A classic cover, and one of which I’ve been aware since it’s 1991 release. Eek A Mouse’s unique verbal stylings, which he calls ‘Chin-Indian Music,’ is the perfect vehicle for Robert Plant’s staccato, mumbling delivery in the 1973 original.
You’ll have to forgive the ‘elevator reggae’ backing track. As ever, Eek is the star of his own show.
…and a bonus reggae cover of this same song, this time by the legendary Sly & Robbie:
Kingston Jamaica’s Pat Kelly is a veteran vocalist from the rocksteady days, recording for Duke Reid when Treasure Isle Records was the king of the dancehalls. Kelly modeled his vocal style on US soul singer Sam Cooke, a crooner’s method that finds a likely number in Procol Harum’s 1967 hit ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale.’ Kelly doesn’t really try anything unusual or new with this 1984 recording, though a talented vocalist rendering a memorable song is worth a listen even under the worst of circumstances.
And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well’ve been closed
This 1995 cover doesn’t bring much to the memorable 1974 Carl Douglas original, though it’s worth mentioning that The Cimarons themselves –Franklyn Dunn, Carl Levy, Locksley Gichie, Maurice Ellis, and Winston Reid (aka Winston Reedy)– were class-act session musicians in Jamaica before emigrating to the UK.
Bonus FunFact: Carl Douglas himself is a native of Kingston, Jamaica.
Known for its challenging time signature Dave Brubeck’s 1959 jazz classic ‘Take Five’ is utterly transformed here into a track with noteworthy horn leads and a butt-solid rhythm section. Bonus version by the same artist here, which rapidly transforms itself into the bizarre universal language of dub.
One of the most well-known, most culturally-pervasive movie themes of all time, Isaac Hayes‘ theme for the 1971 blaxploitation movie Shaft has received near-constant homage in other media from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Channel 4’s Father Ted. I mean, it’s up there in ‘Theme from Rocky (Gonna’ Fly Now)’ territory.
Here we have old-school rocksteady/ska singer (and sometime x-rated lyricist) Lloyd Charmers‘ 1971 almost immediate re-release of the film original and you know what? It’s pretty dope. The fast urban pace reflected in the original is kind of existentially at odds with the deliberate mogel-inducing rhythms of rocksteady yet Lloyd completes the transformation into a groovy thing of excellence. Definitely worth a listen.
I’ve never been a big fan of Billy Joel’s music. You have to recognize the staying power and broad appeal of his music nonetheless so it’s unsurprising to find something of his in the covers-happy world of Jamaican popular music. Thankfully we find this classic hair-salon-muzak number in the capable hands of John Holt, who despite his inspired pedigree does little to interfere with the work of the original creative hand. Not even a horn chart, swelling strings, and a crew of ‘hoo-hoo’ background singers can make this a song you’d want to hear more than once. Alas. Can’t win ’em all.
Lyrics based on the poem by NYC’s own Abel Meeropol, Birmingham UK’s UB40 prepare a version of Billie Holiday‘s 1939 original that loses none of the shame and menace of the original. Heavy at times with synthesizers and inescapably colored by UB40’s skanking, horns-laden method the point, purpose, and aesthetic of the original reemerge.
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.