Even more importantly: Recording new versions will throw the universe further out of balance.
Anyway, this got me thinking about covers.
A little more than a year ago, I began watching The Voice. Having now watched just under three seasons of the show, I have discovered what I think are two undeniable laws of the universe:
- If you sing “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” you will be compared to Otis Redding.
- Being compared to Otis Redding will harm your career.
I don’t know why this is so. What is so special about Otis Redding, or about his version of that song?
I don’t know of another song that is so dangerous to sing. I don’t know another singer who is so dangerous to be compared to. (Maybe Janis Joplin. Maybe. See below.)
Even Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston are not as dangerous to emulate. I’ve heard singers on The Voice, either amateurs or early professionals, sing jaw-droppingly beautiful, powerful versions Aretha and Whitney songs. A few singers can pull those off. Very, very few.
But never “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” If you sing that song on The Voice, you are doomed to be compared to Otis Redding, and you are doomed to come up way, way short.
As for Janis Joplin, I have never heard anyone on The Voice help themselves by singing a Janis Joplin song.
In fifty-six years on the planet, I have heard only one singer who can pull off a Janis Joplin song. Her name is Jody Gourlay, and she is flat out amazing.
To put this in context: I once saw Melissa Etheridge open for Little Feat. Her first album had just been released, and at that moment I had no idea who she ws. Her 45-minute set was the most powerful vocal performance I have ever seen, from any singer.
Except for Jody.
Jody sings “I’m the Only One” better than Melissa does.
You don’t believe me. If you haven’t heard Jody sing it, I don’t blame you.
Anyway, if you are not Jody Gourlay, you cannot do a Janis Joplin song justice.