When I was growing up, cover songs were usually by contemporary artists doing remakes of songs that were 15 or 20 years old: Phil Collins singing the Supremes, Club Nouveau singing Bill Withers, Joan Jett singing Tommy James and the Shondells. But back in the 50s and 60s, it wasn’t that unusual for multiple versions of the same song to compete for the same sales and airplay. This was especially true in the 50s when record labels would rush out “white” versions of R&B singles, like Pat Boone singing Fats Domino, or when any number of popular crooners would rush out singles of the latest Broadway hits. In 1955 alone, three different versions of “Unchained Melody” hit the top 10 and a fourth made it to #29.But even in the 60s when singles were still the dominant force in pop music, you could hear multiple versions of the same song becoming hits right on top of each other. Less than a year after Gladys Knight and the Pips scored what was then their biggest pop hit “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” – it went all the way to #2 – Marvin Gaye took his own very different version of the same song all the way to #1. But as albums and singer-songwriters became more popular in the late 60s and early 70s, it became a mark of artistic legitimacy to record original songs, to steer clear of covers. Now that singles are back, thanks to digital downloads; and now that anybody – regardless of talent level – can reach a huge internet audience via YouTube – “instant covers” are becoming more popular. So, with apologies to Joan Rivers and her Fashion Police, I’m introducing a new series here called “Bitch Stole My Look – Song Edition”, where two new versions of the same new song take each other on in a blogospheric cage match.
First up is a song called “Parachute”. The song was written and demoed by quirky indie-pop songstress Ingrid Michaelson during sessions for her excellent 2009 album Everybody, but for whatever reason, it was determined that the song didn’t really fit on the album. Then late last year, the British pop starlet Cheryl Cole, formerly of the girl group Girls Aloud, got her hands on it and included a cover of it on her will.i.am-produced debut solo album 3 Words. In March of this year, it was released as a single and went Top 10 in the UK. Here’s Cheryl’s take on it:
Cheryl Cole “Parachute”
Last month, Ingrid Michaelson released a downloadable single of her own version of the song, and put out a pretty awesome video to go with it. Here’s Ingrid:
Ingrid Michaelson “Parachute”
Frankly, I love both versions of this song almost equally. Cheryl Cole’s is obviously the slicker version, but I love its sensuality and heightened sense of romance and drama. The vocal arrangements on Michaelson’s are a lot more interesting though and especially coming after her more mainstream sounding album Everybody, it’s a sweet and much more upbeat (to both Cole’s version of “Parachute” and the rest of Michaelson’s album) reminder of the quirky adorability of her first hit “The Way I Am”. I’m split on this one. Ingrid Michaelson v. Cheryl Cole goes into overtime.