Original vs. Cover: “Hard to Handle” – Otis Redding vs. The Black Crowes
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?
SONG: Hard to Handle
ORIGINAL: Otis Redding (1968)
COVER: The Black Crowes (1990)
This is a prime example of the magic of the Stax Records sound. It’s a midtempo groove that opens with that well-known, minor-key piano bit, followed by a chorus of horns that mimic it, and then Otis comes in shouting, “Baaaa-baaay, here I am, I’m a man on the scene – I can give you what you want, but you got ‘ta come home with meeee” – you know the rest.
This song swings so hard because of the drums, the bass, the sparse piano, and the horns…the horns! Otis continues to plead with the women he wants to love, telling that pretty little thing to dump her man, but still warns her that he’s a lot to deal with (telling her that he’s a “big ‘ol man, mama” just before the song fades out). But he’s got to have it.
This opens with uptempo drums and then guitars doing the piano part from the original, a little Hammond B3 in there, and then a young Chris Robinson jumps in with his “BAAAAY-bay” and the rest of the opening line. This version is more of a rock/blues vibe, and I dig it.
I remember the first time I saw this video on MTV and being amazed that these skinny white boys were ballsy enough to do this cover. And, as usual, I had to tell my white friends that it was a cover and I had to play the original to prove it.
Don’t get me wrong, I dig skinny White dudes with electric guitars who have some soul, so I like this cover because they do it justice.
This – thankfully — doesn’t stray too far from the original. No big lyrical changes, the arrangement is the same, with the guitars filling in for the horns, and the piano part is bigger along with the organ. You don’t miss the Stax horns at all.
SO WHO DOES IT BETTER?
This is a good rock & roll cover in the spirit of the original soul groove, and I’ve already told you how I feel about the Robinson brothers. But Otis wins this because you just cannot beat that Stax magic.
NOW YOU DECIDE!