Dig Those Groovy Tunes!

the only sound that's left after the ambulances go

Cover Story: “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” April 15, 2013

Hey, after over a year, I finally got around to posting a second “Cover Story”.  This time, it’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”, which I chose because its title perfectly describes how I feel about my life right now, although for different reasons than those detailed in the song.  This oft-covered break-up song was written by prolific songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and was first recorded in 1962 by Tommy Hunt.  Whom I’d never heard of until doing research on this song, but you learn something new every day.

 

 

Probably the most famous version of the song (at least for pre-millenials, but more about that later) was recorded in 1964  by Dusty Springfield.  Who, if you are one of those young’n’s who aren’t as oldies-literate as yours truly, was basically the Adele-meets-Florence-Welch of the 1960s.  She was frickin’ awesome, mmkay?  Springfield sang the hell out of this song, which peaked at #3 on the singles chart in her native UK, but never charted in the US.  Two years later, Dionne Warwick released her own version of the song, which made #26 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  Warwick’s version is very similar to Springfield’s in sound, if only a tiny bit slower and softer.

 

 

 

In 1968 yet another version of the song was released by Dionne Warwick’s aunt (and Whitney Houston’s mother) Cissy Houston.  This version never did anything in the charts (I’m not sure if it was ever even released as a single), but I have to say, this version really stands out to me with its faster tempo and more upbeat sound (not that the lyrics are any less melancholy).  This is probably the most unique-sounding version of the song I’ve yet encountered.

 

 

The following version of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” I decided to put here mostly because I know my mom reads this blog and that she is a big fan of Elvis Costello (and, well, so am I) and seems to be fond of his interpretations of other artists’ works.  It also just happens to be an awesome version of the song, a slinky new wave renditions with a nice creeping bassline.  Elvis Costello & the Attractions released this in 1978 on their Live Stiffs Live album.

 

 

And finally we have  the White Stripes’ cover of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”.    Released on their 2003 album Elephant, this particular version is what you might call “stripped down”, using Jack’s guitar and Meg’s drums as the sole instruments and throwing out about half of the song’s original lyrics.  It is probably my favorite version of the song, as it is the first version of the song that I ever remember hearing (which is actually pretty surprising, considering I’ve been raised on oldies music since before I can remember and only really started listening to The White Stripes in 2009), and there’s just something about the jangly repeated guitar riff and Jack’s over-the-top falsettos.  And, well, obviously, those who have read this blog before should know by now how much I love The White Stripes.  Depending on how far back you’ve been reading this blog, you might also have some idea of how much I absolutely loathe the video that was made to go along with this song.  So for this song, I’m deliberately including a clip of it being performed live.  But it’s not just because I think the music video is dull unimaginative poop that doesn’t deserve to ever again see the light of day.  It’s also because, frankly, this song as interpreted by The White Stripes is best appreciated as it’s performed live, in all its jangly, falsetto-y, vibrato-tastic glory.

 

 

There are like a gazillion other artists who’ve covered this song as well, including (but not limited to) Isaac Hayes, Linda Ronstadt, and even Gary Puckett (whose version is surprisingly not as nauseating as I’ve come to expect from him, but that’s probably because “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” doesn’t have the words “woman”, “girl”, or “lady” anywhere in its lyrics).  Those that I mentioned on this post are merely those that I found to be particularly noteworthy and/or enjoyable.  If you have a favorite version of this song that wasn’t mentioned here, please feel free to comment (or even if you just feel like commenting on this song in general.  And definitely leave a comment if you’ve got any suggestions for future “Cover Story” songs I might feature.  But I would really appreciate some feedback.  It gets lonely here sometimes).

 

New Regular Feature: Cover Story December 5, 2011

After a few months of serious writer’s block, inspiration struck me one morning a couple of weeks ago.  It came to me on the car ride to work, in the form of “Dandy” by Herman’s Hermits.[1]  I’ve heard The Kinks’ version of the same song at least a dozen times, it being a track on my much beloved Kinks compilation CD set The Ultimate Collection.  However, until that morning, I’d been completely unaware that Herman’s Hermits had also recorded a version.  This was kind of a big deal for me because, despite my being less than a quarter century old, I’ve been practically raised in a vacuum of pop, rock, and folk hits of the ’60s, so it’s not every day I encounter a previously undiscovered song[2] from that era.  And so it got me thinking.

 

First of all, it got me thinking of the differences and similarities between the two versions.  For one thing, the Hermits version didn’t sound a whole heck of a lot different from the Kinks version, and yet the very subtlety of those differences only enhanced the feeling that two completely disparate moods were being expressed between the two.  Now I realize that part of this observation might be colored by my own understanding of The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits from the standpoint of someone who was born long after both bands ceased to be contemporary and whose views of each — i.e. Kinks =”rock” and Herman’s Hermits = “pop” — are therefore inevitably informed by modern-day popular opinion and the retrospective pigeonholing of once unclassified groups into newly invented and ever-narrowing categories or “subgenres.”  But to me, there’s a trace of venom in the Kinks version that the Hermits version seems to lack completely.  I’d even go as far to say that Herman’s Hermits aren’t capable of the acidity, of the subtle mean-spiritedness that’s so prevalent in The Kinks’ body of work.  The Hermits’ softer edge does not necessarily make an inferior version of “Dandy;”[3] if anything, it makes both versions more interesting, because why bother covering something someone else has done if you’re not going to put your own spin on it?[4]  Like I said, it might just be that Peter “Herman” Noone — or his musical persona, anyway — comes off as a much more benign and amiable person than Ray Davies does,[5] but to me, while the Hermits version comes off as the kind of playful taunting that could only a close friend of the eponymous good-natured playboy could get away with, Davies’ tone on the same song is anything but friendly; he can barely contain its contempt (or perhaps bitter envy?) for the womanizing ne’er-do-well.

 

 

 

So that’s what the Herman’s Hermits version of “Dandy” got me thinking a couple of weeks ago.  But that’s not all.  It also reminded me of all those times I’ve thought critically (or maybe even not so critically) about cover songs, and all the times I’ve wanted to geek about the subject on here but never really had enough incentive to do so.  I’ve toyed several times with the idea of compiling a top-ten list revolving around cover songs, such as “Top Ten Cover Songs You’ve Never Heard” or “Top Ten Cover Songs That are at Least as Good as the Original.”  I’ve ultimately rejected such ideas for numerous reasons:  the tedium of choosing just a select few songs that I deem worthy out of an innumerable and ever-growing entirety of cover songs;[6] the presumptuous nature of phrases like “that you’ve never heard” or even “that are at least as good as the original”; the fact that “little-known cover” just as often means “song that is well known but, unbeknownst to many, is not the original version”;[7] the whole tricky question of, “if Singer-Songwriter A writes a song, Group B records it, and then, years later, Singer-Songwriter A decides to record the song themself, who’s covering who?”[8]  You get the idea.  So I figured I’m gonna make this a regular, recurring feature on this blog instead.  ‘Cause I’ve got a lot to say about different interpretations of songs, and one blog post isn’t gonna be enough to say all I’ve gotta say.  Plus, this’ll give me a lot more to blog about on a regular basis.  Y’know, between the infrequent and ill-named Video of the Week posts; tirades against sexism, stupidity, bad radio, and what used to pass for music television; occasional Top-Ten lists involving long-defunct bands that no one my age has any excuse to know as much as I do about; and geekfests over Jack White/Noel Fielding/Muppets/etc.  Oh, yeah, and that apology to Kate Moss I’ve been meaning to write.

 

Oh, and feel free to post in the comments section.  I’d be happy to hear whatever suggestions my readers (readers?  What readers?) might have about what cover songs they’d like me to…well…cover here.  Or anything else you’d like to say, as long as it’s not nasty or immature (I’ll take criticism as long as it’s not name-call-y or irrational).  It gets lonely here sometimes.

 

Edit:  I couldn’t get the footnotes to work properly because I’m not sure how to link to another place in the same document.  So when you see a number between brackets, [like this], it means that there’s a correlating footnote at the bottom, but you’ll have to scroll down manually for now to read because I’m not tech-savvy enough.  I was hoping the footnotes would be a good alternative to the parenthetical asides that always seem to clutter up my posts, but I guess I’ll have to go back to posting like that for now.

 

[1]   And I know that this particular version was by Herman’s Hermits because it was on satellite radio and that little title screen thing told me so.

[2]   Or, in this case, a familiar group’s unfamiliar rendition of a somewhat familiar song by another familiar group.

[3]   I, for one, will always think of “Dandy” as a Kinks song.  But then, I’ll always think of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” as a Cher song, which has spurred arguments with friends who swear by the Nancy Sinatra version.

[4]   David Lee “Just a Facsimile Gigolo” Roth, I’m looking at you.

[5]   To put things in perspective, I’m pretty sure Ray doesn’t get along too well with his own brother.  Who was also his bandmate.

[6]   Compiling a list of top studio albums or music videos of a band that’s long gone:  tricky, maybe, but manageable.  Trying to pick a tiny handful of end-all-be-all essential out of an eternally-expanding wellspring of material:  impossible and futile.

[7]   See also “Cum on Feel the Noize”; “Tainted Love”; “House of the Rising Sun”; “I Shot the Sheriff”; “All Along the Watchtower.”

[8]   See also Kris Kristofferson; Carol King; Bob Dylan.