It’s Groundhog Day, which means one thing: It’s my mom’s birthday. Everyone say happy birthday to my mom!
Also, it means that a weird giant rodent that looks kinda like a beaver’s slacker cousin gets pulled out of a fake stump by a man in a top hat in Pennsylvania at a place called, hilariously, Gobbler’s Knob. That large rodent is supposed to predict the weather. American traditions are absolutely surreal.
But I’m not listing songs about either of those things, because there aren’t enough giant rodent songs and because I’m told I can’t just make this a column about Gordon Lightfoot.
Instead this week’s column is at the intersection of two other time-honored American traditions: Remakes and Bill Murray. In honor of Murray’s 1993 classic Groundhog Day, let’s listen to some songs you may not have realized had been done already.
Whitney Houston (via Dolly Parton) — “I Will Always Love You”
We’re starting off easy. It’s not exactly a closely held secret that the legendary Whitney Houston’s signature performance was originally written and performed by the equally legendary Dolly Parton.
It’s not like Dolly’s version was a bomb. It was No. 1 on the country charts when it first came out in 1974, then it went to No. 1 on the charts again as part of the soundtrack for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a 1982 Western musical in which Burt Reynolds attempts to sing. I am not making that movie up.
That said, even a rare double No. 1 can get lost in the shadow of the sixth-best-selling single of all time. That’s right, Whitney’s version of “I Will Always Love You” sold 20 million units, more than anything by Madonna, Michael Jackson, the Beatles or even Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” And on top of that, it also hit the charts twice, both in 1994 during its initial release and a top three appearance in 2012 when Whitney died.
It’s a good song is what I’m saying. Hard to sing but very good.
They Might Be Giants (via the Four Lads) — “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”
It still amazes me the Johns, Linnell and Flansburgh, of They Might Be Giants didn’t write this song. It’s so absolutely perfect for them and one of the highlights of their seminal album, Flood. But it’s actually a cover of a 1953 novelty song written on the 500th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople (not Istanbul).
The Four Lads, the original singers, actually didn’t do too poorly. Their single of “Istanbul” (not Constantinople in this version, at least in the song title) was certified gold, which isn’t too shabby for a Canadian vocal quartet. It was actually the better-performing single, though Flood as a whole went platinum because it’s great.
Joan Jett (via The Arrows) — “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”
It’s hard to imagine this being by anyone other than Joan Jett but here we are.
Not only was this a cover, it wasn’t even a cover of a decades-old song like the prior two, it was written and performed by The Arrows only seven years before Jett’s version. And the songs are remarkably close, though of course Jett’s sneering vocals are better than Arrows singer Alan Merrill’s. It’s not his fault, that’s a tough act to compete with.
But don’t worry, Jett’s superior “I Hate Myself for Loving You” is an original.
Toni Basil (via Racey) — “Mickey”
Am I blowing your mind yet?
Even though Toni Basil changed the song’s subject (and name) from “Kitty” to “Mickey” it’s the same song. And, probably discouragingly for Racey, Basil recorded her vastly superior version only two years after the original’s release. That’s right, I said it—even with the embarrassing-for-a-39-year-old-woman cheerleading motif the cover is better in every way.
Soft Cell (via Gloria Jones) — “Tainted Love”
After Toni Basil upgraded “Kitty” to “Mickey,” for the sake of balance let’s finish up with a cover that’s not as good as the lesser-known original.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Soft Cell’s new wave hit, of course. Despite the—shall we say— quirkiness of the video, it’s a good song. It’s just not as good as Gloria Jones’ original, which is an absolute powerhouse soul song from 1965. I’m not sure anyone could have stood up to that.
Additionally, Marilyn Manson covered the Soft Cell cover of the Gloria Jones song, and his version isn’t as good as either of its predecessors. Since there were 19 years between Manson and Soft Cell, and 17 years between Soft Cell and Gloria Jones, and it’s been almost 18 years since Manson’s version, it means we’re due for an even worse cover to drop any day now. And it must be stopped.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.