Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Perfect Songs - To Love Somebody

to love somebody

You learn something new every day. Maybe. I don't know, but I sure as shit learned something today that I'm surprised I didn't know, even though I kind of knew instinctively. See, I've always loved this song and this morning I was listening to it and decided it would be my next Perfect Song installment. Maybe even as a Perfect Cover Song, because in my head I somehow remembered an Otis Redding version. But low and behold, I couldn't find that version, because it turns out it exists only in some parallel universe. But, and this is the part I learned today, the song was actually written for Otis to record and he would have if he hadn't died before doing so. The song is, of course, "To Love Somebody" by The Bee Gees.

If you listen to the original, and know anything at all about Southern Soul in general and Otis specifically, then it's easy to see how much sense it would have made for him to sing it. This song drips with that heartfelt, on your knees, naked emotional proclamation and pleading that I love about Otis and all the other Southern Soul greats of the 60s. It's obvious to me that Barry and Robin Gibb were not only fans of Otis, but that they studied him and the genre enough to produce a song that is authentically of the genre. Their version only comes off a little more glossy than I would imagine Otis would have done it, but even without the grit, the feeling is there.

And of course, the song's been covered a whole hell of a lot. There are few which, while not exactly what I imagine Otis would have done, do bring some of the elements of what might have come from him. The first one is one of the first covers of the song ever done, by James Carr. This version has the soul, for sure. You can't argue with James Carr, but nobody's Otis. It's a different thing altogether, leaning a little more to Gospel than Otis did, but there is some extra grit on his take that gets us closer, I think. And on it's own merits, it still is a good cover.

Then there's a version that somehow brings even more heartache by going smoother than the original. Nina Simone's smokey velvet tone is pretty far from the raw outpouring I falsely remember hearing from Otis on this song in my head, but it's Nina fucking Simone, god damn it and this version is something else entirely. Her voice was always capable of bringing a certain level of pain to this type of song that I'm not sure can be compared to anyone else. Her performance is understated, but the heaviness of it all is undeniable. The word unique is thrown around a lot, but Nina truly embodies a unique performer and her take on this song, while not drastically different than other versions, becomes hers simply because it's her. It truly stands on it's own.

Finally, there's Janis Joplin doing the closest thing I can imagine to what Otis might have done. It's big and unbridled and sweaty. And kind of messy. Like love. Like Soul. The thing is, it's a perfect fucking song, bottom line. But lest we think that it's impossible to fuck up a perfect song, I leave you with this. Listen at your own peril.

No comments:

Post a Comment