by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)
Ever since this writer was elementary school age and first becoming aware of music, I’ve been obsessed with the artistic connections created by “cover” versions (“remakes,” in layman’s terms).
My father and I would routinely spend a Saturday night pairing together interesting playlists for each other comprised of original versions and their remakes, usually trying to find versions as far apart musically from the originals as possible.
Several decades ago, this was very labor intensive – we had to go ‘digging in the crates’ through our own vinyl, and we had to actually know and remember that the cover version had been done. Piecing it all together was half the fun.
Today, with Spotify and the internet, it’s much much easier to uncover covers. Just type in the song name and often you’ll find hundreds of options to pick from, especially when we’re talking about Stevie Wonder, who has literally had thousands of remakes done of his songs.
So many versions, in fact, that it’s impossible to weed through them all. (According to SecondHandSongs.com, a website devoted to ‘cover’ songs, Stevie is the most covered R&B artist of all time.)
So with today’s Stevie Wonder playlist from GBN, I’ve limited myself to covers of songs from his landmark 1976 double album “Songs in the Key of Life.” “Songs in the Key of Life” capped a prolific mid-1970s golden era for Stevie Wonder, winning him a remarkable third Grammy for Album of the Year – all three of his wins coming in just four years! Many lists feature “Songs” as one of the best albums of all-time.
You may ask – why should I listen to cover versions when the originals are so perfect? I certainly won’t argue with the originals’ perfection. And I don’t think that any of the artists here would argue either that their version supersedes Stevie’s own.
What I would say is that cover versions can do several things. First, they evoke the true songwriting abilities underlying the original song – a great ‘song’ should be able to stand up to multiple interpretations.
Second, when the cover version is in a different genre (and these are the most interesting ones, usually) – they can bring the listener to new places musically that they may not have ventured before. Third, after hearing an iconic album so many times that it becomes almost second nature, it can be refreshing to hear it again in a new way.
In this playlist, we’ve got the entire ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ song list, in the same order as the original – with the four ‘bonus tracks’ from the extra single included in the original release added to the end.
Each song has only one extra version – and each covering artist is limited to just one track. The mix spans jazz, folk, rock, Latin, soul, dance music and many more, including Luther Vandross, Thelma Houston, Najee, Mary J. Blige and James Taylor‘s brother Livingston Taylor. There’s even a Spice Girl in there if you look for her!
We hope you enjoy it.