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Tower of Song


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A radio show I listen to has a weekly feature where they put up two versions of a song, the original and a good cover, and debate which is better; sometimes with surprising results. For example, this week's comparison was 'Tracks of my Tears' with versions by Smokey Robinson and Linda Ronstadt.

It's the one from a couple of weeks ago that still has me undecided. The subject that week was Leonard Cohen's track 'Tower of Song' from his 1988 album 'I'm Your Man'. The cover version was by Tom Jones from his new album 'Spirit in the Room'. I must confess, I didn't know either version beforehand, but expected the Leonard Cohen one to win. After listening to both several times I'm still can't make my mind up. Cohen's version is more tongue-in-cheek with the backing singers, cheap-sounding organ and self-depricating lines like "I was born with the gift of a golden voice". Jones, however, takes the song and makes it his own. He was born with the gift of a golden voice, and with his interpretation it could have been written for him. Have a listen to both and tell me which you prefer:

For people who are used to their music a bit more country, Cohen acknowledges the influence of Hank Williams in this verse:

I said to Hank Williams, "How lonely does it get?"

Hank Williams hasn't answered yet

But I hear him coughing all night long

Oh, a hundred floors above me in the tower of song

If anyone has more suggestions for original/cover versions for comparison, I'd like to hear them as well.

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Well I listened to the Tom Jones version of the song and only the beginning of the other one so I don't have much say in which one is the best. But do believe I like Tom's voice in his version a tad better than the other guy's voice. The song has a sad touch to it. Very emotional. Like the Hank William's reference...

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This week's comparison was a song I know very well, and I have to say I'm biased because the original version is one of my all-time favorites. Once again, the cover version was good, but for me it's the original every time. See what y'all think of this one:

Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman

I have another version that wasn't included in the comparison, but, for me, even 'The Man in Black' can't beat Glen's version:

Don't get me wrong: I think both the covers are good, but not great. Opinions welcome.

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Ok, Hoss, I listened the two Tower of Song versions. ;) I've never heard this particular song before. I'm partial to Tom Jones, so I listened to Cohen's version first.

I like both verions, but Jones nails it. I mean, just nails it. Damn, that man can sing!

I'll check out the "Lineman" versions later this weekend. This song I do know and I'm biased on Mr. Campbell for that one tho'. :D

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  • 3 months later...

I've just posted a Dionne Warwick song in Musical Chairs and it reminded me that one of her songs was part of the "Cover to Cover" feature recently. Here are the two versions to compare and contrast:

This week's song had two very different versions. I'm very familiar with the original British soul version (y'all may remember it from 'Shallow Hal'), but had never heard the countrified version from 1995:

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  • 7 months later...

The subject of this week's comparison was the song 'It's Not Unusual'. I've known the Tom Jones version for as long as I can remember. It was his second single, released at a time when he was virtually unknown, but it's become his signature song. NB. the song is from 1965, the video is from 1969.

The cover version also dates from 1965, and is by an American soul/R&B group. Coincidentally, it was their second single too.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Today's comparison was rather unusual. Normally the choice is between two versions of the same song by different artists, but today it was between two versions of the same song by the same artist.

Back in 1974, Gil Scott-Heron wrote 'Your Daddy Loves You' for his fourth album, 'Winter in America'. This is a very stripped-back version with just keyboards and Brian Jackson's flute.

He revisted the song in 1980 for the album 'Real Eyes'. This version is possibly a little more mellow, and has more in the way of backing.

It was amazing how many of the callers were fathers who used to sing/play this to their daughters. One even likened the task of trying to choose between these two versions to being asked to choose between his daughters. Needless to say, this one was won by Gil Scott-Heron :).

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  • 4 months later...

I haven't added to this thread for a while, but the comparisons continue. This week I knew the first version pretty well - it's a soul classic:

On Broadway - The Drifters

The competition was provided by a relatively unknown British singer who I only heard about fairly recently. It's a stripped back, more jazzier version, but I think it's great. It also won the public vote.

On Broadway - Jess Roden (ignore the video - this one has the best sound quality)

I still enjoy discovering "new" music, even if it is from 1974 :)

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