Category: cover songs

A Whole Batch o’ Satchmo: My Top 10 Favorite Louis Armstrong Songs.

This is a random post to demonstrate the kind of content Dailey Freelance might generate for you and your business. I mean if you’re a dog groomer, let’s say, then of course the subject matter would reasonably reflect that. And I look forward to writing about your dog groomer business.

But for the purposes of this post, I felt like writing about my favorite “Satchmo” songs.

I toyed with the idea of making #10 on this list a whole list of songs itself, just to demonstrate that when it comes to Louis, you can’t narrow it down to ten. But we’re going to stick to ten. And now you’ll never know what my also-ran songs were. You’ll be okay. So here we go.

10. Cornet Chop Suey – This is one of the early Louis Armstrong songs that were so mind-blowing when they came out for being almost impossible to put down in musical notation. It’s been done, but Louis put that whole undertaking to the test with this and various other songs (maybe those songs are the also-rans. Who knows?) There simply are not symbols to indicate what he’s doing on some of these songs.

9. Storyville Blues – The red-light district of New Orleans known as Storyville doesn’t exist anymore. In many ways its spirit still hangs in the air, lives on in the people of the city. This version by Armstrong has such a foggy, dreamlike quality to it, that listening to it today, it really does feel like a portal into another place and time. Building on that theme, unlike the other entries on this list, search as I may, I have no idea when it was recorded.

8. S.O.L. Blues – This is a gritty little ditty about bad luck. And yes, the S.O.L. stands for exactly what you think it stands for. There is no profanity in the song, but because of the title, along with the “out of luck” theme of the lyrics, Armstrong was made to re-record this later with a new title (Gully Low Blues) and different lyrics.

7. You Rascal, You – An ode to jealous rage, this song’s lyrics would probably not fly too well today. Lyrics aside, I’ve always heard this as a very early rock n’ roll song. That’s probably why the song has held up so well and there have been so many covers.

6. Ain’t Misbehavin’ – This one was made famous by Fats Waller. I myself became familiar with it through Leon Redbone, an artist who is not from New Orleans, but he should be. Anyway this one is a nice counterpart to the last one in that it is an ode to absolutely loyalty.

5. Riverside Blues – Much like Sidney Bechet’s “All of Me” it begins with a quite long tinkling piano intro, but like the Bechet tune, when Satch starts blowing his horn, he rips this song a new one.

4. A Kiss to Build A Dream On – This song has one of the most powerful solos he ever recorded. I always loved the way it seems to begin a beat or so before you expect it to. It’s almost like, per the lyrics, he’s saying what he has to say before his chance to do so expires.

3. On The Sunny Side Of The Street – Louis Armstrong is one of the only singers who could make such a gruff voice sound so warm, and this song is a prime example of him doing just that. He really does make you feel like you could “leave your worries.” In short, it’s one of those “everything’s gonna work out all right” songs.

2. When The Saints Go Marching In – Before Louis Armstrong recorded it in 1938, this was just a traditional, devotional song. He was the first to record it in a secular, popular music context. Eight decades later, it is practically synonymous with New Orleans. Now there are dozens of songs that are practically synonymous with New Orleans, but this was the first.

1. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? – I heard this song for the first time when I was about ten years old on a cassette tape of an Abbott and Costello radio broadcast. It was sung by Marilyn Maxwell. I didn’t learn till years later that Louis was the original artist. Maxwell and others sing “the moonlight on the bayou” in the song where Armstrong sang “Oh the Mardi Gras, the memories.” While the line Armstrong used immediately evokes images of the heart of New Orleans, to me “moonlight on the bayou” calls to mind more of a rural Louisiana feel.

The more I listened to this song over the years, though I’d never been there, eventually the song planted in my mind what I’d characterize as “reverse nostalgia” for the place. I did “miss” it, somehow. Now that I’ve been there, the sentiment has been confirmed.

Cover Songs That Most Improved on the Original:

The following are in my opinion the cover songs that most improved on the originals, or just made it infinitely more fun. They are not necessarily the best covers. And this is not to say that the originals are not great in their own way, even if I don’t like all of them. These are just the covers that brought a much needed energy or color that was missing in the original.

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – Guns n’ Roses (original artist: Bob Dylan)

First off, far be it from anyone really to call the poetry of early Dylan into question. But this song itself, though I do suspect it was recorded this way to put the focus squarely there, on the lyrics, is just plain dull. Guns n’ Roses injected an energy (nay, a virility!) into the song that honors the spirit of the original and calls the attention to it like the original recording could not. They keep the verses fairly simple. Maybe they added some texture. But the chorus is where GnR took this song to where it needed to be. And all they did, aside from making it much heavier, was add some “hey…hey….hey hey yeah”s in between the repeated phrase “knock knock knockin’ on Heaven’s door” where in the Dylan version you just had ol’ Bob strumming his six string. It plodded along a bit. Guns n’ Roses kept you engaged.

Sound of Silence – Disturbed (original artist: Simon and Garfunkel)

Weirdly, I remember thinking before the Disturbed version of this was released that “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel was “the softest heavy metal song I’ve ever heard.” I don’t know what is about the song that struck me as so metal. I guess it is something in the minor tones that are used throughout. In any case, the Disturbed cover just felt absolutely right when it came along. Anyway the super serene and quiet acoustic duet of Simon and Garfunkel to me always seemed a bit on the nose, too literal. It needed to be made heavy.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Marilyn Manson (original artist: The Eurhythmics)

I swear, I am not even a metal head. Having said that, I think there is something about a metal artist covering a song that was decidedly on the softer side in its original form that will always impress me simply for the new vitality the heavier treatment gives it. But this one, particularly, hits the essence of the song right on the head without being too on the nose (see above). There was always something dark and ominous about the content of “Sweet Dreams” even in its original form. So it was just asking for the death metal makeover Manson gave it. Too me, 1980s synth is the stuff of nightmares to begin with, so maybe I am biased. Probably.

Lovers in a Dangerous Time – The Barenaked Ladies (original artist: Bruce Cockburn)

My wife brought the Barenaked Ladies to my attention almost 20 years ago, and their cover of “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” quickly became one of my favorites. The production on their version gives it the feel of a purposeful journey mired in a haze of uncertainty. Open road in the middle of nowhere on a foggy night. I did not know it was a cover until just a few years ago. I immediately went to listen to the Cockburn version. I did not like it. Maybe it’s because to me it sounds like it is drenched in synth and the drum machines. It simply does not have the personality, the heart that the BNL version has. That is saying a lot of a band that is so well known for silly lyrics, that to many they are one step to the right of being a comedy troupe rather than a band. Like the Canadian Blink-182.

Rainbow Connection – Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (original artist: Kermit the Frog)

Speaking of bands that are almost a comedy troupe, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are a cover band. They only do covers. And all of their albums have a theme. Whether it be country music, psychedelic 60s or show tunes, the Gimmes take whatever they are doing and turn everything into punk rock. Thus, anything they touch is bound to sound like a staggeringly innovative work of genius. Maybe. Anyway you start with the imagery of a puppet playing a ukulele and they take this song and transform it into a Ramones-like bash out.

Honorable Mention: Every song that Joe Cocker ever covered. Also, the Whitney Houston cover of “I Will Always Love You” goes without saying.

What are your favorite covers?