Some songs and movies should simply not be done over. There are too many classics that have been covered or selected for re-makes, that would have been better off left alone. A remake or a cover of a song should bring new life to it, if not give it a new birth.
Luther Vandross was a master at this; Santana made Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” his own; heads didn’t even know Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” belonged to Prince. I mentioned Eric Benet in my last blog. Benet did a re-make of the Grammy Award winning Kansas hit “Dust in the Wind” on his second album. While I am indifferent to Benet’s effort, my wife’s reaction is like hearing nails on a chalkboard on the rare occasions I’ll play it, which is only because I love that entire CD.
It was nails on a chalkboard for me when I heard the recent re-make of “Wake Up Everybody” and “Compared To What” by John Legend and The Roots. Although I believe Legend and The Roots are fantastic and among today’s best, I’m not feeling their efforts on these two gems of R&B. Legend’s delivery is simply lacking in comparison to Teddy Pendergrass’ original version of ‘Wake Up,’ which was performed by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. The additional vocals of Melanie Fiona and a now added rap from Common, do nothing to enhance the message or musicality of the hit version released in 1975.
To even THINK about doing another remake of “Compared To What,” is simply sacrilege. Originally performed by Roberta Flack on her debut album “First Take,”Les McCann and Eddie Harris made the song a hit! “Compared To What” was written by Eugene McDaniels in the late 1960s and Les McCann and Eddie Harris recorded it later in 1969 live at the Montreux Jazz Festival for their very popular album “Swiss Movement.” Referencing website ‘Jazz on the Tube,’ the song reigned during a period of time when the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War continued. “Compared To What” offered a very honest assessment of social realities in America and captured the anger and frustration of a large mass of people forty years ago. Interestingly enough, most of topics covered in the lyrics of the song remain relevant today and the song still remains popular, and has been covered by an incredible amount of artists in all genres. Having said that, it’s easy to see why Legend and The Roots decided to do a re-make of it again, but they don’t do it justice – or at least not in the studio – here it is live:
Still alive and kicking, McCann had stroke a few years ago which has restricted his mobility, but he still performs the song today around the world. Check out the video when he and Eddie Harris did it at the Montreux Jazz Festival in ’69 on YouTube
See what I mean? McCann went through a period when he was sampled by Hip-Hop artists, who recognized his FUNKY prowess. His song “Valantra” was sampled by The Notorious B.I.G. in the song “The Ten Crack Commandments,” which is featured on the CD “Life After Death.” His song ”Roberta” was sampled on Afu-Ra’s “Whirlwind Thru Cities.” The beginning of Les’ “Sometimes I Cry” was sampled by Massive Attack on their song “Teardrop,” and Slick Rick’s “Behind Bars.” The classic “Compared To What” was even used before now, in a 2003 Coke commercial starring Mya and ironically, Common. They actually did it better then. It’s too bad it wasn’t released as a single on one of their previous releases.