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Cover Me

Over the weekend, I had a chance to listen to Phil Collins' latest album. "Going Back" is a collection of Motown covers by Phil, backed up by some of the original Motown studio musicians. And it's a pretty good listen. According to several interviews Phil's given on the album, he tried his best to recreate the Motown sound and feel of the music, not bring his own interpretation and vision to the songs. I was interested because I've been a fan of Phil's for a couple of decades now.

A bit of a diversion: I am a fan of Pop Phil and Edgy, Progressive Phil. I have little use for Whiny Phil, and can't stand Disney Phil. My main affinity is for most of his Genesis work and his first few solo albums.

Anyway, this album isn't the first time Phil's done covers. In the 1980's, he did versions of "Behind The Lines" (Genesis), "Tomorrow Never Knows" (Beatles), "You Can't Hurry Love" (The Supremes), and "Groovy Kind Of Love" (The Mindbenders). And each time his version was different from the original -- especially "Groovy," which he slowed way down and made a very soulful, emotional piece.

This time, though, he checked his vision at the door. The album is a near-pitch-perfect Motown album; we have Phil's vocals and drumming, but that's it.

Which brings up a question: when you're hearing a cover of a song, do you want to see how well the new artist can replicate the "look and feel" of the original, or do you want them to put their own impression on the piece?

I fall into the latter camp.

I want my artists to be themselves. I'm a fan of musicians not just for their abilities, but for what they do with them.

My favorite example of a near-perfect cover album is one I've mentioned before -- George Martin's "In My Life." The former Beatles producer assembled a bunch of people -- some not even musicians -- to do covers of various Beatles tracks. Not one of the tracks will ever be imstaken for the original performance by the Fab Four, but they're still great performances -- and a large part of that greatness is that not only are the performers not the Beatles, but in many cases not musicians. Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin hamming it up on "Come Together?" Delightful. Goldie Hawn turning "Hard Day's Night" into a sultry, jazzy torch song? Sizzling. Jeff Beck's searing instrumental of "A Day In The Life?" Stunning. Celine Dion's passionate "Here, There, And Everywhere?" Surprisingly tolerable. Sir Sean Connery's dramatic reading of "In My Life?" Melts nearly every woman I've played it for.

And here's a heresy: I think Jim Carrey's "I Am The Walrus" is actually better than the original. Judge for yourself: the guy brilliantly captures the sheer insanity of the song.

On the flip side, you also run the risk of getting things like this series -- which I've also obtained, but for entirely different reasons. They're so bad, they have a great value as sheer camp.

So yeah, Phil's album is pretty good. But it's a Phil Collins Motown album. It's not Phil Collins' version of Motown classics. And, judging what he's done before, with "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Groovy Kind Of Love," would have been something exceptional.

Update: Jim Carrey video replaced with a far, far better version that reader JOHND discovered.


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Comments (12)

Great impersonation, Paul, ... (Below threshold)

Great impersonation, Paul, great impersonation. Now get back to WPop, OK?

On Rundgren's "Faithful" al... (Below threshold)

On Rundgren's "Faithful" album, the back side is all Motown covers recreating the sound.

Them's fighting words, epad... (Below threshold)

Them's fighting words, epador. Don't make me get Mr. Duckie all up in your face.


I highly recommend Santana'... (Below threshold)

I highly recommend Santana's, "Guitar Heaven." The track of him and Chris Daughtry performing "Photograph" alone is worth the cost of the entire album.

Michael McDonald's Motown i... (Below threshold)

Michael McDonald's Motown is very good, (both of them). A little know tribute album......


Is where I discovered Hootie and the Blowfish

I also highly recommend Car... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

I also highly recommend Carlos Santana's Guitar Heaven as well, although his cover of "Bang-A-Gong" left me feeling pretty unfulfilled. It lacked the sheer magic of the Marc Bolan original, let alone the Witch Queen, Power Station or even London Bus Stop versions.

Mark Bolan's original worked on at least three levels: Marc Bolan's own unique guitar signature style featured a new and unique "groove" beat that characterized the T.Rex sound. The song featured a cool saxophone punch. And the song included a great new rock and roll catch phrase, "Bang-A-Gong, Get-It-On", like Gary Glitter's "Rock And Roll, Part Two), Bolan created a great new rock and roll anthem. The Carlos Santana version just didn't have this same magic. But most of the other songs worked well on the new album , including the cover of "Riders On The Storm", which featured a more hard rock sound than the original. Ray Manzarek's own unique keyboard signature provided some extra authenticity to this song as well.

It must be the season for music legends to do cover songs or something, with both Phil Collins and Carlos Santana boarding that train.

(BTW, funny comment Doc Epador, and great comeback, Jay. I always enjoy a good laugh, and never take myself too seriously). ---Paul

One of my favorite R.E.M. a... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

One of my favorite R.E.M. albums is "Dead Letter Office". On it, they do superior versions of Aerosmith's "Toys in The Attic", Roger Miller's "King of The Road", and Lou Reeds' "Femme Fatale", "There She Goes Again" (miles better than the original) and "Pale Blue Eyes." Plus, there's my favorite track where the band "covers itself" by reading the liner notes from a gospel album and singing them to the song "Seven Chinese Brothers" off "Reckoning." Good stuff!

JT, I have incontrovertible... (Below threshold)

JT, I have incontrovertible evidence that Mr Ducky was an illegal import and you knew it long before he graced your dashboard. You can't threaten me with an undocumented duck.

Genesis is my flat-out favo... (Below threshold)
Captain Ned Author Profile Page:

Genesis is my flat-out favorite band of all time. That said, my appreciation for Phil starts to go downhill after the album "Abacab" and has reached rock-bottom by "We Can't Dance".

As a long-time Genesis lover, I've collected most every ROIO I can find (102GB lossless at last count). Phil's best performances are to be found from the "And Then There Were Three" and "Duke" tours. He was singing classic Genesis, he was no longer conflicted about taking over from Peter Gabriel, and he had an unholy rapport with the audience.

I bought tickets to the Boston stop of the 2007 Genesis "Last Tour". While they still had the musical chops you could almost hear the click track in your head as they simply played by rote. I had much higher hopes for what I knew would be my last personal encounter with Genesis.

My first concert was Duke i... (Below threshold)

My first concert was Duke in Philly only because my brothers friend backed out. I became a Genesis instantly and saw them everytime they came around.

I saw Phil everytime he came around as well. I will definitely check this album out.

I really like the Gabriel songs much more. The only way I would pay money to see them again is if Gabriel was with them.

Thanks for bringing back so... (Below threshold)

Thanks for bringing back some memories. This youtube video of Jim Carey taping "I Am The Walrus" is good. I agree JC does a much better job singing the song.


Big Genesis fan also. Unde... (Below threshold)

Big Genesis fan also. Understand why Collins took the band where he took it but the Gabriel stuff really is inspired. Saw them in 1978 in NYC where Gabriel came out and sung with Collins on the encore.

Glad to see that people really appreciate that time. Poster above dead right about the REM album....great covers.






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