Original vs. Cover: “Christmas” – The Who vs. The Who
I’ve been a DJ since the ‘70s. I’m also a bona fide music fanatic who gets a kick out of turning people on to stuff they’ve never heard before.
For a long time, when cassettes were king and “mixtapes” were all the rage, one of my favorite pastimes was to fill up one of those long-ass 120 minutes Maxells with original and cover songs, played back to back. I would really go out of my way to find obscure covers of very well-known songs, then I’d get my friends together and have listening parties where we would discuss the songs with each other for hours on end.
Yeah, it sounds incredibly nerdy. But damn, it was fun.
The other day, in a fit of nostalgia, I retrieved an old box of tapes that had taken up permanent residence in the back of my closet. So, who wants to play with me — Original vs. Cover?
ORIGINAL: The Who (1969)
COVER: The Who (1975)
The song starts really abruptly with Roger’s vocal, literally the first second of the song, which is rather jarring. The arrangement kind of drags a bit – signature Townshend layered backing vocals, and the weird multi-tracked “honking” thing. Moon is quiet in the mix and loud in his fills, and at the same time, John holds it all together as the loudest in the mix.
Some sections are spare and haunting. This doesn’t sound anything like how you’d imagine a Christmas song – no jingling bells, no snowmen, no tree, no fun. Just a song about a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who’s trapped in the eternal grave of his own head and who wants to be seen, heard, and felt. A big bummer!
This version is a spot-on reflection of the Ken Russell fever-dream-hot-mess of the film.
It starts out with eight measures of a lilting piano, chimes and beautiful bells in an uplifting, Christmas-y way. Then Ann-Margaret comes in, over-singing it from the jump.
There’s a background chorus of a million voices, a marching drumbeat and toy horns honking. In the movie, this song is during a holiday party and a bunch of kids are stomping around Tommy in a circle. The young actor playing Tommy whispers his part, then we have Oliver Reed singing/shouting at the top of his lungs.
This is insanity. Beautiful Ken Russell insanity. This is a full, Technicolor version of the song whereas the original is in a dull black and white.
SO WHO DOES IT BETTER?
First, let me tell you that I am one of the biggest Who fans you’ll ever meet. I’ve loved them since I was a little kid, thanks to my Mother. Hell, I’m the singer in my own Who tribute band.
Secondly, I like the movie version better, and I will not apologize for it. So if you’re some kind of Who purist, you can suck it. I’ve been in love with that movie since I saw it on opening day, thanks again, Mom, and I just love the camp of it all.
There, I said it.
NOW YOU DECIDE!