Original v. Cover — #40 in a Series

Boy George Pictures, Images and Photos

Ever encountered someone who almost perfectly embodied androgyny in appearance, mannerisms and demeanor? What has been your reaction if someone matching such a description enters the men’s or women’s restroom, and you are also present? Depending upon your sensibilities, you may feel compelled to immediately confirm their gender (unless you belong to the cast from “Ally McBeal”).  

You may be one of those who merely asks the question up front or preferring a more subtle approach, attempt to discern if the stature, body build, five o’clock shadow, broad shoulders, or other disgtinguishing features might provide a clue, at the same time taking care to not appear too obvious.

Perhaps a brief “hi” will elicit a response in kind, in a basso profundo or colaratura soprano voice that may resolve your suspicions. But even this may not help, particularly if the pitch falls somewhere in the mid-range. Try listening to, without watching, a video of Fran Drescher and then Jerry Lewis.  Can you tell which one is which?  

If the person entering the restroom is aware of their androgyny and notices that others appear uncomfortable, if this were taking place in a musical, the interloper would then break out into exuberant song and dance.  Others, of all ages, shapes and sizes, would at first appear incredulous, but would gradually join in, joyfully lending their voices and happy feet. The lyrics of such a song, if believed, would set most, if not all at ease.  

Just such a song was released in 1967, helping to launch the group’s songwriter/vocalist/keyboardist to future stardom. The songwriter would leave the group soon after, only to achieve greater acclaim playing in a couple of supergroups before moving on to a solo career.

A great cover version, released in 1969, was included on a rare, double debut album by an up and coming group, featuring a hard rock edge that mostly dissolved into a far more subdued, commercialized, pop-oriented, easy listening style, apparent by the time the second album (also a double) was released a year later.  Perhaps it was fitting that the group changed its name, along with its style, during this remarkable transformation.

This week’s selection nade uts dufrst aooearance on the Billboard Top 40 charts on April 8, 1967, peaking at #10 and climbing to #9 in the U.K. The aforementioned 1969 cover version would rise as far as #49 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The album on which it appeared was ranked #17 in the U. S. and #9 in the U.K.  Although the album did not yield any immediate hit singles, three songs in 1970 and 1971 did relatively well (two #7 hits and a #24 hit).  

Having exhausted all preliminaries at this point, without further ado, this week’s selection was written and performed by Steve Winwood as he concluded his five-year stint with the Spencer Davis Group, their #10 hit from 1967 entitled “I’m a Man.” Winwood was nineteen years of age at the time. The 1969 cover version appeared on the inaugural Chicago Transit Authority album.

Mr. Winwood is a singer-songwriter whose styles include soul (blue-eyed soul), R&B, rock, blues-rock, poprock and jazz.  In addition to his distinctive tenor voice, he performed on many instruments, including the organ, synthesizers, guitars, bass, drums and other stringed instruments.  He would later perform with groups such as Traffic, Blind Faith (with ex-Cream members Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) and Go, before venturing into a solo career.

In addition to receiving multiple Grammy awards, Winwood was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine at #33 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.  After launching his solo career in 1977, his song, “Higher Love” topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1986, garnering Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.  

In addition to being released as a single in 1967, “I’m a Man” was the title track of the Spencer Davis Group’s final album in 1967 and can also be found on the DVD “Gimme Some Lovin’ Live 1966.”  Despite the possibly misleading title of the DVD, other evidence suggests that the recording actually took place on March 19, 1967.  

The cover version by the Chicago Transit Authority on their eponymous double debut album in 1969, reached #49 on the U. S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1971.  This cover version has been described as a borderline heavy metal arrangement, representing a distinctly different style than the more mainstream, pop-oriented style the band soon adopted after the release of their debut album, when they shortened their name to Chicago.

This version includes a great performance by lead guitarist Terry Kath, percussion work by Danny Seraphine, a nice job by the horn section, and additional percussion including claves, cowbell and tambourine.  Kath, Peter Cetera and Robert Lamm each sing one verse on this cover version.

During many of their live performances, Chicago would select a female track athlete from the audience to run onto the stage, performing gymnastic moves to accentuate her man-esque body features, particularly the legs.

If you haven’t heard this before, be sure to check out this great cover version…

Macho performed a disco version of “I’m a Man” in 1978, representing the first pairing of Petrus and Mauro Malavasi, both originally from Bologna, Italy.  This style has also been referred to as rosco music, a cross between rock and disco…

Departing from his style during the Emerson, Lake and Palmer days, keyboardist extraordinaire Keith Emerson performs vocals as well on his soundtrack album for the 1981 film, “Night Hawks.”  

Steve Winwood and Dave Mason formed one-half of the group Traffic.  Here Mason performs with Spencer Davis in 1983. Regular visitors to this series may recall that Dave Mason filled in for Noel Redding, who left angrily in the middle of a recording session.  Mason and Hendrix would colloborate in the very first after hours recording of Jimi Hendrix’ “All Along the Watchtower”…

Former Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine’s current band, the California Transit Authority (CTA) performed “I’m a Man” at an appearance at the 2006 Modern Drummer Festival in New Jersey, which also appears on the first album, “Full Circle”, released the following year.

In the following video, Danny Seraphine and CTA (California Transit Authority) play a free show at Border’s in Chicago to promote their new CD “Full Circle” on August 9, 2007. This version was spliced, so some parts are missing, however, it still sounds pretty good…

Volkswagen’s 2008 television commercial in the U.K. was entitled, “Dog”, during which a dog was made to appear as if he was singing the song, which was actually performed by Charlie Winston. This ad was banned after complaints from the RSPCA and more than 750 viewers…

Los Lonely Boys recorded a cover version of “I’m a Man” on their 2008 album, “Forgiven.”  Their debut single “Heaven” was a #1 hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 2004.  Even more remarkably, it appeared on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, rising to the #46 slot. In 2005, “Heaven” won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.  Here is their rendition of “I’m a Man”…

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

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