Original v. Cover — #50 in a Series

Charlie Chaplin Pictures, Images and Photos

This week’s cover version was performed by an album-rock oriented jazz rock group who became known to the country in 1972 with their first ever Top 40 hit, which debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 18, 1972, rising to #6 in 1973.  Although the song was credited to “Trad”, it was actually co-written by the group’s two enigmatic leaders.  It was written in the key of G minor, employing a significant amount of syncopation in the vocal melody, which was somewhat rare in rock music at the time.  It was also one of the first times in pop music in which the pitch-shifting technique was used during the organ solo.  An electric sitar solo was also included for additional effect.  

The group itself peaked in popularity in the late 1970s, having released seven albums that were a unique mix of jazz, rock, funk, R&B and pop.  Rolling Stone magazine referred to them as “The perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies.”  Contrary to the simple 1-4-5 chord sequence of classics such as “Louie, Louie”, the group’s songs were characterized by complex jazz-influenced structures and harmonies, not exactly the kind of music that most musicians could play by ear unless they were very talented.  Their lyrics have been referred to as “cerebral, wry and eccentric”, punctuated by sharp sarcasm, exploring themes such as crime, drugs, love affairs and their true-to-life contempt for hippie culture.  

The two co-leaders were well known for their obsessive perfectionism in the recording studio.  One of their 1980’s albums consisted of only seven songs, but took more than a year to record, employing 42 different studio musicians and 11 engineers.  

After touring from 1972 to 1974, they became a purely studio-based act in 1975.  Two of their former members eventually became part of the Doobie Brothers band, profoundly transforming its music in the process.  The group, such as it was, disbanded in 1981, and for the next decade, were mostly absent from the music world, but were nevertheless building a cult following at the same time.  

The group resumed a live concert schedule in 1993, and would eventually release two new albums in the early 21st century, earning a Grammy Award for their first offering.  The group has so far sold more than 30 million albums to date, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March, 2001.  

The group’s sixth album, released in 1977, was, in this writer’s humble estimation one of the very best ever produced by any group.  The album rose to the Top Five within three weeks of release (peaking at #3) and was one of the first every American LPs to be certified “Platinum” for sales exceeding one million albums, eventually racking up sales of more than five million.  In July 1978, the album won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. In 2003, the album was ranked #145 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  Three of the album’s seven songs rose to #11, #19 and #26 on the Top 40 charts. The story of the making of the album was documented for an episode of the popular TV and DVD series, Classic Albums.  

Having exhausted all reasonable hints, now is the time to dispense with the suspense, so without further ado, this week’s featured song is Steely Dan’s 1972 hit, “Do It Again.”  The 1977 album mentioned earlier was “Aja”, and the three Top 40 songs were, in the same sequence, were “Peg” (#11), “Deacon Blues” (#19) and “Josie” (#26). The two members of Steely Dan who joined the Doobie Brothers were guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who was joined later by fellow Steely Dan alum Michael McDonald.

Here is Steely Dan’s original studio version from 1972. Listen for the pitch-shifting during the organ solo, during which the notes seem to waver. The accompanying video sequence showcases the work of Julian Beever, entitled, “Pavement Drawings.”  Even if you don’t like the music, the visuals alone are worth your time…

Venturing into territory where many of his country-western brethern fear to tread, Waylon Jennings recorded a cover of “Do It Again” in 1980 on his album Music Man. Played at a faster tempo, Waylon’s version is shorter than the original, and includes his very distinctive guitar work near the midpoint of the song.  

In 1983, the Italian dance music act Clubhouse released a fascinating hybrid version of Michael Jackson’s then recent hit, “Billie Jean”, and combined it seamlessly with “Do It Again.” Apparently, such combinations are referred to as a “mashup.” This effort charted well in Europe and performed reasonably well in the pop markets, but a similar version by Slingshot performed better in the R&B and dance markets.  Yet another similar version was recorded around the same time by the Brooklyn Express, a New York-based disco group.  

The Italian disco group Asso recorded this interpretation in 1983…

The flute plays a prominent role in this version by the Brazilian funk jazz instrumentalist Eumir Deodato from 1988…

Austrian pop star Falco covered “Do It Again” on his 1988 album Wiener Blut.

In 1997, Paul Hardcastle offered this jazz-oriented version from the album Cover to Cover.

Tori Amos’ vocals take center stage in this somewhat downtempo, brooding version of “Do It Again.”  Ms. Amos covered “Do It Again” in 1998 while recording her fourth album, entitled, From the Choirgirl Hotel. From August 26, 2005…

The Philippe Saisse Trio recorded this keyboard-heavy jazz-oriented interpretation on April 18, 2006…

Donald Fagen w/former Steely Dan member Michael McDonald perform this version of “Do It Again” live in concert on August 12, 2006.  Definitely worth a look and a listen!

The electro-Latin 2007 release Bossa Nova Is Not A Crime by The Juju Orchestra featured a cover version of “Do It Again”, featuring Carolyn Leonhart and Robert Smith on vocals.

Bob McAlpine, in 2009, demonstrates the degree to which the nuances of the original song can be captured in this solo guitar interpretation…

Fred Sturm joins with the Eastman School of New Jazz to perform this high-energy interpretation of “Do It Again” on March 3, 2010.  This is definitely a cut above your normal large jazz band version…

The Jolly Boys, featuring Albert Minott, perform what may be the most unusual cover version in this essay, a reggae-oriented version, including a lead vocalist whose stylings are faintly reminiscent of the sound of Tom Waits, from September 17, 2010…

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    • RiaD on November 6, 2010 at 4:13 am

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  1. About the image at the beginning of this essay, the matter of attempting to locate a visual image capturing the concept conveyed by the song title was quite a challenge. Then the factory scene from Charlie Chaplin’s classic film, “Modern Times”, came to mind.  During this sequence, Chaplin performs certain tasks again, and again, and again, ad naseum.

    For Chaplin fans, here is a great clip from the film.  The screen still in the image at the beginning of the essay, which vividly portrays the joys of factory work during the early stages of the machine age, can be found at about the 5:45 mark of this great video clip…

    And a few words about Steely Dan…

    Their second Top 40 hit was “Reelin’ in the Years”, which first made its first appearance on the Top 40 charts on April 7, 1973, which remained there for 11 weeks and rose to a #11 ranking.  Here is their live performance of the song on Midnight Special.  I think Jeff “Skunk” Baxter is the guitarist on the left…

    Their next Top 40 song was also the one that reached the highest ranking on the charts.  “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” first broke into the Top 40 on June 8, 1974, remaining on the charts for 11 weeks, topping out at #4…

    Although it didn’t reach the Top 40, my favorite pre-Aja song by Steely Dan was the title track from their 1974 album, entitled “Pretzel Logic”…

    Their first hit from the “Aja” album, released in 1977, was “Peg”, which first appeared on the Top 40 charts on January 7, 1978, remaining on the charts for 11 weeks, peaking at the #11 spot…

    Their second hit from the “Aja” album was “Deacon Blues”, which broke into the Top 40 on May 6, 1978, remaining their for 8 weeks, topping out at #19…

    Their third hit from the “Aja” album was “Josie”, which first appeared on the Top 40 on September 23, 1978, remaining there for five weeks, peaking at #26…

    Between “Deacon Blues” and “Josie”, another Steely Dan song made the Top 40, a song they contributed for the soundtrack of the film “FM”, which bombed at the box office.  “FM” first broke into the Top 40 on July 1, 1978, remaining there for five weeks, rising to #22…

    Steely Dan’s last Top Ten hit was “Hey, Nineteen” from their final album before retiring to a decade of relative obscurity.  The song was included in their “Gaucho” album, first appearing on the Top 40 charts on December 13, 1980, remaining on the charts for 13 weeks, and topping out at #10…

  2. from 1982, “The Nightfly”, which just might even surpass the artistry of the “Aja” album, if that is possible.  This was one of the first completely digital recordings of popular music, and was certified Platinum for surpassing one million in sales. The album spawned two hits:  “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)” and “New Frontier”, and also received multiple Grammy Award nominations.  

    The album conveys the cautious optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which would have corresponded with the days of Fagen’s youth.

    “The Nightfly” also achieved Platinum status in the U.K. in 2004, even though it only rose to #44 on the charts after its release. The album’s incredible longevity resulted in impressive sales figures, leading the Wall Street Journal to describe the album as “one of pop music’s sneakiest masterpieces” when the 25th anniversary edition was released in late 2007.

    Paul White, the editor-in-chief of Sound on Sound Magazine, stated about “The Nightfly” that it “is always a good reference for checking out monitoring systems and shows what good results could be obtained from those early digital recording systems in the right hands.”  

    In February, 2010, Vatican City’s L’Osservatore Romano named “The Nightfly” to its Top 10 Albums list.  

    Side One begins with…

    “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)” and “Green Flower Street”…

    Side One (continued) —

    “Ruby Baby” and “Maxine”…

    Side Two begins with…

    “New Frontier” and the title track from the album, “The Nightfly”…

    Side Two (continued)…

    “Goodbye Look” and “Walk Between the Raindrops”…

    • Mu on November 6, 2010 at 7:25 pm

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     Nightfly.  One of my “desert-island-only-get-to-chose-5-albums” albums.  It’s just a perfect album.  Thing is, I pretty much feel that way about Aja, too.

     

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