Monday, January 30, 2023

Six versions of "Unchain My Heart," a lesson in comparative funkology

It's by Bobby Short. Ray Charles first recorded it in 1961. Here's a live version from 1964. Note the quick tempo:

Here's some local musicians somewhere in the USA about 10 years ago. This version is clearly based on Charles's version, except we don't have backup vocalists and the band is fronted by a woman:

This is the marvelous Sant Andreu Jazz Band five years ago. This version, too, is based on Charles's. The trumpet player does something very hip at the beginning of his solo (1:35), he holds a single note for several seconds:

Continuing in the same vein, Bob Dylan (1986) with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, despite the fact that Dylan's vocal instrument can't compare with Charles's the arrangement is much the same:

Here's Hugh "Dr. House" Laurie from nine years ago. What's up with that self-conscious not-quite-ironic tour through the studio? A bit anxious? His version isn't modeled on the Charles original. The tempo is much slower, and the opening verse is very spare. But we've still got back-up vocals and a sax solo:

Finally, one-and-only Grace Kelly completely revises the song, reconceptualizing it for the 21st century with sounds and textures that owe a lot to electronic genres. Grace wails on alto:

I've set up a play list of various versions. You should probably check out one of the Joe Cocker versions. I double-dog dare you to listen to more than 10 seconds of the Trini Lopez version. What a dog! The Lavine version is definitely worth a listen; very gritty vocal. Judging from the names, this is from Eastern Europe somewhere.

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