Roberta Flack was one of those artists that the label couldn’t quite pigeonhole, which meant that they couldn’t find a way to make her accessible to listeners. As a result, her first two albums got some positive press, but the sales weren’t especially great.
It wasn’t until after her second album came out that a track on the first album caught the attention of a first-time movie director by the name of Clint Eastwood. He called Flack at home and asked if he could use the song in his film, a psychological horror film about a disc jockey called Play Misty For Me. It took a little bit of convincing (about two thousand dollars’ worth), and the song made it into the film.
When Play Misty For Me turned into a hit, Atlantic Records finally saw the light and released a slightly shorter version of the song on a single, and it became the first of several big hits for Flack over the next few years.
What most people don’t realize is that Flack’s recording was a cover of a song written and recorded in 1957, and covered rather faithfully several times after that. But once it hit for her, the covers began to sound more like Flack’s version. And while the song finally becoming a hit made its writer a ton of money, the truth is, he’s never really liked anyone else’s recording other than the one his then-girlfriend made.
It’s been a long time since I did a show like this one, and the timing probably couldn’t have been worse.
As I note during the show, I’m on the road for the next several days, so I’ve got a condensed version of my usual recording setup. I can get the job done, but the recording and the editing process are very, very different from what I usually do. Typically after I write the episode I edit all my sound elements and then load them all into a piece of software that keeps them organized until I need them. Then I crack the mic open and play the elements as they’re needed. If I make a huge mistake, I have to find a point where editing won’t show. Because there’s usually background sound going on, I sometimes have to backtrack a lot. But generally it takes me 30-40 minutes to record a 15 minute show. Do a little editing and boom, it’s ready for processing and uploading.
This time around, it’s a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of my recorded voice, plus all the other elements patched in. Plus I have to control audio levels through software rather than through my mixing board, so it’s a whole other kind of thing. And maybe it’s me but recording this way kind of saps some of my vocal energy out of the project.
So after nearly a year, we return to the Well of Cover Songs, wherein we look at songs that you may not realize are covers of another artist’s work. And in my opinion, in each of these cases, the cover is the superior version. That’s not something you can always say (and I cite a specific example during the show).
At any rate, after a few hours of overtime, here’s Episode 82.
First off: let me both thank, and apologize to, Jerry Bainbridge for his efforts this week. He voice-tracked the show for me this week in an effort to keep it from dropping too late, but a technical issue prevented me from using the material he’d given me. I do plan to ask him again in the near future, and I hope he’ll be kind enough to step up again then.
I’ve been spending time the past couple of weeks running up and down the coast between Baltimore and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, preparing a condo for rental, and believe it or not this show is the most relaxing thing I’ve done the whole time. And it was a nightmare to assemble. I’m going back to late-night recording!
This week, we’re looking at songs that did well on the charts, perhaps well enough that people have forgotten that there’s an earlier version. And I think at least one of them will come as a surprise to you. Maybe two of them. Hey, maybe all of them!
I’m sure you know how it goes at this point. Your podcast catcher should have picked it up automatically, but if you’re the DIY type, then by all means feel free to play or download the show through the player below:
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This week we’re going to dive into famous songs that were recorded by other artists first. Some of them you’re going to know about because practically everybody knows about them, but I think there will be a few surprises in there. I know that one of them came as a pretty big surprise to me!
If you hit me up on Twitter and ask real pretty, I may tell you which Stevie Wonder song I was talking about.
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