Cover Girls: “Respect”

aretha6Otis Redding was a hard-working road dog of a soul singer, constantly touring in hopes that he would finally break through to the pop audience. A superstar in the R&B world, with many hits on the rhythm & blues charts, by 1965 he was beginning to get tired of it all. Complaining to a band member about their latest grueling tour, Otis was surprised when the drummer replied, “What are you griping about? You’re on the road all the time. All you can look for is a little respect when you come home.” Mulling over these words, Otis crafted a song about a man demanding this respect when he got home and recorded it, complete with his usual driving beat and the Stax horn section. He put the song on his acclaimed album Otis Blue and later released it as a single, where it reached the top 40 on the elusive pop chart. It was one of his biggest pop hits to date.

Two years later, another struggling R&B singer was looking for songs to record for her new album. It would be her first album with Atlantic records, a company who wanted to make her a mega-star. Aretha Franklin was already familiar with “Respect”, since it had been a huge R&B hit, but she and producer Jerry Wexler felt they could add something of their own to the tune. Changing the song’s arrangement, they allowed room for Aretha’s impressive vocals. Most importantly, they added a bridge to the song, with Aretha belting, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me”. Aretha’s sisters, Carolyn and Erma, sang backup and added the “Sock it to me” chant. Aretha’s version also includes a lyric about getting her “propers” when she gets home, an early usage of the term that eventually evolved into “props”. With just a few changes and Aretha’s commanding performance, the song became an anthem for civil rights and the feminist movement. It shot to number one on the pop charts, becoming Aretha’s signature song and biggest hit. Even Otis Redding was impressed with her recording, and joked while introducing the song at one of his own shows that “a friend of mine, this girl she just took this song.” Aretha would go on to have many more hits over the next several decades. Otis Redding died in a plane crash while on tour in December 1967, the same year Aretha’s version of “Respect” was a hit. Shortly after his death, he had his only pop number one with “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”.

Cover Girls: “Always Something There to Remind Me”

Sandie_ShawFirst recorded in 1963 as a demo by Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s classic “Always Something There to Remind Me” landed in the lower regions of the charts the next year for Lou Johnson. It wasn’t until England’s Sandie Shaw recorded a version later in 1964 that the song reached #1 in England. Known for performing barefoot, Sandie enjoyed several other major chart hits in Europe after the success of “Always Something There to Remind Me”, including “Girl Don’t Come” and “Long Live Love”. She found further success with her own clothing line in the late 6o’s.

In 1983, with her fame largely behind her, she received a letter from Morrissey and Johnny Marr of The Smiths, urging her to collaborate with them and record some of their songs. Sandie ultimately recorded three Smiths songs: “Hand in Glove”, “Jeane”, and “I Don’t Owe You Anything”, the latter written especially for her by the duo. The Smiths appeared with her to perform the songs on “Top of the Pops”, and the band performed barefoot in homage to her earlier career. The single with The Smiths reached the top 40 in England, but she wasn’t able to duplicate the huge success of  her first hit:

In 1983, just as Sandie was in the midst of her collaboration with The Smiths, a new band called Naked Eyes was hitting it big with a synthpop cover of “Always Something There to Remind Me”. This time, the song would have its biggest success on the U.S. charts, where it hit the top ten. The fame of the Naked Eyes version would far exceed any other in the states, where none of Sandie Shaw’s songs had cracked the top 40 and she was largely unknown. Vocalist Pete Byrne, a lifelong fan of the Sandie Shaw version, recorded his vocal in one take.

Cover Girls: “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”

goldieThe first all-girl band signed to a major label, Goldie and the Gingerbreads formed in NYC in 1962. Singer Genya “Goldie” Zelkowitz met drummer Ginger Panabianco after seeing her perform with a band in a club. Surprised that there was such a thing as a female drummer, Goldie suggested that they start their own band, and they soon recruited Margo Lewis and Carol MacDonald on organ and guitar. The novelty of girls playing instruments ensured that the girls found work playing at parties, but their skill soon landed them a tour of the UK with the Kinks, the Animals, the Yardbirds, the Hollies, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. When they recorded a song called “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” in 1964, their exposure in the UK propelled the song into the top 40.

Although they toured in the US, the band had not yet found their audience there. With the success of “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” in England, they planned to release the single in the states. Before they could issue the single, a new British group called Herman’s Hermits recorded their own version and rushed it into release before the Gingerbreads’ version could hit the airwaves. It reached #2 on the US charts and killed any chance of the Gingerbreads having a hit with the song. Goldie and the Gingerbreads soldiered on, recording and releasing many fine songs, before disbanding in 1968. Genya “Goldie” Zelkowitz changed her name to Genya Ravan, and in the 1970s became an active member of the punk rock scene in NYC. She produced the first Dead Boys album, Young Loud and Snotty, as well as many other records. She currently hosts a radio show on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on Sirius.

Cover Girls: “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”

excitersAlthough she possessed a voice powerful enough to move mountains, Brenda Reid of the Exciters never really achieved the stardom she deserved. After forming the group with her husband and two friends, the Exciters hit it big in 1962 with their top 5 song, “Tell Him”. A true girl group-classic, the song even inspired soon-to-be superstar Dusty Springfield to give soul music a try. Dusty remembered, “The Exciters sort of got me by the throat…out of the blue comes blasting at you “I know something about love”, and that’s it. That’s what I wanna do.” Later in the 60’s, another singer would find inspiration in Brenda’s soulful voice, as Janis Joplin studied the art of digging deep to muster the powerful emotions it took to really deliver a song.

The Exciters recorded many more singles after “Tell Him”, including high-quality songs like “He’s Got the Power”. Then, in 1964, they became one of many girl groups who were ousted from the charts by the incoming British Invasion that followed the Beatles to America. But unlike most girl groups, the Exciters provided a big boost for one British band, in particular. In 1963, they recorded a song called “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, which failed to climb the charts despite its obvious charms.

Manfred Mann was a struggling British blues band when they recorded a cover of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” in 1964. They quickly rose to fame in their native UK, and with this cover of the Exciters’ song they reached #1 in the US as well. It was the first in a string of half a dozen hits for the band, and their heartthrob lead singer, Paul Jones, clearly owed a debt to Brenda Reid for his soulful performance.

Cover Girls: “Tainted Love”

gloria“Tainted Love” may be one of the 1980s’ most indelible songs, but it began its life two decades earlier. Originally recorded and released in 1964 by soul singer Gloria Jones, the song was a flop, failing even to scrape into the lower rungs of the pop charts. Gloria, a veteran performer who began recording as a teenager in a gospel group that also featured Billy Preston, was also an accomplished pianist. She earned a degree in classical music, and after her recording career as a soul singer went nowhere, she joined the casts of several musicals, including Hair. She was eventually hired by Motown Records as a songwriter, and wrote several hit songs, including Gladys Knight’s “If I Was Your Woman”.

While touring in England with the cast of Hair in 1969, she met Marc Bolan. The lead singer of the band T. Rex, Bolan was known for hit songs like “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” and “20th Century Boy”. Gloria joined the band as a backup singer, and began a relationship with Bolan. They would go on to have a son together. In 1977, Gloria and Bolan were driving home from a club when Gloria lost control of the car, crashing into a tree. Bolan was killed instantly. Gloria, suffering a broken jaw and arm, was informed of his death the day after his funeral. Devastated, she and her son moved back to Los Angeles. She recorded a few more albums before retiring from music. She had no idea that her biggest success was still to come.

In the Northern Soul scene of the 1970s, British fans revived soul hits and obscurities in dance clubs across northern England. One of the songs that received maximum airplay was a forgotten record called “Tainted Love.” This and other songs Gloria recorded became so popular on the British scene that she became known as the “Queen of Northern Soul”. Soul fans Marc Almond and David Ball formed the duo Soft Cell. After their own first single flopped, they were given one more chance by their label, and they chose to record a reworked version of “Tainted Love”, one of their favorite Northern Soul numbers. It reached the top of the charts in England, and the top 10 in the U.S. It was their one and only hit, and they owed it all to the soulful sound of Gloria Jones.

Cover Girls: “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”

brenda2In 1963, Detroit was the place every burgeoning singer wanted to be. After all, the city was home to Motown Records, billed as “Hitsville, USA”. For Californian Brenda Holloway, being signed by Motown was top priority, and she was determined to make it happen. She managed to get an invite to a party attended by Berry Gordy, the CEO of Motown, and when she met him she reportedly issued an ultimatum: “Either I be your woman, or I sing.” Highly impressed by her vocal abilities, as well as her good looks, Gordy signed Brenda to Motown. She recorded a string of songs for the label, including hits like “Every Little Bit Hurts”, and “When I’m Gone”.

brendaBut Motown had an established way of doing things, and Brenda did not comply; in fact, she relished the chance to break the mold. While other Motown artists like The Supremes and The Temptations went through “charm school” to improve their grooming and manners, Brenda did not attend. She was accused of dressing too much like Tina Turner for Motown’s comfort, who did not like any references to rival artists. She was labeled a “troublemaker”, despite her wonderful performances as one of The Beatles’ opening acts on their 1965 U.S. tour. All the while, Brenda had been writing songs, begging Motown to release one of them as a single. In 1967 they complied, and released “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” The song scraped into the top 40, and shortly thereafter Brenda stormed out of a recording session with Smokey Robinson. Her career with Motown was over, although she continued to record and perform. She sang backup for Joe Cocker, then became a preacher.

In 1969, the band Blood, Sweat & Tears was looking for a new sound. Their founder, Al Kooper, had left the band the previous year, and they had just added a new lead singer. The group sifted through songs they had enjoyed on the radio, and decided to record a cover of “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”. The song eventually topped out at #2 on the pop charts, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year. Brenda Holloway had to sue Berry Gordy in order to get her due royalties from the successful cover version of her own song. 

Cover Girls: “Hound Dog”

bigmamaBig Mama Thornton did not suffer fools gladly. Known for her growling vocals, harmonica skills, and performing with her handbag in tow, she was always determined to do things her way. At a 1952 recording session with famed songwriting duo Leiber & Stoller, she was unimpressed with the duo: “They were just a couple of kids, and they had this song written on the back of a paper bag.” The song in question was “Hound Dog”, which had not yet been recorded by any artist. Big Mama took the song as it was, added her own interjections and distinctive rhythm, and a classic was born. The track rose to #1 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues chart, and stayed there for 7 weeks. “Hound Dog” would prove to be Big Mama’s biggest hit. She later wrote “Ball and Chain”, which was covered to great effect by Janis Joplin. She continued to perform for the rest of her days, but her heavy drinking contributed to a heart attack that claimed her life in 1984. She was 57.

Big Mama is seen here performing “Hound Dog” with famed blues guitarist Buddy Guy in the 1960s. Clutching her purse in one hand as she enters, she punctuates the song with a terse, “And bow-wow to you, too.”

So, how did Elvis get his hands on “Hound Dog”? The song went through a slight rewrite in 1955 at the hands of Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, who changed some of the phrases (for example, “snoopin’ round my door” became “cryin’ all the time”). They hoped that the revised version of the song would appeal to a “broader” (read: white) audience, and their recording of the song became a regional hit. At one of the Bellboys’ 1956 shows in Las Vegas, Elvis Presley caught their act. Elvis was still a new artist, and when he asked Freddie Bell for permission to record their version of “Hound Dog” he agreed. Elvis’ recording would go on to become one of the most popular rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, shooting straight up the charts to number one. Elvis’ first televised performance of the song, on the Milton Berle Show in 1956, was also the first time he had performed without his guitar. Free to move for the first time, his charged performance stunned the studio audience and led to much controversy, as his movements (halfway through the song) were labelled “obscene”:

Cover Girls: “Always Something There To Remind Me”

Sandie_ShawFirst recorded in 1963 as a demo by Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s classic “Always Something There to Remind Me” landed in the lower regions of the charts the next year for Lou Johnson. It wasn’t until England’s Sandie Shaw recorded a version later in 1964 that the song reached #1 in England. Known for performing barefoot, Sandie enjoyed several other major chart hits in Europe after the success of “Always Something There to Remind Me”, including “Girl Don’t Come” and “Long Live Love”. She found further success with her own clothing line in the late 6o’s.

In 1983, with her fame largely behind her, she received a letter from Morrissey and Johnny Marr of The Smiths, urging her to collaborate with them and record some of their songs. Sandie ultimately recorded three Smiths songs: “Hand in Glove”, “Jeane”, and “I Don’t Owe You Anything”, the latter written especially for her by the duo. The Smiths appeared with her to perform the songs on “Top of the Pops”, and the band performed barefoot in homage to her earlier career. The single with The Smiths reached the top 40 in England, but she wasn’t able to duplicate the huge success of  her first hit:

In 1983, just as Sandie was in the midst of her collaboration with The Smiths, a new band called Naked Eyes was hitting it big with a synthpop cover of “Always Something There to Remind Me”. This time, the song would have its biggest success on the U.S. charts, where it hit the top ten. The fame of the Naked Eyes version would far exceed any other in the states, where none of Sandie Shaw’s songs had cracked the top 40 and she was largely unknown. Vocalist Pete Byrne, a lifelong fan of the Sandie Shaw version, recorded his vocal in one take.