Rhino’s Got You Covered: Jack Webb, Miles Davis, Cher, and Bette Midler
Welcome to Rhino.com’s latest column, one in which we’re going trawl through the Rhino catalog and spotlight a handful of cover songs that strike us as being particularly unique for one reason or another, be it because we think they might’ve flown under your radar or just because we think they’re so great that we want to make sure you remember they’re still around. This week, we decided to kick things off by being as memorable as possible, and given the diversity, we hope you’ll agreed that we succeeded on that front!
- Jack Webb, “Try a Little Tenderness” (1958): Although it was made iconic by Otis Redding when he recorded his take on the track in 1966, songwriters Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly, and Harry M. Woods actually penned this tune way back in 1932, when it was first recorded by the Ray Noble Orchestra. How did Sgt. Joe Friday come to record it? To be honest, we don’t know. But in lieu of that information, we offer these amazing words from the liner notes of the actual album: “When a man loves a mountain deeply enough, he must sooner or later climb it. In this album, Jack Webb climbs the musical peak. He can not sing a lick; he can not run a riff on a balalaika. But he has a voice. It is deeply conversational, and as intimate as a pair of big shoes or a pair of tiny ones under a bed. Jack Webb talks in this album. He talks because he yearns to be a part of the world of music and he has nothing else to contribute.” Hey, if nothing else, he contributed an absolutely unforgettable cover song!
- Miles Davis, “Perfect Way” (1986): In an interview with Anthony Reynolds, one which was excerpted on George Cole’s website The Last Miles, Scritti Politti frontman Green Gartside discussed how on earth the legendary jazz trumpeter came to record this track for his TUTU album. “He told me that as far as his interest in me and my work went, he liked the attention to detail and the whole approach to vocals and melody reminded him of some Latin American music that had interested him years before,” said Gartside. “When I got to meet him, because I knew my memory was so bad, I made sure that on the occasions I went to meet him in his apartment in New York or when I went into the studio with him, I made sure that when I went back to my own apartment I would write it all down. And I found one of the notebooks up in the attic not so long ago. What I found was an account of the trip to visit him in his flat and I wrote down absolutely every detail of what we talked about, what we listened to, what people were wearing what he said, what I said. It’s quite amazing reading.”
- Cher, “The Gunman” (1995): It’s cheating a bit to call this a cover, since Prefab Sprout frontman Paddy McAloon actually wrote this song for Cher’s IT’S A MAN’S WORLD album…or as Caitlin Moran put it in a 1997 article in The Times, “Cher came knocking at the McAloon front door, cutting his nine-minute epic The Gunman down to four and yodelling all the way through it.” However you want to phrase it, what matters is that McAloon eventually recorded his own version of the song for Prefab Sprout’s 2001 album THE GUNMAN AND OTHER STORIES, so we say it qualifies.
- Bette Midler, “Boxing” (1998): It’s a little mind-blowing to realize that, of all the great songs in Ben Folds’ back catalog, the first one that another recording artist chose to cover was this odd little track sung from Muhammad Ali’s point of view as he makes the decision to retire…and as if that wasn’t unlikely enough, the cover in question was done by Bette Midler! Frankly, the only thing crazier is that it actually works.