It’s been done many times over: take an upbeat and well known song and slow it down to a ballad or turn it into bossa nova, neo classical or that obtuse term many refer to as “Jazz”. It never is Jazz. It’s simple Pop. But turning a popular Top 40 track into a ballad is no easy thing to pull off. It’s where A&R skills, a knowledge of someone’s back catalogue and arrangement come into play. And about very personal feelings.
Ryan Adams flipping the Oasis hit “Wonderwall” into a tender love song is a track where all the pieces fit. It seems to have been recorded ‘live’ with Adams wanting something raw, real and emotional. It works. Beautifully.
Last week, Adam Lambert took Cher’s “Believe” and turned it into some cathartic musical message about how the Fat Lady had sung and a relationship was well and truly over- sad, but how that inner resolve would see him through. It’s a magnificent version. A brilliant tribute to Cher. He draws you into the song and holds you there. Theatrical? Maybe, but what’s wrong with that.
When auditioning for “American Idol”- and who really thought he wouldn’t be in the Top Two or even win that season?- he performed the same song.
I remember how I felt about his interpretation then, and how it resonates with me today. In the same way but differently. It’s to do with one’s life journey. People change. New people enter. Feelings change.
What I Believed then means something else to me today. Today, it’s a message in a song- to her, to myself. Time to move on. Nothing more to say. Enough.
It’s also about the power of a song in the right hands. Soon, every singer in every bar will be singing “Believe”. But they’re not Adam Lambert. Still, it’s a free world and like covers acts copying songs like “Imagine” and “Hotel California”, this trend will continue and audiences will applaud like trained seals. They don’t know any better.
Most have no idea what Chris Cornell did to “Billie Jean” or “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Maybe they wouldn’t like his versions. To me: brilliant.
Others have been inspired enough to copy his version. His interpretation. But they weren’t Chris Cornell. Who knew why he did what he did the way that he did and when. It makes his decision to leave this world question ourselves about the fragility of life. How easy it is to call someone to just ask how they are. It might just save a life.
This is where these covers become original because they’re so personal. No one knows why the songs were chosen. Why they were interpreted the way they are. And why very few work. Maybe because it’s soul music. And music for the soul.
Have a Happy 2019.
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