Original v. Cover — #11 of a Series

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matter of time Pictures, Images and Photos

This week’s featured song was co-composed by two great songwriters, at the historic Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Martin Luther King, Jr. would later be murdered in April, 1968. This week’s featured song was first performed in 1965 and released on vinyl in 1966, rising to #1 on the R&B charts and #21 on the Billboard Top 40 charts. Despite this rather inauspicious beginning, it has survived and become even more popular over the years. Most of the available cover versions sound mostly like the original, except for a few played at a faster pace, which seems to lose something in the translation, in this writer’s opinion.

This week’s feature song is ranked at #134 on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of two songs that the performer would place on the top 500 list. This number was also designated as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.  Acclaimed Music ranks this week’s selection as the 89th greatest song of all time, as well as the seventh best song of 1965.  

Several cover versions mentioned in the associated wikipedia article looked to be quite interesting, however, it doesn’t seem that some of these were to be found on the youtube site.  These performers include Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, The Doors and Van Morrison’s Them band at the Whiskey A Go Go (1966), The Chambers Brothers and Buddy Guy.  The Grateful Dead also regularly performed their cover version of this song, however, this writer was unable to locate one on youtube which represented much of a departure from other versions, or in some cases, the sound/video quality seemed to be lacking.  A group called Cross Country apparently had some success with this song, their version reaching #30 on the Billboard Top 40 charts in 1973.  Again, a youtube version of their performance appears to be nonexistent.

Without further ado, this week’s selection is “In the Midnight Hour”, co-written by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper, and originally performed by Wilson Pickett.  

Wilson Pickett (1966?)

Wilson Pickett & the Blues Brothers perform at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary in 1988. The band includes Steve Cropper on guitar, who co-wrote the song with Pickett.

Martha Reeves (of Martha & the Vandellas) turns in a fine performance here. The date of the actual recording is unknown, however, the first appearance on a recording that this writer could find was on her 2002 album, entitled, “Dancing in the Streets — The Best of Martha Reeves.” The group Martha & the Vandellas scored their first big hit with the release of “Heat Wave” in 1963, which rose to #4 on the Billboard Top 40 charts. Her career and life took a severe nosedive in 1969, however, she staged a remarkable recovery and most recently served on the Detroit City Council from 2005 to 2009.

Delbert McClinton turns in a very good performance, recorded at Muscle Shoals in 1980. During the early 1960s, Rick Hall purchased FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals. Well known performers who recorded hits at this studio included Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Osmonds, Mac Davis and Duane Allman. Be sure to check out the opening credits, listing the band members. If you are a music aficianado, you should recognize the names of at least a couple of the performers.

This 1987 cover version includes an interesting collection of performers, including B. B. King, Etta James, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Ocean, Paul Butterfield, Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight. You may notice Stevie seeking the opportunity to play a solo, and King nodding his assent. This performance was held at the Ebony Showcase Theatre in Los Angeles, CA on April 15, 1987.

St. Patty’s Day is still more than a month away, but for some great Irish soul music, The Commitments are hard to beat. Their 1991 film, “The Commitments” is a humorous and gritty portrayal of the rise and fall of a young working class Irish soul band.  According to the movie website, Rotten Tomatoes, 92% of the critics gave the film positive marks, a very good showing.  For more detail, you can go  here.  If you are allergic to four letter words, you may wish to skip ahead to the next choice.  Otherwise, enjoy!

This performance of “In the Midnight Hour” at the 2006 Grammy Awards ceremony features Bruce Springsteen, Sam Moore, Irma Thomas, The Edge, Bonnie Raitt (backing vocals), Dr. John, and Elvis Costello, all sharing the same stage.  

The following version, featuring two talented young artists on acoustic guitar sounds the least like the other cover versions appearing in this space.  This writer had the privilege of hearing the talented Aussie Geoff Atchison a couple of years ago in a small, intimate local venue.  Atchison is ably assisted by Lloyd Spiegel.  This performance was recorded live at St Andrews Hotel on March 4, 2007. During the first three minutes, Geoff teaches the song to Lloyd, so it actually begins for real at about the 3:00 mark.  Please be patient.

Felix Cavaliere & the Rascals perform at “Alive at Five”, in a June 7, 2007 concert at Riverfront Park in Albany, on the banks of the Hudson River.  The organ seems to compensate fairly well for the lack of a horn section.

Although he has aged a bit since he first became a star, beginning with his 1965 hits “It’s Not Unusual” (#10) and “What’s New Pussycat?” (#3), Tom Jones’ voice still sounds immediately familiar.  This 2009 performance was held at the Jools Holland Annual Hootenanny on December 31, 2009.

Is the Pony/Pie/Hide rating system too cutsie?

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  1. The time on the Doomsday Clock was recently pushed back one minute, a decision apparently influenced by optimism about Barack Obama’s approach to foreign affairs, nuclear proliferation and climate change. No doubt, there are those who might consider the faith placed in Obama to be misguided.  

    Should there also be a Doomsday Clock measuring the status of the environment?  If so, what would be the current time in relation to that dreaded “Midnight Hour”, when that dreaded point of no return is reached.  

    There could probably be other clocks as well, such as one measuring the distance between the current state of affairs in this country and reaching the point where the freedoms that were our birthrite cannot be restored via the traditional political process.

    On a happier note, here is another version by an Aussie, Guy Sebastian, from 2007.

    • Heather on February 6, 2010 at 2:09 am

    but i only voted for three of them. 🙂

    • Robyn on February 6, 2010 at 2:13 am

    …but I love’s me some J. J. Cale:

    • UTvoter on February 6, 2010 at 3:40 am

    DEAS012

    and yes, the audio/video sucks but oh well.

  2. we have already heard several versions of “In the Midnight Hour” and a couple of “After Midnight.” Here are a few other songs that refer to midnight…

    Eva Cassidy’s cover version of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight”

    Not sure that a cover version could capture the same spirit as the Maria Muldaur’s original version of “Midnight at the Oasis” from 1974. I’ve had a privilege of meeting Maria on a couple of occasions and have found her to be a very warm, personable human being and a wonderful, versatile performer.

    And for what may be the quintessential midnight song, Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” According to various accounts, Monk wrote the song as early as 1936, and for certain by 1940 or 1941, recording it in 1944. “Round Midnight” is the most-recorded jazz standard composed by a jazz musician, and, according to allmusic.com, versions of this song appear on over 1000 albums. Here is a lushly orchestrated version by the immortal Julie London…

  3. Kenny Ball & the Jazzmen reached #2 on the charts in 1962 with this rendition of “Midnight in Moscow” which, perhaps ironically, conveys a New Orleans Dixieland vibe…

    “Midnight Confessions” became the Grassroots highest ranking hit, reaching #5 in October, 1968, earning the RIAA gold record certification. From 1967 to 1972, The Grass Roots set a record for being on the Billboard charts 307 straight weeks and they are one of only nine bands that have charted twenty nine or more Top 100 Billboard singles. I saw them in concert in 1971 or 1972 and was very impressed with their performance.

    The theme song from the 1970 film, “Midnight Cowboy”, written by John Barry peaked at #10 on the Billboard Top 40 charts that same year.

    The following excerpt from the related wikipedia article explains the significance of this groundbreaking film.  

    The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay; it is the only X-rated film to win an Oscar in any category, and one of two X-rated films to be nominated for an Oscar (the other being Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange). Coincidentally, the previous year had seen the sole G-rated Best Picture winner, Oliver!. Both Hoffman and Voight were nominated for Best Actor awards and Sylvia Miles was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, in what is one of the shortest performances ever nominated (clocking in under four minutes of screen-time).

    The film won six BAFTA Awards.

    John Barry, who supervised the music and composed the score for the film, won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Theme. Fred Neil’s song “Everybody’s Talkin'” also won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, for Harry Nilsson.

    In 1994, this film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

    Although Gregg Allman and Robert Payne wrote “Midnight Rider”, Joe Cocker’s version was the first to appear on the charts, reaching #27 on the Billboard Hot 100 list in 1972.  Gregg Allman’s version in the fall of 1973 landed at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 list.  Here is a live performance by the Allmann Brothers at the Fillmore East…

    No list of songs about midnight would be complete without the signature song of Gladys Knight & the Pips, their #1 hit from 1973, “Midnight Train to Georgia.”  This song  won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus. “Midnight Train to Georgia” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Rolling Stone magazine awarded it a ranking of #432 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

    The title song from Melissa Manchester’s 1973 album, “Midnight Blue” topped out at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts two years later in 1975.

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