Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Meditation on the Definitive Version

The other night we were watching Peter, Paul, and Mary's 25th Anniversary Concert (on VHS all the way from Worcester, one could only dream of PBS re-broadcasting it so that we could, um, "have" our own copy) and I had one of my "fantastic" ideas for starting all kinds of arguments. PP & M were singing "Blowin' in the Wind"1, or maybe it was "If I Had A Hammer"2--anyway, the point is that it wasn't a song they had written, but they nevertheless recorded the definitive version. For all intents and purposes, the song is theirs because most people don't even realize that the song wasn't written by them. This is all terribly subjective (hence the arguments), but it is my belief that each song has a definitive version that can be determined by either 1) a poll of everyone in the entire world, or 2) one's own strong opinions on the matter. So, Jimi Hendrix owns the definitive version of All Along The Watchtower, even though it was written by Bob Dylan. In fact, I am eager to make as many Bob Dylan songs as possible definitively recorded by other artists, because I really don't like the sound of his voice. These songs would now be introduced as "as written by" to give due credit to their origins. For example: "Leaving on a Jet Plane" (as written by John Denver).

Newer examples of this phenomenon (perhaps less common when folk is less prevalent?) would be Whitney Houston's "I will Always Love You" (as written by Dolly Parton), Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Passionate Kisses" (as written by Lucinda Williams), or Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" (as written by Leonard Cohen).3 My favorite suggestion came from my brother-in-law: The Byrds' "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (as written by Ecclesiastes and popularized by Pete Seeger). Does anyone else have some good examples to add to my small, but intensely awesome list? What do you think of this approach to music?

Edited to fix my Turn! Turn! Turn! errors.

1 Written by Bob Dylan.
2 Written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays.
3 Is it just me, or is that song everywhere these days?


jmgold said...

I'll throw out a few:

Take me to the River (Talking Heads)
Gloria (Patti Smith)
Something In the Air (Tom Petty)

Elizabeth said...

These two spring to mind:

"From a Distance" (written by Julie Gold & originally recorded by Nanci Griffith)

"With a Little Help from My Friends" (written by Lennon/McCartney) - I blame The Wonder Years

Ryan said...

You know I disagree with this argument because to me, songwriting is the most accessible and enjoyable form of poetry, but I must correct you. I said, "Turn, Turn, Turn" by The Byrds as written by Ecclesiastes. Pete Seeger is actually the other credited songwriter.

Helgagrace said...

Fixed! I agree about songwriting and poetry, but I don't think this concept has anything to do with that at all. It's a question of which artist people are most familiar with when thinking about a particular song. The fact that there are multiple versions of these songs argues their greatness and broad appeal, sometimes across genres (as in Dolly/Whitney). Also, the system (loosely speaking) is actually set up to recognize who originally wrote the song, which doesn't downplay the writing part.

Anonymous said...

A classic example: Big Mama Thornton's "Hound