Does Remake = Lack of Creativity?

So, since last post I’ve been thinking about how remake crazy our culture appears to be.  I’ve had this conversation with friends and other creative folks, and often I hear someone make the statement that “we’ve just run out of original ideas.”  Is it that simple an explanation?  And is it a bad thing to remake a movie or cover a song if you can add something relevant to, invigorate, or dare I say improve the original?  I would answer with a resounding NO and I would like to share some of my faves to support.  Since this is such a broad topic, I’ve decided to focus on music in the key of Motown, and share a few examples of what I think are perfect song covers (I’ll touch on movies in another post :)).

I will start with the Heavyweight of Soul himself, Mr. Luther Vandross.   Luther was a master at taking decades old songs, re-arranging them and turning them into instant classics.  Who can forget his version of the Temptations hit Since I Lost My Baby? Luther made the melancholy song sound so sweet, and sang it so beautifully, I forgot how sad the lyrics were.  On to the next Motown cover, have you ever heard Chaka Khan’s version of the J5’s Got To Be There?  Like Chaka’s voice it really is beyond accurate description, so just take a listen below and let me know what you think. Sidebar: speaking of Chaka Khan, did you see the film Standing in the Shadows of Motown and hear her cover of What’s Going On with the Funk Brothers?  Again, take a listen with the link below because it’s so (add your own word here) I won’t even try to describe.

I once heard Tony Bennett say that Stevie’s version of his song For Once In My Life was the best cover he’d ever heard.  I mean Stevie took an old slow tempo standard and revamped into a funky R&B hit complete with harmonica solo.  Another sidebar: Stevie also took a mid-tempo tune he’d written as a teen for the late Tammi Terrell, All I Do Is Think About You, and updated it as the upbeat All I Do (with Michael Jackson, Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Betty Wright all contributing background vocals) on his Hotter Than July LP.  Yep, that’s right I said MJ. Take another listen you’ll catch it :).  See below for a link to the once rare Tammi Terrell version.

Lastly, I can’t mention Motown covers and not talk about Philly’s own Boyz II Men and their version of It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday.  Boyz II Men successfully took a very nostalgic song, and anyone who’s seen the movie Cooley High knows what I mean, and made it their own.  And talk about invigorating, with their a cappella remake the song peaked at #1 and #2 on the Billboard Hot R&B singles and Hot 100 charts respectively (compared to peaking at #38 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart when originally released).

What are some of your fave remakes?  I know I stuck to a specific period and genre, but are there more recent covers that you consider classics? Share your comments and let’s discuss.  Until next thought, Thomasena.

Chaka Khan  Got To Be There (Chaka Khan, 1982 Warner Bros.): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6PCKxcxTss&feature=related

The Funk Brothers featuring Chaka Khan What’s Going On (Standing in the Shadows of Motown, 2002 Artisan Entertainment) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA1sO3YZRhk&feature=related

Tammi Terrell  All I Do Is Think About You  (A Cellarful of Motown, 2002 Motown): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqbvX_sYoN0

15 responses to “Does Remake = Lack of Creativity?

  1. Hi Thomasena, wow…you really did your homework on this one. I recently learned of some of the renditions you spoke of, i.e. Tammi’s original Vs. Stevie’s remake. Stevie was such a genius…they were both so good that I can’t say which I like best.

    Love the links you listed and I always enjoy a great “Thomasena” article. Happy Writing!

    Nakia

    • Glad you enjoyed this one Nakia 🙂 Funny thing is, other than the Billboard stats, wasn’t that much research involved 🙂 I love these songs so much, I’ve treasured a lot of those little facts. It was fun piecing together for this post though. Thanks so much for your continued interest! PS – what is your favorite remake?

  2. OK…u gonna put me out here on blast in front of your entire audience! LOL, I am really bad with names, so we’ll see if you can figure out who’s who:

    1) Feel the Fire – I have no idea who did it first (Peabo/Stephanie)
    2) I’m Every Woman – I know who did it first, but I did not know about Whitney’s version until after falling in love with Whitney’s version
    3) I’m Always Love You – Hands down this is one of the best of ALL Time! (Whitney!)
    4) I’m Going Down – Mary J. did a great job with that classic
    5) She Ain’t You – My New School Jam by Chris Brown who bit off our legend M. Jackson
    6) Who’s Lovin You – From Smokey to M. Jackson to EnVogue…All Were Amazing!
    7) Cruisin’ – Smokey to the Muscle Guy, can’t remember his name, Mr. Brown Sugar Baby!

    Least FAV
    1) My Perogative – Britney

    Thanks for asking…you took me down memory lane!

  3. By the way…please don’t forget to help me fill in the blanks and give me your feedback on my picks!

  4. Well… I am not sold on the ‘no fresh ideas’ notion, if I wanted to I could write a song in 15 minutes! I hear fresh and new material in my dreams on a regular basis too, but never bother to wake up and write the stuff down. Lazy me, I just enjoy the moment way too much! On the subject of remakes, yeah, you picked some good ones here, notice I said ‘some’… I don’t agree with half of what you listed. The Boys ll Men remake to a trained musician is sophomoric at best, and offensive when it comes to voice leading harmonically. the Luther V… well let;s just say I’ve never been a fan on so many levels, so he gets an automatic thumbs down! LOL… Chaka is a goddess and that is one of my fav of all time! In general, I think remakes is an OK thing, but the artists GOT TO BRING IT!!!
    Marc Delano Jenkins

    • Thanks for checking in Marc. Your first and last sentences really summarize my point well :). We disagree on who brought it, but that’s all good ’cause I love the feedback! PS – remember you were one of my vocal trainers ;).

  5. Although I am all for original songs every now & again some does a re-make so creative that they make it new & thier own like Jimi Hendrix version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watch Tower” & Maxwell’s version of Kate Bush song “Thie Woman’s Work”.

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