Power of Soul

Artists get green ... by recycling old songs.

By Craig D. Lindsey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 27, 2008

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illustration by ALEX FINE

Not too long ago I was watching an African-American comedian on TV hipping a predominantly African-American audience on songs African-Americans should not know but will occasionally find ourselves singing out of the blue. He then led the audience in impromptu sing-alongs of Tears for Fears' breakthrough hit "Shout" and the theme song from that classic lily-white sitcom Cheers.

Sometimes years of pop-culture osmosis can have us humming songs we didn't know we knew verbatim. Just the other night I was butt-bald-nekkid in the bathtub (yes, I like to soak in a nice, warm bubble bath--Mr. Bubbles, in case you're wondering) just shooting off all the TV theme songs that immediately came to mind.

But those cheesy-by-today's- standards songs that we didn't know we were listening to can find themselves reappearing in the present day, in the most unique way. Take "Something About You," which became a international smash for U.K. synthpop band Level 42 in the mid-'80s. Despite the song being their biggest (and, sadly, only) hit over here in America, this midtempo love song made enough of an impact for a few Stateside black artists to do their own recent revamps.

In 2006 Atlanta soulster Anthony David covered the tune on his second release The Red Clay Chronicles. (It was served up again earlier this summer when songs from Chronicles and 2004's 3 Chords and the Truth were released on his first major-label outing Acey Duecy on Universal Republic.) David says he often performs "Something" at shows to bring the usually mixed crowds to a common place, reminding them that their tastes in music aren't that different.

"A lot of black people are surprised they know it, and a lot of white people are surprised because they didn't know everybody knew it," says David. "It shows a lot about how universal some good songs are."

Another pair of cats who believe in the song's universal appeal are Zo! & Tigallo, who redid the song (along with a progressively jazzy, Tony Williams-ish bonus track provided by Dutch producer Nicolay) for their debut EP Zo! & Tigallo Love the 80's. Tigallo (sounds like "gigolo") is actually the nickname of Phonte Coleman, one of the MCs of the North Carolina hip-hop group Little Brother. For this eight-song EP (available on such online record sites as Fat Beats, Sandbox Automatic and Dusty Groove America), Coleman hooked up with Maryland- based beatman Lorenzo "Zo!" Ferguson and provided vocals (yes, the brotha can sing) for Reagan-era hits from the likes of Joe Jackson, Human League, Asia and A-Ha. While the cover may have the pair wearing jhericurls and Teddy Riley glasses, they say they recorded these covers with the utmost sincerity and respect. And they certainly wanted to highlight the special something that's in "Something."

Says Phonte, "If you strip all the production away from it and just play that song as an acoustic beat, it's just really a beautiful song lyrically and musically."

There was one thing Coleman and Ferguson were quite taken aback by after recording their equally synthesized version: David's version. "It was literally, like, a week after we finished it and cut it," says Zo!. "A good friend of mine in Chicago was like, 'Oh yeah, that's an Anthony David joint. He did a cover of that joint.' I was like, 'You serious?'"

They dig David's mellow take. Says Tigallo, "His version is dope."

So with these Stateside performers paying their respects to this one song, it begs the question, what do the song's original performers think about the covers?

"It is a very nice feeling, actually!" exclaims Level 42 lead singer/bassist Mark King via email. "To think other musicians rate your work highly enough to want to commit it to their own catalog is quite a compliment."

Although King says he hasn't heard Zo! & Tigallo's version yet, he thinks David did great job with his rendition, noting it has a "really nice, relaxed vibe. Very different from our own." David's people even asked if King and the band could appear in the accompanying video. Unfortunately, they were on the road.

Ultimately, King echoes the sentiments the men who've paid homage to him when it comes to black folk revisiting great-but- unlikely music.

"Well, I guess a good song is a good song," he says, "and married with a great performance is an irresistible force. So it doesn't really matter what color you are!"

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