On the subject of John Martyn, I have been informed (see comments) that he didn’t write ‘Rather Be The Devil’ but covered it. I was curious to hear the original so I looked it up: it’s very different from Martyn’s version, being more of a typical blues number:
It set me thinking about how different a song can be when performed by different artists, and that led me to the original version of this number:
Like most people I knew Harry Nilssen’s cover but not this one, and there’s no comparison. The Badfinger version is pleasant enough but plodding and dull; and when it comes to the chorus it just sounds plain awful. Compare and contrast: the Nilssen number is utterly heartbreaking:-
All of which leads me to ‘Hallelujah,’ perhaps one of the most covered songs in the history of song, with so many versions that now is the time to call a halt. Cohen himself said it had been covered too much, and some of the versions are saccharinely awful, showing scant respect or understanding. There are some covers I admire, however, probably the best being Rufus Wainright’s:
I’ve loved Rufus Wainright’s voice ever since I first heard his version of ‘Hallelujah’ – which, incidentally, is one of my Desert Island Discs (prev posts). Have you ever thought about what your eight records might be? I’ve refined my list over the years and I think I’ve come up with the definitive set to last me through my time on the island. They are, in this order:
‘O Jesus I have Promised’ (the original tune not the boppy modern one*) This comes from my childhood when one day an organist asked which was my favourite hymn. I couldn’t think of anything so I just said ‘O Jesus I have Promised’ and he played it for me.
‘Suzanne’ by Leonard Cohen, from secondary school where I heard it for the first time:
‘The Master Song’ also by Cohen, from the first LP I ever bought, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’
‘The News from Spain’ by Al Stewart, the saddest and most beautiful song he ever recorded:
‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ by the Who – my favourite EVER Who track (although, as Thing points out, it’s probably also the only right-wing pop-song ever recorded. Though I dispute that it’s right wing…) I got into the Who in my early teens and was particularly proud of the fact that they, like me, are from Hounslow and once played at the White Bear pub. Which was a right dive…
Something by Bach – either a Brandenburg Concerto or Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Since I learned to play piano I have loved Bach. When I listen to Toccata and Fugue I can feel bits of my brain knitting together. Quite simply, Bach is god.
‘Hallelujah’ – the Rufus Wainright version. This period of my life – when ‘I’m Your Man’ came out, is associated with pain and recovery and the song expresses it perfectly.
And finally, ‘If it be Your Will’ – also Leonard Cohen though sung by Anthony. This is my favourite Cohen song and the most sublime thing he ever did. It is also the song I would like played at my funeral.
So now you know.
Bong! In other news, I am signed up to do a poetry gig at Bar Cultura, as part of a comedy night they are having during Artbeat. It’s on 19th June and I’ll keep you posted. I also discovered today that a friend with whom I have also discussed poetry is, like me, a great fan of C P Snow. A guided tour of Snow’s Leicester haunts is promised….
And that’s it for today.
*except that there are about ten original tunes, none of which is the one I remember