(“You Are the Sunshine of my Life” by Jim Nabors)
It gets worse from here, so if you can’t make it to the end of Jim Nabors’ version of “You Are the Sunshine of my Life” (it’s three minutes long) you might want to skip today’s post altogether. Actually, as an aside, I was never sure how seriously we’re supposed to take Jim Nabors. Is it okay that I really enjoy his records on an un-ironic level?
(“What’s Going On?” by Cyndi Lauper)
So here’s today’s nightmarish narrative: You’re a star and you’re slipping down the charts. There’s really only a couple of things you can do – get arrested driving drunk, firing a gun at someone or with a whole buncha drugs in your possession (or all three – they call that “the Richard Pryor” in Hollywood) or you can cover a Motown song. Guaranteed easy ride because everybody already knows the words, and if you’re criticized for your clumsy reading of a classic like “What’s Going On?” you can claim you’re just trying to pay tribute. Or you’re being ironic:
(“Money” by the Flying Lizards)
There’s a moment at the end of the Flying Lizards cover of “Money” where a shrill electric beep accents the rhythm. It’s the most unpleasant thing we can find on a record here in the shop, and we just posted a Jim Nabors song. The irony of 80s acts like Cyndi Lauper and the Flying Lizards covering Motown classics is that the original songs were so memorable they’d survive for decades because they were original. The Flying Lizards’ entire act was obsolete before they started, considering that Yoko Ono had already done it – add in an obnoxious cover of a song we all used to love and it’s a recipe for disaster.
(“He Was Really Sayin’ Something” by Bananrama)
(“You Can’t Hurry Love” by Phil Collins)
It’s a Friday afternoon and there’s three or four people looking around at records in the shop. I’m busy recording what was supposed to be the ten worst Motown covers of all time. Fourth song along, this fella comes up to the counter and looks at the turntable and at the computer. “What are you doing?” he asks. He’s English. “I’m recording the worst Motown covers of all time,” I answer, because its a perfectly normal thing to be doing. ”This was a #1 hit in England,” he tells me.
“Sorry,” I say. He shrugs. I shrug. ”The next song is even worse.”
(“How Sweet It Is to be Loved by You” by James Taylor)
The worst thing about listening to James Taylor sing “How Sweet it is to be Loved by You” is that it really seems like he means well. There was probably some hippy chick he really wanted to bang and this was the way to make it happen.
I think James Taylor is actually an evil genius, and all this “Sweet Baby James” bullshit is an act. Where do I get off making such an accusation of a man who could probably buy and sell our little record shop? I’ll tell you.
#1 He looks like an evil genius.
(James Taylor and perennial villain Gary Oldman – Separated at birth?)
#2 If you scramble the chorus to “Carolina on my Mind” I’m pretty sure you can write out “Satan command me.” (I haven’t checked though) No way that was an accident.
I never thought it could get any worse than JT limping through “How Sweet It Is” until I heard the same song performed by Kenny Rogers while I was shopping for sneakers with my kids at Saver’s. That’s one of those moments where music can make you feel violated. Well, that and these…
(“You Keep me Hanging On” by Vanilla Fudge)
(“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Peter Frampton)
(“Stop! In the Name of Love” by the Hollies)
In the 80s the so-so Motown cover was standard procedure for so-so country stars, big and small. Motown lends itself beautifully to CMT-style country because it’s simple and inoffensive, and the distinctive feature of most recordings is that they sing the song slooooower. Sometimes awkwardly so.
(“My Girl” by Savannah)
(“Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” by Billy Hill)
(“The Way You Do the Things You Do” by Rita Coolidge)
You probably stopped listening to these tracks after thirty seconds of Jim Nabors and now you’re wondering what the worst Motown cover of all time could possible by, considering how low the bar has been for so long. Our guess is it’s the 1995 import disc by LaToya Jackson, Stop in the Name of Love, which was alleged to have been recorded in an hour. Some copies were issued with a topless photo from LaToya’s Playboy spread, and none were issued in the US.
She take the joy out of Motown for eleven tracks before audaciously taking on one of her brother’s best early performances and squeezing all of the love and joy out of “I’ll be There”: